Jean Baudrillard’s description of technological breakdown as “a sort of breach opened up by objects.” (Baudrillard, 2004 p.62) one of many examples of the blackboxing of breakdown. In blackboxing breakdown theorists usually define it in terms of its alterity to function. This binary approach is unsatisfactory as it fails to attend to the range and subtleties of difference apparent once the processes of breakdown are opened up to examination.
It is better to view breakdown as an extended space between the extremes of perfect function and complete nonfunction.
Points within this space can be examined and the symptoms exhibited by these various breakdowns recorded.
In Brian Aldiss’s Science fiction novel of slippage and entropy Frankenstein Unbound, 1973 the dying Frankenstein cries:
a purpose must be found, invented if necessary, a human purpose, human, putting us in control, fighting the itness of the great wheeling world. (Aldiss, 1990, p190)
It is a feature of Aldiss’s novels as well as other authors of the sixties and seventies such as J G Ballard that their human protagonists find themselves at odds with, and eventually succumbing to, forces beyond their control. Ballard’s Drowned World (1962), Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975) all depict a losing battle with itness.
Derrida’s idea of anthropomorphic taming (Derrida, 2008, p.37) suggests that one of the goals of the anthropomorphic project is control. In anthropomorphising gods we gain control of their purview (us) and in anthropomorphising animals and other non human objects we bring them enough into the fold to tame them while recognising their status as other or lesser.
Perhaps what Frankenstein doesn’t realise is that in attempting to fight the itness, he is dissolving the difference between the ‘human’ and the ‘it’. Like a hero struggling in the quicksand soon there will only be the still illusion of solidity.