“The humans are dead.” Whether or not you recognize the epigram from Flight of the Conchords (and if not, there are worse ways to spend a few minutes than by looking here, and I recommend sticking around for the “binary solo”), Dominic Pettman’s Human Error: Species-Being and Media Machines (2011) will likely change the way you think about humanity, animals, machines, and the relationships among them. Pettman uses a series of fascinating case studies, from television programs to films to Sufi fables to pop songs, to explore the notion of Agamben’s “anthropological machines” and the human being as a “technospecies without qualities” in a modern mediascape that includes Thomas Edison’s film Electrocuting an Elephant, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, and the interplanetary soundscape created by NASA (among many, many others).
We recently gathered over Skype to talk about some of the major thematic and argumentative threads snaking through this book and Pettman’s recent exploration of totems in Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology (Zero Books, 2013). Both books take on the varied ways that love, technology, identity (both human and not), and economies have been transformed in a world that includes pacifist Orcs, voices without bodies, ecologies without nature, reptile-doctors, and pixelated lovers.
During our conversation, Pettman mentions a film about the zigzag totem that can be found here. Cabinet Magazine, which also comes up in the course of our conversation, can be found here.