Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto

May 22, 2008

A brief summary and reading in relation to the Internet, the feminised network society and the body.

Context of Haraway’s work: Reagan years, ‘Star Wars’, political and economical push for increased technoscience development, and its cultural impacts.

Socialist feminism: also known as ‘materialist feminism’, this theory has its roots in Marxism. Argues that the liberation of women can only be achieved by working to end the causes of women’s oppression, highlighting the economic (patriarchal systems of capitalism) and cultural (class and gender) forces.

Haraway suggests that ‘we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are all cyborgs’. When discussed within the framework of posthumanism, this is certainly true.

The cyborg is an ironic artefact, ‘a creature of social reality as well as a work of fiction’. It is a manifestation of the schizophrenic network society, imbued with informatic and telephonic technology, existing in opposition to itself, yet both forms of its existence hold meaning.

The context of socialist feminism is further evident in Haraway’s descriptions of the cyborg as the ‘illegitimate offspring of militarism, patriarchal capitalism, not the mention the state socialism.’ While this references the technoscience of the Reagan era, it can be easily extrapolated unto present day, the Internet especially.

Creation of the Internet (militarist), network structure.

The Internet illustrates the network society, and its parallels of machine and organism. Deleuze and Guattari describe network forms such as the rhizome as, in effect, edges that contain nodes (rather than vice versa), or even, paradoxically, as edges without nodes.

Haraway continues to say, ‘But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.’ It can be easily said that network structures, like the Internet, are not being used in a manner faithful to its origins. This idea of the unfaithful ‘cyborg’ is simultaneously liberating, for the socialist feminist against a patriarchal system of capitalism, and also dangerous.

The cyborg threatens the fundamental boundaries that have long structured ways of understanding the world, through opposition of:

  • · Human and animal
  • · Machine and organism
  • · Physical and non-physical

These oppositions can be exemplified through xenotransplants (the use of animal organs for human operations), the psychological study of animals to ‘explain’ human behaviour, the use of nanotechnology for medical and transhumanist means, and scientific theory such as quantum mechanics, that bring closer the material and immaterial.

These boundaries are further challenged by the information technology society, or ‘informatics of domination’ as Haraway describes it. Similar to the age of information capital, presented by Manuel Castells, it deals with the industrialisation and commidification of information. On the one hand, information is seen as being abstract, quantitative, reducible to a calculus of management and regulation. On the other hand, cybernetics, information theory, and systems theory all show how information is immanently material, configured into military technology, communications media, and even biological systems. In the cybernetic feedback loop, in the communications channel, and in the organic whole of any system, we find this dual view of information. Both immaterial and materializing, abstract and concrete, an act and a thing. (Galloway and Thacker, 2004).

The feminism of networks (Castells), and protocol (Galloway and Thacker):

Networks are the structures that connect people, then protocols are the rules that make sure the connections actually work

•protocol facilitates relationships between interconnected, but autonomous, entities;

•a goal of protocol is to accommodate everything, no matter what source or destination, no matter what originary definition or identity;

This means that protocol is less about power (confinement, discipline, normativity) and more about control (modulation, distribution, flexibility)

Haraway describes this as a change from the institutions of ‘family / market/ factory’ into that of ‘women in the integrated circuit’.

Haraway targets the gendered institutions of capitalism, and their representations, and opposes them with simulations, a technoscientific effort to reconstruct the existing systems of power and control. The cyborg is not just an entity of opposition, but a catalyst for social change.

‘Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves… It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories.’

Change from the patriarchal power systems, to the flexibility of a feminised network. As the cyborg is the entity which describes a human’s connection, and fusion with technology, as it connects to the network, the cyborg is by virtue, also feminine.

Virtual cyborg, electronic existence:

From an existential point of view, the record, optimized by the electronic information apparatus, has

taken the form of horrific excess. Each one of us has files that rest at the state’s fingertips. Education

files, medical files, employment files, financial files, communication files, travel files, and for some, criminal files. Each strand in the trajectory of each person’s life is recorded and maintained. The total collection of records on an individual is h/er or her data body—a state-andcorporate- controlled doppelgänger. What is most unfortunate about this development is that the data body not only claims to have ontological privilege, but actually does have it. What your data body says about you is more real than what you say about yourself. The data body is the body by which you are judged in society, and the body that dictates your status in the social world. What we are witnessing at this point in time is the triumph of representation over being. (Critical Art Theory, 2000)

Her driver’s license. Her credit cards. Her bank accounts. Her identity. DELETED.

The deletion of information equals the deletion of one’s existence. The information society creates a simulacra of our self, a ‘body without organs’ in a sense, represented through a network without edges. As more information about our lives and experiences is uploaded and shared, it becomes commodified. Information is simultaneously produced and consumed, bringing together the network’s consciousness and the individual’s body.

Raises questions of what is real and what is a human. If reality is based of experience, then virtual experience must also apply. If a human is based off records, then a machine can just as easily be categorised.

Ghost in the Shell Trailer – ideas of cyborg/androids questioning their ‘humanity’ also found in Blade Runner

As a vessel for change and penetration, the female body is well suited in becoming the cyborg. The female body, through its biological processes of puberty, menstruation and pregnancy, is representative of the processes of self-regeneration and production. It is a receiving body, a transformative body. The female body’s fusion with technology, through penetration, is seen as natural, attractive and is non-transgressive.

Cyborgs as transhumanism: A fusion of man and machine to achieve what the human body cannot, and what the human mind cannot. A possible market for consumption, the future commodity of phsyical modification.

Neon Genesis Evangelion synchronised dance – rigorous human training to achieve machinic precision

Pure mecha as pure menace: technology without humanism is a recipe for disaster. A need for consciousness and conscience. Real threat, or human insecurity? As humans continue to automate and improve technology, what is the end goal?

Bell, D. (2007) ‘Cyberculture theorists: Manuel Castells and Donna Haraway’. London ; New York : Routledge.

Castells, M. (1996/2000) The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Volume 1: The Rise of Network Society, Oxford: Blackwell.

Critical Art Theory. (2000) ‘Digital Resistance – ‘The Mythology of Terrorism on the Net ‘, Autonomedia, pp 29-37. http://www.critical-art.net/books/digital/tact2.pdf

Galloway, A. And Thacker E. (2004) ‘Protocol, Control, and Networks’, Grey Room 17, Fall 2004, pp. 6–29.

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Definition (1)

April 29, 2008

I just wanted to take a quick moment to define one of the terms that will popping up throughout this examination into cybernetic and cyborg commodities. The (1) mark expects multiple entries similar to this, elaborating on further terms as they become necessary.

Posthuman

It seemed appropriate to start off with this one, seeing as it titles this blog. David Bell, in his book Cyberculture Theorists, outlines a simple explanation of this term.

Posthuman relates to multiple ideas, dealing with the evolutionary potentialities of the human body in both physical and ‘spiritual’ existential forms.

One idea is that humans have reached an evolutionary ‘dead-end’ and are supplementing their desires for further evolution through incorporating technologies into, around and through themselves.

Another idea is that through the continuing intimate and meaningful interactions with nonhumans (that is, technology and its artefacts) that we have long ceased to be human.

The term ‘posthuman’ is grounded firmly in the fields of biomedicine, science fiction and cyberculture theory. It conjures potent and powerful images of an exciting, and terrifying, future. While the ‘posthuman’ does not equal ‘cyborg’, they are inextricably linked: the ideas that posthumanity creates are made into physical constitution by the cyborg.

Bell, D ‘Cyberculture Theorists: Manuel Castells and Donna Haraway’, London ; New York : Routledge, 2007 p24


If I were a Cyborg…

April 19, 2008

The cyborg is a perfect example of the machinic theory explained by Guittari. Produced for the sole purpose of producing, programmed with specific boundaries, providing feedback that is entered back into the system so that new paramaters can be re-entered into the body’s software. It is the champion of the ultimate cyclical, capitalist machine. A combination of biology and technology, assuming human form only for the sake of familiarity.

Multiple points exist for the cyborg to interface and ‘plug-in’: connections for all the five senses, which will only perceive the world through set, objective guidelines. Subjectivity is only a construction, a piece of software that can be edited.

Flitting through the net with the word ‘cyborg’ firmly planted into the search bar, images of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ were extremely predominant. What makes it so popular that it appears at the forefront of such an exploration? Is it the narrative that raises issues of human existence in a world dominated by machines? Or perhaps because half the images are of cyborg protagonist Motoko’s body being penetrated by various phallic plugs?

What makes Motoko so alluring as a character? She, like many other cyborgs in fiction, struggle with their identities as machines, questioning and conflicting with the idea of their own ‘humanity’. Does this suggest that the cyborg is not as conrete a construction as first believed? Is there an undying shizophrenic voice cannot be displaced even after the machine exhumes our bodies?

Perhaps the ontogenetic evolution of our bodies into cyborgs is not a one-way street to the multitude being swallowed by the capitalist machine, to become another connection. These connections exist to perpetuate a system of relationships that inevitably lead to our self-creation and regeneration.

But is knowing the self and holding onto humanity enough? It is not a resistance against capitalism; the machinic processes and the existence of humanity and its subjectivity are not mutually exclusive. Is there hope for a revolution? Or will the machine continue to roll on as our bodies become without organs, our identities programmed… It is strangely liberating in its freedom, while at the same, entirely constricting in its finality.

Lots of questions!

I will have to somehow try and rescue some relevant thoughts out of this garbled mess, and direct them towards how these ideas are commodified, and explore in more detail this notion of these cybernetic systems as a ‘body’. I can already see that examining screen examples such as anime are going to create even more questions on gender and culture. Even the idea of death will be malleable, as the cybernetic body can just as easily ‘reboot’. Personally, I believe the concept of subjectivity will plague me the most, so expect to see an amateurish, half-assed attempt to understand it in the future.

Lastly, I found something nice over at Accelerating Future.

Main points that I got out of it, to relate back to machine theory, are the possible capacities of cybernetics and its implants in autopoiesis and immortality. I’ll cut and paste Michael’s writing here, more so for my own benefit for easy referencing later.

#4. Autopoiesis/Allopoiesis

Autopoiesis is Greek for self-creation. Allopoiesis is other-creation. Our body engages in both all the time – we start as a fetus that creates itself until it becomes an adult, then, essentially stops. Our body produces things external to itself, but usually involving an extended process of cooperation with thousands of other human beings and the entire economy. In the future, there will be cybernetic upgrades that allow for personal autopoietic and allopoietic manufacturing, probably based on molecular nanotechnology. Using whatever raw material is available, complex construction routines, and internal nanomanufacturing units, we’ll be able to literally breathe life into dirt. If our arms or legs get blown off, we’ll be able to use manufacturing modules in other parts of our body to regenerate them. Instead of building robots in a factory, we’ll build them ourselves. The possibilities are quite expansive, but this would require technology more sophisticated than anything discussed thus far in this list.

#1. Immortality.

The ultimate upgrade would be physical immortality. Everything else pales by comparison. Today, there are already entire movements based around the idea. Realizing the possibility of immortality requires seeing a human being as a physical system – composed of working parts that cooperate to make up the whole, some of which have the tendency to get old and break down. Cambridge biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey has identified seven causes of aging, which are believed to be comprehensive, because its been decades since a degenerative process has occurred in the body with an unknown cause. Defeating aging, then, would simply require addressing these one by one. They are: cell depletion, supernumerary cells, chromosomal mutations, mitochondrial mutations, cellular junk, extracellular junk, and protein crosslinks. A few pioneering researchers are looking towards solutions, but accepting the possibility requires looking at aging as a disease and not as a necessary component of life.

There’s other interesting points on super-intelligence and other physical ‘upgrades’, which to me aren’t as relevant right now, but could become apparant later… who knows!


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April 19, 2008

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