[return to main message page]
Mick Doherty <email@example.com>
Fri, 18 Oct 1996 03:26:52 -0400
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
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
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?
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"
*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"
*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
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
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!
[return to message index]
Dennis Payne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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
[return to message index]
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>>
[return to message index]
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 ...
[return to message index]
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
[return to message index]