DONNA HARAWAY: CYBORGS AND MODEST WITNESSES
Haraway’s provocative proposal of envisioning the cyborg as a myth of political identity embodies the search for a code of displacement of "the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities" (CM, 175), and thus for the breakdown of the logic of phallogocentrism and of the unity of the Western idealized self.
Haraway defines the cyborg as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (CM, 149). Her argument is introduced as "an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism" (CM, 149). She claims blasphemy and irony as her vantage tools. Blasphemy invokes the seriousness of the stance she adopts, as well as her distancing from the moral majority without breaking with the idea of community and connectivity, and "irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectically, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true […]. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method" (CM, 149). Thus, she posits the embracing of difference and partiality as a different perspective on identity, while the "Manifesto" of the title evokes notions of political commitment and avant-garde activism, alongside with historical reverberations of Futurists’ acclamations to the new machine-age.
Haraway’s cyborg is a blending of both materiality and imagination, pleasure and responsibility, reality and the utopian dream of a world without gender and, maybe, without end. We are all hybrids of machine and organism. The cyborg is our ontology, a creature in a post-gender world with "no origin story in the Western sense" (CM, 150). It omits the phase of original unity at the basis of humanist, but also Marxist and psychoanalytic discourses. Cyborgs are technological constructs and thus deny the logic of reproduction; they rather mock the "masculinist reproductive dream" (CM, 152). They have no memory of a primary state of innocence; they conceive of no Father’s saving through the restoration of a garden –they don’t recognize the Garden of Eden in that "they do not re-member the cosmos" (CM, 151). As they build no sense of community on the model of the organic family, they live outside the oedipal project –"they are wary of holism, but needy for connection" (CM, 151). Though the offsprings of militarism, patriarchal capitalism and state socialism, they are illegitimate offsprings and thus unfaithful to their origins.
The late twentieth century scientific culture in the United States has experienced three crucial boundary breakdowns:
When boundaries are transgressed, "the transcendent authorization of interpretation is lost, and with it the ontology grounding Western epistemology" (CM, 153).
If cyborg myth is about the transgression of boundaries, as Haraway seems to posit, it envisions partial identities and dangerous possibilities, where the conjunction of humans with animals is no longer feared and the need for a political work inhabiting "contradictory standpoints" is felt –in that political struggle will involve perspectives and vantage points of both sides, one no longer at the exclusion of the other.
High technology challenges the dualisms grounding Western tradition and creates the material and imaginative condition for our cyborg existence, which Haraway sees as "multiple, without clear boundary, frayed, insubstantial" (CM, 177). Once the old oppositions have broken down, the relationship of body to machine becomes obsolete, for machines become "prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves" (CM, 178).
The new, fragmented and hybrid subjectivity state envisioned by Haraway acquires new relevance in our re-framing and theorizing about/around the Literary Annuals. The prosthetic culture becomes immediately apparent in Leigh Hunt’s remark in the 1828 edition of The Keepsake that "We have the pleasure of writing our words, this moment, with a keepsake, on a keepsake, and of dipping our pen into a keepsake" (Hunt, 14) and in the casual tone with which he refers to the attachment of a braid of hair to the book. Haraway’s "friendly selves" (CM, 178) are explicitly articulated: "But what renders a book more valuable as a keepsake than almost any other is, that, like a friend, it can talk with and entertain us" (Hunt, 16). Yet, reading the Literary Annuals through Haraway’s "Manifesto" raises further issues. If writing, power and technology, the old categories of Western discourse, are all intersecting in the Annuals, how are they re-configured through the process of miniaturization –a characteristic feature of Annuals and Pocket Books? Haraway’s statement that "Miniaturization has turned out to be about power; small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous, as in cruise missiles" (CM, 153) forces us to re-think the signification of the Annual and the question of power itself.
The same process of re-thinking becomes necessary as to the legitimation and authority of discourse, the "modest witness" that is the guarantee of transparency for the object world, and whose "subjectivity is his objectivity" (MW, 24). The independent status of modest witness has always been male gendered: "Technicians, who were physically present, were also epistemologically invisible persons in the experimental way of life; women were invisible in both physical and epistemological senses" (MW, 27). Can we argue for a state of invisibility in the case of the Annuals too? Although female writers often do not sign their pieces, they inscribe themselves as "the author of" previous works –that is as the "witnesses" of a literary female tradition suffering the attacks of male dismissals or erasure. The lines and narratives accompanying or framing portraits and pictures could suggest a "watching" rather than a "witnessing". Yet, the total reinterpretation of the picture on the part of the writer or the departure from the prominent theme to develop a different narrative, marks the full commitment and involvement of the female writers into the questioning and subversion of objective transparency. Finally, the prominence of the visuality and corporeality of/inside the Literary Annual openly challenges the masculine illusion of modesty.
CM: "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century".
Haraway, Donna J. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century". Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. London: Free Association Books, 1991.
Hunt, Leigh. "Pocket-books and Keepsakes". The Keepsake. Ed. William Harrison Ainsworth. London: Hurst, Chance & Co., & Robert Jennings, 1828.
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