Daniel Laforest Writer, researcher, translator, Dyscorpia Team Member
What does the word “dyscorpia” mean to you?
Although resonances with negatively-tainted words like 'dysmorphia' and 'dystopia' would tend impose themselves at first glance, I do not feel like the prefix 'dys-' carries its usual meaning of substraction and privation when applied to the body. What we often fail to keep in mind when it comes to our bodies --to any type of body actually, be it animal, vegetal, etc.-- is that we conceive them in a profoundly contradictory way. What we strive to achieve through our bodies pertains to values and meanings that stems mainly from our linguistic minds. For example we can measure physical performance with numbers and quotients, yes, but when we celebrate it we do so via a reference to the comparative valuation of polarities (weakness; strength, speed; slowness, etc.). That is our linguistic brain at work, always. To say something or someone is weak is at once a powerful statement, and an absolutely empty one.
What I mean is it that it does produce an impact socially, but it says close to nothing about the actual body we're referring to. Weak in relation to what, or to who? And what part, what property of the body is deemed weak? You get the idea. I'm extrapolating on a reasoning offered first by French physician and philosopher of sciences George Canguilhem. Namely that we cannot help but think of life through polarities, and that in reality, for an organism taken individually, the ideas of 'normal' and 'deviant' are devoid of sense. And there's no need here to dwell on the consensual beauty standards and their coercive effects on gender discrimination, etc. They are social effects of that. Ultimately, language's relation to the body is a relation of assignation, of confinement, of manifold limitations. Hence the positive ring Dyscorpia possesses in my ears. To think of the body in absentia of norms, to look at its external relations and internal configurations for the comprehension of which we have no syntax or grammar, doesn't have anything to do with science-fiction or weirdness or that sort of thing. On the contrary, to me it means looking at the body for what it really is. That's what I believe Dyscorpia does.
How does your work speak to the body and our relationship to technology? What is the crossover between the ethics, politics and aesthetics of your work?
My current research work is primarily aimed at figuring out the ways in which technologies of medical visualization impact not only how we conceive of our bodies, but also how we relate to our sense of self. Thus I suppose you could say my research stands at the crossroads of health humanities, philosophy, and narrativity. Our current time is an exciting one to do so, what with the addition of virtual reality and artificial intelligence to the already fast-developing technologies of body scanning and digitization, of 3D organ modelling and (eventually) printing. In a nutshell I'm quite fascinated by the implications of the following phenomenon: throughout a lifetime today, one is liable to come into direct contact with several 'medicalized' visual representations of themselves. But the mistake would be to think there's no history to this phenomenon.
Therein lies a huge part of the work to be done: how to tell this history of the gradual dismantling --or even atomization-- of the body through the various stages in the evolution of medical visualization? How to, firstly, draw the lines that extend from early clinical auscultation to the advent of x-rays, and from MRI scans to molecular modelling, and how to, secondly, understand the effects of this progressive advent of transparency in what we get to see and believe with regards to of our selves. The aesthetic implications of my work are self-explanatory, since this is all about the relation between form and meaning. As for the ethical ones, well, I do not think contemporary medical technology is in any way interested in the notion of ego. One can choose to think of that as frightening. I personally find it fascinating.
What do you believe are the limits of the body in 2019? Can you envision how it will be different in 50 years from now? 100?
I don't think we've ever been able to tell what the limits of a body are, to paraphrase Baruch Spinoza's infamous and oft-quoted line. But it isn't enough to say that. We may not know what the limits of a body are, but we have always behaved as if we did! This is what I was saying of the relation between language and the body in my answer to the first question. Thus neglecting the effects of such a constraining social consensus would be missing half of the picture. Yes, there are obvious domains in which it could be argued the limits of the body are continually tested and pushed; I'm thinking of sports, of the business of record-setting, and more generally of every instance where competition comes to the fore--including intellectual ones. But I find those the least interesting examples to study. They are not really democratic, and they also kind of belong to a 20th Century logic as far as I'm concerned. In this regard one can interpret the current popular infatuation for superhero movies as a deep reactionary movement in culture.
We do not want to let go of the idea of an exceptional, over-performing body replete with attributes we can worship. But the 21st century wind is actually blowing in a different way. If the undefined limits of the body are to be investigated anew, and extended, transformed, etc. today and in the near future, it will be much more relevant and promising to look at how this all takes place for everyone in ordinary, daily life. Because ordinary life is where our health exists in the first place, and it is where the biological challenges of our time are really being felt the most. There is hardly a way in which individual performance and competitive physical abilities can bring anything new or fruitful in the Anthropocene. Because what is the Anthropocene? It is the era in which the inherent instability of all the bodies (animal, human, mineral, vegetal, etc.) accelerates towards a probable point of non-sustainability. The same goes for their supposed limits and boundaries. And what is the first visible consequence of the Anthropocene? The revelation that all bodies, with their unhinged limits, are entangled. To use a cliché that is nevertheless brutally true: we are all in this together. Literally.