File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 103

Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 17:10:37 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: cyborg *

On Tue, 18 Dec 2001, steve.devos wrote:

> Namely that  this definition of the cyborg includes all human 
> and a huge range of non-human beings. In the human aspect of the issue - 
> an Ethiopian child vaccinated by an aid worker is it a cyborg? In the 
> non-human - Is the chimpanzee who was taught a language and then passed 
> on that knowledge to its children a cyborg?

Yes, i think. And many other individuals of many other species, where the
leaky boundaries between the animal and human, non/living, im/material,
etc may be subtler in their manifestations.

> The problem may be that I am having trouble with the universal 
> application of a concept 'cyborg' - surely the definition if it means 
> anything should be restricted, forced into a reductionist mode and made 
> more discreet.

The cyborg as Haraway presented it - not accidentally in a
"manifesto," one of those by-your-own-bootstrap projects that seeks to
open a space of possibility - works precisely against a too-hasty
reduction - which would close the space of troubling mixture, uncertainty,
non-innocence, etc. It retains, for exaple, the division between human and
non-human animals in large part to show how it is permeable, troubled,
weighted with political significance. The trick is to recall that the
cyborg "is not one" in something like Irigaray's terms. (The cyborg is
also "female" or "feminine" in Haraways's initial construction. There's a
very interesting interview in the Routledge "Cultural Studies" anthology
where she's interviewed about that, and it becomes pretty clear that the
manifesto took at least some kind of "feminine difference" for granted.) 

> Perhaps the question is what relationship between the human and the 
> technology would construct a 'cyborg'? The elements of the 'Cyborg' 
> should logically be restricted to being inside the great ephemeral skin. 
> (Except what of the VR units enabling a person to attend a meeting 2000 
> kilkometers away). If the concept has a meaning I would restrict it to 
> human-computing technologies existing either inside the skin or on the 
> boundaries between the skin and the world.

This, however, doesn't seem to have much to do with Haraway. Or, at least,
it is a considerably narrower project than she is taking on. The cyborg
she presents is not just another experiment in cybernetics. It is already
a conscious product of histories that include cybernetics' already
checkered past. The dangers of the interface are already in some senses,
very old news. Weiner lost no time moving from the purely technological
approach of his "Cybernetics" - with its science of control - to the
ethical intervention of the renamed and rewritten "Human Use of Human
Beings." McLuhan, with his customary ambivalence toward technologies, at
least evoked some of what Haraway is getting at with her discourse of
"leakage" (it's pleasures, its dangers, it's excessive character,
etc.) His characterization of the human subject being "worked over
completely" by every advance in technology perhaps still hasn't been
answered by anything like a complete working over of how we imagine this
continuous but not identical series of "human subjects." Haraway might be
on that road, however.

> Theorists often rightly claim that a long dead persons work is a 
> pre-cursor to their own - for example Lyotard's discussion of Augustine 
> - this places the contemporary theory in a historical relationship. But 
> to claim - language, vaccinations or the prosthesic extensions to the 
> body as cyborg - does seem insufficently reductionist.

The need for one or another level of reduction can only come from
context. When we speak of a definition that is "too broad," we mean that
it is too broad to be useful in a specific context. But definitions can
also be too narrow, insufficient in scope to address their
contexts. Haraway's "cyborg" attempts to take place within a particular
context where some common historical reductions - among them certain
understandings of the "human" and "technology" - are perhaps of little use
for anything but an evasion of critique, and extension of certain aspects
of the status quo. Those reductions are, however, very much our
intellectual stock in trade - however troubled and contested. They don't
seem to be the right tools for the job, but neither can we simply put them
down without losing critical capacities. If i return again and again to
the first few paragraphs of the Manifesto, where Haraway positions her
intervention within, but also critical of, common discourses about
science, feminism, materialism, Marxism, etc. The choice of
"blasphemy" over "apostacy" is relevant to this question of reduction and
scope, as well as to the question about whether the image of the cyborg
she presents is in some way simply celebratory of the (at
times) "pleasurably tight couplings" of the interface. 

A bit of personal stuff: I grew up in a household pretty thoroughly
absorbed by concerns about "the environment." My dad was, for a
significant portion of his career, engaged in work on endangered species
preservation. He wrote the original recovery plan for the California
Condor, was involved in the Peregrin Falcon recovery work, etc. One of the
great practical frustrations of those years was an understanding that the
work that he was doing - which combined conventional field biology with
public outreach, legal work, political maneuvering, inter-agency and
inter-organizational coordination, etc - was at odds with a common sense -
shared by most of the communities and individuals involved, however at
odds they might have been otherwise - which took the relatively stable
sites we call "species," "habitats," "subjects," and such for things much
more "proper" than they actually seemed to be. There have been moments
when it seemed we might be able to gain protection for something like
"endangered ecosystems" - but perhaps even that is reduction at an
insufficiently high level. Haraway's manifesto arrived for me at about the
same time as the Northern Spotted Owl controversy further complicated the
business of "endangered species" and their status. In a funny way, it
became for me - among other things - a continuation of an examination of
the interface that Rachel Carson had made important and contradictory
contributions - read "Edge of the Sea" and then "Silent Spring" to see a
shocked retreat from leaky boundaries. 

> fuller wrote:
> >Something which I have been thinking about is the apparent irreconcilablity
> >of an ethically sound perspective (informed, self-reflexive, etc), and one
> >that is indebted to immediate experience as pleasurable, painful, etc like a
> >young child for example, where the latter seems undenialbly more 'real'.

Is this a real set of alternatives? On the one hand, if ethics can be
"sound," then ethics are something other, i think, than what most of the
poststructuralists - and Haraway, with her "non-innocence" which does not
seem to preclude or devalue ethical choice - are talking about. As to the
opposition of the "sound" with the "immediate," i wonder if we're not
reintroducing a fairly simple, and not very useful, mind-body division.

> >Badiou seemed to close this gap to some extent, however, a cyborg
> >subjectivity, which increased the mediation of experience, would that not
> >continue to reinforce dominant precepts and ethical shortcomings?

The question of "cyborg subjectivity" seem to me something other than
voluntary, though, of course, there are levels of these discourses. The
extropian wants to be "a cyborg," and follows a practical path courting a
certain kind of inhumanity. Someone like Moravec thinks we had better get
with what he sees an evolutionary trend. Haraway it seems - and i come
down somewhere in this camp as well - think that our choices may be better
guided by taking into account the extent to which "the cyborg" already
describes our subjectivity, our place in various fields. I would "rather
be a cyborg" than a variety of other things - but if you mistake me for
a technophile, or assume from that that statement that i'm uncritical
about the dangers of our current "interface," then you've assumed far too


> >Glen.
> >
> >


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