3 Short Pieces

Directed reading

These three short passages are to be read in the morning coffee break and form the basis of the individual activity and brief plenary discussion between 1150 and 1215.

From

Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.

The move away from the singularities of class or gender as primary organisational categories, has resulted in an awareness of the subject positions – of race, gender, generation, institutional location, geopolitical locale, sexual orientation – that inhabit any claim to identity in the modern world. What is theoretically innovative and politically crucial, is the need to think beyond narratives of originary and initial subjectivities and focus on those moments or processes that are produced in the articulation of cultural differences. These “in between” spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood – singular or communal – that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself.

From

Bayne, S. (2004). ‘Mere Jelly’: The Bodies of Networked Learners. In S. Banks, P. Goodyear, V. Hodgson, C. Jones, V. Lally, D. McConnell, et al. (Eds.), Networked Learning 2004: proceedings of the 4th international conference held at the Univerfsity of Lancaster, 5 – 7 April 2004. University of Sheffield and University of Lancaster. Retrieved from http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2004/proceedings/individual_papers/bayne.htm.

Not just in cyberspace, but in its wider contexts also, our relation to technology re-articulates our sense of our own embodiment. Communications technology offers us the opportunity to construct textual dream-bodies in chat rooms and MOOs, and to place graphical representations of our embodied selves, in the form of avatars, within gaming and 3D virtual worlds. Bio-technology maps and manipulates the body at the level of its genetic code. Technological intervention at ‘street’ level involves us in the ‘renaissance’ of body modification, from the common practices of tattooing and ear-piercing to the often brutal penetration and bodily re-shaping undertaken by the modern primitives . Medical science offers us prostheses and implants ranging from the therapeutic (hip replacements, artificial skin grafts, pace makers) and the cosmetic (breast enhancements, lip implants) to those – such as gender reassignment – which problematise the distinction. Each of these instances, far from working to efface or de-privilege embodiment, functions to stress the body’s ‘presence’. Yet they also demonstrate the extent to which technological intervention asks us to re-consider what our embodiment means to us. When Burkitt, quoting Walt Whitman, asks ‘If the body is not the person, then what is a person?’, he might also consider the question perhaps most pressing in the age of the posthuman – ‘what is a body?’.

Hayles makes the point that the posthuman is not only about technological interventions in the body – it is also about the emergence of a new kind of subjectivity, one which owes less to the autonomous individuality of the liberal subject and more to the collectively constituted, fragmented subject of postmodernity. For Hayles, ‘the posthuman subject is an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction’. Such a subject is formed in an altered, and intimate, relation with technological processes. Yet, as she sees it, the death of the liberal subject simultaneously opens the field for a re-introduction of the body into our considerations of what it means to be human – it is ‘an opportunity to put back into the picture the flesh that continues to be erased in contemporary discussions about cybernetic subjects’. While working with the belief that ‘human being is first of all embodied being’ (283), we can embrace the figure of the posthuman as a means of ‘rethinking the articulation of humans with intelligent machines’.

From

Haraway, D. (1985). “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s”, Socialist Review, no 80, pp. 65-108. In The Haraway reader (pp. 7-46). New York / London, 2004: Routledge. http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html

High-tech culture challenges these [male/female, mind/body] dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine. It is not clear what is mind and what body in machines that resolve into coding practices. In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse (for example, biology) and in daily practice (for example, the homework economy in the integrated circuit), we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic. The replicant Rachel in the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner stands as the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion.

One consequence is that our sense of connection to our tools is heightened. The trance state experienced by many computer users has become a staple of science-fiction film and cultural jokes. Perhaps paraplegics and other severely handicapped people can (and sometimes do) have the most intense experiences of complex hybridization with other communication devices. Anne McCaffrey’s pre-feminist The Ship Who Sang (1969) explored the consciousness of a cyborg, hybrid of girl’s brain and complex machinery, formed after the birth of a severely handicapped child. Gender, sexuality, embodiment, skill: all were reconstituted in the story. Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin? … We don’t need organic holism to give impermeable wholeness, the total woman and her feminist variants (mutants?).

[…]

Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. 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.