"Prosthetics: The castration complex raised to the level of an art form." J. G Ballard. "Nothing is more disembodied than Cyberspace. It is like having your everything amputated." --John Perry Barlow (former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, "electronic frontier" advocate, and major supporter of the Republican party)

The medical prosthesis was developed to replace amputated limbs (for which war is the great experiment and driving force) As Mark Wigley points out, "Prosthetic technology alternated between producing substitutes for the body parts that military weapons had destroyed and producing these very weapons." (p. 23) see Ambroise Paré , "A Supplement to the Defects in Man's Body" in Collected Works, Paris, 1579.


A fascination with the prosthetic seems to correspond to a desire based on lack. see limbs. Norbert Wiener points out that problems of prosthetic limbs are not limited to passive support for the missing extension or mechanical extension of the stump, The artificial limb removes some of the paralysis caused by amputation but leaves the ataxis. In fact, learning to use a prosthetic limb involves mastery of the phantom limb as well.

Is the first prosthesis we contend with our own body? Or is it language, the use of tools, cultural memory, or any of the activities that differentiate humans from other species? (see Terrence Deacon's accounts of the evolution of langauage and the brain)

The prosthetic is the most vivid illustration of the human-technology relations in terms of the body. According to Freud, "With every tool (man) is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning. Motor power places gigantic forces at his disposal, which, like his muscles, he can employ in any direction; thanks to ship and aircraft neither water nor air can hinder his movements; by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eyes; by means of the telescope he sees into the far distance; by means of the microscope he overcomes the limits of visibility set by the structure of his retina. In the photographic camera he has created an instrument which retains the fleeting visual impressions, just as the gramophone retains the equally fleeting auditory ones; both are at bottom materializations of the power he posesses of recollection, his memory. With the help of the telephone he can hear at distances which would be respected as unattainable even in a fairy tale. Writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person; and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother's womb, the first lodging, for which in all liklihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease."

Freud goes on to describe man's science and technology as the partial attainment of the cultural ideals he embodied in his gods. "Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent, but these organs have not grown onto him and they still give him much trouble at times. Nevertheless, he is entitled to console himself with the thought that...Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great advances in this field of civilization." (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, pp 37-38)

As Freud wrote these words, in 1929, he was already well into the years of suffering caused by lesions in his mouth that would ultimately turn cancerous and lead to his death. During these years Freud had to wear a prosthetic device in his mouth to seal off his mouth from his nasal cavity. Max Schur, his personal physician in his later years, describes the discomforts that resulted from the succession of ill-fitting devices that were required as his mouth metastasized. One can imagine that Freud's description of man's "auxiliary organs that had not grown onto him" had a particulary immediacy for him, as might the hope of consolation that they might afford. Like many of Freud's ideas and discoveries, it was both subjectively experienced and objectively formulated.

Cigar smoking was the one addiction that Freud could not give up. To him, it was directly related to the capacity for creative work. This famously symbolic object was the source of the "castration" that Freud had to endure in later life -- the limitations on his ability to speak and eat.

Freud’s prosthetic mouthpieces

Freud’s prosthetic mouthpieces

Discussions of the prosthetic hinge on its ambiguous combination of extension and disembodiment, or else on the "doubled desire" for technological embodiments to truly "become me" --to have the transformation that technology allows, but to secretly reject what technologies are by denying the transformation. "I want it in such a way as to be unaware of its presence." (see Don Ihde, Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth, Bloomington, 1990. p. 75)

The phenomenological question of the prosthetic is how close it comes to "being me." Ihde focuses attention on the contradiction of wanting to to be enhanced and magnified by technologies, and at the same time wanting to be myself, wishing this movement could be without the mediation of technology . He believes that this illusory desire belongs equally to pro- and anti-technological interpretations, to utopian and dystopian dreams.

If the prosthetic is incorporated into the subject's identity, he becomes a cyborg. If it is kept outside, it cannot be used with "natural" dexterity. (Hayles)

terminator arm.jpg

the terminator repairing his arm.

Scientific instruments, such as the microscope, telescope, air pump or cyclotron, have a prosthetic function to remedy the "infirmities" of the senses "with Instruments, and, as it were, adding of artificial organs to the natural." (Quotes from Hook Micrographia, in Shapin and Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump, p.36)

For Mark Wigley, the prosthetic is an extension of the body that is "neither natural nor cultural." He links it to the displacement of ornament (the clothing of the building) and to a relation between body and building. The bulk of Wigley's essay is taken up by what he describes as a "double hesitation", (p.9) a Derridean account of how architecture enters the university as an "outsider," despite the fact that a set of architectural metaphors provide the "foundation" of the university. For Wigley, the scholarly space of the thesis is separated from the architectural prosthesis, but the architectural library/museum crosses that space, providing "defensive walls of representation" to its insecure position. In Wigley world, theory seems to belong only to the university, presumably because the university's function is to "keep the mind from wandering" Thus a prosthetic technology like the magic lantern can in one case function to find a place for architecture in the university, and in another case precludes the disciplining of architecture or its theorization, when the networks of communication become "the new house of theory." For Wigley, (quoting Heidegger, "The Principle of Ground" in Man and World 7, 1974) the contemporary technology of theory erases the distinction between theory and technology.

CH: link "doubled desire" and "double hesitation"?

The "mirror stage" as a moment of recognition of self as other?

For Virilio, The now immaterial environment is connected to the "terminal" body of men and women with interactive prostheses who become the virtual equivalent of the well-equipped invalid. (see real time) Consigned to inertia, these interactive beings transfer their natural capacity of movement and travel into probes, into detectors that inform their users about distant realities, but to the detriment of their own sensory faculties of reality (underline mine)

Investigation into the "Materialites of Communication" emphasize the links between technologies (modes of production?) of writing and its contents. see printing. (see also articles in Flame Wars)