Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Blurred identities

I love the cyborg. The cyborg is my friend. When I think about them I cannot work out their gender, their race, their class; I cannot place them within a quasi-secular frame of reference, a Freudian metanarative or a Marxist mode of production. Neither is God around to save us, and I say ‘us’ deliberately because the bible never saw a cyborg before. It never saw ‘us.’ Our unities will always be too monstrous and illegitimate for the gender, race, class and religious consciousness forced on us by “the terrible historical experience of…patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism.”

The cyborgs who came to play, laugh with me at the irony of boundaries that collapse, and I whisper at them that I too am one of them. With a phone on my ear, a computer attached to my fingertips and a car as my privatised space; with a white father and black mother, with two passports and four places to call home I realise I have always been one of them. Fixation and fiction with, and of concreteness, has always been alien to me. The idea persons are more separate, than coupled and connected in millions of seen and unseen ways to things beyond-human, has always been a fairy tale.

These cyborgs, my friends, my family, are “wary of holism, but needy for connection.” We understand that singular individuals don’t exist, their minds are not Cartesian brains laid out in rows of vats. Rather, embodiment, identity and desire are forever making and remaking themselves and us – reconfiguring the eternal impermanence and energy of the cyborg mode of being in the world. Wake up! Today you can be whatever you want. Fiction is calling. Recognise your connections that are too strange to accept.

The cyborg reminds me of another body I’ve know. Delueze and Guattari’s ‘Body without Organs’ (BwO), to me, is a vision of embodiment where the fixed, reliable and easily defined discourses of social inscription given to human body parts – eyes, limbs, brains, phallus etc. is overcome, and established knowledge on the body, and hence the positioning of the universal ‘subject’ as a defined and reified entity, challenged.

Whereas the cyborg comes to save us from this universal subject, the BwO was a time before the universal subject that we have had stolen. Both bodies understand there is far more than male, female, black, white, fat, beautiful etc. and that these social ‘facts,’ -– “seductions of organic wholeness” – only allow for either/or binaries and a dialectical opposition to the other that mostly reflects a dominant and non-dominant social position unable to grasp the full extent of everyday life and experience.

Like the cyborg the BwO was never against organs, but rather the organisation of organs into an organism. Both bodies are dissatisfied with anthropological research reliant on normative categories. It is not that subject positions, agency and domination do not exist but rather when considered fixed and as elements of a close system they become repressive. We become prisoners of our own bodies, jailed within a social reality that is a political construction designed to hinder new conceptual frameworks for being, new understandings of not only persons but people – that misleading collective and homogenising noun. The cyborg and the BwO conceive of a “discourse dissolving the ‘West’ and its highest product – the one who is not animal, barbarian, or woman; man, that is the author of a cosmos called history.”

But wait I’m forgetting to tell you where my friends the cyborg come from. Did we make them, are they our children, is theirs a visit from space? The cyborg has no mother, no creation/origin myth – it is not human. It needs no mode of production; it requires no Marxist formulation of labour or necessity. Like me they are the illegitimate offspring of essentialist culture. They were not produced by fixed social positions and heterosexual parents. They are the bastard children of “militarism and patriarchal capitalism”. They have no mother and deny the existence of a million fathers. Will that be enough to let them escape and live free or are they just another reconceptualisation of masculine knowledge? Is bestiality truly “a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange”?

To redefine nature and culture is at the least subversive and at the most radically fatal to this binary. The cyborg is here to destroy the ontological flowerbed “grounding Western epistemology”. They never liked organised gardens anyways. But what of the organisation of labour, the factories, the engineers who make our post-industrial world possible, what will the cyborg do to these gardeners of social reality?

If “labour is the pre-eminently privileged category enabling the Marxist to overcome illusion and find that point of view which is necessary for changing the world [then l]abour is the humanising activity that makes man; labour is an ontological category permitting the knowledge of a subject, and so the knowledge of subjugation and alienation.” As the cyborg jumps up and down on the organised flowerbeds of man’s garden they free those who owe their existence as woman and other to Marxist analytical strategies, to sexual appropriation. They listen to Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring-production. Cyborgs make the invisible visible and put in their hands the tools “to mark the world that marked them as other,” as hidden.

The cyborgs arrived here, now, to play a part in much “needed political work.” For as one of the first to greet them said, “another of my premises is that the need for unity of people trying to resist world-wide intensification of domination has never been more acute. [And] a slightly perverse shift of perspective might better enable us to contest for meanings, as well as for other forms of power and pleasure in technologically mediated societies.”

My experience of the cyborgs is that they will help to change the world. That new lines of kinship between humans and non-humans can emerge. That contradictory standpoints, fractured identities, can be broken but we must be careful, for in their million faceless fathers, the cyborg as slave, hides a daunting age – 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 a masculinist orgy of war.”

The cyborgs are my friends because I am optimistic. I am not scared of this orgy, The limits of identities are now visible, there is a language with which to discuss them, visions within which we can try to recast how we see ourselves, our worlds, our people. The maps of power and identity written on our bodies are redefined when you, like me, understand we our both cyborgs too. That these are our friends, and that the dualisms of social reality are someone else’s story, not the cyborg’s. I too would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.

quotes taken from Donna Haraway's now classic cyborg manifesto

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