In the interest of full disclosure- I’m obsessed with cyborg feminist discourse. My research for my master’s thesis is concerning representations of female cyborgs in film and media, and the way these characters are racialized. As I have a lot to say on the matter, for the purposes of this blog post, I am going to attempt to focus on articulations of Haraway’s theories as they apply to the themes of the class.
The first question I want to engage with is: Should we read the “Cyborg Manifesto” as a paranoid text? In what ways is it paranoid, and in what ways does it offer a reparative reading? I might also argue, that this is a predictive text, as in 1991 Haraway was tapping into themes of non-human/posthuman theory, microelectronic technologies, the movement to an industrial society to an information system society. “Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines” (152). The destruction of dichotomies is at the root of this essay, as the concept of original unity of the being is as false as the distinction between natural and artificial. Our relationship with technologies in neoliberal late capitalism is fully immersive and codependent—as she puts it “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion” (150). Haraway recognizes WOC feminists for their work in deconstructing the false myth of a singular, cohesive “Woman”, and I would argue as well the work scholars like Audre Lorde, Chela Sandoval, and those she does not cite in theorizing the spectrum of dehumanization.
Haraway focuses on the breakdown between human-animal-machine. Her famous contention that she would “rather be a cyborg than a Goddess” is in response to her earlier statement that if God is dead, so is the Goddess. I think about this statement a lot in relation to Feminist Science Studies, and in the way science and technology are often stand-in signifiers for movement beyond “blind faith”. I’m not of the woo-woo, astrological, witchy, Goddess worshipping persuasion, but I do respect a lot of fellow feminists who find power, agency, and strength in those convictions. Especially as we look at Haraway’s Chthulucene, the stereotypes regarding “ecofeminism” and what an “ecofeminist” looks like seem to disappear. Puar’s analysis contends that posthuman feminist theory and intersectional feminist theory are not oppositional or irreconcilable. Intersectionality is now often used as buzzword instead of analytic, and is propelled as “policy-friendly paradigm” (54). Maintaining the integrity of intersectional analysis, along with posthuman theory which aims to move away from neoliberal humanism and isolationist personal boundaries of humanity, should happen concurrently. Puar considers the human as assemblage, “assemblages are interesting because they de-privilege the human body as a discrete organic thing. As Haraway notes, the body does not end at the skin. We leave traces of our DNA everywhere we go, we live with other bodies within us, microbes and bacteria, we are enmeshed in forces, affects, energies, we are composites of information. Assemblages do not privilege bodies as human, nor as residing within a human animal/nonhuman animal binary (Puar, 57). Not only are we enmeshed in the forces and energies of other beings, we leave pieces of ourselves behind. We are never just one thing, alone. This sort of awareness has the potential to garner hope and connection beyond a call to “the natural”. For me, this is almost spiritual, while remaining scientific. Thinking materially, thinking futuristically, thinking scientifically, thinking science-fictionally, thinking reparatively, none of these require commitment to “the natural”. They require an investment in futurity and investment in one another.
In Staying with the Trouble (the full length text of the essay we read for class) Haraway proposes that we stay in the earth-bound realm and resist the “self-indulgent and self-fulfilling myths of apocalypse”(2016, 35) that come out of discourses around the Anthropocene/ Capitalocene. The anthropocene she contends is not a generative or useful terminology, as it should be engaged with rather as a moment in time to move beyond than a prescriptive explanation of our current earth. “I think our job is to make the Anthropocene as short/thin as possible and to cultivate with each other in every way imaginable epochs to come that can replenish refuge” (Haraway 2015, 160). The indulgence involved in “being right” about climate change, the end of the world, is not a reparative sensation. It is further self-investment as dictated by the neoliberal imperative to look out for yourself first and foremost. Haraway suggests the concept of the Chthulucene as a timeplace for living and dying in “response-ability” on our damaged earth, evoking an “ongoingness” that is in opposition to the “game over, too late” mentality. Haraway points to relationships of companion species and art practices that highlight stories and practices of “becoming-with” in order to exemplify the stake that all species of earth have in each other. With particular attention to “the arts of living on a damaged planet”(85), Haraway describes her viewpoint not as posthumanist, but as compostist, emphasizing the “sympoietic tangling”(97) of all “critters”, human and not. Compost in Haraway’s terminology is about living and dying well. This engagement with death has everything to do with her call to “make kin, not babies”
An important footnote in the essay in regard to this call to “make kin, not babies” is the acknowledgement that the “not babies” may be read within the historical racism and colonialism that comes along with discourse of “population control”. The interrogation of a feminist body that is non-reproductive, that is disinvested in reproduction, brings us back to the cyborg. “We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender” (Haraway 1991, 181). To regenerate rather than reproduce is central to both the cyborg and the call to “make kin”. This future thinking, in conversation with the contention that the best thing you can do to end climate change is not have children, imagines a genderless future as well. It removes questions of legacy, remembrance, and isolation that overwhelm our concepts of death and dying. This power of imagining is why I love and continue to engage with Haraway, as well as her critics. Haraway deploys the power of storytelling to expand not only content and material, but frameworks of understanding. “It matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts. Mathematically, visually, and narratively, it matters which figures figure figures, which systems systematize systems” (2016, 101). This is directly applied to the stories we tell about our earth. If the stories lesson is consistently “game over, too late”, what choice does one have but believe it? To tell stories of interconnection, hybridization, change and adaptation, rather than the end, inevitable doom, has a greater impact than we think.
All of this has me thinking back to our group project, and our wish to move beyond the neoliberal concepts of “self-care”. What stories do we tell to care for each other? How do we imagine developing feminist technologies? How to we grow with, how do we make kin, how do we “invest” in our shared future, and “disinvest” in individualistic ideology? How do we collaborate?
Haraway, Donna (1991) “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81. New York: Routledge.
Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin in the Chtuhlucene. Duke University Press, 2016.
Puar, Jasbir (August 2011) “‘I Would Rather Be a Cyborg than a Goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics.” Transversal.