Signs of life: writing, information and the human constitution

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Cooke, G 2007, 'Signs of life: writing, information and the human constitution', Interculture, vol. 4, issue 1.


In this paper, I would like to explore the biotechnological constitution of the human, and its relation to questions of value and property, through a number of different notions of writing; writing as information, writing as iteration and citation, writing as representation, and writing as biological and territorial capture. For many contemporary scholars, the human must always be understood, firstly, in relation to its others and to its tools – the techniques and technologies that have enabled the human to evolve as it has – and secondly, as a cultural formation that “materializes” over time, depending on the contexts it appears in and the uses it is put to. Writing, as a technique of inscription and recording, of encoding and programming, and of legitimation, is fundamental to this materialization of the human.

Writing is one of the pre-eminent techniques of homo sapiens – the “man of knowledge”. As inscription, it is a mode of storage and retrieval, and thus of memory and temporality; but it is more than that, because, as Bernard Stiegler argues, it is via external memory supports that “we” as human beings evolve (see Stiegler). According to Stiegler, writing as technics and external memory support is therefore constitutive of the human on a fundamental level. With the development of molecular biology and biotechnology, and the associated systems of patents and intellectual property rights, writing is constitutive of the human in economic and political contexts as well. Through analysis of tropes of writing in Adrian Mackenzie’s recent text Transductions: Bodies and Machines at Speed, and in associated texts by Judith Butler and Donna Haraway, amongst others, I wish to explore the implications of this multi-faceted writing of the human....

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