I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess

These are my notes and reflections about the Haraway chapter, in no particular order or rationalisation…

For the first few pages I felt like I was reading James Joyce (and much amused by a later reference to the same). I’m not sure if the style changed or I just got used to it, but I think it also had something to do with my pretty much complete lack of knowledge about feminist theory/history/tropes. I didn’t feel like I was a member of the community Haraway was addressing (online or off!).

Maybe this is why one of the points under ‘State’ struck me: ‘invisibility of different social groups to each other’ (p.50). I felt that the ‘book audience’ was a social group that was invisible to me; not that I would not be interested in the same things they were, or that I might disagree with them politically or socially, but that I didn’t have the assets that I would have needed to be a member. And I think this is closely related to Haraway’s problematisation of ‘unity’. As identity is neither one-dimensional nor static, uniting a group based on a single, unchanging identifier is (at least) unsatisfactory. Her mention of affinity groups (p.38), then, struck a chord as far as our conversations over the last couple weeks about what defines community and whether and how much identity is involved… Obviously I didn’t have the right ‘affinities’.

But Haraway seems to struggle with this a bit, which is perhaps why I noticed it more. For example, from my uninitiated perspective, I felt that ‘developing feminist science/technology politics in alliance with anti-military science facility conversion action groups’ or the ‘welding’ of ‘personal preferences and cultural tendencies’ onto politics (for middle-class professionals) (p. 49) was unification on the assumption that ‘if you have affinity A, then you’ll probably have affinities B and C’). This didn’t seem to fit in with the heterogeneous cyborg at all. There’s a high likelihood that I’m missing the point, but I’m concerned that it might be more difficult to sustain messy plurality than Haraway sometimes intimates. Haraway certainly doesn’t try to hide her potential subjectivism, but it is interesting to see it creep in unexpectedly, as when she generalises from specifically American issues.

I found the insistence on questioning the existence of an objective ‘organic or natural standpoint’ (p.39) especially applicable to conversations around online/offline duality. I was wondering if this relates to survival. Several times Haraway makes it clear that the aim of the cyborg is survival (p. 49, 53, 54) but I’m not sure if this is meant to be the aim so much as the explanation of a process of natural selection by which the people who are the best at being cyborgs are more likely to survive…? Or if it’s meant to be conscious survival, it does seem to suggest a curious Machiavellianism. Or is it the survival of an evolving kind of cyborg feminism? Or something else?


2 Responses to “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”

  1. sbayne March 16, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Candace, I’m not 100% sure if I’m right in my interpretation of your critique here, but I think you are doing something very interesting in trying to draw out some of the contradictions and inconsistencies embedded within Haraway’s text. However I wonder whether the (partial?) unifications and affiliations you mention here are could actually just be seen as ironic gestures, in a cyborg sense? In a way, it’s hard to critique Haraway’s text along these lines without succumbing to ‘unification’ in one’s own argument – after all, I doubt Haraway would have a problem with a reading of the text which emphasised its internal contradictions : ) Which makes critique hard – the cyborg seems to be a slippery beast!

    • Candace Nolan-Grant March 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      Hi Sian

      I’m not sure that I was going for critique…just grabbing fragments that were comprehensible to me and trying to compare them to what I thought she might be suggesting!! :) Perhaps after the first few paragraphs I was lulled into a false sense of security in thinking I could read the rest of the piece as a modernist essay–looking at it as something different, maybe experimental or even self-refuting as far as its textuality and context goes, might have been more helpful. In that case, I kind of get the sense that I sometimes do in reading Derrida…e.g., if words are only meaningful in unique contexts, how could writing this book be meaningful? In this case perhaps it’s a similar quandary…words are the essentialisation of concepts (borrowing from Hayles, Platonic forms stripped of context), but how can you problematise this concept of generalisation, of unification and One, while using words? Not that I don’t think Haraway realises this within the piece; I rather get the sense that she enjoys purposefully enigmatic phrases–’infidel heteroglossia’–while still arguing that ‘Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs’.

      I’m still uneasy about this, though…mostly because I still don’t think I get it :) But maybe also in the thought that, while Joyce or Woolf also ‘de-essentialise’ words, their work seems to ultimately move towards–perhaps–affinity, while Haraway seems to be moving more towards (again, in an ironic way) a curious individualisation of language (emerging from a personal cyborg experience) which gives up on mutual understanding on the assumption that it never existed anyway…

      I think I’d better stop now!