A Cyborg Manifesto

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Definition

A Cyborg Manifesto is an essay on technology and culture written by Donna Haraway in 1986. The essay explores the concept of the cyborg and it's ramifications for the future, and effectively inaugurating the academic study of cyborgs. The manifesto uses gender as its central example in explaining the power of the cyborg. Haraway attacks the "goddess feminism" movement as "an American attempt to reject things technological and return women to nature"[1] and instead offers the model of the cybernetic woman: that of machine and human, a co-created techno-social assemblage with the capability of transcending the polarizing binary notions of gender. With technologies such as sex-change operations and virtual avatars erasing the traditional markers we use to determine gender, the binary starts to collapse and new hybrid forms of sexuality can emerge.

In A Cyborg Manifesto Haraway defines the cyborg as "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".[2] 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".[3] Indeed, the origin of the term cyborg comes from space travel. A paper from 1960 by Klines and Clyne, who hoped that humans, through a combination of technology, drugs, and space, could surmount the natural and material conditions of humaness in order to ameiloriate the symptoms of everyday reality.

Haraway defines the cyborg in four different ways in her essay. The first is as a "cybernetic organism", the second is as "a hybrid of machine and organism", the third as "a creature of lived social reality", and the fourth is as a "creature of fiction." [4] Haraway points out that "the border of the cyborg is an optical illusion", and that "the struggle to define and control the cyborg amounts to a border war". Ironically enough, she adds, this war is fought on a terrain that is largely an optical illusion: the space between science fiction and today's fact. Anyone who believes cyborgs are things of the future is mistaken. Modern medicine is full of cyborgs already, as is modern reproduction, manufacturing and modern warfare. In short, "we are cyborgs", whether we know it or not, if only because it is the cyborg which "is our ontology, it gives us our politics",[5] which is to say that it is wrapped into our existence as human beings. It has become us, and we are it.

"Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves", writes Harraway. "This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia... It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess".[6]

References

  1. Theresa M. Senft's reading notes for Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto". Background Information on Haraway and her Manifesto. Accessed 02 July 2011. http://www.terrisenft.net/students/readings/manifesto.html
  2. Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991. Pg.150.
  3. Ibid., Pg. 151.
  4. Ibid., Pg. 149.
  5. Ibid., Pg.150.
  6. Ibid., pp.149-181.