Flaying Apple: Ed Atkins’ Marsyas

I’ve been thinking about digital culture and Classical mythology recently, specifically in terms of how the slickness of a myth (an endlessly reproduced story that maintains its core as its details change) compares to the glitches of mythmaking (e.g. Cicero’s dream of Scipio as a remake of Plato’s myth of Er).  In this vein, I just came across this paragraph from British artist Ed Atkins’ essay ‘Even pricks, literally’:

There was a point, a year or so ago, when a website that takes apart new bits of computer technology to see how they work and, practically, how one might mend them – how one might own them – reached an impasse with a new model of the iPad. The so-called Retina screens now rolled out across the entire range of Apple products, are comprised of so many dermically-close sheets of LCD filo, that, should you crack that machine-chamfered hem and pries the device apart, it would *die*. As in, die. Like a mortal, living thing. Opening Apple products up becomes, then, somehow, the inflicting of a mortal wound – a fucking flaying – even as the difference between mortality and obsolescence becomes increasingly, darkly confused.

To the phrase ‘a fucking flaying’ Atkins added the following footnote:

Alongside the dermic analogue, the Marsyus [sic] analogy, Apple Mac’s own marque seems overtly pertinent: The bitten apple, never rotting, perched in perfect, profiled silhouette; Alan Turing’s Grimm suicide after being chemically castrated. In the example of Apple’s Retina tech, imagine the slow peeling of a cartoon-green apple – thinking: this curling skin can never be reattached; the consequent browning, shriveling of the apple. Or its eating, of course.

In describing the inaccessible Retina technology of the iPad screen, Atkins sees the skinned body of Marsyas and the skin of the apple as two natural deaths that surround this image of digital death. I wonder, given what I know of Atkins’ work and writing (especially in his new book A Primer for Cadavers), what Atkins would make of Ovid’s version of the myth?

And, as Apollo punished him, he cried, “Ah-h-h! why are you now tearing me apart? A flute has not the value of my life!” Even as he shrieked out in his agony, his living skin was ripped off from his limbs, till his whole body was a flaming wound, with nerves and veins and viscera exposed.


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