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Cyborgs-R-Us

Mick Doherty <doherm@rpi.edu>

Fri, 18 Oct 1996 03:26:52 -0400

sfvr3,

This is going to be a really long post. Be ye warned!

First, I apologize for my lengthy absence from the class list discussion; my trip to Dallas-Fort Worth this week left me with minimal net connections. The recent and ongoing conversation about "cyborgism" resonates closely with some of the ideas I find most interesting in my present dissertation research. If you have never read Donna Haraway's "Manifesto For A Cyborg," a classic article in feminist theory, you might find it of extreme interest to what we're doing in this class. Without summarizing too many of the points Haraway makes, I'd like to explain a little bit about my own conception of what it means to exist as a cyborg. It uses Haraway, it uses Marshall McLuhan (the man who coined the phrase "Global Village" almost 40 years ago), and if you have a driver's license, you probably will be able to follow the argument.

I invite scathing critiques and disagreements, as well as further examples ... I'm thinking hard about these issues, and the class discussion is helping me immensely.

Finally, then, to the actual post ...

---

To talk about "being cyborg" is, more or less, to be discussing a lens or lenses through which we see the world, even though the lens itself may be hard to see.

Here's what I mean:

Haraway frames her deeply theoretical article with a pop-culture feel . . .

she mentions science fiction, Star Trek, Anne McCaffery -- there's even an extended graph at the end which is a discussion of cyborgs in Sci Fi, including mentions of somewhat less familiar names to the popular press, like Tiptree and Delany.

I think that Haraway makes a tactical error in framing her essay like this, because it lets the reader off the hook early and late and allows him/her to spend less time with the important, meaty theoretical stuff in the middle.

What I mean is, I read the use of "cyborg" as a term as a perfect fit in the theoretical sense of what Haraway is trying to do, but in practical application it carries too much popular baggage.

To most people, "cyborg" means exactly and precisely that image called up by The Terminator, RoboCop and *Neuromancer*'s cybercowboy, Case. (Hmmm. All of these are male characters. Except for the ship in McCaffery's short story, I don't immediately recall any female cyborgs in fiction -- maybe in Octavia Butler's work? Anyone know?)

So, given this "model," the "easy" way to connect to the concept of cyborg is "I wore braces" or "I take insulin shots" to de-naturalize our bodies mechanistically. While these are, I suppose, elements of cyborg culture in the "postmodern" sense, they are surface elements, and (to my reading) relatively unimportant.

So,maybe the best thing to do is to abandon that societal paradigm completely and dig in to how Haraway situates her ideas early on. Here's what I mean:

*Haraway is interested in "the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true" (149).

*She writes, "A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction"

(149).

*Finally, she intimates that liberation depends on "the possible" (my interpretation of her introduction)

Now, if the "incompatible things" are the natural and the technological, we are back to one of our questions in class the first day -- "what is technology?"

Here's where I start with McLuhan. I don't agree with a lot of what McLuhan wrote, but he inevitably provides a great starting point, and that's what happened for me, here.

McLuhan defines "technology" as that which extends and alters the sensorium. (I believe he says "human sensorium," but that's a little sticky for where I'm going right now.)

In other words:

Technologies are *tools* which (to use another McLuhan term) are *interiorized* to the point we are no longer aware that they are separate from us -- we come to inhabit them as *realms* -- the best example from McLuhan is the phonetic alphabet. We no longer consider the alphabet to be a "tool" in the common sense of the term, and we are certainly unaware (unconscious) of the linearity of thought imposed by the interiorization of that tool.

Okay, to a much more accessible example for the non-linguistic-theorists in class <grin> . . . this is how I explain interiorization to people not familiar with McLuhan:

Has everyone in class learned to drive? At some point, everyone who has got into a car behind the wheel for the first time. The car was a huge, awkward extension of our ability to travel. We were hindered by our over-awareness of the feel of the steering wheel, the shape of the dashboard and windshield was foremost in our vision, we needed complete silence to concentrate on the task.

Somewhen, though, perhaps imperceptibly, we interiorized the technology of "driving" and now are making hundreds of minute corrections per minute -- with the wheel, the brake, the accelerator, the windshield wipers . . . we can even begin to fiddle with the radio, to sing and talk to others, to use a car phone, to eat and drink . . . we now no longer SEE the car/the task of driving . . . we see THROUGH it.

We interiorize the technology. THAT is how it becomes a part of what we've traditionally constructed as "natural." The way we are able to see the world is changed by technologies intersecting with our sensoria.

Back to Haraway . . .

If you buy my tool/realm/interiorization explanation, the question becomes, "What tool(s) is Haraway theorizing about in constructing the cyborg she sees herself as being?"

My reading of Haraway is that the tools she thinks will necessarily be interiorized are *languaging* tools. At one point she refers to "the power of oppositional consciousness." Is this an epistemological approach that we now see through, or are we still *aware* of it like the windshield wipers whipping across our field of vision the first time we turn them on as a driver?

For me, the most engaging part of Haraway's argument is where she lists a "chart of transitions from the comfortable old hierarchical dominations to the scary new networks I have called the informatics of domination" (161).

As I re-read the article recently, I drew a lens between the two lists. The theoretical implications of the central part of Haraway's text are what construct that lens; I, personally, am still living as a natural being on the left-hand side of the list "Representation, Organism, and other similar

terms).

I can *see* the other list -- simulation, biotics, and other similar terms -- but I am still very, very aware of the lens between them. If I ever reach a point where the lens is transparent then I will be the kind of cyborg Haraway is discussing. I will, to return to the last loose thread (I think) from above, be completely aware of "the possible," without the interfering awareness of the lens I'm looking through.

By interiorizing, for instance, the worldviews of a genre like c'punk fiction, I am not taking away an existing lens, but building another one, another way of seeing the world. They do not exist separately, but work together (or don't) . . . if you took the glasses I wear, and then looked through them while holding Sandye's glasses over them, you wouldn't see things first as I did, then as she does . . . but the lenses would work together to show the world in one particular way.

Probably, in that example, a pretty muddled image. And isn't that what we're dealing with now, as we hold up the many lenses we are discussing in this class? Is "becoming cyborg" the same as "adding lenses"? Must we interiorize the lens -- lose awareness of it -- to truly be cyborg?

Any thoughts you have would be great!

Thanks for enduring this way-too-long post!

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Re: Cyborgs-R-Us

Dennis Payne <dulsi@identical.stu.rpi.edu>

Fri, 18 Oct 1996 22:31:22 -0400 (EDT)

[Chainsaw applied to Mick's post]

> Must we interiorize the lens -- lose awareness of it -- to truly be

> cyborg?

So if I read this post correctly being a cyborg is a state of mind. No. A cyborg has biological functions replaced or augmented by technological means. The technological components must also be part of the person; glasses don't count but pacemakers do.

The blurring of the "lenses" is simply a natural part of the learning process.

> We interiorize the technology. THAT is how it becomes a part of what we've

> traditionally constructed as "natural." The way we are able to see the

> world is changed by technologies intersecting with our sensoria.

Every experience changes the way we see the world not just technologies. You seem to be confused with something called adapting to one's enviroment.

Dennis Payne

dulsi@identical.stu.rpi.edu

payned@rpi.edu

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RE: Cyborgs-R-Us

Ted Cooper <coopep>

Sat, 19 Oct 1996 02:19:09 -0400

Ok, I may have just missed this in a previous post, but a quick question: When we say a person is augmented by "technological means" are we limiting that to metal and plastic devices? Or can a cyborg be a human bonded with an ORGANIC machine through artificial means? Would those who question the ethics of creating a Robocop-type cyborg feel the same way about someone who has had extra muscles and a second heart installed?

<<ducking to avoid hurtling responses with sharp words>>

Ted

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Re: Cyborgs-R-Us

Mick Doherty <doherm>

Sat, 19 Oct 1996 16:55:44 -0400

Dennis, great response. I agree that McLuhan-Haraway-etc. (and therefore, I) may be over-analyzing. I guess I'm just not quite willing to dismiss "learning" as a "natural process" in the way you do. It is natural that we learn, yes -- but *how* we learn is impacted culturally and technologically. So adapting to one's environment -- your concluding statement -- may not be a universal process. And that may be due to the technological impact(s) on the various environments where learning occurs.

Thanks for giving me something to think about ...

MD

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RE: Cyborgs-R-Us

Swade <wades2@rpi.edu>

Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:33:12 -0400

On the cyborg question, how about this. The body is what is is (for the most part) becuase it's in the blueprints, the genes. The body stays what is is because it was designed to maintain itself. When you introduce something artificial, that thing was neither in the plans nor part of the body's maintenance routine, thereby defining it as something other than the body, a cybernetic part. A scar in the skin will heal, whereas a broken pacemaker stays broken until some artifical means is used to fix it. In an almost trivial way, this would mean that fillings in your teeth are cyberentic.

Swade

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