Sunday, August 12, 2012

Irina Aristarkhova's "Hospitality of the Matrix"

Irina Aristarkhova writes on and lectures in comparative feminist theory and contemporary aesthetics. She joined the University of Michigan's School of Art & Design faculty as an Associate Professor in 2012. She edited and contributed to the volume Woman Does Not Exist: Contemporary Studies of Sexual Difference and to the Russian translation of Luce Irigaray’s An Ethics of Sexual Difference.

Aristarkhova applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hospitality of the Matrix: Philosophy, Biomedicine, and Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 is about how historically, biomedical research in artificial reproduction conflated the mother with the chicken, and her matrix / uterus, with the chicken egg. If one can incubate an egg, then, one can incubate a human:
My argument here is that the desire for machine gestation of humans reflects a long-standing embryological assumption that successful artificial incubation of chickens will eventually lead to human incubation. (p. 99)
Not only this assumption has not been supported by biomedical research, but it also presents generation as a simple question of ‘where,’ of availability of suitable space in machine or mother to gestate an embryo. I follow the history of early incubators and contemporary neonatal technologies to show that it is not the lack of suitable spaces in and around machines that fails to fulfill ectogenetic desire (artificial gestation), but rather, undervaluing and underplaying the work / role of nurses and nursing. We need to think through the question “Can the machine nurse?” in order to respond to fundamental epistemological problems of current biomedical research that deals with ectogenetic technologies. It is, after all, about the meaning of generation and its philosophical underpinnings.

Nursing and generating – two early inspirations for the meaning of the matrix that are discussed in my first chapter "Journeys of the Matrix" - need to be thought through acts of maternal / matrixial hospitality. Hence, it is “Hospitality of the Matrix.” I use these together (maternal and matrixial) to create a space in which we can see them both, without forgetting the mother in the matrix, assuming the mother in the matrix, or collapsing the mother into the matrix. Hospitality, however, is not some essential quality of the matrix as others have argued (hospitality as essential quality of the feminine, maternal, matrixial, etc). It is work. Acts of maternal hospitality need to be acknowledged before we can reintroduce the mother. These acts of maternal / matrixial hospitality are revealed through the attempts to replicate and mimic generation: by philosophers in their ideas about space, generation and form; by biomedical researchers in their ideas about generation and artificial reproduction; and by men who perform the mother (as in male pregnancy in culture and art). On page 99 I explore one of these moments, of the mother-machine, which leads me ultimately to the question of the welcoming man in the final chapter.
Learn more about Hospitality of the Matrix at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue