Haraway: My Cyborg, Myself?

With the cyborg, this binary busting network, Haraway attempts to articulate a new ontological category (or perhaps mode is a better word to use here), one that, unlike the human, does not rely on Judeo-Christian narratives of redemption and salvation. She uses the cyborg, in part, to pull the curtains on this Enlightenment era liberal fiction which continues to police and proliferate the self/other organizing structure and boundary. For Haraway and her cyborg, there is no origin story, no fantasy of wholeness, there are only “partial explanations” (299). In this way, her cyborg’s apparent science-fiction, perhaps like all science fiction, tries to help us better see the real. While Haraway’s argument, in trying to desacralize the human, attempts to move away from the disciplinary terrain of the Humanities, as my heavy-handed title suggests, she does not do that. Haraway’s narrative around the cyborg seems to have something to do with the literacy or education narrative; encouraging those in the humanities to become scientifically literate, encouraging “cyborgs” to write and not be written.

I understand her call to critically engage with communication sciences and biology as having at least two motivations. On the one hand, Haraway understands these two disciplines to offer a different kind of ontological story, one that is decidedly un-ontological. She writes that they offer “constructions of natural-technical objects of knowledge in which the difference between machine and organism is thoroughly blurred; mind, body and tool are on very intimate terms” (303). She uses the “network” language to complicate the cellular self idea (although Enlightenment era ideas of the self were, I recently learned, informed by scientists’ discovery of the cell). On the other hand, Haraway’s argument around the cyborg is a feminist one, and she spends some time thinking through the ramification of Gordon’s “Homework Economy” on specifically women of color. If this “New Industrial Revolution” is capable of “producing a new worldwide working class as well as new sexualities and ethnicities” (304), Haraway wants women, in particular, to become critical producers, or authors, of these identities instead of those being continuously produced. At stake here is the labor of the political imagination; who does it imagine and who gets to do the imaging? To this effect, Haraway posits a question which I think drives her essay and one that still seems relevant today: “What kind of constitutive role in the production of knowledge, imagination and practice can new groups doing science have?” (307).

Although her question names groups “doing science” in particular, instead of imagining what this might look like, she turns toward the acts of reading and writing, to scenes of literacy. At end of her essay, she thinks back to the realm of the Humanities, and she names some of the science fiction and feminist writers important to her project. Here, she makes a point about how they have helped us understand “how fundamental body imagery is to worldview, and so to political language” (310). (What kind of body does Haraway’s cyborg have btw?) Haraway then moves into claims about the importance of writing to “all colonized groups” (311). Writing, or “the access to the power to signify,” takes on radical potential. While she cautions us against writing stories “about the Fall” (311), ones that play into the Salvationist narrative underpinning the human, Haraway connects writing to survival and to the cyborg (she says in another part of her essay, “the task is to survive in the diaspora” (308). It is at this moment where the cyborg seems clearly linked to women, particularly women of color. (The cyborg still seems to be a subject, perhaps just not the liberal human kind?) What can we understand Haraway’s “cyborg writing” to be exactly? Is cyborg writing autobiographical writing, and does this in any way counter her earlier claims against the idea of the unified subject? Is it literally “writing,” as we commonly understand it, or is it code, image-based, and so forth? What does her reliance on the literary at this moment reveal about her larger argument?

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4 thoughts on “Haraway: My Cyborg, Myself?

  1. Hello,

    Due to a technical issue, I’m currently unable to post a separate entry for my provocation. Instead, I will present it here as a reply to Wendy’s.

    The question of “what is to be done?” is aptly used in the title of this published interview with Donna Haraway about her seminal feminist work A Cyborg Manifesto. Published in 1985, Manifesto brought together radical and socialist feminist theories to address the impact of technology and information systems on labor, race, and gender among other topics. The work was primarily a call to action, beckoning readers to abstain from pessimism regarding communications technologies and biotechnologies and a fetishizing of the organic, as well as to avoid what she calls the “blissed-out” futurist notions of human-machine hybridization that attempt to destroy humanity as an organic species. Instead, Haraway insists that humans are capable of “reworlding” the structures that comprise the various relationalities defining humanity while maintaining the histories and mythologies that preceded the rise of the cyborg.

    Haraway uses this interview (published in 2006) to reflect on Manifesto in numerous ways including how her metaphoric cyborg allowed for a creation of the companion species – a more practical representation of personhood after the boundaries between man, animals, machines, and the metaphysical qualities of physicality have been resolved. The issue of practicality – of instances where cyborg feminism has played out “on the ground” – becomes an important aspect of Manifesto after having read this interview because the latter emphasized that which can be realized through the unified theory as it is presented in the former. The work of reconfiguring gender outside the masculine/feminine binary without attempting to dissolve gender politics altogether and the creation of object-oriented ontology are possible products of Haraway’s Manifesto in contemporary society. But, I see few other repercussions in how humanity defines itself in relation to its hybridized composition (not to mention how person-hood relates to technology and information) because individual agency has a limited reach and a social movement that acknowledges the diffusion of boundaries requires that the movement be through a collective, not a fragmented collection. Just as Haraway herself points out, the cyborg is frequently the offspring of the military complex, the commodified deconstruction of life, and of scientific culture. Thus, can the cyborg truly be free of origin and, therefore, free to participate in the production and reproduction of themselves and their societies?

  2. “From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defence, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in the masculinist orgy of war. From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about 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. The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the other vantage point.” (154) In this passage Haraway captures the essential dialectic interwoven throughout the article, of the prospect for liberation in transcending boundaries of gendered norms, of the potential for technological transgressions, at the same time coupled with threat of lost identity and new forms of control strategies over our labor, relationships and everyday lives. Haraway’s manifesto is ultimately hopeful and draws upon the works of women of color that have transformed partial and contradictory standpoints into sources of power and expanded comprehension, i.e. DuBois’ “double vision.” Certainly today, 25 years later, social control uses of technology have been normalized and the pervasive presence of electronic communication and social media has added to the experience of “fragmented lives” but so too it has contributed to some new forms of bottom-up organizing and expanded possibilities for global communication, solidarity and sources of information beyond the grasp of the corporate media – therefore also opening up avenues for “changing the rules of the game.”

  3. It has been a challenge to read Haraway, but at the same time I have been fascinated because she does not restrict herself to understand and deconstruct the established categories/labels and dichotomies, but she tries to reconstruct them with the cyborg “mode”.
    After reading Wendy’s post I went back to the article and attempted to answer some of her questions about “cyborg writing”: “Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs… Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism” (176). I wonder if “cyborg writing” means the writing involving pen and paper, computer typing as well as video recording, and I think it does; so the police violence film/video recorded with your cellphone could be an example of “cyborg writing,” but is the cellphone the tool which tells the story? or is the writing the tool itself for a specific historical movement, in this case the Black Lives Matter movement?
    Concerning the question about whether “cyborg writing” is an autobiographical writing or not, I am not sure, but I can see how Haraway conveys the necessity to highlight the writer’s place of enunciation (“historical position”), as she does: “a PhD in biology for an Irish catholic girl.” My question would be, how is the “cyborg writing” different from other categorical/authoritative writings? How do we connect this to the previous example?

    • Maybe this will anecdote help us figure out to what extent recording police violence against African-Americans is a form of cyborg writing: African-American science-fiction writer Octavia. E Butler–one of the fiction writers Haraway uses to illustrate “cyborg writing,” who is famous for her liminal African-American female protagonists–answered the following when asked by interview journalist Charlie Rose what it was about writing that was *so* important to her growing sense of self : “You got to make your own worlds. You got to write yourself in. Whether you were a part of the greater society or not, you got to write yourself in. So I got to write myself in.”

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