Cyborgs burning bras – Donna Harraway and assorted

So, after yet another delay, I have decided to write something not actually related to an event I went to (surprise, surprise!). This is in response to the rest of my family realising that I’m doing a PhD and what I would do it in. Ahah. Now, most of my family own a BSC/MSC so this may be a little difficult to explain – well, the Science Fiction part of it is ok, actually – but dramaturgy and staging technique may fall a little short (which I feel did, but it’s considered to most to be an unusual combination so not surprising!). When asked what it’s about, I’ve usually said something along the lines of “Oh, it’s about androids…”, not about prostitution services and what not. But yes, the androids do have centre stage in my play – which if you know me, is again no surprise. For those who know me reading this, yes, the androids are the prostitutes. Please don’t be scared of me when you see me again!

I recently read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the late Twentieth Century… (New York; Routledge, 1991), and plenty of it rings true to our current “modern condition”. Some of it may read as preachy, but considering the time in which it was written, the strength of the ability to warp and extend these boundaries through hybridisation is understandable when you take the year in which it was published into account.

She starts by defining a cyborg – “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality”, when explaining this to be a collective object of social relations, influenced of course by political, historical (to some extent) and cultural construction. This intercourse between science fiction and social reality (the boundary of which she describes as an optical illusion, which I do very much like) explains what she believes is a reshaping women’s experience, but with the impact it has on gender behaviours and of dominance created by self and other, I’d like to say human. But I get her sentiment.

This is then explained by the boundary breakdowns between human and animal, which makes this analysis feasible. Indeed, she describes this by saying “The last beachheads of uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parks – language tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal.” Of course, this throws into the mix some religious controversy, but SF is seldom found without some reference to divinity or something outside of ourselves of some kind. Think Asimov’s Foundation or Simmons’ Hyperion as just a handful of examples. Also, the idea of little separation between human and animal also reminds me of the herd mentalities used for “psychohistory”, a branch of science coined by Seldon in Foundation, the ideas of different tiers of sentience  of the Xelee in Baxter’s series.

I digress though. What the main crux of her argument is that cyborgs are not just models of science fiction moulded to provide a new guest to the party – that with the rise of technology and our dependence of it has made us “chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs”. If this was the case then, it is painfully clear nowadays. Likewise in short, she lists the “informatics of domination”, laying out the comparisons between the old and what she labels as “informatics of domination”, the new hiarchies. For examples, she places science fiction and postmodernism against bourgeois novel and realism, organism against biotics, organic division of labour and cybernetics of labour, reproduction and replication, sex and genetic engineering, labour and robotics etc. which can show the development and metaphor that science fiction often employs to bring out present ideals. She actually calls them “scary new networks” as control strategies become rewritten as “communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies… [of which these tools] embody and enforce new social relations for women-worldwide.

It’s a great read, especially for the time, and these informatics of domination are something I feel will be constantly drafted and updated, much like these posts on WordPress if I don’t publish them more efficiently it seems. I may do a part 2, featuring her Marxist analysis, as there is so much that can be read from the text. Part of my play deals with these control measures in light of these developments, but further down the conveyor belt, where some of the old hiarchies become guilty pleasures and illegally sold (I’m not going to go in that much detail now). Thanks for reading!

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