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Posted by on Nov 16, 2010

Cyborg: jettisoning foolish consistencies

Further in the Shields’ article and speaking of cyborg as flaneur, we have the following quote:

In the pages of the novels of André Dumas or Eugene Sue, the flâneur borrows the practice of the Empire’s other ‘Mohicans’ to reorientate himself. He scans the city and its crowds; similarly, for Walter Benjamin, a later flâneur, the decrepit arcades of Paris were a vantage point on the 19th century. Flânerie – leisurely strolling – combined an appropriation of space and time – a taking of time and of the place (e.g. Dumas, 1863).

I enjoy this notion of the decrepit arcades of Paris being a vantage point on the 19th century, the “foul rag and bone shops of the heart”, the markets. All of it speaks to decay and yet there is the flaneur walking through it all, orienting with the surroundings. Leisurely strolling, askew with the pace and space of 19th century Paris. A flaneur being both of the time and beyond that time.

Tales of the cyborg are less a matter of actual, concrete mechanical or even virtual humans. They are more a matter of stories, political mythologies and a form of writing that is concerned with ‘seizing the tools to mark the world’ and ‘recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control’ (1990: 175). The textual preoccupations that bracket the claims concerning the social relations of technologies in the ‘Manifesto’ are notable in that they are a language politics that speaks against colonization, hetero-normative identification and origin myths. ‘A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity. . . it takes irony for granted’ (1990: 180). (Shields, 213).

Cyborgs as narratives of recoding the world to subvert command and control, to reorder and reappropriate, to cast in its own image and towards its own orientation? While I think this is inherently symbolic, I am greatly intrigued by this casting off of creation myth, the innocent birth. Are we acknowledging that our past, our history is an anchor? Or is this more a statement as to how the present is the domain of the cyborg, that a cyborg essentially is an augmentation of perception, of presence? Once this becomes the norm, is it a cyborg any longer? How longingly do we look at Neanderthals? OK, now I am just listing questions.

The cyborg refuses the past in terms of the symbolic garden, the apparent contradictions in a lack of unity, irony as askew. It refuses to latch onto these terms of discourse that bound us to the constraints of our present. Emerson says it better than I can:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

So this view of disparate identities, irony as an aberration, a creation myth, these become foolish in the wake of change and reconstitution. So, essentially, does this equate cyborg with liberation?

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Michael. Thank you for a really interesting blog. I blogged earlier about a potential difference betwee the posthuman and cyborg being the terms of their creation, with posthuman being an evolutionary development and assimilation with information – wheras the cyborg is perhaps more representative of the creation of something that has come into being almost through the fundamental “equal and opposite reaction” to the categorisations, levelling and labelling of the late 20th century.

    Do you think the posthuman could be seen as exemplifying a loss of agency, with the cyborg perhaps representing the essence of agency ? – or would even the exemplification of agency undermine the cyborg myth and it’s need to occupy something more nebulous ?

    I really like your reference, “how longingly do we look at Neanderthals”. It has reminded me of some of my own background thoughts with regards to the origin of our species and the speculation that still surrounds our (self-styled ?) break from primates. For Haraway of course, the breakdown between perceived barriers between humans and animals is an important foundation of the cyborg myth – but I wonder whether the very first cyborg (if we can attribute the consistency of time) may have existed several thousands of years ago, when a break from tradition saw a new use being found for a flint tool, or the concept of growing and harvesting crops arose from a primarily hunter-gatherer culture.

    Thanks again. Mark

  2. Thanks, Mark. Thought provoking stuff.

    You mention the difference between cyborg and posthuman as having something to do with that creation aspect, where cyborg “has come into being almost through the fundamental “equal and opposite reaction” to the categorisations, levelling and labelling of the late 20th century.”

    I do see the cyborg as a “modern” construct, a departure from the modes, myths, and metaphors (sorry for the alliteration) that preceded it. It was like an animal wanting to get out of a cage, the cage being the power dynamics we had used to perceive the world till that point. You articulated it much better than I ever could, but certainly, I would suspect the wheels of the cyborg machine started spinning in the 19th century with Nietzche, Marx, Darwin, Frazier (Golden Bough). We opened the floodgates to speculation and out came a cyborg.

    “Do you think the posthuman could be seen as exemplifying a loss of agency, with the cyborg perhaps representing the essence of agency ? – or would even the exemplification of agency undermine the cyborg myth and it’s need to occupy something more nebulous ?”

    Good question; not sure. I suspect that if we liken agency to some exertion of power and presence, then perhaps it undermines the cyborg myth. Just not the cyborg itself. I liken the cyborg to one neutral in approach or pedagogy, just incredibly expansive. “There is no spoon”; that kind of thing.

    “I really like your reference, “how longingly do we look at Neanderthals”. It has reminded me of some of my own background thoughts with regards to the origin of our species and the speculation that still surrounds our (self-styled ?) break from primates. ”

    Very, very true. We as humans need that break from primates metaphorically as evidence of our triumph over the baser elements; as evidence of our own progress and linear progression. Even if science fully supports this break, the emotional and cultural weight we take from it may be more mythological. I originally made this comment about Neanderthals to suggest that the cyborg of today will be the norm or human of tomorrow. They are trailblazers, essentially, but once we as humans have expanded (I hesitate to use moving to a higher plane or anything) we wont look back on these departures with tons of nostalgia. The Golden Age is always tomorrow or even now.

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