Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mine, but not mine. Just now I was walking down the street when a stylishly dressed lady who looked to be in her sixties or seventies came out of the milk bar and crossed my path.

I was politely ignoring her as I do most people in the street – I've often mused how clever China Miéville's The City and the City is in broadening this common practice to enable two entire cultures to coexist in the same space, just because each 'unsees' the other.

But then she hailed me and said, "Your hair is a really lovely colour! Is it natural?"
"Sadly, no," I said. "But thank you!"

As I walked away I was thinking how silly it is to be ashamed and guilty of being praised for a hair colour that doesn't grow out of my head, but rather comes from sachets and bottles. After all, this hair colour is mine in a way that my natural blonde isn't, because I chose to look this way. I should be pleased when someone compliments me on it.

Instead, I feel like a fraud. In the past I've been proud to be a natural blonde, scorning all the people who have to achieve the same colour through peroxide. Hairdressers have told me how lucky I am, people have asked in an impressed tone, "Is that your natural hair colour?" and I've been chuffed to say, "Yes."

This is the dismal bird's eye view of my head. The parts where I look bald are actually my real hair growing back. The golden colour is from the henna-tinted shampoo I use to stave off the worst of the regrowth.

Recently I read Max Barry's new novel Machine Man, which I found really horrifying. You can read my review over at The Enthusiast. I feel that review is kind of shapeless and inarticulate, because so was my horror.

What I don't mention in the review is that from a very early age, I have been both fascinated and appalled by the nature of posthuman subjectivity, although when I was a kid I would have called it "being obsessed with Astro Boy and The Bionic Woman", and as a teenager "being obsessed with Terminator". Also, the Cybermen were always the Doctor Who villains I had nightmares about. Fuck the Daleks, they can't even use stairs, although I think it's telling that I found Davros the scariest Dalek because he was the least vestigial.

It has always given me a funny tingly feeling of terror to see an ostensibly human person peel back his or her skin to reveal a mess of electronics, mechanics and wires. Part of my horror at Machine Man is its suggestion that a person could feel that machine parts were theirs, were part of them. I shrink from that idea, I flee it… yet perhaps I would be more at peace with it if I'd read Donna Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto'.

Just now I am reminded of Annalee Newitz's Pretend We're Dead, which I reviewed for Media International Australia a while back. Newitz is interested in the horrors of capitalism, so she presents mad scientists as members of the professional class who are alienated from their own intellectual labours. In horror films, this can be literalised as disembodied brains in jars (or consciousnesses uploaded into cyberspace).

Since I make my living by the efforts of my brain, is my body of work more mine than my biological body? Is something I willed into existence myself – like my hair colour – more a product of my subjectivity than the biological heritage that makes me appear in the world in certain ways without much effort on my part?

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