By Anik Sarkar
As a species we are only animals, perhaps more vicious, brutal, and capable of terrifying things. We don’t want to reconcile with the fact that we are and always have been animals; swayed by theories, we wonder if we are ‘less-than-angelic beings’, stranded away from the lap of paradise to landing up as a closer relative of apes. Underneath the layers of sophistication, we are actually wild and primitive as we gradually learn to humanize ourselves and strip the unruliness, defiant urges, and animalities. Primal instincts are hardly erased as they elusively float beneath the skin, in blood and the cached memory of ancient bones. Maybe we want our animality repressed and hence we snuggishly embrace technology and machines – the non-animal. Those that are always in control: polished, organized, calculative, and logical. The prime fetish of civilization. So we aggrandizingly tilt towards techno-humanism – displacing our ‘selves’ across our gadgets, finding shelters in digital spaces. We clothe in machines as though they are our skin: the fitness trackers, smart watches, VR glasses and Bluetooth headsets. We already relish our digital avatars in heightened enthusiasm, be it our virtual-social profiles or customized characters in videogames. As the years progress, we are trying best to not be faulty, as we design our systems to be more accurate and efficient. For many of us, being animal-like is being erroneous: unpredictable, unrestrained, brutish, and untamed. While being machine-like is being clockwork: systematized, repetitive, routinized, and accurate.
Science fictions have long flowered inside us, the dreams of uploading our fragile selves in machines that are more capable and durable. I also think of the novel, Frankestein (1818) by Mary Shelly: how it anticipates certain developments in the fields of transhumanism, cyborg, cyberpunk cultures and urban futures. At the heart of romanticism, the gothic tradition blooms with a love for the ‘wild’, the ‘barbarous’, the ‘supernatural’ and ‘fearful mysteries’. As a reaction to neo-classicism, the gothic-romantic novel emanates a drive to irrationalize the seemingly rational temperament fostered in its preceding age, fueled by a passionate resistance to conformity. The novel was remarkable for its time, as it invoked the idea of imparting life to an otherwise, inanimate life-less body, modeling ways for new-futurisms: the possibilities of bio-technical hybridization, while also foreshadowing its darker consequences. The prognosis where the creation overwhelms its creator accounts for the 20th and 21st century dystopian narratives; very often the ‘Frankenstein archetype’ reiterates across pop culture to mark the consequences of trespassing the ‘sacred’ natural order – film series like The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Blade Runner.
Perhaps, we want to become flawless machines just because we are too scared to confront our raw animal-selves – Frankenstein was horrified when he realized his creation was not human but beast-like – ‘hideous, monstrous and grotesque’: we too dread over meeting our brutish, dull, disorganized selves and face the Jungian shadows and savage urges. For so long, we have not snatched food from our mates; neither did we fight with our families over a snack, or did we? We do our best to hide our animal fur and sharp canines – we lost our tail, perhaps we may lose all of our ‘beast-like’ features someday. Overtime, we managed to tame ourselves at dinner and we are trained to patiently wait for our turn – like how we discipline K-9s or elephants in the circus. Though sometimes, in private, away from the peering eyes of civility, we let loose our primal self: the raw, unruly, untamed, irregular, and scarred. When we are outside the social vicinities, cut-off from the hard-boiled expectations, away from the piled up performance routines, can we choose to unleash – we carelessly gobble food, we stay indolent and unkempt, we shout and cry, speak gibberish, and make faces at ourselves in the mirror. After a long day’s work at the office: the tedious excel entries, inhabiting the same, limiting spaces and the usual tea-time gossips; after a day of pretending someone we know we are not, after we fight like cats and dogs, we need a release. These are moments when we come home and throw ourselves on the bed, dimming the lights and reflecting deep and hard on how vulnerable we are. Unpunctual, imperfect, perhaps irrational and strange – we are a complete mess. We refuse leashes around our neck, we decline to be domesticated and tamed. We hate to be chained to some ground-rules; we loathe our voluntary imprisonment inside a 6×6 square box. We resist being machine-like.
We also ask ourselves, why some of us have often displayed animal-skin belonging to the most ferocious beasts, to visitors or wide-eyed audiences. Perhaps somewhere, we want to remind ourselves of how we have never seen them as our equal: how we conquered, cultured (aestheticized) and overcame what threatened to expose our bare selves – the wild passions and bestial vengeance. We have always been excellent pretenders, we mostly manage to deceive ourselves but now and then the instincts give way. In a child quite naturally, and in adults, many-a-time in their vulnerabilities and occasionally, in turpid episodes.
Anik likes drinking tea and reading dystopian fiction. He is mostly, quite optimistic about things. He resides in Northern Bengal, where he spends time, teaching and writing.
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