- Rick Poynor: from Designing Pornotopia: Travels in Visual Culture (2006)
- Donna Haraway: A Cyborg Manifesto (1985)
At the centre of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg.
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. The international women's movements have constructed 'women's experience', as well as uncovered or discovered this crucial collective object. This experience is a fiction and fact of the most crucial, political kind. Liberation rests on the construction of the consciousness, the imaginative apprehension, of oppression, and so of possibility. The cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women's experience in the late twentieth century. This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.
Contemporary science fiction is full of cyborgs - creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted. Modern medicine is also full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine, each conceived as coded devices, in an intimacy and with a power that was not generated in the history of sexuality. Cyborg 'sex' restores some of the lovely replicative baroque of ferns and invertebrates (such nice organic prophylactics against heterosexism). Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction. Modern production seems like a dream of cyborg colonization work, a dream that makes the nightmare of Taylorism seem idyllic. And modern war is a cyborg orgy, coded by C3I, command-control-communication-intelligence, an $84 billion item in 1984'sUS defence budget. I am making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings. Michael Foucault's biopolitics is a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics, a very open field.
By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. Ths cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of 'Western' science and politics - the tradition of racist, male-dominant capitalism; the tradition of progress; the tradition of the appropriation of nature as resource for the productions of culture; the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other - the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction. It is also an effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender, which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end. The cyborg incarnation is outside salvation history. Nor does it mark time on an oedipal calendar, attempting to heal the terrible cleavages of gender in an oral symbiotic utopia or post-oedipal apocalypse. As Zoe Sofoulis argues in her unpublished manuscript on Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and nuclear culture, Lacklein, the most terrible and perhaps the most promising monsters in cyborg worlds are embodied in non-oedipal narratives with a different logic of repression, which we need to understand for our survival.
The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity. In a sense, the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense - a 'final' irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the 'West's' escalating dominations of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space. An origin story in the 'Western', humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism. Hilary Klein has argued that both Marxism and psychoanalysis, in their concepts of labour and of individuation and gender formation, depend on the plot of original unity out of which difference must be produced and enlisted in a drama of escalating domination of woman/nature. The cyborg skips the step of original unity, of identification with nature in the Western sense. This is its illegitimate promise that might lead to subversion of its teleology as star wars.
The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polls based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household. Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein's monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy. Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection- they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.
- Donna Haraway: "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." 1985. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181 (149-51).
Let me submit the following practical suggestion. Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain - the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed - then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavour will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood.
- Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, ed. Fredson Bowers, 1982 (London: Picador, 1983) p. 105.
How should one read a novel, specifically?
If the novel was the dominant genre of the nineteenth century, and film of the twentieth century, what precisely do we have to learn by focussing specifically on a set of novels written since 1900?
Maybe we have to go back even further before we ask that question. What is the purpose of writing fiction? More to the point, why do we read it?
Nabokov has some interesting reflections on that subject, also:
The case of count Beust is an excellent example to bring into any discussion about so-called real life and so-called fiction. There on the one hand is a historical fact, a certain Beust, a statesman, a diplomat, who not only has existed but has left a book of memoirs in two volumes, wherein he carefully recalls all the witty repartees, and political puns, which he had made in the course of his long political career on this or that occasion. And here, on the other hand, is Steve Oblonksi whom Tolstoy [in Anna Karenin] created from top to toe, and the question is which of the two, the "real-life" Count Beust, or the "fictitious" Prince Oblonksi is more alive, is more real, is more believable, Despite his memoirs - long-winded memoirs full of dead clichés - the good Beust remains a vague and conventional figure, whereas Oblonski, who never existed, is immortally vivid. And furthermore, Beust himself acquires a little sparkle by his participating in a Tolstoyan paragraph, in a fictitious world.
- Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, p. 213.
This mention of the "fictitious world" of a novel - in this case, of Anna Karenina - brings us to the main theme of this lecture: the different worlds we have to understand before we can really penetrate what is going on any piece of fiction.
First of all, there's the world of the author: her or his biography, intellectual context, set of worldly concerns ...
Secondly, there's the setting (contemporary or consciously "historical") of the novel. Even if it is supposed to take place roughly around the same time at which it was composed, that may require some elucidation for later readers.
Thirdly, there's the fictive universe of the novel itself. How does this world operate? What are its fundamental laws of nature? The same as ours in the "real world" - or significantly different? What aspects of existence, in other words, are foregrounded in this particular author's version of the texture of experience?
No two commentators will come up with exactly the same descriptions of even these basic features of any "fictitious world" - nevertheless, it would be foolish to pretend that the process of definition is entirely arbitrary.
Stanley Fish, way back in 1980, asked Is There a Text in this Class? I think that we have to allow that there is in order to have a discussion at all, but we can also permit a huge amount of variation when it comes to our sense of the features of any particular text.
We can also employ our basic evidence for its nature - the letter of the text - more or less adroitly.
Is it true that the twentieth-century novels we've been examining, one by one, constitute an attempt to subvert the moral and cultural standards of their respective communities? Such a claim has been made about each of them.
Is the conclusion of the course that complete license should reign in the domain of free speech? Or are there lines of more-or-less universal applicability that can be drawn - at any rate in this community.
It's unlikely we'll all be able to find agreement on such contentious points. In any case, the intention of the course was never to enforce consensus.
At the very least we've clarified, I hope, the terms of an ongoing debate which began when the very first bards and shamans chose to submit to scrutiny the mores of their own societies.
A Cyborg Manifesto
We'll begin by discussing the nature of the exam, then move on to do the class exercise together.
Design Your Own Utopia
Bring a picture with you to class – perhaps a photograph out of a magazine, or any image which intrigues you in some way.
How does it represent your image of Utopia? What would that include?
We;ll go round the class and get reactions from each of you.