“Pastoral/Posthuman Sunrise Hike” by Joy Brooke Fairfield, Elizabeth Hersh, and Joe Moore

Friday, 28 June 2013
5:30 am – 8:00 am
Stanford Dish (Outside Roble Gym; on the shuttle bus; Stanford Dish; on the shuttle bus; outside Roble Gym)

Blog Response by Michelle Lindenblatt

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I sit here on the patio of our hotel room, the baby sleeping soundly in the bedroom, and I begin to travel through time, backwards, to yesterday morning. Will I remember it properly? Sleep deprivation makes everything seem hazy, like a dream. Perhaps I was dreaming. It was 5:30 in the morning.

I am in the taxi at 5:15. It is still dark outside, but the sun quietly peeks out in the crevice at the horizon. The taxi driver careens wildly along El Camino Real even though there is no traffic to speak of, telling me he has already been to San Francisco and back that morning. Perhaps he is dreaming, too. I give him an extra $5 as he drops me off outside of Roble Gym.

The shuttle is waiting. A few people are already on board checking their phones. Beth and Joy are our benevolent taskmasters who have everything under control: coffee and bagels appear, which lures everyone off the shuttle, and seems to prompt other people to emerge, too. Quickly there are about fifteen of us. Joy distributes MP3 players for those of us who need them and gives us a quick tutorial. The air is cool and Beth hands out sunscreen. It will get hot up there towards the end, she tells us. We stand around in hoodies and long sleeved shirts, somewhat skeptical, but put it on anyway. (Fast forward: she was right.) Joy and several others go to see the dogs inside Roble before we leave.

The shuttle departs at 5:50 and we are at the base of The Dish a few minutes later. The sun is now shining brightly, illuminating the hilly expanse that rises up before our eyes. We stand quietly, absorbing the landscape. Rolling peaks of yellow grass are peppered with small, round trees, and the sky is high and wide, baby blue, cloudless. A thin black snake of asphalt winds its way up and around, the path we will eventually follow. We gather in a group and synchronize our audio devices. We all try to press Start at the same time on the first track. After a few false starts we begin up the hill and the group breaks up, some walking quickly and others slowly, even though we all listen to the same audioscape. My player soon runs out of batteries. Joy has another in her pocket (on which she pressed Play at the same time as the others), which she gives to me. I cannot help but feel that I am a few seconds behind everyone else, although time is out of joint for all of us. For the duration of the hike I bring up the rear of the group, often pausing to write notes or take pictures and then hurrying to catch up, anticipating that I will have to remember.

hike1

We listen to samples of speech and music, these uncanny bits and pieces of quasi-familiar sounds from childhood cartoons, pop music, and television shows. We learn that we are searching for an elusive something. I expect to be subsumed into a pastoral landscape, but as we advance through the park all I can see are signs of the all-too-human: no-trespassing signs, the stark asphalt beneath our feet, joggers, electrical wires, and giant radio dishes, all of which is exacerbated by the fragmented sounds coming from my earphones. The soundscapes’ repetitive nature – we see and hear the same thing over and over again – makes me wonder if this very quality of being stuck in time is what characterizes the posthuman. I take one earphone out and let it dangle into my pocket, and I hear birds intermittently chirping.

The first track ends and the group reconnects as we remove our earphones. Beth and Joy hand out grapes, water, and other snacks, a comforting gesture in this place that borders on being indifferent to the organic body (no shade, no water fountains, no washrooms, no benches). Joy offers grapes to a group of power-walkers but her gift falls on deaf ears. We begin listing to the second track and wait for a few moments in the same spot, watching people waft past before we continue on our way.

The air smells mildly sweet, like dried grass, and our shadows become shorter as the sun rises higher in the sky. Although seemingly lacking in animal life, this place is home to at least one deer, a few birds, and several mole-like creatures that seem to take great pleasure in running across the fields and diving into holes. These are invisible from our vantage so it looks like the earth is swallowing them up with great vigor.

With the end of the second track we again reconnect, we again refuel and rehydrate, and as we press Play on the third and final track, we turn around and backtrack, this time on our feet. We pay homage to the souvenir (“to remember”) and stop to take a few group photos, including one by the very large posthuman ear, a radio dish. We walk closely together as a group now. We hear in our small posthuman ears about what the posthuman means (the posthuman is not animal, but all-too-machine) and what the posthuman does (replete with manipulated DNA, this body accumulates recreational and medical drugs). We walk downhill which is not as strenuous but requires a different set of muscles than before. We hear a woman tell us about cyborgs (“Cyborgs are a combination of man and machine”), and her voice is so stagey – dreamlike, drugged out – that I cannot help but laugh out loud. When she comes on again later, again, I laugh. We hear that we need these machinic supplements to offset the “crippling limitations of the body.” But up here, in this world, such an assertion rings hollow. I wonder if these are really limitations or if they are qualities that simply need to be acknowledged.

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We dodge cars as we cross the road to board the shuttle that takes us back to where we began. It is 8:00 and the day’s heat is in full swing. We are tired, and our driver is glad to have the last of the coffee from the cardboard canteen. I don’t think any of us believe we are entirely posthuman just yet. Our gratitude for that, for the labor involved in creating an event such as this, for grapes and bagels and carbonated water and everything else so delightful to the organic animal body, is a tangible intensity among us.

I go back to the hotel and nurse the baby who has just woken up.

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