Most things are within man’s power to
A mythical adventure game of antiquity begins for Hercules with a mission from the Oracle of Delphi to carry out twelve tasks1 in the service of Eurytheus in order to achieve immortality. Hercules’ tasks lead him all over the ancient world, and the tenth task, taking the cattle of the triple-bodied giant Geryon, even takes him to the end of the world, beyond Gibraltar. There, to commemorate his furthest journey, he builds the "Pillars of Hercules"2. Upon completion of his twelve tasks, Hercules returns to Theban, but later goes to Trachis with his second wife Deianeira, where his wife unwittingly causes his terrible death. Hercules had killed the centaur Nessus out of jealousy with a poisoned arrow, but before he died, the centaur made Deianeira a gift of the blood flowing from the wound. She was to collect the blood and use it to dye her lover’s garments, so that he would never be able to love another woman. As Hercules sets off for battle, his unhappy fate takes its course. Deianeira secretly coats his garments with the blood, which eats through the wool during the sacrifice of a steer, burning Hercules’ genitals. Robbed of the possibility of sexual reproduction and of earthly life, Hercules is determined to escape the torment by burning to death. Lightening strikes his pyre and a cloud carries him up to Olympus. Brought into the circle of gods by Athena, the myth of Hercules ends with his marriage to Hebe, goddess of eternal youth, who bears him immortal children.
Even in modernity, in order to arrive at immortality and progress human beings must set out like Hercules for foreign lands, absolve adventures and gain new insights. In the early 17th century, the notion of "sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules" commonly symbolized the conjuncture of scholarly knowledge. As an expression of the modern need for information, a copper etching of the Pillars of Hercules adorns the frontispiece of Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, published in 1620, the central work of the Instauratio Magna, the great restauration of the sciences. Sailing across the boundaries of the old world and journeys across the sea were accompanied by an expansion of the stores of data that enabled modern researchers to surpass the old order: "Multi pertransibunt et augebitur scientia." Returning ships thus had a significance typical for the era, because as "knowledge navigators" they were agents crossing foreign waters, landing on exotic coasts and capturing new knowledge, treasures and goods.3
In conjunction with seafaring expeditions, all that was new was high in demand and subjected traditions and old dogmas to examination and corrections. In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, the new lost its negative connotations and became a kind of recommendation or label, which is found in book titles such as Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia nova or Amerigo Vespucci’s formulation novus mundus, just as it is found today as a quality and purchase argument on products and commodities of all kinds. The right to satisfy scientific curiositas was to guarantee the freedom of research and teaching through the uninhibited gratification of the drive for knowledge and introduce a permanent skepticism with regards to goals of insight. Consequently science became a cultural form of the permanent critique of the results of these goals. With curiosity setting off to sea, world, meaning geography, religion, science, politics and society, was renegotiated. A relativism of world views emerged, which Bacon succinctly formulated with the statement, "truth is a daughter of time." For the first time, reason ranked before tradition, and the right to religious freedom also came to mean the right to freedom from religion. Since according to Bacon, everything is permitted to man4, "relegion", reading, scanning, recoding, replaced religion. The divine book of nature was thus freed from taboos and subordinated to the laws of reason. This legitimized opening new pages and editing old pages in the book of nature, which is being updated today in genetic engineering and nanotechnology, nuclear physics and quantum physics.
The view to the west no longer ended at the Pillars of Hercules, but instead, a new Hercules myth was projected. The myth became technical and tipped the transcendental gaze from the vertical of the heavenly other world to the horizontal of analysis and immanence. This westerly course marked the beginning of the emancipation of the "occident" in terms of metaphysical orientation, and the "disorientation" of the gaze as the change from orientation to occidentation, or more simply westernization, subjected the world to a new intellectual order and cartography. Plus ultra5 became the perspective of science in search of a reliable means to overcome all entropic evil with the desirous finale of a paradisal other world in this world.
In the utopian narrative Nova Atlantis, Bacon drafts a new model of a knowledge society along the border between literature and philosophy. Like the sunken continent of Atlantis, which lay before the Pillars of Hercules according to Plato (Timaeus 24e-25d), Bacon’s New Atlantis, or rather the island called Bensalem by its inhabitants, is located somewhere off the sea route from Peru to China or Japan. A European ship ends up on the island, where a form of society and culture exists, which represents the vision of a plannable world that can be improved through scientific progress in the sense of the paradigms of modernity and enlightenment. Science, technology and politics result from a cooperative undertaking that is devoted to optimizing the future. At the center of New Atlantis there is an institute, the "House of Salomon", with so-called "light merchants" (observers, experimenters, authors, translators, etc.), who appraise and administer the knowledge brought by the "light purchasers". The responsibility of the sciences is to select the best goals for the society and take care of their technical realization. Here progress implies imagining and fictively testing new circumstances in comparison with the existing ones, which means that for Bacon, "science fiction" had already become a socio-political category that determines the development of culture. It is precisely in this context that Bacon sees the scientia nova as a comparison of existing states with possible nominal states. Future becomes contingent, and the task of science is to extract the best possible variation from this contingency. The human being is placed in an operative relationship to the history of the future, and the idea of progress is born: that people will be able to take history into their own hands and ultimately also decide their own "natural" fate and become auto-evolving. Science assumes the task of advancing the categories of what is to come and heralds the birth of the avant-gardes of the natural sciences by directing attention not to the present, but rather to the future, resulting in a non-topicality of being.
The 21st century is the present of the Baconian future. At a time when there are more scientists going about their work than in all the eras of the history of humanity together, the Salomonian knowledge society has become the capital of the global house of world economics. Information is the ultimate raw material resource, and similarly to Bacon’s era, cybernauts (Greek kybernetes = helmsman) navigate through data oceans and information floods. Internet geographers and gene cartographers are much in demand to explore and colonize unknown areas and make them productive. Today the New-Atlantean Bensalem is no longer a utopia, but an atopia of the western value community. From today’s perspective, however, reading Bacon with the increasing realization of the fantastical promises and the concepts for the natural scientific improvement of the world described in them, awakens associations and fears that bring to mind the island of Dr. Moreau: "We have also means to make divers plants rise by mixtures of earths without seeds, and likewise to make divers new plants, differing from the vulgar, and to make one tree or plant turn into another. We have also parks, and enclosures of all sorts, of beasts and birds; which we use not only for view or rareness, but likewise for dissections and trials, that thereby may take light what may be wrought upon the body of man. Wherein we find many strange effects: as continuing life in them, though divers parts, which you account vital, be perished and taken forth; resuscitating of some that seem dead in appearance, and the like. […] By art likewise we make them greater or smaller than their kind is, and contrariwise dwarf them and stay their growth. […] Also we make them differ in color, shape, activity, many ways. We find means to make commixtures and copulations of divers kinds, which have produced many new kinds, and them not barren, as the general opinion is. […] Neither do we this by chance, but we know beforehand of what matter and commixture, what kind of those creatures will arise."6
The Enlightenment and Rationalism and the crises they set off were followed in the Romantic era, for instance, or the Post-Modern by a temporary clarification, a more sober stance with regards to the promises of the Salomonian avant-garde. Nevertheless, a third culture7 is currently being constituted, which is picking up the threads of the modern era again, linking them to a new paradigm, and focussing attention on the empiricism of the natural sciences and the capital of economy. Rather than "symbolic worlds", "real worlds" are up for discussion, pushing traditional philosophy and art into marginal areas. Forms of a "neo-materialism" penetrating into the depths of particles via an immanence of the intellect, are on the advance by way of physics, biology, and chemistry, or quantum research, biotechnology, gene technology, nanotechnology and computer sciences respectively, aiming to renegotiate the code of the world and of life. For art it seems that the course for the 21st century has long been set in the realm of cultural productive forces, and art’s role as an extra has been sanctioned as a bourgeois rudiment. In this cultural environment that implicates natural sciences, economy, politics and the societal, dreams of a universal technical feasibility, an expansion of living space into cosmic dimensions and virtual spaces, and the gene-technical optimization and biotechnical doubling of the body are cultivated. The tide of the Plus ultra of the occidental drift is rising, since the wave of the trail west has run up against the geographical border of west America as the nonplusultra of the world. Nourished by Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Disneyland etc., "California Dreaming" stimulates desires for technically and economically supported freedoms, setting in motion a yearning for a genetic fountain of youth, from which beautiful, pure and eternal bodies may bubble forth into a world "rendered" by technology. The digital doubling of the environment, the biotechnological doubling of the body, and the economic doubling of capital form the fundamental essences for the fuel of globalization.
The question "Better dead than read?" polarizes the alternatives of a neo-materialist third culture and places us before the choice of dying a "natural" death or reading ourselves and our environment, in other words decoding the book of nature and subsequently recoding it. Technophile wishes for auto-evolving self-invention and ego design, eternal youth and fitness, beauty and biometrical standardization contrast confidence in a natural development of the diversity of life or a fundamentalist yearning for fate and death. The individual dream of unrestricted growth, of inexhaustible resources and unlimited energy counters the necessity of a socially just distribution of goods and their sustainable use. Our attitude toward life is characterized here by a double structure in between ecological and social baseness, the annihilation of biological diversity and the generation of artificial survival techniques. Broadly speaking, we live in a self-perverting information age that amasses terabytes of symbolic data daily, while genetic information is simultaneously lost as the biodiversity of the oceans and the tropical forests are dramatically decimated by several species every day.
In this context Biophily is a dirty art word, the meanings and connotations of which are opened up through ambivalences and interdependencies. On the one hand, Biophily expresses a positive form of love in the sense of biophilia (love of life) or philosophy (love of wisdom), but also a perverted one in the sense of necrophilia (love of the dead). On the other hand, Biophily is not subject to any binary morality and fosters heterodox thinking without heed to violations of ethical and aesthetic categories, but rather focusing its gaze on transversal connections and enzymatic reversals. Erich Fromm marked the concept of biophilia beginning in the mid-sixties by advocating the thesis of a necrophiliac society that is narcissistically in love with all that is non-living, machine-like. For him, the necrotopic vision represented the real drive to generate artificial life, signalizing a decay syndrome of the humanist tradition in the context of the Cold War and the nuclear armament race. He dualized humanity in good and evil, biophile and necrophile: "Psychologically and morally there is no greater contrast than between those who love what is dead and those who love what is living, between the necrophile and the biophile."8 Biophily, on the other hand, does not operate with dualizing models, but rather is interested in turning points, transformation processes, attractors and mixtures. For Biophily, biophilia and necrophilia designate two mutually conditional phenomena, oscillating to the point where they tip into their opposite on a Möbius strip. Biophily comports itself in analogy to the forces in Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, but it is based less on the contrast between the humanist and the monstrous than on the alchemist-enzymatic potion itself. In comparison with Stevenson’s novel, Biophily focuses primarily on what is catalytic and transformative about technology, on the autopoietic dynamics of processes set in motion, and only secondarily on the human character or the battle between virtue and vice. Just as necrophilia usually describes the perversion of lingering near a corpse or engaging in sexual intercourse with dead bodies, in an exaggerated sense, biophilia characterizes the animation of world, the complete fertilization and animation of dead matter. Necrophagia, the desire to feed from a corpse, and biophagia, the urge to consume oneself in the form of genetically manipulated food and biomedically generated organs, are only two sides of a techno-cultural antagonism. When Fromm presumes that necrophile people live in the past and never in the future9, then biophiles are science fiction beings devouring the past and present to feast on the vision of eternal life and immaculate and ever healthy bodies. Biophilia and necrophilia synthesize technophilely into the construction of artificial life, through which narcissism as an infatuation with self-made technoid life becomes paranoid and dissolves in the linear relation between the object and its reflection, nature and technology.
Twenty years after Fromm’s use of the term biophilia, as life in shopping malls, on freeways and in traffic jams had marginalized nature into decoration and backdrop, concern for the capacity of the global ecosystem of the earth became dominant and shifted attention from psychology to biology. Edward O. Wilson drafted his Biophilia Hypothesis10, which was devoted to the love of all forms of biological life, its rich diversity of species, and its ecological protection. Bio-ethics became a question of survival for an industrialized world reformulating its consciousness in virtual reality and exporting its future to outer space. The question of how people could survive in cyberspace or on other planets, if they could not cope with the problems in their native habitat11, strengthened the notions of the earth as a space ship, as a connectivist whole, Gaia or Prototaxis. Ideas of reality present themselves as systemic, constructivist, networked or rhizomatic, but in turn, economy has also become neoliberal and social (neo-) Darwinist. The idea of an ecologically networked world was linked with that of a telematically connected and economically interwoven one and became constitutive for the progress of a globalized culture. The free market became stylized into a natural law, biologism replaced socialism and subsidiarity supplanted solidarity. Possible alternatives to the system of capitalism are farther away today than ever. Capitalism has been declared the ultimate natural law of our culture, which appears to offer us the only possibility for survival, even in light of an ecological and social catastrophe. It is easier for us to imagine the end of the world, the annihilation of living space and the diversity of life than a change in the modalities of production and living. In this sense, as the only reality we acknowledge, neoliberal capitalism is the real "virtual reality" in which we live.
Particularly today, the idea of evolution functions as an intuition pump, the flows of which infect every reality and discipline, mutating the project of the Enlightenment into a natural law. Science and technology promise to accelerate natural and cultural development and aim for an autoevolution that is determined by both human and machine, opening up a new Pandora’s box in a Faustian trade. What used to be philosophy is now biosophy and operates at the front line of reality productions. What is tendered here are survival concepts marked by ecological concern, technical progress and the distribution of power and resources. These concepts oscillate between historically new forms of conservatism and progression, negotiating possibilities and necessities, freedom and fatalism within this spectrum. In this context, "Better dead than read" resembles the parole "revolution or death". The question of whether the revolution of modernity will realize eternally young bodies in a beautiful world or simply the adaptation of a disastrous environment, depends not least of all on the ability to cope with the task of sustainably and contractually configuring forms of society and living. For technical revolutions obviously always condition social revolutions as well, which will determine whether we need to beware of our own immortality or whether it will become a curse that is worse than death.
Like the term Biophily, the works and projects created within the framework of Biophily oscillate between culturally antagonistic valuations, between technology and myth, autoevolution and fatalism, real and virtual spaces. In short, Biophily is devoted to researching an inverse concept of nature and a mirrored image of humanity, and it describes obsessions of techno culture, which hypertrophy and pervert the love of life. The doubling of space and body through Internet geography and biotechnology, and their political, sociological, cultural anthropological and mythical interdependencies are the point of interest in the notes and commentaries collected in the course of Biophily. Five geographical locations, Dar es Salaam, Windhoek, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Bishkek were selected as the points of reference for the symbolic map of Biophily, and journeys were undertaken there between 1994 and 1999.
Dar es Salaam was the starting point for a journey through Tanzania in 1994 and for another in 1995 through Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to South Africa. Tanzania, with its numerous national parks and the diversity of wildlife, symbolizes an inverted hortus conclusus in the sense of Bernhard Grzimek’s paradises of animals, which does not tame the wildness of nature and protect the tender plant of civilization like a medieval Marian garden, but rather conversely protects and shields nature from culture. The bio-resource nature becomes a gene library or an adventure land for tourists. Civilization declares itself here as a trivialization of nature, and wildlife enters into a stadium similar to Jurassic Park, which is characterized by neo-colonialist bio-piracy.
The journey to Windhoek and through the Namib desert is devoted to the "bio-romantic" quest for a plant called welwitschia mirabilis. 70 million years ago, the Namib desert was a tropical rain forest, of which only petrified tree stumps bear witness today. Only one plant, the welwitschia mirabilis, managed to adapt over the course of millions of years, surviving the climactic transformation from rain forest to desert. The gene pool of this living fossil, which drove its stem, from which two leaves grow, under the surface of the earth, allowed for an adaptation enabling survival in one of the driest deserts on earth with annual precipitation amounting to no more than 10 mm. Welwitschia mirabilis is an extremophile living being, which has found the perfect algorithm of adaptation, mutation and evolution in the form of its survival strategy evolved over the course of millions of years, in order to be able to adapt to a continuously changing environment. For Biophily, the plant embodies the blue flower of genetics, which promises to remove the boundaries of the genome. In this sense, it operates as an allegory for Novalis’ novel fragment Heinrich von Ofterdingen, or the tale of eros and fable it contains, the advent of the golden age and the founding of the kingdom of eternal life.
A journey in 1996 led to California, the home of Hollywood, Disneyland and Silicon Valley, where the love of life in the form of body and fitness cults, extropians, cryonics, computer scientists and genetic engineers bears strange fruit and where intensive work is underway on simultaneously duplicating and doing away with body-worlds. The body and its organs are biotechnically replicated to become a store of replacement parts, yet at the same time, the body and the real world are immaterialized in the spheres of
cyberspace. Both forms generate a double and focus on a doubled world of clones and avatars. Similarly to a traditional art work that is injected into a library or a museum, vials of the artist’s sperm were inscribed as "artistic information" at the California Cryobank in Los Angeles, an institute that archives egg and sperm cells for reproductive medicine. It is possible to order the "information" through the Internet, which indicates, among other things, the universal availability of world ("reality on demand") through information networks and their increasing reification.
The faith in progress and technology that is associated with California is most clearly mirrored in the emergence of electronic networks, synthetically uniting western imperialism, capitalism and eastern mysticism in a mixture of Cold War, cowboy ideology and hippie fantasies. Today’s commercialization of the Internet was largely introduced by ex-hippies, whose protest against the establishment was affirmed and neutralized by themselves as part of the establishment following the rise of the computer industry. Essential proponents of the virtual matrix and e-commerce are influenced by eastern philosophies and once themselves took part in the legendary hippie trail to India. From this perspective, the high-tech industry of California represents a syncretic interplay of leftist utopias, right-wing entrepreneurship, New Age and Far Eastern spiritualism. Example and indicator of this is the term avatar, which originated in Hinduism and was transferred by California’s cyberapologists in the 80’s to electronic space, where it designates the interface or the identity of an immaterialized, decorporealized user. In Sanskrit, on the other hand, avatar means the descent of a divinity to earth and the deity’s incarnation in a flesh and blood being. Against this background, the journeys to India in 1996 and 1999 consisted of three complementary parts: the visit to an avatar near Trivandrum, the staging of a heavenly marriage with a rubber tree from Tamil Nadu, and a collaboration with painters who produce cinema posters for Bollywood (Mumbai’s film city). There is no place better than India for exploring the interactions between the real and the virtual, the technical and the mythical. Different planes of reality between tradition and high tech, untouchables and "cyber czars", "Swadeshi"12 and globalization, capitalism and socialism mark the battle for survival. The strongly differentiated and heterogeneous Indian culture with a billion people, half a million university graduates every year, but an illiteracy rate of 50% at the same time, condenses in the sum of its contradictions the social, political and ecological problem fields of our day.
A journey to central Asia in 1998 led to the Silk Road, its caravan paths linking China with India and Syria beginning in the second century before Christ. Although goods and information circulate today along other tracks, the Silk Road represents an old model of networks, through which trade and knowledge exchange were organized. Servers, search engines or web portals continue the tradition of the bazaars of Samarkind, Buchara or Damascus. Today the central Asian countries are considered a political and economic hub for deals involving oil, money and war. Trucks transport drugs, weapons and nuclear material over the old Silk Road. Tadzhikistan is dominated by civil war, Turkmenistan by virtually medieval despotism, and in Uzbekistan the secular government is fighting repressively against Muslim Vakhabit fundamentalists. The opening up of huge stores of oil and gas intensifies the potential for conflicts and unfolds a playing field in the region for the most diverse power interests. Commissioned by secret services, clans and oil corporations, Iranian, American and Russian agents poker for influence and information and turn the area into a node of world politics, where the "neoliberal virtual life" appears more secure than the "real life" of the Taliban militia.
Even though Biophily has so far only been able to touch on social, political, technical and ecological implications, and has only fragmentarily been implemented — numerous partial projects had to remain unrealized or failed completely — it may be regarded as a modest attempt to pursue a logic of the "included third" within an ongoing interweaving of natural and artificial structures. Society and nature, subject and world are not dual opposites here, but rather are subject to a mutual dynamic that allows living in and observing realities beyond the realm of "true" and "false", "natural" and "artificial", etc. The challenge of the projects and their relation to world lies in the paradox of the seemingly incompatible. Some of the questions that arise for the environment and society are how nature can become increasingly technical and technology increasingly "natural", and how individuals may exhibit both solidarity and differences. Although abandonment of a dual-value logic and the embracing of a multi-value one is characteristic for a risk society marked by processes of individualization and pluralization since the earliest industrialization, in the wake of the information and biotechnical revolutions and the worldwide linking of all markets, human work, existence and life space have undergone a fundamental and irreversible transformation. Whereas religious, ethical and political fundamentalists invoke a return to a dual-value logic, machine and program systems practice a modal, probabalist or fuzzy logic. What is thus crucial for Biophily is how to deal with the progressing technical autopoietization of cultural productive forces and their correlation to social and economic fields.
Since socialist models have mutated into a right-wing politics of the so-called middle and the US American model is increasingly losing its fascination — not to mention its credibility — life contexts and realities are suddenly shifted into Biophily’s field of vision, in order to tell more up-to-date stories about the world and life in it. The liberalization of the market and economic globalization are confronted with side-effects, where the value of free and unfettered consumption fades into the background and different kinds of communication take the stage. The adiction to unbounded growth, to unlimited youth and to exponentially intensified experience give way to the desire for intensity beyond a consumable lifetime. And this intensity of complexity, which requires interest without short-term thinking in terms of profits, relies on open source ideas as a basis for a new love of life.