Adam Zaretsky is an American Wet-Lab Art Practitioner mixing Ecology, Biotechnology, Non-human Relations, Body Performance and Gastronomy. In his fourth essay of his summer series of speculative texts, he proposes a “Philosophy of the Biological Bedroom, or a Prelude for Transgenic Humans”.
If we consider that medical mavericks are already busy working on the reproductive cloning of human organisms, we cannot help but feel that the human species might soon be able to take its biological evolution into its own hands.
Assuming we already can, ought we engineer the human genome and in which way? This is a question of ethical policy but also a question of art and aesthetics. It seems that many our philosophers who speak on issues of Inherited Genetic Modification Orgiastics (I-GMO) are saying much the same things as the ethics for hire (rent- a-priests) policy hacks and their corporate sponsors. The permanent, multigenerational editing of the human genome is a dire and terrific stage of techno-breeding. Behind the jargon and the detailing needed to powder the face of professional pure theory, the ideas are all too similar.
We have the:
– Rubber Stamp Utilitarians – pragmatic ethics for hire, law suit avoidance camps.
– Naïve Futurists – optimistic to a fault, no sense of historic epic fails, techno-idealists, singularity cult, ‘just do it’ transhumanists camps.
– Rejectionists – contra human GMO abominations as pitiable war crimes, tortured children, environment destabilizing ahumans, foreign lab-species, invasive migratory differently abled being brought forth merely for future snuff camps.
This essay looks beyond the technics, into the aesthetics of genetic sculpting of human breeding potential. The philosophy of the biological bedroom is a heady war of words, taken to wingnut, florid ideation and degree zero separation texuality. The mind chorus of Human 1.0 is informative and gives us some neologisms, some ironic turpitude, and perhaps, some food for thought, albeit baroquely. Discussion of inheritable redesign of human anatomy, physiology and cognitive attributes as an art and aesthetics movement brings novel vantage points to the philosophical debate. The aesthetics of intentional mutagenic alterity, the nuanced shadow play between best and worst intentions, the product orientation seminars, these are all mere prelude for the living transgenic humans of iGMO. This essay is dedicated to the many generations destined to live, embody and reflect as Assisted Reproductive Technology Art (ARTArt).
It suffices for now to make clear that for the next period of time species politics will be decisive. That is, when it will be learned whether humanity (or at least its culturally decisive faction) will be able to achieve effective means of self-taming. A titanic battle is being waged in our contemporary culture between the civilizing and the bestializing impulses and their associated media. Certainly, any great success in taming would be surprising in the face of an unparalleled wave of social developments that seems to be irresistibly eroding inhibitions. But whether this process will also eventuate in a genetic reform of the characteristics of the species; whether the present anthropotechnology portends an explicit future determination of traits; whether human beings as a species can transform birth fatalities into optimal births and prenatal selection these are questions with which the evolutionary horizon, as always vague and risky, begins to glimmer.
The technology for human inheritable genetic modification (also referred to as IGM, germline engineering or human germline gene editing) is in place. Some scientists are already willing and able to add traits to increase health, happiness, novelty and libido. The only hitch is timing. Bioethics policy damage-control relations agents are just waiting for the appropriate time to engage the public in the actuality of a major dream/nightmare come true. ‘They say the purpose of ethics is to slow down the rate at which things happen. Confronted by the general speeding-up of phenomena in our hyper modern world, this curbing by conscience seems pretty feeble.’ We are still in the phase where talking about life in terms of life after redesign includes how to talk about ethics after ‘alien determination’ of a ‘prepersonal life.’ This assumes that we have no living transgenic humans among us. On this point, I would just like to register a motion against gullibility. The technology has been in place for some years, non-viable transgenic embryos have been made and made public. So, one is permitted to wonder about what form of transhuman brood is covertly being prepared by whom.
Ranting in near nihilistic anti-nihilism, the shrill care-based voice of philosopher Paul Virilio is not helping the public give the thumbs up to this new human technics. His article/rant, ‘A Pitiless Art’ from Art and Fear is a no holds barred expose of the sacrilege and shame we are embarking upon. He asks what germline engineering is to be or not to be. ‘To demonstrate or to “monstrate,” that is the question: whether to practice some kind of aesthetic or ethic demonstration or to practice the cleansing of all “nature,” all “culture,” through the technically oriented efficiency of a mere “monstration,” a show, a blatant presentation of horror’ Virilio is convinced that the biotechnological reprogramming of our global genome is repro- fascist death head worship returning and subsuming science into the filth of extreme body art. ‘Thanatophilia, necro-technology and one day soon, teratology … Is this genetic trance still a science, some new alchemy, or is it an extreme art?’
Breeding Sentience Panel | ISEA2020:
Science as Snuff Film
Is calling science an extreme art really an insult? Will the specter of becoming implicated in the body art scene threaten scientists away from the thrill of genomic graffiti? Jürgen Habermas is of similar mind to Virilio but is more contained in his book, The Future of Human Nature, ‘The irreversible choice a person makes for the desired makeup of the genome of another person initiates a type of relationship between these two which jeopardizes a precondition for the moral self-understanding of autonomous actors.’ This doesn’t seem to bother biotechnology vanguards. Is the concept that, ‘It is the ceaseless drive of biotechnological development, and not naturalistic worldviews, that undermine the natural (and consequently mental) presuppositions of a form of morality whose status hardly anyone wants to challenge explicitly,’ due to the fact that, ‘… biotech has no body-anxiety?’ Or is it simply that some people feel as if we are entrusting too much to the fates of cupid and pheremones? There are the fortune-favors-the-brave extropian ideologues who feel more secure in technology than in the tender tinder system we use now, a continual ‘breeding without breeder, an agentless biocultural drift.’ Is there really something wrong with basing selection on foraging only for lovely loin in the dark gropings of irrational, lusty romance?
How is the engineering/collaging of traits into human pluripotent blastula any different than our other diverse forms of sexual expression? Eugene Thacker, in his article ‘Life Resistance and Tactical Media,’ adds machining of our flesh, a third term, to the dynamic duo of Marx’s dead labor and ‘our current immaterial labor … we now have a “biomaterial labor” in which biology reproduces biology in an industrialized context.’ To which Virilio retorts,
You don’t make literature out of warm and fuzzy feelings, they say. And they are probably right. But how far do we go in the opposite direction? As far as SNUFF LITERATURE, in which the conformism of abjection innovates an academicism of horror, an official art macabre entertainment?
This amounts to a bit of IGM gallows humor, an added value moiré pattern pre-remashed in the annular waves of popular culture. Much of mass culture already fetishizes reading horror and snuff in terms of the industrialized flesh and the living dead aspects of metabolism as commodity. Even if ‘the Undead are semi-living which implies that transgenics has a similarity to tissue culture in that, although transgenics can be whole organism based, the informatic injection reduces that living to a semi-dead state of being industrialized or recapitulated into enzymatic use production,’ when the body is programmed to express acquired traits, it does so as both a living body and a kind of materialist machine.
The unique feature of biomaterial labor (or living dead labor) is that you are not aware of it, or only half aware of it: your body just goes on churning out enzyme. Would it be going to far to refer to this as the “zombification of biology”?
Peter Sloterdijk’s article ‘Notes on the Human Zoo’ waxes and wanes between utter seriousness and hyper wry post-cynical reason, giving alternate warnings and embraces about reprogenetics. ‘For the modern reader, who looks back on the humanistic gymnasia of the bourgeois state and at the fascist eugenics already foreshadowing the biotechnological era, the explosiveness of these considerations is unavoidable.’ The preceding quote would seem to agree with Virilio’s dire warnings about our casual trotting into an unsurpassed moral reduction. Virilio says, ‘Having broken the taboos of suffocating bourgeois culture, we are now supposed to break the being, the unicity of humankind, through the impending explosion of a genetic bomb that will be to biology what the atomic bomb was to physics.’ Sloterdijk, continues in the same article, but in a less chthonic Platonist vein, controversially advocating germline elitism.
Royal anthropotechnology, in short, demands of the statesman that he understand how to bring together free but suggestible people in order to bring out the characteristics that are most advantageous to the whole, so that under his direction the human zoo can achieve the optimum homeostasis. This comes about when the two relative optima of human character warlike courage and philosophical humanistic contemplation are woven together in the tapestry of the species.’
It remains in question whether Sloterdijk wants to save humanism from the archive or just euthanize our, already floundering, anthropocentric debacle with technological breeding ploys based on archaic, aristocratic venalities. Read through the lens of art practice, the philosophical debate on IGM takes on a different veneer. Virilio seems to know this, claiming that IGM is the key to utter dissolution of any vestiges of temerity.
Thanks to the decryption of the human genome, geneticists are now using cloning in the quest for the chimera, the hybridization of man and animal. How can we fail to see these “scientific extremists,” far from merely threatening the unicity of the human race by trafficking embryos, are also taking their axe to the whole philosophical and physiological panoply that previously gave SCIENCE its very meaning? In so doing, they threaten science itself with disappearance.
Habermas responds with a posthumanist conjecture, if we are going to promote engineering of the human germline, we must at least peruse a dangerous meta-narrative disavowing the whole of moral presumptions by asking,
why shouldn’t complex societies simply drop their normative foundations entirely, and switch over to systemic(!) (or, in the future, biogenetic) steering mechanisms? No arguments from the moral language game itself can be mustered against a eugenic self-instrumentalization of the human species which changes the very rules of the game.
Habermas isn’t suggesting we should actually do away with moral language games, just automate them to coincide with the range of biological potentials offered by the palette of bio-options. His suggestion is theoretical and built to show the failings of the transgenic body showroom. We are expecting this showroom to open in the malls of expenditure sometime this century. Thacker might be actually asking bioethics to step off, in a Deleuzian Spinoza- ish (verging on transhumanist) way, when he asks with less irony, ‘… how can modes of valuation and contestation of “life itself” be developed without recourse to economic, or worse, moral paradigms.’ Although it might seem trite, Thacker’s philosophical quandary into how to assess life in appropriate tangential manners as opposed to leaning on moral law (or economic bottom lines) is a sign of a more advanced (post)humanism than Sloterdijk’s reading of loss in the last vestiges of human recognizable virtue, the suburban volunteerism which the rule based development of the clearing implies.
BioARTCAMPhExtruded, Direction, Interviews, Camera, Edit: Jeanette Groenendaal and Zoot Derks, 2011:
Park It Like Its Hot
If there is one virtue of human beings which deserves to be spoken about in a philosophical way, it is above all this: that people are not forced into political theme parks but, rather, put themselves there. Humans are self-fencing, self- shepherding creatures. Wherever they live, they create parks around themselves. In city parks, national parks, provincial or state parks, eco-parks – everywhere people must create for themselves rules according to which their comportment must be governed.
Habermas continues to chart why a moratorium on GM pre-persons should be enforced, generally focusing on respect for the pre-personal beings, made instead of grown and the autonomous experiences of eventual personal identity, which those prepersonalities often molt into.
The designer, choosing according to his own moral preferences (or social habits), does not violate the moral rights of another person. … Instead, he changes the initial conditions for the identity formation of another person in an asymmetrical and irrevocable manner.
This actually feeds into a feedback loop with Eugene Thacker’s use of the concept of ‘life itself” that falls under a biotechnological ‘control principle, exemplified by the first recombinant DNA experiments of the 1970s. This is the principal in which “life itself is open to technical intervention, all the while remaining life itself”; biology become a domain of technique, while remaining biological.’ Habermas concurs when he says ‘What is so unsettling is that the dividing line between the nature we are and the organic equipment we give ourselves is being blurred.’ Sloterdijk adds the context of harm awareness to the historical context:
But the discourse about difference and the control of taming and breeding indeed, just the suggestion about the decline of awareness of how human beings are produced, and intimations of anthropotechnology these are prospects from which we may not, in the present day, avert our eyes, lest they once again be presented as harmless.
Although the process of hereditary arts is palpably neofascist (a retro national aesthetic these days), the scientist as untrained artist is often magnificent in gene expression (this includes most transgenic creatures as art, in their campy unintentionally and glamorous, efficient and enigmatic messages, pleasant existence excluded). ‘As far as contemporary science and biology go doubt is no longer an option, for genetics is on the way to becoming an art, a transgenic art, a culture of the embryo for purely performative ends, just as the eugenicists at the beginning of the twentieth century had hoped.’ Part of the problem with the debate on this technology is it is presumably couched in free speech, but the putschistic technological advances are continually applied without an ear towards listening to the empty chorus singing in the regulatory vaccum of global bioethics. Even words that caused some fury upon their release are becoming digested pabulum. In some ways the fait accompli is propped up by a continual, public ‘battle between those who wish to breed for minimization and those who wish to breed for maximization of human function or, as we might say, a battle between humanists and superhumanists.’ This battle between IGM Rubber Stamp Utilitarians as genetically fascinated health advocates bent on control of gene expressionism and the Naïve Futurists enhancement advocates with their iGMO perfectionist immortality obsession play out a classic ‘good cop, bad cop’ scenario while covering up the Rejectionist idealism of human embryonic dignity and the right to be born with an unedited genome. IGM is couched as therapy or enhancement but the concept of organic mutation superseding genome reprogramming is ignored as luddite superstitious sanctification instead of the joy of crummy, slow and fragmented evolutionary processes of hit or miss organism deformation know as romance and dumb luck. Technological prevention of the preservation of heirloom humans should not be eclipsed by those royal anthrotechnologists working on the great genome fugues of the future. Listen deeply to those ecological voices advocating for strange concepts like complex nutrition, equal redistribution of resources and an end to toxic waste. iGMO’s conflict with all three world views is simply that all three directions claim to shore the global anthropocentric genome against the degeneration of our species, which from a critical eugenics perspective are all form of sadism to boot.
Differently Abled Taste Test: Degradation and Zest
But there is another choice. One might be able to choose differently. We may be able to step out of the red light, yellow light, green light trinity of bioethical boredom. We may be able to accept IGM breeding technics without the super aftertaste. Although there are many optimistic-to-a-fault transhumanists out there, there are almost none as untenably traditional in their eugenic tendencies than Nick Bostrum, who in his article ‘In Defense of Posthuman Dignity,’ readily admits, ‘There may be some who would transform themselves into degraded posthumans.’ Bostrum then goes on to say:
Some people today do not live very worthy human lives. This is regrettable, but the fact that some people make bad choices is not generally a sufficient ground for rescinding people’s right to choose.
What is the range of codices for bad breeds? How does queer theory, the posthumanities and disability studies inform on the smug toned, paternalist, ‘we know what is a worthy’ human breed judges of all tomorrow’s children? Is there some way to rehabilitate Bostrum’s presumptuousness, from old-fashioned hate into a liberating gesture? What is the real range of divergence that will be on the menu of choice? Perhaps with an AOL (all organisms living) worldwide range of inherited goals, we can accept the fact that ‘Extreme arts, such as transgenic practices, aim at nothing less than to embark BIOLOGY on the road to a kind of “expressionism” whereby teratology will no longer be content just to study malformations, but will resolutely set off in quest of their chimeric reproduction.’
Well, yes…, we are here, we are subaltern, subgenius and subversive. As body monster promotion sculptors, we feel the Nordauian critique mirrored in Virilio’s criminalization of expressionate genomics. What is the bourne whom can be born to make iGMO through lascivious innate human engineering? What malformations can a critical negationist performance art brut bear to bear? Are these tactical children antiantiantiart? This is not a series of questions but an invitation to a series of quests through degradation and into zest.
The Ethics of Too Late
This is how theoretical aesthetics of art affect the comparative economies, the contradictions that supply the brunt of our lived environment alteration. For instance, this is how we compare the social worth of industrial and agricultural applications of these new technologies to art productions invented for very different purposes. This is how we weigh the worth of and cost to the beings instrumentalized and morphed for the sake of cultural production in the corporate sector, military R&D, arts and sciences. We know the seductive draw of the slippery slope, the allure of the process. It is easy to read the libidinal economy of transgenic extreme live- art anatomical production. It is both ‘pure as the driven snow’40 and abject in its medical-carnal atrocity magnetism. What remains is to explore the potential palette of human genetically inscribed gonads/ kindred. What follows is a short list of technics, anatomical targets, architectural edifices and aesthetic potentials for future human sculpting as time based, conceptual, new media, bio art.
DIY Embryology, Mellon Institute, Carnegie Mellon, edited by Jonathan (Jae) Minard, with Elizabeth (Liz) Buschmann and Sondra Hart, 2013:
Gene Injection Methods
How to get Modifications into the Human Germline?
Where to get genes into the human hereditary cascade? How to get genes in? Where architecturally this play is enacted? How mechanically this end is achieved?
Genetic Insertion Technology: Methods of Transgenesis
1. Human Infectious Vector Constructs and CRISPR constructs (Commonly used in human and human embryo gene therapy trials)
2. Biolistics (Gene Gun), Shoot
3. Electroporation, Shock
4. Microinjection, Inject
6. Artificial Chromosomes
Human Genetic Modification Targets
Where Anatomically human are the Novel Gene Targets?
Gene insertion potential sites genes enter the waterfall of inheritance in human body:
1. Human gonads: sperm in testicles and ovum in ovaries. Female children and adults, male adolescents and adults.
2. Zygote or developing blastula outside of the body during IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) as a part of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology.) Implantation into a pseudo- pregnant womb or uterus is presently still needed.
3. Direct to a Human Embryo inside a pregnant women. Embryos have developing gonads: pre-eggs (oogonia) and presperm (spermatagonia)
4. Human Embryonic Stem Cells (HESc) grown in tissue culture and screened with Florescence activated cell sorter (FACS), then grown into embroid bodies and implanted. Cloning of posthumans possible with this method with the aid of many surrogates interested in co-birthing a technically novel clan or brood.
Architectural Sites of Human Gene Editing
Where are the spaces that specialize in repro-sex tech?
1. Divisions of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
2. Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology
3. IVF/fertility clinics
4. Hospital based gene therapy trials
5. Transgenic animal production
6. Abortion clinics – family planning
7. Surrogate mother service agencies
8. Sperm and Ovum donor agencies
9. Human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESC), commercially available lines
10. Medical waste, i.e. ovaries and testicles (removed or from fresh donor cadavers), zygotes, embryos and foetii (extras from fertility clinics or abortion clinics)
11. International Space Station (ISS) hESC experiments
Types of Transgenic Human Alterations Possible
Which genes to pick, purchase and update into your kindred and why?
1. ‘enhancements’: Strength, Intelligence, Memory, Longevity, Healing, Resistance (to radiation or other deadly teratogens), Beauty, Sexual Potency for Military, Space Travel, Economic, Sports or other Perfectionist species trajectories.
2. Exuberance: drawn from all organismic diversity Genes or libraries of genes from the. (Lizard, jelly fish, kangaroo, worm, tree, bacteria, mushroom, dinosaur, mango, etc.) For instance worm skin, kangaroo pouch, lizard legs, tree skull, mango saliva or mushroom reproductive traits (spore humans.) The full range of color, skin (scales and fur), brain types dolphin and/or platypus), metabolic skills (cannabanoid pathways) and glands. Cultural origins of design from ancient myths to present day media. Use of preserved genes of historical figures (i.e. Ghengis Khan and Cohen genes available from Ancestry.com)
3. Morphology Body plan alterations: size (height, width, length, morphed proportions), multiples: many eyes, many legs, many arms, many clitorii and the morphological problem of placement (i.e. ectopic) and attachment to the brain and central nervous center so they ‘work’.
4. Beyond terran design sets: interplanetary size, decentralized (rhizomic) entities, permutative architectures, using other planets as petridishes for spreading unimaginable being. These life forms should be more annoying than the human, as prophylactic allure seducing the alien other’s information society gleanings on human isness. The seeding of multiple galaxies with experimental postpersons of radical diversity will provide a sort of showcase of our inner world as a wishful interstellar horde of infester suitors. We must send our anatomical art brut into space as an invitation from our erotomaniacal population in astrobiological waiting for panspermia’s arrival.
Beyond exploring the range of Future Human Anatomy and Metabolism there are some further questions. Who is produced? How are they doing living with your anatomical, metabolic or purely aesthetic choices as their sticky body pod lifestyle? In order to be able to prevent painful Psychosocial Problems for Transgenic Humans, we need to develop a language of gene choices based on aesthetics and sensitivity. A descriptive lexicon may help us understand the massive detail that life has. The whole of Art History is a potential therapeutic agent here. There is a chance that the germline experimental humans of iGMO, as conceptual and actual, transgenic, time based, new media kinetic sculptural art persons will preempting neo-prejudices by queering general public appreciation of mutant beings. This should imply that all of the multidimensional aspects of developmental biology can and should culminate in amazing ranges of tween embodiment over time.
J. Habermas, The Future of Human Nature, trans. Hella Beister and William Rehg, Malden, MA, Polity Press, 2006: 21.
P. Sloterdijk, ‘Rules for the Human Zoo: A response to the Letter on Humanism’. Translated by Mary Varney Rorty, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 27, 2009: 12-28: 25. [Originally Nicht gerettet: Versuche nach Heidegger, Suhrkamp, 2001]
S.K. Templeton, ‘Scientist team creates first GM human Embryo’, Times Online, UK, May 11 2008. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/ science/article3908516.ece.
G. Stock and J. Campbell, Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass to Our Children, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000.
P. Virilio, ‘A Pitiless Art,’ in Art and Fear, trans. Julie Rose, London, Continuum, 2003: 27.
E. Thacker, ‘Life Resistance and Tactical Media,’ in E. Thacker, Biomedia. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2004: 26.
Snoop Dogg, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot,’ R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (feat. Pharrell Williams), Doggystyle/Star Trak/Geffen, 2004, compact disc.
N. Bostrum, ‘In Defense of Posthuman Dignity,’ Bioethics 19, 2005: 210.
M. Nordau, Degeneration, 7th ed., New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1895.
Grandmaster Melle Mel, ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),’ Greatest Mixes, lyrics written by Melle Mel, Sylvia Robinson, Sugarhill Records, 1983, vinyl, 331⁄3 rpm.
“iGMO: inherited Genetic Modification Orgiastics, Philosophy of the Biological Bedroom, a Prelude for Transgenic Humans”, originally published in Institutional Critique to Hospitality: Bio Art Practice Now. A critical anthology, edited by Assimina Kaniari, pg 87-103, 2017, SBN: 978-960-612-019-0.
After four years of seeming silence on the topic, Adam Zaretsky’s Essay, ‘Human Germline Gene Editing is Bioart: An open letter to Lulu and Nana’, Routledge Handbook of Art, Science, and Technology Studies, Edited By Hannah Star Rogers, Megan K Halpern, Dehlia Hannah and Kathryn de Ridder-Vignone, is taking preorders. An excerpt of his chapter will debut online here at Makery next week.