Screening the posthuman : disembodied masculinity in virtual reality films

Steenkamp, Lize-Maree (2016-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In science fiction films, cyborgs are often represented as embodiments of a transhuman drive to escape the limitations of the human body. This technologically mediated evolution is a continuation in the extreme of humanist principles such as linear progress, reason, autonomy and the primacy of mind over body. Donna Haraway has registered the possibility that, as a hybrid, the figure of the cyborg could be utilized to revise humanist principles, rather than reiterate them, through posthumanist representation. However, this seems counter-intuitive, as cyborgs in popular culture are known to exaggerate dualist gender ideals rather than subvert them. What is more, the disembodied cyborg that is constituted by human interaction with virtual reality seemingly maintains the mind/body binary rather than challenging it. Through the study of three virtual reality films that construct different kinds of interaction between human and machine, Brainstorm (1983), eXistenZ (1999) and Her (2013), I contend that the representation of the disembodied cyborg collapses the mind/body binary primarily through representations of sex and death, but that the subsequent invocation of associated gender identities reinstates the masculine/feminine binary. I accomplish this through a method of formal analysis of the cinematic representation of the disembodied cyborg and the spaces it moves in. Filmic virtual reality in Brainstorm and Her resonates with posthumanist concerns, and is discussed in relation to existing poststructuralist paradigms of signification in the works of primarily Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida and N. Katherine Hayles. The formally alienating effects of Brainstorm are also integrated into a larger framework of film convention. With reference to Donna Haraway, Cary Wolfe and Neil Badmington, I discuss the disembodied cyborg as a posthuman figure in terms of its potential to collapse binaries, specifically those of mind/body and masculine/feminine. In order to appreciate the always-virtual nature of gender, the work of Judith Butler is utilized to explore the ways in which eXistenZ displays the fluidity of gender performances in virtual reality. I further argue that the three films accomplish the collapse of the mind/body dualism through the representation of sex and death, and reinstate binarist conceptions of gender performances. In Brainstorm and Her, desire and eroticism are coded as male undertakings that respond to the passive and objectified female form, whereas in eXistenZ, the representation of sexuality is more progressive. Violence, pain and death are also represented as the business of men in Brainstorm, while it is represented more playfully in eXistenZ. I aim to reveal the ways in which the emphasis on ultimate embodiment in virtual reality films through sex and death reinstates a sex-gender correlation, and thus, for the most part, do not succeed in the collapse of the gender dualism.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In wetenskapsfiksiefilms word kuborg karakters dikwels uitgebeeld as die verpersoonliking van ‘n transhumanistiese begeerte om die liggaam se tekortkominge te omseil. Hierdie tegnologiese evolusie kan gesien word as ‘n oortreffende voortsetting van humanistiese waardes soos lineêre vooruitgang, rede, selfstandigheid en die voorrang van die verstand bo die liggaam. Donna Haraway skryf dat die kuborg gebruik kan word om humanistiese waardes te hersien eerder as te herhaal, deur die gebruik van posthumanistiese uitbeelding. In die kultuurruim sal kuborge egter dikwels nie dualistiese gendertipering teenwerk nie, maar eerder beklemtoon. Verder blyk dit dat die onbeliggaamde kuborg wat tot bestand kom deur die mens se interaksie met virtuele realiteite die binêre verdeling tussen die verstand en die liggaam onderhou in plaas daarvan om dit te bevraagteken. Met die ondersoek van drie virtuele realiteits-films wat verskillende tipes interaksie tussen mens en masjien uitbeeld, Brainstorm (1983), eXistenZ (1999) en Her (2013), redeneer ek dat die onbeliggaamde kuborg die ineenstorting van die binêre verdeling van verstand/liggaam veroorsaak, hoofsaaklik deur uitbeeldings van seks en die dood, maar dat die daaropeenvolgende aanroeping van geassosieerde gender-identiteite die manlik/vroulik binêre verdeling herroep. My benadering behels ‘n formele analise van die uitbeelding van die onbeliggaamde kuborg op film. Die virtuele realiteite in Brainstorm en Her sluit aan by posthumanisme, en word bespreek in terme van bestaande poststrukturalistiese raamwerke van betekenisvorming soos uiteengesit in die werk van Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida en N. Katherine Hayles. Die vervreemdende visuele aard van Brainstorm word ook met die breër agtergrond van film konvensie geintegreer. Met verwysing na Donna Haraway, Cary Wolfe en Neil Badmington bespreek ek die onbeliggaamde kuborg as ‘n posthumanistiese figuur in terme van sy potensiaal om binêre verdelings af te takel, veral dié van verstand/liggaam en manlik/vroulik. Die altyd-virtuele aard van gender word met verwysing na die werk van Judith Butler bespreek, en word verder aan die hand van eXistenZ gedemonstreer. Verder is my redenasie dat hierdie films die verstand/liggaam verdeling aftakel deur middel van hul uitbeelding van seks en die dood, en binêre gendertipering terselfdetyd herstel. In Brainstorm en Her word begeerte en erotiek gekodeer as manlike aktiwiteite wat reageer op die passiewe vroulike vorm, waar eXistenZ ‘n meer progressiewe uitbeelding van seksualiteit aanbied. Geweld, pyn en die dood word ook uitgebeeld as die werk van mans in Brainstorm, terwyl dit meer speels uitgebeeld word in eXistenZ. My hoofdoel is om die wyses waarop die beklemtoning van ligaamlikheid in virtuele realiteit films deur uitbeeldings van seks en die dood ‘n geslag-gender korrelasie herroep en dus nie daarin slaag om die binêre verdeling van gender af te takel nie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/98679
This item appears in the following collections: