Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cyborgs- Biological Determinism -Nathaniel Bacon

"Biological-determinist ideology is only one position opened up in scientific culture for arguing the meanings of human animality. There is much room for radical political people to contest the meanings of the breached boundary. The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed. Far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling. Bestiality has a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange."

This paragraph is but one of the many deep and complex paragraphs found within Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto. It provides reason for why Haraway can, or tries, to make her political-fictional analysis concerning cyborgs by explaining one of the three breakdowns, this one concerning the breakdown between human and animal.

In the very first sentence Haraway uses biological-determinist ideology to equate humans and animals. Biological determinism, defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, says that DNA predetermines how any given organism turns out. In other words, the genes of a human determine how a person will react and develop, the surrounding environment having no influence on said person. This indeed reduces a human to that of an animal, preprogrammed, instinctive, and a lack of uniqueness if humans indeed cannot be influenced by surroundings.

She then goes on to show the relationship between cyborgs and humans/animals. She first states that cyborgs appear wherever the distinction between humans and animals has be "transgressed", or breached. The symbolic representation of cyborgs is not the complete separation or isolation of human and animal, rather it is the union of the two, the two being made one. It is the "disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling".

The distinction between human and animal is broken even more in Haraway's comment on bestiality. Bestiality is sex between human and animal. In many cultures this act is looked down upon and even scorned. But, in the argument being made, it gains a new status, a higher status, a status accepted by all. If indeed the distinction between human and animal is completely lost, then the intimate relations between human and animal, animal and animal, and human and human are all essentially the same, and so they could all be considered bestiality.

However, one could also argue that Haraway contradicts herself. In this paragraph and her preceding paragraph she is making the argument for the equating of humans and animals. If she is to be taken seriously and believed, then such an argument, such an idea, is meant to be accepted as normal by the reader. However, she says that the "cyborgs signal disturbingly….tight coupling". Her use of the word 'disturbingly' gives the connotation that there is something wrong or unsettling with the idea of there being no distinction between humans and animals.

Like most of her entire essay, this paragraph is not easily grasped, even after having read it several times. This might seem unnecessary, making everything so hard to understand, but she is reaching towards a lofty goal. Trying to convincingly make the argument that we are all cyborgs is no small task, and the defense of which can only be just as hard and complex to understand.

2 comments:

Nathaniel Bacon said...

"Biological-determinist ideology is only one position opened up in scientific culture for arguing the meanings of human animality. There is much room for radical political people to contest the meanings of the breached boundary. The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed. Far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling. Bestiality has a new status in this cycle of marriage exchange."

This paragraph is but one of the many deep and complex paragraphs found within Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto. It provides reason for why Haraway can, or tries, to make her political-fictional analysis concerning cyborgs by explaining one of the three breakdowns, this one concerning the breakdown between human and animal.

In the very first sentence Haraway uses biological-determinist ideology to equate humans and animals. Biological determinism, defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, says that DNA predetermines how any given organism turns out. In other words, the genes of a human determine how a person will react and develop, the surrounding environment having no influence on said person. Everything a human does has already been predetermined by his genes. This indeed reduces a human to that of an animal. Animals are in a way preprogrammed. Any animal of a given species is just like another, they have no social circles to influence how they behave, they merely act upon preprogrammed instinct.

She then goes on to show the relationship between cyborgs and humans/animals. She states that cyborgs appear wherever the distinction between humans and animals has be "transgressed", or breached. The symbolic representation of cyborgs is not the complete separation or isolation of human and animal, rather it is the union of the two, the two being made one. It is the "disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling".

The distinction between human and animal is broken even more in Haraway's comment on bestiality. Bestiality is sex between human and animal. In many cultures this act is looked down upon and even scorned. But, in the argument being made, it gains a new status, a higher status, a status accepted by all. If indeed the distinction between human and animal is completely lost, then the intimate relations between human and animal, animal and animal, and human and human are all essentially the same, and so they could all be considered bestiality.

However, one could also argue that Haraway contradicts herself. In this paragraph and her preceding paragraph she is making the argument for the equating of humans and animals. If she is to be taken seriously and believed, then such an argument, such an idea, is meant to be accepted as normal by the reader. However, she says that the "cyborgs signal disturbingly….tight coupling". Her use of the word 'disturbingly' gives the connotation that there is something wrong or unsettling with the idea of there being no distinction between humans and animals, despite her argument trying to equate them.

Like most of her entire essay, this paragraph is not easily grasped, even after having read it several times. This might seem unnecessary, making everything so hard to understand, but she is reaching towards a lofty goal. Trying to convincingly make the argument that we are all cyborgs, that there is no distinction between human and animal, is no small task, and the defense of which can only be just as hard and complex to understand.

Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.

Adam Johns said...

Very interesting paragraph. I'm not sure how hard it is, really, but that doesn't mean that you can't do interesting things with it.

Your explanation/unpacking of the paragraph is good and pretty thorough. While I thought you slightly oversimplified biological determinism (it's not like anyone denies that, e.g., Chimpanzees have a society) overall your explanation was detailed and acute.

But why is it so hard? What does difficulty accomplish here? This is an explanation of the one, but not of the other - a great response to one part of the prompt, and (basically) a run around the part of the prompt. Good but incomplete.