liminal lives or …the paradoxes of uncertainty

Everything preceding and during the conference highlighted an overall difficulty to deal with anything unexpected or unpredictable, starting from the fact that the program was only released a few weeks before the event. this caused some people to become impatients: this conference about uncertainty was indeed, very uncertain. I found this reaction (mine as well) interesting and wondered whether once at the conference we would have changed our mind (or would have sought some form of structured comfort among the many panels and papers that promised to do otherwise). A similar uneasiness  became apparent right at the beginning, during the first panel, Liminal Lives: Life in the Age of Permanent Bio-transgression.

The panel proposed to rethink the categories of life as a result of biotech manipulation and the creative work of bioartists. Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr’s reflections on the issue of transgression of life itself and discourses on life brought them to evoke the ghost of the Golem, a typical figure that populate many touristic corners of Prague. the cheeky example, however is very apt, as the creation of the golem implies the shaping of life from crude matter. But then, the Golem, like many biotech creations, is the product of a reduction with an aspiration tp purify and perfect.  Unexpected consequences are never predicted. In the same way,  when experimenting with  half leaving many questions arise: are we free from any process of moral restriction of discourse? (ie default notions of life, or established aesthetics and forms). Should we let our “creatures” develop as they wish and observe what they do (and be open to see them revolting against their creator), or should we, like in the story of the Golem, try to give our creation a specific goal/mission?

What we used to understand as organism has changed. Johanna Hoffman emphasized how not only have new technologies meant an enhanced ability to manipulate life, but it has also emphasized the need to perceive the concept of life and human life differently, that is, not as a quantifiable object, but as an entity dominated by the concept of infinity. From here, she suggested a new reading, from deterministic to holistic, and a new attitude that pays attention to energy patterns rather than to quantifiable bits.

With the two discourses above, it was then surprising, but not illogical, to find Francois Lapointe proposing a reading of the human organism based on macrobiotics, that is, on the in vivo interaction between the bacteria living in our body. according to this trend, the different organs that compose the human body contain unique interactions between bacteria and microbes: the microbiome project takes sample from different parts of the body and sequence the genome of these samples trying to reconstruct the organism . Projects such as American Gut  , the skin microbiome project, or the vaginal microbiome project   show the microbial uniqueness of human organs and disseminate knowledge about their functions.

The revelation of such complexity may speak against the deterministic attempt to break down every bit of the human body and other organisms. however, Lapointe seemed to insist in the possibility of creating human portraits using the information retrieved from such projects. But this tendency to Know every bit contained in our body, trying to see and to know further and further, in the context of Mutamorphosis becomes problematic:  how can we pay tribute to uncertainty if we cannot really embrace such uncertainty? how can we accept the complexity of our universe when every discovery becomes a further incentive to tame such complexity? How to accept the “infinity” (as Hoffman suggested) of nature and ultimately our human body without falling back into creating more reductions and purifications (as Catts and Zurr indicated)?

To the question on how to deal with such paradoxical tendency (the problem to deal with indeterminacy and uncertainty on the one hand, and the drive to specify, redefine and reduce on the other) Verena Friedrich replied that when you work with  elusive material (in her case language)  that is basically unstable, then you need to stabilize it to a certain extent. But when do you stop?