Hauntology of the Machinic

Hauntology of the Machinic

Atsuhide Ito (Solent University, UK & University of the Arts London, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4894-3.ch008
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The chapter observes the distinction between the mechanical and the machinic, and moves beyond the metaphors of android (Metropolis), or cyborg (Donna Haraway), and considers how the machinic has brought new cognitive patterns for human subjects to interact with their environment and others. Artists' dislocation from the central agent of production has opened passages for the posthuman mode of production. Consequently, the machine has become an integral part of artwork and of the artist. Contrary to this development, some artists retain the machine's materiality as a form of Other. The chapter argues that the machine remains as a form of externalization of the Other within the human subject.
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Machine ethics can be found entrenched in modern art. The artistic use of machines in art throughout modern time affirms art’s intimate and historical entanglement with technology. A tenuous relationship of right and wrong is illuminated often by antagonism between the human and the machine, the latter expressed as an alien force that threatens the human subject’s agency for creativity. Artwork is often perceived as a product of a singular mind meld between artists and results of their artistic labor, quite dissimilar to a consumer product made by machines in a factory. While a viewer of a painting may be able to trace the thought processes of a painter by contemplating gestural marks left on the painting and through other evident artifacts, similar to consumer products made by automated machines in a factory, many contemporary artworks today are made by, and with, machines. Such works question the artist as a sole agent of art production. This chapter reflects this antagonism, and situates moments of artistic ethical contentions, while philosophically scrutinizing the notion of the machine. To begin, the terms ‘mechanical’ and ‘machinic’ are contrasted in order to re-imagine machine ethics in the context of artistic freedom and critique.

In his chapter “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry” in The Capital, Karl Marx (1867, 1990) expresses his anxiety about machinic intrusion into factory floors: “The instrument of labour [machines] strikes down the worker. The direct antagonism between the two is at its most apparent whenever newly introduced machinery enters into competition with handicrafts or manufacturers handed down from former times” (p. 559). Marx in this chapter emphasizes the competition between the machine and the worker, as machines: 1) replace the worker’s involvement into production, and 2) carry out tasks more efficiently and productively. Written earlier between 1857 and 1861, in the section “The Fragment on Machines” in Grundrisse (Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy), Marx touches on the worker’s cognitive relation with machines, observing that “[t]he worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite” (2015, p. 614). In short, the worker in the production process is subordinated to machinery. Marx elaborates:

Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism (p. 615).

Gerald Raunig aptly summarizes that “Marx describes their relationship between humans and machines primarily as social subjugation […] Marx seems to follow the pair of metaphors depicting the machine as a gigantic organism and the human beings as its dependent, appropriated components” (2010, p. 22). From this perspective, the machine enslaves the human subject, rather than the human subject being in control of the machine. Consequently, the machine poses ethical problems, as its use threatens the human’s autonomy over her/his own actions.

The humanists’ fear of the machine threatening the human agent’s autonomy is vividly illustrated in a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1936 film, Modern Times, where physical actions exemplify the subject’s antagonism with the machine while the worker attempts to resist enslavement to the machine. Chaplin plays a character who works at the assembly. A conveyor belt in front of him brings parts faster than he can manage to handle. As he tries even harder to manage, he is swallowed into the machine. The machine is depicted as a gigantic monster with a long and fast tongue of a conveyor belt. As Gilles Deleuze observes, it is “Chaplin, who advances by means of tools, and is opposed to the machine” (1986, p. 175).

In contrast, Deleuze celebrates Buster Keaton’s film, The General (1926), in which Keaton as a protagonist actively enchains himself to a concatenation of machinic operations.

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