Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Digital Alchemy: The Posthuman Drama of Adam J.A. Cass's I Love You, Bro

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Digital Alchemy: The Posthuman Drama of Adam J.A. Cass's I Love You, Bro

Article excerpt

The definition of a 'digital performance' remains contested. Steve Dixon has defined the field as 'performance works where computer technologies play a key role rather than a subsidiary one in content, techniques, aesthetics, or delivery forms'.1 The inclusion of the word 'or' is crucial here. Under this definition, a theatre performance about computer technologies would still earn the definition of'digital performance', whether those technologies were used on stage or not. Yet for Dixon and others, this has not proved to be the case. The trend in theatre scholarship exploring digital themes has overwhelmingly tended towards the final three categories of Dixon's definition: an emphasis on 'techniques, aesthetics, or delivery forms' to evoke a digital mise-en-scène. Implicit here is a wider emphasis on 'liveness' over 'content' in contemporary theatre scholarship, which Hans-Thies Lehmann observed as a rift between 'theatre' and 'drama'.2 While digital 'theatre' has been the main focus of scholarly inquiry to date, this article aims to redress this imbalance, by presenting a critique of the Australian one-man play I Love You, Bro by Adam J.A. Cass (2007) via the 'drama' of the performance text itself. In so doing, I make the case for an alternative method of classifying digital performance - one in which a digital miseen-scène may be evoked via the playwright's construction of identity within a technoscientific narrative. To anchor this approach, I employ the theoretical construct of the 'posthuman' - a figure that represents a compelling nexus for contemporary anxieties about the digital age.

Over the past twenty years, the concept of the posthuman - part-human, part-intelligent machine - has come to symbolise the inevitable endpoint of human technological progress.3 Proponents of the literal posthuman, alternatively referred to as a 'cyborg', herald an eventual union between organic and artificial intelligence - between digital and biological code.4 Yet in 1999, N. Katherine Hayles redefined the then-emerging term by shifting its focus from physical embodiment to cultural perception, declaring: '[Pjeople become posthuman [when] they think they are posthuman'.5 For Hayles, equating humans with intelligent machines renders the present moment as posthuman, because the paradigm challenges humanist notions of identity and agency via the emergence of digitally enabled technologies. According to Hayles, in the digital age the split between a human's 'enacted' (real) body and their represented body (on a screen, as an avatar, and so on) 'necessarily makes the subject into a cyborg, for the enacted and represented bodies are brought into conjunction through the technology that connects them'.6 For Hayles, both humans and nonhumans alike have been reduced to processors of information within a digital environment. Within this landscape, 'technology has become so entwined with identity that it can no longer be meaningfully separated from the human subject ... Even a biologically unaltered Homo sapiens counts as posthuman.'7 If perception forms our reality, then the human has been rendered 'essentially similar' to the intelligent machine.8

In this article, I argue that I Love You, Bro - along with several other plays of the digital age - explores the moral, emotional and existential implications of a posthuman world, where the boundaries between flesh and data can no longer be determined. In each of these plays, human characters are equated with intelligent machines, either materially (via the body) or virtually (via consciousness).9 This equation renders each human character less as a holistic T, and more as an assemblage of cybernetic and biological components, presenting a subjectivity that exists as both material being and digital code. Yet this subjectivity is evoked within the drama of the text itself, and as such is not beholden to the 'techniques, aesthetics, or delivery' of any specific production. I Love You, Bro may thus be understood to be a form of posthuman drama, a genre of playwright-driven performance that asks what it means to be 'human' in the digital age. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.