New Romantic Cyborgs
Romanticism, Information Technology, and the End of the Machine
Abstract. Romanticism and technology are widely assumed to be opposed to each other. Romanticism—understood as a reaction against rationalism and objectivity—is perhaps the last thing users and developers of information and communication technology (ICT) think about when they engage with computer programs and electronic devices. And yet, as Mark Coeckelbergh argues in this book, this way of thinking about technology is itself shaped by romanticism and obscures a better and deeper understanding of our relationship to technology. Coeckelbergh describes the complex relationship between technology and romanticism that links nineteenth-century monsters, automata, and mesmerism with twenty-first-century technology’s magic devices and romantic cyborgs.
Coeckelbergh argues that current uses of ICT can be interpreted as attempting a marriage of Enlightenment rationalism and romanticism. He describes the “romantic dialectic,” when this new kind of material romanticism, particularly in the form of the cyborg as romantic figure, seems to turn into its opposite. He shows that both material romanticism and the objections to it are still part of modern thinking, and part of the romantic dialectic. Reflecting on what he calls “the end of the machine,” Coeckelbergh argues that to achieve a more profound critique of contemporary technologies and culture, we need to explore not only different ways of thinking but also different technologies—and that to accomplish the former we require the latter.
“This deeply thought reflection on the dialectic between romanticism and technology advances our historico-philosophical understanding of contemporary technoculture. Mark Coeckelbergh here proves himself one of the leading contributors to what I consider a new wave in philosophy and technology studies. It is undoubtedly the case that, as Coeckelbergh argues, the human condition in the West is one of cyborgs struggling to discover ways of engagement with our machines that would go beyond romancing them.”
—Carl Mitcham, Professor, Colorado School of Mines and Renmin (People’s) University of China
“This book is as daring in its starting point as it is meticulous in its elaboration. Much more than an impressive and comprehensive study on technology and romanticism—which it is too—it offers a whole new way of looking at our use of technologies. Mark Coeckelbergh, quite effortlessly, confirms his reputation as one of the most versatile, profound, and original thinkers in the contemporary philosophy of technology.”
—Yoni Van Den Eede, Senior Researcher, Free University of Brussels; author of Amor Technologiae
“Mark Coeckelbergh’s “New Romantic Cyborgs” (MIT 2017) is a much-needed and highly unique contribution to the literature in philosophy and technology. For far too long, the philosophy of technology has had an unhealthy, inaccurate, and dismissive attitude toward Romanticism (with a capital R) and its rich intellectual traditions. Coeckelbergh’s book perceptively targets the pre-existing problems encoded in the status quo, critically investigates and reengineers conceptual systems that have gone largely unquestioned for centuries, and formulates innovative ways of redeploying Romanticism and its untapped conceptual resources. The effect of this endeavor—which is pitch perfect from start to finish—reverberates both backwards and forwards in the history of ideas, asking us to question many of the assumptions that have been inherited from the modern era and recontextualizing our understanding of the opportunities and challenges of the postmodern/posthuman era. Must read. Resistance is futile.”
—David Gunkel, Presidential Teaching Professor of Communication Studies,Northern Illinois University (via Amazon)
Review by Andrew Pickering, University of Exeter, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews