Monday, May 28, 2012

The Cyborg

This is post number one of what is to become my final project for Dora's English 324 course, the Rhetoric of Women Writers. For this assignment, we are allowed to do basically anything we'd like, as long as it relates back to women's writings and the topics we have discussed in class. Being in a maddeningly-short three-week semester, we sadly were not able to get to the material concerning cybernetics. Since I am hopelessly stuck on ideas surrounding cyborgization and post-humanism (after reading Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), I thought I would use this as an opportunity to explore a dimension of the cyborg that I am possibly the most interested in: the cyborg woman.
First, I think it is necessary to provide a definition of the cyborg. The following is from Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Twentieth Century": "A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction" (Haraway 291). Here's Donna, with doggie:
This definition, to me, naturally screams that each of us in contemporary society must be a cyborg in some capacity. Who cannot say that we are not in some way a "hybrid of machine and organism"? Do we have cell phones adhered to our back pockets, Facebook accounts with second selves accessible by the second selves of our "friends"? Do we rely on technology in order to remain alive? Healthy? Functional? I would be seriously lost without my contact lenses. What about using technology for cosmetic self-improvement? How much of us are we allowing to become machine, rather than human? But above all, why does it matter? Is there necessarily anything to be lost? If human organs, limbs, bodies, and even thoughts and emotions are replicable and improvable through implicating technology, why does it matter if the finished product is innate or created? This is a really sticky bunch of potentially-irritating and uncomfortable questions, and what I tend to do with sticky uncomfortable questions is dig deeper to come up with even more sticky, uncomfortable and irritating questions, such as: "Then what is a 'machine'?" "What is a 'human'?" "How much of being human is innate, and how much is constructed socially?" Uhhh. Fuuuuuhhhh.
I wrote a paper last semester for a Postmodern Lit course that reveals the human as a social construct, rather than an intrinsically-constant being of biological determination. Now I find myself too thinking about the word "machine." Lemme look it up... Holy crap, yes. Merriam Webster's online dictionary (http://www/ defines a "machine" as "a constructed thing whether material or immaterial," "an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion, and energy one to another in a predetermined manner" and then a little further down "a living organism or one of its functional systems." Wait. What?
It becomes clear that the lines drawn between human and machine are becoming, or already are, blurred and even non-existent - that the cyborg does not exist as an inverse to the human, but exists within the current concoction of what constitutes modern humanity. "By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism" (Haraway 292). What does this mean for women? How has our social construct of the "woman" changed with the integration of technology into our lives? Into our bodies? Into our own perceptions of our self and collective identities?
What am I going to do after I finish this blog post? Probably go on Facebook and see how my second self is being received by everyone else's second selves while my "real" self was away. ___________________________________________________________________________ Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Twentieth Century." The Cybercultures Reader. Ed. David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy. New York: Routledge, 2000. 291-324. Print.

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