Monday, March 29, 2010

Better to be a Cyborg than a Goddess?

Donna Haraway’s article “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” was extremely difficult to understand. I will not even pretend to understand it by writing an objective summary. Instead, here are just a few of my thoughts on the text.

The title of the text “A Cyborg Manifesto” immediately brings to mind Karl Marx’s book entitled “A Communist Manifesto” which extensively discussed his vision for the working class, and communism as a whole.

Haraway starts off by announcing that her work will be one of irony and blasphemy, meant to be taken seriously. She says “Perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identification. Blasphemy has always seemed to require taking things very seriously.” By saying this, Haraway is pointing out that although irony and blasphemy come across with a humorous voice, it takes serious consideration and critique, and often involves more dedicated belief than reverence itself.

Haraway defines a cyborg as “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” and later says “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” If her definition of a cyborg is merely the merging of social reality and fiction, then our lives are indeed no different from that of a cyborg. Although we are defined by our natural condition, our “reality”, we go through our lives performing, role playing, and in essence, creating a fiction of ourselves. If our own representations of ourselves are not even truthful, how different from a machine that generates its own identity are we?

The author then launches into a discussion regarding the lack of origin for cyborgs, which I was not able to follow. Since the essay is a reflection for feminism, it may be that Haraway is attempting to point out that the cyborg is a creature devoid of natural origin, however as humans we can point back to a natural origin. This origin has given excuse for generations to reduce women to the role of child bearing, due to the natural functions involved with the human body. This attitude, however, reduces women to a tool, only as good as their bodies.

After a discussion of the mind and body of women as tools, Haraway gives a list of the places of women and how these places have been defined and re-defined through time. These places are: the home where she is at the mercy of men, the market where she is merely a consumer, the workplace where she experiences sexual division of labor, the state where she is used for office work, the school where she is not considered for mathematical intelligence, the clinic-hospital where her purpose of reproduction often brings her, and the church where she is given no authority.

Toward the end of the essay, Haraway makes a comparison on how we can treat machines and organisms. She says “…Machines could be animated—given ghostly souls to make them speak or move or to account for their orderly development and mental capacities. Or organisms could be mechanized—reduced to body understood as resource of mind.” Here is where I believe she makes her chief point of the essay. She uses the metaphor of attempting to “humanize” a cyborg and override the reality that it is a machine to show that the exact opposite has been done to women. Society has turned women into a “lesser object” than men, incapable of legitimized thought, despite the fact that females are endowed with the same mental capabilities as males. If a living, breathing human being with a soul can be turned into merely a tool to reproduce males, then what is wrong with elevating a non-gendered machine to be our companions?

No comments: