Critical Review Essay, Research Paper
In the article, “A Cyborg Manifesto” Haraway tries to create “an ironic political myth”(p.65) which combines postmodernism with socialist feminism.
“Taxonomies of feminism produce epistemologies to police deviation from official women’s experience.”(p.71) As a result, theories and systems lose their utility for collective political action. Haraway critiques the organic self which is sometimes used as a basis for identity, suggesting feminists cannot use an imagined organic ontology as a point of politics or engage in uninformed technophobia because there simply isn’t such a natural self.
“A Cyborg Manifesto” tries to reveal the ambiguity and irrelevance of nature-culture binarisms in the cyborg age, charting the differences between “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” (p.67) which have the appearance of naturalness because they are so embedded in Western cultural consciousness. The central element is the cyborg, which is “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”(p.65) The cyborg according to Haraway, is both a metaphor for the postmodernist and political play of identity as well as a lived reality of new technology. “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.”(p.66) The cyborg resists what has gone before, it is more than the sum of its parts. 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.” (p.66)
The cyborg does not exist as nature or culture, but is rather a hybrid of both and more, it is not limited by traditional binarisms and dualist paradigms. The cyborg exists as an unfettered self.
According to Haraway, there are three major boundary breakdowns in the formation of the cyborg. The first is between human and animal. “Biological and evolutionary theory over the past two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge and reduced the line between humans and animals to a faint trace re-etched in ideological struggle or professional disputes between life and social science.”(p.68) With the development of transgenic organisms, the idea of genetic integrity/unity of the organism is called into question.
The second boundary breakdown is between organism and machine. Not only are our household machines becoming more lifelike and taking on personalities, but humans are coupling with machines for medical purposes: pacemakers, dialysis, artificial limbs and joints, hearing aids.
The third boundary breakdown is between the organic and inorganic. “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque.”(p.69) Today’s machines carry almost infinite amounts of information on a tiny chip hidden somewhere behind a facade. This ethereal invisibility renders machines potent weapons: “They are as hard to see politically as materially. They are about consciousness or it simulation.”(p.68)
The Cyborg myth is “about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities which progressive people might explore as one part of needed political work.”(p.69) The physical reality of the liminal cyborg self translates into a framework for action which also encompasses partiality, boundary transgressions, contradiction, and fracture. The Cyborg to represents “lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.”(p.69)
In Haraway’s paradigm, nature melds with technology, becoming indiscriminate. Nature is not subdued but subverted. Categories which were useful determinants in the past are all in question ideologically. Identity politics are no longer effective when identities are constantly being reworked.
Haraway D. 1985 “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminiism in the 1980s” Socialist Review 80: 65-107 in
H298 Representation and Gender 2000 Murdoch University Reader