Donna Haraway

I missed the class in which we discussed Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” I didn’t want to miss it. It seemed like an especially exciting topic just by reading the title. Reading the article itself, I cursed the business trip that necessitated my absence from class. Discussion of this piece would have, I think, helped me find more clarity in it than I did by reading it on my own.

The article begins by provocatively invoking the idea of blasphemy.
Blasphemy has always seemed to require taking things very seriously. I know no better stance to adopt from within the secular-religious, evangelical traditions of United States politics, including the politics of socialist feminism. Blasphemy protects one from the moral majority within, while still insisting on the need for community. Blasphemy is not apostasy. 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. Irony is about humor and serious play. It is also a rhetorical strategy and a political method, one I would like to see more honored within socialist-feminism. At the center of my ironic faith, my blasphemy, is the image of the cyborg.
The cyborg is a being that does not require wholeness. A complete human being can be defined by the boundaries of the skin, but a cyborg can be at once complete and able to incorporate new additions or subtractions without changing the their completeness. As such, the cyborg demonstrates how women must form their political communities, not by outlining essentialist criteria and excluding all that do not fit within, but rather by finding the places where we can fit together and building without artificially imposed limits. Women are not all alike, but they can find an affinity in the way that they are treated in society. Shifting commonalities that allow for a cohesive, but not definitive, alliance.

Instead of dealing in typically Western totalities, this rhetoric touches on that of the East, like the Tao, allowing for non-absolute interpretations and clear but cryptic communication. Haraway seems to eschew the idea that any idea can be truly encompassed in mere words. As soon as a feminism is named, it begins to exclude that which is not named, or that which the name itself excludes. Toss out unity; toss out a false conception of wholeness. "Cyborg feminists have to argue that 'we' do not want any more natural matrix of unity and that no construction is whole. Innocence, and the corollary insistence on victimhood as the only ground for insight, has done enough damage."

She also brings in the idea of coding, the ways in which we communicate technologically and artificially as a way of demonstrating how unnatural supposedly natural states are. Her cyborg is a way of self identifying as something both complete and incomplete at the same time, translated into whatever fits and changing from moment to moment. "I used the odd circumlocution, 'the social relations of science and technology', to indicate that we are not dealing with a technological determinism, but with a historical system depending upon structured relations among people."

The historical system is subject to change. It is not set in stone. It is writ on silicon, malleable, erasable, rewritable. Haraway proposes a way to change that destroys the very idea of change. Change as the norm, fluctuation as stability, erases the fear of change.

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