Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bodies - again

A few days ago, after over 2.5 years' service and intensive and very productive use—three novels, virtually all the books I publish designed and laid out, plus video work and website development, and, of course, email email email—my iBook G4 suddenly gave up its functionality. Meaning it stopped working. Symptoms: a blank screen, a pathetic beep when starting up, a disk drive waiting for someone to tell it what to do, but no someone there saying a damn thing. The fault diagnosed was a fatally faulty logic board—for PC users that's what's known as a 'motherboard', which I always considered a quaint term—which is very expensive to procure and install, and it really wasn't worth the effort. So I bought a MacBook, which I probably needed anyway for HD video processing, and so that was fate telling me "now's the time, boy", or something cheesy along those lines. Sometimes fate can be very chatty.

Anyway, last night I did some disassembling of the carcass of the iBook G4, to get out the bits that I'll try and sell on that great NZ eBay equivalent called TradeMe: 1 Gb RAM, AirportExtreme card, modem, Combo drive, hard-drive, various other bits and pieces. I also detached the LCD display, which works perfectly and might do for someone whose has packed up or shows too many missing pixels.

As I was doing this a few things occurred to me, not least because a laptop—and especially the Mac versions, which are tightly-packed machines with just about every cubic mm used up for something functional—isn't like your average PC box, or even the Mac 'Tower' style cases, whose innards you put together willy-nilly; a graphics adapter here, a drive there, an ethernet card in that slot and the motherboard can be just about anything suitable, manufactured in places that have no name, and possibly by people working as effective slaves. No, a laptop is a highly integrated entity in which everything is where it is because it has to be there and you can't exchange this and that or move it from that slot to the other. If you did things just wouldn't fit together anymore. The layout even takes into account the issues of airflow through such narrow confined spaces with no-space-to-spare. The things, mechanical as it is, has significant metaphorical correlations to a human body, and I'll leave it to you how you map the various components of an iBook G4 onto a human body.

What occurred to me, above all, just how much the sudden demise of my iBook looked like the death a fellow martial artist some weeks back. Same absurd thing, really. Apparently fit and fighting, but there was that tiny but critical and fatal flaw that made things go terminally wrong. You can lose a leg and live. Hell, you can lose all limbs and live. You can lose even more and live. We have the technology. But one little f***up in the wrong place and it all ends. Could be a thing so tiny that nobody will ever fully understand it—like which one of the millions of transistors on that logic board crapped out?—but it's the one that puts you under. End of story. Remember that. Always. If the next heartbeat don't come, neither does anything else as far as you're concerned. Remember that.

And there I was, feeling like one of the corpse-slicer-uppers described in grisly detail in that article Who Owns Your Body Parts? I know, it makes no sense, because that's just a damn iBook G4, and I really don't have any sentimental affinity for anything that isn't alive and preferably human—though cats are right up there, too—but the metaphor was so glaring, and especially with the obvious similarities between the design of tightly packed laptops and living bodies. Talk about irony! Man!

The point is, of course—and this, when I get back to Bodies, is one of the important underlying 'messages', if you will—it's OK to take apart and cannibalize an iBook and think of the similarities between doing that and disassembling a human body...but it's not OK to disassemble a human body and think of it with nor more feeling as an engineer would who takes a computer apart for spare parts.

And it is not OK—and I wasn't going to talk about this, but suddenly I feel I have to—to subject the world to the spectacle which an Oprah show regaled us to. It was shown in NZ only a few weeks ago, and therefore at a time when I was in the middle of the beginning of Bodies, and it was like "looky-here, Till, this is yet another case..."

I didn't watch the show, because I was busy blogging, but someone else in our house did and I was in the same room, and despite earphones I caught the occasional visual impression. One sequence held me in horrified thrall and I still feel like puking every time I think of it. It was possibly the most revolting and revealing thing I've ever seen Oprah do—and she's produced quite a few doozies.

It was one of those medical shows. Her favorite doc—the one who last time I saw him was talking about the required number of bowl movements and farts for a healthy life, plus just exactly what consistency your feces should have, and then Oprah revealed things about herself, yet more things, that really neither the world nor anybody except her and her shrink really needs to know—this time was going on about why you eat too much and it was all about that grand obsession: diet. In the course of this he felt it necessary to exhibit a brain, which was duly taken out of the preserving fluid and placed into Oprah's latex-gloved hand; after the necessary "I don't know if I can do this!" and the usual crap; all, one would suspect, carefully scripted and rehearsed, at least by Oprah in her dressing room, and probably in front of a mirror and a gazillion variations with just Oprah-on-Oprah.

Actually that sounded crude. Yeah, well, why not?

So, here she was, holding that brain like it was some disease; of maybe some slimy mollusc threatening to crawl over her. And the doc was using the occasion—or so I would presume from the body language, because I didn't actually hear anything—to make soothing noises and "it's just a brain" and all that. And then he pointed out anatomical features and so it went as it had to.

Well, folks, in the throes of her self-indulgent revulsion and the scientific ponderings of the doc, did it occur to anybody to pause for a moment? Did anybody even allow for a few seconds' silence. Just everybody shutting their damn mouths, while they were looking at the brain and remembering that once upon a time whatever processes went on within that blob of matter constituted the reality, the sole and exclusive world of a complete human being? A unique creature like you and me and that stupid woman holding the brain with this expression of utter disgust and "eek!"?

People will go and stare at works of 'art' and "ohh" and "ahh", and they'll marvel at our technological products and go all mushy over some piece of gadgetry. And there's fashion, of course, the fatuosity of which makes me shudder sometimes—and, yes, I had a little dig at it in Tethys, and will make a point of poking and prodding and needling some more—and all the other things we're so proud of. And yet, what is all that, but the perceptible product and creation of brains—like the blob that woman held with an expression of utter disgust for all the world to see, as if it were something to be despised and gross and generally disgusting.

And yet it is all we are. Without it we would not be. Without the processes taking place inside it and connected with it, we would not be. And the moment these processes stop, we are not. Or maybe we are; for who knows, right? But even then we are not what we were when we were incorporated in our brain and our bodies.

Yes, I know the brain in that jar is without 'life'.


Once it was not. Once it was a 'he' or a 'she'. A person with a name. Probably a family. Conceivably friends, who grieved when s/he died. Whoever donated their body to 'science'—never anticipating, I bet, the disgusting spectacle it would become the focus of—deserves much better than s/he got. Knowing that this might happen to bits and pieces of you, would you consider 'donating' your leftovers to anything but a grave? I think I'd rather have my corpse feed worms than have it or pieces thereof displayed on Oprah in such a disrespectful manner.

Back top my dismembered and taken-apart iBook G4. I have its 'brain', if you will; wherein lies whatever constituted its 'identity'. The 'logic board' was really just the equivalent of the physical structure that is the brain. The 'contents' were somewhere else; in this instance on the hard-drive, where resides the software and what it 'is', if you will. Or 'was'.

Funny thing is—'funny' in an analogical kind of way, in the sense of what it might be taken to mean—I can, and will, put the hard-drive into an enclosure and boot my eMac from it; and I wouldn't know from its behavior that is wasn't actually my former iBook—except for the speed maybe. I can also transfer—this after all is a Mac and not some Winpuke abomination—just about all of the stuff on the disk, including applications, to my new MacBook, which therefore undergoes something resembling possession-by-reincarnation. Partial possession anyway. A mind imposed on a body that might otherwise have had another kind of mind. Different brain—sorry, 'logic board'—which will deal with all of this differently and make me do things differently because it's a new OS as well; but that's what you'd expect in reincarnation; or should that be 'reincircuitation' maybe?

A metaphor for something that may happen to human beings as well? Good question. In the Tethys series that possibility is left open for question—in the Caitlan-Ailin duality—though this does not constitute an endorsement of the concept; merely a suggestion that it may be possible. I really don't know. And that reminds me that the Caitlan-Ailin story-line is very much unresolved—at least as I see it. I know how I want to 'resolve' it, but I don't think Dance of Tigers, or whatever it'll be called, is the place. Which has certain implications...

What a tangled web...

And, by the way, gotta watch the new GetAMac ads, folks!

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