Body dysmorphic dreams of amputees demonstrate how the human mind strives to understand its place in the body, to cope with the paradox of impermanence, and to signal continuity to its encapsulating form. The dream sequences in “Milo” by Alexander Pyles were my favorite scenes of the book, for their feeling of accuracy and unsettling, gradual disintegration. “Milo” is a tiny, pretty, illustrated book that shows a careful, thoughtful emerging writer taking a big bite of philosophy in a microscopically short work. My biggest complaint is a compliment: I wanted more.
Don’t we all? Are you ready for your robot body?
Milo is born disabled and faces a future of progressive degenerative disease. Pyles handles the characterization beautifully, with a good balance between resignation and resentment, hitting the reader immediately with Milo’s trapped emotions and desires and some fuck it all vibes. Writing about disability is a brave choice for an abled person, especially without sugar-coating the “bravery” of same or coming across as a patronizing jerk. Pyles falls into neither trap. Milo feels like a real dude. He has attitude. His body already excludes him from the world, so why not go full robot?
One piece I’m missing in Milo’s character, though, is humor. I’d have liked to see that sort of wry, black humor one uses to cope with the absurd. Another piece of the story I’m missing is more actual science and psychological lore.
I’m not too much of a hard science person, but I had a hard time believing the robot body as presented. It was too much like a brain in a jar. I can’t believe I’m saying I wanted more science. Who am I even? I LOVE brains in jars!
Given what’s known about the gut biome’s influence on brain function, and given the claims of neurobiologists growing brain tissue in lab settings stating (disingenuously?) that memory and cognitive development don’t occur without the physical feedback of a body, I find the premise of the inorganic robot body in “Milo” questionable. We know enough about the brain to recognize it as part of a system, and we know enough about systems to understand their elements function differently in isolation.
I’ll let that go. This is a story about philosophy, and what it means to be human, and what it means to be a medical body in the age of advancing technology.
The mind-body questions asked in “Milo” have far-reaching tendrils through fields as diverse as modern stem cell research and ancient meditation practices. The book begins and ends with questions we all ask about identity. These questions become harder the more we lose of ourselves, through aging, progressive or sudden disability, life experiences that change our bodies and thus change our self-perception, and our ability to interact with the physical world.
Mind-body severance is a condition of our culture, of capitalism and conformity. The gap grows broader with every device that flattens and isolates bodies from other bodies. I often think of the body as a pleasure-seeking animal with unstated aims that the mind can only glimpse and guess. I don’t kid myself into thinking I’m in control of my lustful, spiritual, unreasonable pet body: maybe the body is the master and the mind is the pet.
“Milo” asks what happens when we put our pet minds on a new leash. What do we become when we transition away from organic frailty? Overall I found the text neat and precise, and maybe a bit too restrained for my taste. I wanted more. But then I do tend to tug at my leash, and on occasion, chew through it.
Find “Milo” here: https://radixmedia.org/product/milo-by-alexander-pyles/