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”

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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?

References

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 (2015)Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” Environmental Humanities, vol. 6, pp. 159-165.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Posthuman Cyborg, Assemblage, and the Chthulucene

  1. This was really helpful for me to have some context on Haraway as I couldn’t get a full grasp of the Anthopocene and the Capitalocene from the pieces we read. I feel like, after reading this post, Haraway’s statements seem more reparative than I perceived before, and definitely more reparative than paranoid. All this imagining, future thinking, regeneration, compost, etc. really seem more hopeful than fearful.

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  2. Truly great questions! Your research sounds fascinating and I would love to hear more about it in the future. I think you begin to answer some of these BIG questions when you address Haraway; “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…” Functioning and participating in the neoliberal era is not easy. We have thought about technologies of care in class to highlight this simple fact that we so often forget. We are constantly reminded to take care, but are faced with the fact that taking care, especially of other life-forms, is not intuitively built into our way of life. We need to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that we are part of an ecosystem of sorts that’s fueled by care. Care is in short supply, but I think we need to generate a demand for it in order to receive it.

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  3. I thought your explication of Haraway’s compost was very helpful in making sense of the Chthulucene. An understanding of death beyond the anthropocene, and particularly in terms of an organic place within nature makes me wonder to what extent our epistemologies are constructed from a perspective after death. In other words, the perception of the final punctuation to life creates a certain value within “human” existence—a value that can become appropriated by discursive exigencies and power structures. That being said, I also find myself a little perplexed in attempting to imagine human value systems outside of legacy and remembrance. Obviously, it is not impossible to think of contribution in terms of conservation or bio-harmony. Yet, I wonder how we might apprehend the temporally-locked nature of our existence in this regard; that, in other words, people are finite insofar as we cannot create technologies or tools to expand our inborn capacities. In any case, I would be quite interested to hear your thoughts, and more about your research in general, in class.

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  4. Thanks for your reading of the Haraway, Anna. I’m also really interested in hearing about your thesis–please share with us! Your post led me to think about the different ways we can understand Haraway’s work as reparative because I think there are many that are submerged beneath the surface. Haraway makes us reconsider systems and cycles, temporalities, and genealogies. I’m still thinking about the meanings of “kin.”

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  5. I truly appreciated your reading and breaking down of Haraway, as well as your expertise on her work and cyborg feminism in general. I especially appreciated your understanding of the “acknowledgement that the “not babies” may be read within the historical racism and colonialism that comes along with discourse of “population control”.” This makes me reflect on which women within the US have been pushed to not have babies constantly, and how forced sterilizations have impacted women of color especially. Also, the importance of storytelling, and who’s telling the story as well as which story is being told, was something I hadn’t thought about this week until I read your post. Thanks for your amazing writing!

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