Organs of a Cyborg
The Internal Organs
of a Cyborg
is a CD-ROM artwork by Jane Prophet which offers cyborg bodies for
the voyeuristic gaze. It presents the user with a photostory narrative
combining the visual approaches of the photo love magazine with
the science fiction graphic novel or comic (Fig. 1). A narrative
is fused onto scrolling pages of full colour images using ready-mades
from Photodiscs stock photography CD-ROMs. The stock photographs
are largely taken from Photodiscs Health and Medicine and
Modern Technologies archives. The material has been cropped,
distorted and montaged to tell the story of virtual lovers from
different sides of the tracks whose paths cross in the emergency
The photostory describes a young woman from south London. She earns
money by participating in drug trials and surgical implant research.
She also buys additional implants on the black market to satisfy
her interest in augmenting her body. Having been discharged from
a private clinic following surgery (which involved the insertion
of nanotechnological devices) she goes out drinking with friends.
Across the bar she sees the repo man and flees. He pursues her to
take possession of the item that she has bought on credit, a PCID
(a microchip which has had her personality downloaded onto it).
During the chase she is shot as the repo man tries to stop her from
escaping with the PCID. She is airlifted to an emergency room.
Across town the successful Managing Director of a chemical bank
collapses during a marathon with a heart attack. He is rushed to
the same emergency room.
Once inside the medical institution, their experiences are very
different. She has no medical insurance and is therefore offered
pain relief but denied expensive life-saving surgery. Meanwhile,
in the plush surroundings of a private room, the city gent learns
that he needs a heart transplant. The young woman dies as a result
of not having surgery and her heart is donated to the head of the
chemical bank. But he gets more than he bargains for inside
the donated heart is the PCID implant that she bought on credit
and which ultimately cost her her life. The chip containing her
downloaded personality activates once inside the mans body.
His dreams become filled with images of a stranger a young
dark haired woman. When he returns to work after convalescing, he
starts receiving email from an unknown woman and a love affair begins...
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a voyeur as a
person who derives gratification from surreptitiously watching sexual
acts or objects; a Peeping Tom; a person who takes a morbid interest
in sordid sights. For Lacan, voyeurism is defined through
scopophilia and includes both exhibitionism and voyeurism. These
individuals, for Lacanians, thereby tend to be classified as clinical
perverts. Within this school of thought the structure of perversion
is viewed as predominately male. Only in exceptional cases could
a female be classified as a true pervert. However, voyeuristic behaviour
can be experienced by all to differing degrees. The French term
volonte-de-jouissance, meaning will to enjoy,
is often used to describe perversion. The individuals enjoyment
is derived from the fantasy of a supposed other watching,
coupled with the fantasy that they are the instrument of the others
supposed enjoyment. The pervert is the person who attempts to take
sexual pleasure to the limit in order to achieve the ultimate jouissance.
In The Internal Organs of a Cyborg the notion of the surreptitious
watcher (voyeur) is taken to the extreme. The female protagonist
leaves the confines of the meat or flesh body and exists
after death in the form of her personality, which has been downloaded
onto a microchip. This chip, complete with the latest high-tech
cloaking device (which renders it invisible to scanning technologies),
had been inserted into her heart prior to her death. Once inside
the city gent, her silicon personality is activated with interesting
repercussions as she starts to send biochemical messages
to the host organism. (Fig. 2)
For Lacan we are who we are through identifications with others,
be they mother, father, brother or lover. An individuals identity
is formed in relation to the other. We look with our
eyes at another but the gaze is not owned by ourselves. It becomes
the exclusive property of the other, and how we imagine they might
gaze at us. If we are to take seriously the Lacanian notion of the
gaze in this scenario, the microchip stands for the look, and is
all the more perfect for not being influenced by the distortion
of the eyes. She is literally seeing blind directly
experiencing the bodily sensations of the other.
By capitalising on the science fiction cliche of being able to transfer
human personality onto a microchip, the narrative produces a scenario
in which the female character becomes the ultimate unseen watcher.
From within the male character she watches his every
move. While this watching is not literal (she has no eyes), it is
nevertheless absolute; she can feel her subject, monitor
his cellular changes and chemical shifts, access his thoughts and
brain waves. It is commonly assumed that the voyeur is primarily
interested in sexualising the act of watching the external body.
The focus of this project replaces the typical 20:20 vision of the
voyeurs gaze with one that takes them inside the body, offering
the interior of the meat as the sexualised landscape
rather than the exterior. This interior encompasses
not only the internal organs but also the innermost thoughts of
The female character begins to explore her prime voyeuristic position
and gets sexual enjoyment from it. She is without body and has only
eyes, which are supplied via the microchip this
is the perverts dream par excellence. The sexualisation of
the eyes can be described as an erogenising
of a particular zone. In this scenario the subject is engaging in
a fantasy of the others gaze in order to achieve sexual gratification
which is voyeuristic. Voyeurism involves the eyes and the gaze,
which, for Lacan, operate in distinct ways. Looking
is from the individuals subjective position, while the gaze
is that which looks back at the individual. Who is it that she fantasises
is experiencing this weird situation? What other is
she becoming an instrument of enjoyment for? The gaze then becomes
an object, and this object is outside of
the subject and therefore occupies a separate position.
The gaze becomes the object of the act of looking, the property
of the other. It watches the subject from a position that is rooted
in the individuals fantasy. Sexual gratification through the
scopic drive is a condition for the clinical pervert to obtain sexual
pleasure. We can all occupy the perverse voyeuristic position, and
this is true especially of the female hysteric. The scopic drive
is deemed perverse in that the individual is the instrument of the
others gratification. For Lacan, the voyeur is
not only watching, then, but is, in their minds eye, also
The thrill of voyeurism is in part knowing that you are unseen while
being at the risk of discovery. In the case of our female protagonist,
the risk of discovery is almost eliminated by the fact that she
is so effectively hidden. She is literally inside the male characters
own heart, so how can she be discovered? The narrative presents
us with the embodiment of the male within the object
of the gaze. By communicating to the city gent via email, the female
character reinstates the danger of discovery as she toys with him.
Users can follow the online love affair between the city gent and
his mysterious email correspondent. It emerges that these messages
to him are none other than the female voice within,
sent by the silicon personality of the ghetto girl. As their love
affair develops the city gent embarks on a series of clandestine
meetings in the virtual spaces of online chat groups. Here he discovers
the joys of MUD sex and text based foreplay. This correspondence
is voyeuristic on both sides. Neither can see the other, and the
fact that that they are unseen contributes to their sexual arousal.
The female characters sexual fulfilment of her drive is achieved
in this internal environment. Drives are, however, very different
from instincts, and this is the main differentiation for Freud between
the sexuality of animals and humans. All drives are sexual drives
and are based on repetition, excess and destruction. Formation of
the drives is based on experiences particular to each individual.
Lacan states that the aim of the drive is not to reach a
particular goal but to keep trying to achieve the desired conclusion.
Enjoyment is based on the repetition of the drive on a particular
circular journey. We discover that she has been involved in drug
trials for many years to the point of being addicted. It is interesting
to try and formulate how this drug and cybernetic surgery might
be a method of satisfying her drives.
The main aim of everybodys drives is to cross the limits of
the pleasure principle, to reach a perceived paradise; the place
that promises ultimate pleasure, and defence against displeasure.
Maybe our female character has used advanced technological surgery
as a way to reach this level. By experiencing embodiment like no
other before her, by being at one with the others gaze, she
is the embodied voyeur without eyes, in a kind of narcissistic heaven.
This is the ultimate sexual union that we all strive for, beyond
the body, a place of instant pleasures and completeness. For Lacan,
when an individual transgresses the pleasure principle, they are
faced with the object of their desire. This can have very dangerous
effects for the individual involved, as the ultimate aim of the
drive is destruction, death. This type of confrontation with jouissance
can often end with a traumatic experience, even a psychotic episode.
The narrative ends, or splits, at a suitably pivotal moment (a typical
cliffhanger situation) where our female protagonist
is face to face with jouissance, and could be in danger of
psychosis. Watch the website for the next installment!
As well as mapping the voyeurism and exhibitionism of fictitious
characters, the interactive qualities of the CD-ROM almost invite
the user to satisfy their own perverse voyeuristic urges almost
at will. Once they have located links to the email correspondence
or other personal effects, they can return to view them whenever
they like. In addition, the CD-ROM links to a website which functions
in part as a collection of homepages for the female character. Via
the homepages we begin to discover more intimate details about her
life, we see the clothes she used to wear, the brands she liked,
the places where she used to drink, the clubs she used to frequent.
We see her as an individual, not as the cyborg without meat
which is exemplified in the second interface made of medical images.
(Fig. 4) For those of us that have them, our homepages are a means
of expressing our innate exhibitionism, and the female characters
site is no exception. The website also plays on the users
perverse voyeuristic drive by offering them an arena in which, not
only to watch unseen, but to express their exhibitionism. They can
engage in exhibitionism by adding to the email correspondence or
by sending in self-portraits and stories, thus displaying themselves
to the voyeuristic gaze of future users.
The characters attempts to exceed and control the limits of
her biological boundaries while with flesh become evident
as the narrative exposes her use of performance enhancing drugs.
We discover areas of the CD-ROM where we hear her answer phone messages,
telling of her experiences of surgery. We read her autopsy report,
which logs the devices found inside her and lists the scars which
mark areas of her body that have been cut open. These are just a
few examples of ways in which the bodys flesh boundary
skin and muscle are broken. Audio and animations are used
to map a corresponding transgression of gender and social boundaries.
Lacan sees problems relating to the boundaries of the body as universal.
He attempts to explain this in various versions of the Mirror Stage.
In the early stages of a childs development, the child has
to master its own motor functions to enter the human world of space
and movement. For this mastery to occur, the child has to identify
with another individual. In this way the identity of the developing
child is trapped in the image of an other, outside of
the boundaries of its own body.
The control of ones body is only ever illusionary and the
ego is only ever founded on a wholeness which does not exist. This
identification involves the childs identity being trapped
in an image that is fundamentally alien to itself. This level of
identification is called the register of the imaginary, and attempts
to show the importance of the visual field in human development.
When this process happens, the individuals ego is formed,
based on this alienation process. However, this process leaves the
individual covering a lack of completeness in themselves
through the conception of the ego. In other words, the ego functions
as an agency of deception by telling the individual that they are
whole and complete.
For Lacan, the human goes through life constantly oscillating between
their image, which is alien to themselves, and their real body which
is uncoordinated and in pieces. Many symptoms are in response to
this oscillation between two camps. The ego is constantly threatened
by the early memory of a sense of fragmentation, expressed in images
of castration, mutilation, dismemberment and combustion of the body.
Could our female characters obsession with technological implants
be an expression of this type an attempt to unite the image,
which is alienating, and the real body, which is in pieces?
In contemporary western medicine, technology is harnessed in response
to our paranoid and fractured self, and used to control the fragmented,
decaying and aging body and to make it whole. Lacanians would see
such a use of technology as a predominantly male response
The female protagonist in the CD-ROM has been engaged in surgical
intervention and enhancement from an early age. It is as if her
imaginary register had overcome her ego and she had seen herself
as intrinsically fragmented from childhood. The photostory alludes
to an upbringing centred around her involvement in medical trials.
(Fig. 5) Maybe the experience of seeing herself defined by so many
test results and slivers of images of her innards made it impossible
for her ego to succeed in covering up her fragmentation. The result
was a sense of paranoia and a fracturing of her sense of body and
psyche. Her ongoing obsession with exploring her fragmented self,
as evident in her continued participation in drug trials and implant
surgery as an adult, is her egos attempt to make herself whole
The physical fragmentation, the literal breaking of the body through
injury, is shown in the CD-ROM operating room scenes. Here the surgeon
functions as a kind of agent for the ego, putting the
body back together again. In the process of so-called invasive
surgery, the surgical team breaches the boundary of the patients
body. Part of the research undertaken as part of the production
of The Internal Organs of a Cyborg involved audio interviews
with surgeons, some of whom were engaged in medical research for
implant technologies. One surgeon described a rite of passage which
he felt was essential to his exemplary performance as a surgeon.
The process of scrubbing up and gowning translated him from the
location of consultant (conversing with the patient in a office
and discussing medical procedures in an atmosphere that was often
highly emotionally charged) to the location of the operating theatre
where he described the necessity of seeing the patient as
metal, or stone, or wood; the body like a mechanical device that
needs repair. This Dr. drew attention to the importance of
the surgical sheet as a framing or screening device that obscured
the defining features of the patient, making it easier for him to
see them as other. He described regular moments of slippage
when he looked down in the middle of a mastectomy and recalled a
previous conversation in the consulting room. In that moment the
patients body ceased to be meat, stone or wood and the patient
was no longer fragmented. His description of these slippages are
reminiscent of the mirror stage. It is as if the surgeon deliberately
employed alienation in order to be able to surgically invade the
body, but his ego struggled against this fragmentation and succeeded
in making him see the patient as whole and complete. When this happened
he saw the patient as an individual and felt he was mutilating
some poor womans body. At these times he literally took
a step away from the operating table, for a brief moment, and distanced
himself in order to be able to carry out his surgery.
The slippage described by the surgeon draws attention to the intimacy
between a medical team and a patient and the way in which alienation
and fragmentation can be an essential element of surgical performance.
In the CD-ROM, scenes allude to the strangely intimate touching
that occurs between doctor and patient, in particular the sanctioned
and bounded touching between strangers in the operating
theatre, where the surgeon becomes the medical voyeur. (Fig. 6)
The surgeon is the watcher that the patient cannot see as they are
under anaesthetia. (Fig. 7)
Imaging technologies take the medical-expert-as-voyeur a step further.
Body scanners and heart monitors survey and capture images of the
bodys most intimate zones and display them for the gaze of
the laboratory technicians who watch the scans, x-rays and microscopic
slides unseen by the patient. Images of fragmented patients
bodies are classified by numbers rather than names. Depersonalisation
becoming synonymous with patient confidentiality. The patient (especially
as described anonymously in medical trials) is educed to their disease
and subsequent physiological and psychological response to drugs
and surgery. The medical industry forms a voyeuristic circuit in
which the depersonalised body is central. This depersonalised representation
of the cyborg body forms the basis of a second scrolling image on
the CD-ROM. A whole female body is laid out complete, and sliced
for our perusal (Fig. 8) but less than 5% of it can be seen at any
one time as we scroll around, constrained by the parameters of the
computer screen. (Fig. 4) The CD-ROM depends on our egocentric need
to see the whole body, it is almost guaranteed that we will want
to scroll around and explore the distributed body, represented via
scans, x-rays and slices, in an attempt to make the body complete.
Earlier, we asked who the female character imagined was watching
her as she indulged in her voyeuristic gaze. The answer lies in
the backstory, in the high profile position of men in the medical
industry. From her childhood she associated surgical procedures
with positive attention from surgeons and research scientists
they were the nearest she got to father figures, often monitoring
complex implants for weeks on end and engaging the girl in long
conversations as they monitored her psychological state. She was
perpetually the object of their gaze, and grew accustomed to gazing
at her own body as she watched the MRIs, x-rays and endoscopies
of herself. Her obsessional narcissistic desire to be watched may
have been fulfiled prior to her death: the last implant that she
had was part of a trial to develop nanotechnology for medical use.
She swallowed a minute robot, a nanosurgeon, which was programmed
to respond to physiological trauma and to repair internal injury
and perform microscopic surgery. (Fig. 9) By swallowing the surgeon
she has embodied and consumed the phallic gaze of the medical profession,
while providing herself with a constant unseen watcher, a substitute
father who will respond to all her internal physical needs and who
will be ever vigilant.
Our female character may have found her own solutions to the difficult
position that the ego occupies. She has become embodied by her male
host and has discarded the real body, which is fragmented. She is
able to achieve sexual gratification through her unique voyeuristic
position. By making her eyes the erogenous zone, she
positions the gaze as an object. She may be one of those rare cases
of the female pervert, the scopophiliac or the hysteric, that plays
at the perverts game in an attempt to find answers to the
fundamental questions of hysteria. What is a woman? How do I know
if I am a man or a woman?