Originally published in earlyhumanadapter.wordpress.com
In all the varied literature written about the New Flesh and from all the different perspectives I have not been able to find a clear and definitive description of the term. It affects many creative manifestations such as cinema, plastic arts, performative arts, literature and of course philosophy. It infected many of these manifestations during the last decades of the 20th century spreading like a disease, being in some cases extremely dominant and appearing in other cases just as a trace. Those who know what it is can see it in all these different manifestations, recognise the smell of it. But the essence of it can be hardly enclosed in a unique hermeneutic discourse; no consensus about it has been reached.
The New Flesh comes from a deep anguish caused by the fear of transformation, the rupture of the unity of the ones existence, psychic and physical mutilation, above all: the deep and inevitable terror of death, of the end of the conscious aperture to the world and the arrival of nothingness. These fears are driven into an obsession for body transformation, an extremely graphic aesthetic of the monstrous, including all kinds of secret pustules; open scars that lead you inside the body and show indiscernible organs, extreme surgery and cyborgs as well as violent sex. The aesthetics of the New Flesh is not though, an aesthetic of ugliness or of the unpleasant. It goes much deeper since it deals with a theory of the subject connected to existentialism on one side and with the dissolution of identity on the other side as well as with a dramatic rupture with the classic Cartesian psycho-physical duality.
The New Flesh is not the Victorian fascination for the freak or the Gothic novel (Mary Shelley´s Frankenstein), neither other classics of transformation terror (Kafka´s Metamorphosis) although is quite probable that here are the roots of it and they offer already many of the elements of the New Flesh.
What differentiates the New flesh from this Gothic literature and what makes its appearance in the 80s original is its characteristic moral ambiguity. The New Flesh is not judgemental, it’s dispossessed of Christian guilt and condemnation. The New Flesh indicates a fight against nature, a dissatisfaction with the given nature and a wish to recreate the flesh to our liking. Obsessed with immortality and sex, it looks for the intensification of the senses, trying to conquer an absolute and never ending pleasure.
The New Flesh is close to the concept of virtual reality and technological development. Is this the reason why it finds a comfort area of manifestation in genres such as science fiction and dystopian cyberpunk films, literature and comics; an exemplary piece of the New Flesh is the noir comic series of Charles Burns, Black Hole. New developments of technology and cyber-reality are seen from this point of view as the real possibility for mutation, the overcoming of the human into something else.
Treating this genre as the dark dungeons of the movement where its essence is expanded to its extremes, the New flesh emerges in the so named “high arts” and its shadow is thrown upon art works in museums and galleries during these decades, open to the more general public. Andres Serrano´s Morgue photographic series from 1995, the plastic surgery performed live starting in 1991 of Orlan based on her Carnal Art manifesto, Bill Viola´s Nantes Triptych from 1992 and the disturbing photographic series of Cindy Sherman and Joel Peter Witkin, will be some of the works that exemplified this.
I speculate a metaphysical fading away of the New Flesh, departing from the idea that the fears of overcoming the New Flesh are no longer legitimate since it is no longer a new phenomenon looking for accommodation, nevertheless an implanted actuality.
The transformation of the natural human being into something else is not seen as something uncertain but as an accepted fact. The artificial essence of the New Flesh has found its place back in nature and it has become a step of human evolution. The corrupting effects of the technological culture played out on the flesh and by these I mean over stimulation, continuous connectivity and massive sexualization that was prophesied in the last decades of the 20th century have already taken place and are fully developed today. Therefore, it is not something to fear any more but a reality to deal with and because of this the way of approaching these fears whether from the manifestations of art or from the point of view of a philosophical discourse must have changed.
Main bibliography fo this text:
-La nueva Carne, una estética perversa del cuerpo, Edición de Antonio José Navarro,Valdemar, 2002.