Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yer Mom (graded blog entry)

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep the idea of being human is defined by empathy. The Voight-Kampff test is used to determine whether a person is empathetic or not by asking questions pertaining to animals and babies (this is also more than slightly reminiscent of the test to determine whether or not a woman in Brahm Stoker's Dracula is a vampire, but I'm not going to go into that tangent). It's interesting to me that the things Deckard asks of the female androids are very much in the natural, might we say maternal realm of things. As humans (outside the context of Dick's novel) we equate not only being human, but very specifically being a mother, with ideas of empathy.

An android could never be a mother. Not only because of the obvious biological reasons, but because they supposedly lack the feeling necessary to sufficiently rear another empathetic being. The child of an android could only be another android, and what's the point of that, when they could just as easily be built? It's really weird, then, to juxtapose this idea of motherhood and this naturalness that can be inferred from Electric Sheep with both the Harraway and "The Girl Who Was Plugged In." Weird in a good way, though.

In class we talked about how Delphi is all girl, but not really woman in the context of the story. The idea of being a woman is a biological reality, and feeling is necessary for that to occur. Delphi has all the parts of a woman, but doesn't really feel anything. She is a sensational android, a sensory android, bereft of the empathy of touch rather than emotion. But she is a god, in and out of the context of the story, because she has the power to alter the perceptions of others. She is, for all intents and purposes, a being that thrives on empathy, even if it isn't necessarily her own. She was built for that purpose, after all. What kind of mother would she make?

I bring up the concept of motherhood because of what Harraway says about the difference between a cyborg and a goddess. We talked yesterday about rebirth as opposed to reinvention. Goddesses are concerned with cycles because they're immortal, like Adam pointed out, but also because they have been, from the beginning, universal mother figures. Everything that is natural and good (i.e. birth, harvest, wisdom) comes from goddesses, not gods, in most pantheons. Harraway's cyborg breaks free from those cycles by recreating itself rather than just being reborn. This break from the natural order of things would make her idea androidian (yeah, I don't think that's actually a word), but Harraway's point is that being an android, a cyborg, is so much better than being human.

Again, in Electric Sheep, Mercerism emphasizes the need for unity. You have to grab onto the sidebars of the empathy box to be able to get any meaning from Mercer's journey. Not because there's meaning in what Mercer is doing, he makes it clear that his teaching is near bereft of meaning. The point is the community involved in it. Though Mercerism seems anti-android in the book, I would argue that Mercer and Harraway see eye-to-eye. One of the things Harraway says about the beauties in cyborg-dom is that it ensures that everyone is connected, always. There wouldn't be any more boundaries if everyone was a cyborg, it would be the ultimate community. We would not be giving up our humanity, just reinventing humanity better.

I don't think I ended on the same point at which I started, but there's a point in there somewhere.


Adam Johns said...

I'll need

Adam Johns said...

Arg. Anyway, I'll need to think about this one a while; you make a great set of connections among all three texts, solidifying for me the connections between Haraway and Dick which I had only been able to frame in the vaguest terms before.

Rather than repeat (aha! Haraway) what you just said, or extend it (to me, it all seemed pretty spot-on), let me mention something connected.

Many people have accused PKD of being a misogynist. One complicated reason for that, within the context of the novel, is that he _dwells_ over the female androids: being androids makes them more female, almost, or vice versa. Maybe because, as you point out, we expect empathy of women. A male android is less appalling and more ambiguous, because at least some models of masculinity don't include much in the way of empathy.

This is turning into a bit of a tangent, but I wonder who the cyborgs are here? I think Haraway is missing out by paying attention to the movie and not the book. Could there be a better image of the cyborg than Luba Loft, who is totally excluded from the movie?

I guess this is my question, about something which you don't quite get around to. What do any of these figures (Haraway, Tiptree/Sheldon, Dick) have to do with what it means to be an androids/cyborg/mother, or to do android/cyborg/mother art, now?