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Posted by on Nov 17, 2010

Mythology of births as stiff casts and Slaughterhouse Five

As I am apparently fixated, I am carrying on with the Shields’ article building on that notion  of flaneur and the cyborg equivalent as being a traveler, an observer, a detective strolling through the city streets. For the cyborg, however, this is merely metaphor as the city is too limiting a setting; the cyborg saunters through boundaries both outwardly and inwardly. The results are a net cast very broadly, broadening perception and scope in an exponential variable as compared to the humdrum human.

Cyborgs’ world-making in the above sites is not at the scale of the public square or the city street. This means that the above everyday sites need to be re-thought as milieux interlaced with political and biotechnical processes happening at nano-scale. The cyborg landscape is one of the skins or interfaces, surfaces for the inscription of codes. Cyborgs are both a writerly device and a molecular- or smaller-scale biotechnical idiom. Just as the silicon chip is ‘a surface for writing’, the cyborg is a surface for grafting onto. It operates not at the material level of the body but as a fractal body (e.g. regrowing organs and replacing body parts), at a nanotechnical scale (e.g. manipulating stem cells), with impacts which reverberate up in spatial scale and out temporally as a signal which changes the surrounding milieu. Indeed, the cyborg may even be amongst ‘our best machines . . . made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum . . .’ (1990: 153).

The mention of political and biotechnical processes (even biological, philosophical, and metaphorical ones) take the cyborg further than past human perception would allow. For the first time, perhaps, we are able to see the constructs of things as constructs; the layering of metaphor, language, control, and conceit mapped over that raw power/electricity of life and the social dynamic. Essentially, I am gravitating towards the notion that being cyborg is to perceive in more than physical or emotional realities. I am reminded of the “Slaughterhouse Five” and specifically the Traflamadorians, the extraterrestrial race who teach the main character, Billy Pilgrim, about the fourth dimension, time, that they can see but humans can’t.

“I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.”
Does this offer a parallel to cyborg thought? This removal of time as a beacon of progress, as a linear narrative? This view of time without a linear progression, does this remove the need for creation myths, those “stiff casts” of birth limiting our ability to re-imagine our bodies and identities (Shields, 213)? Is being cyborg a freedom to perceive and shed history as narrative? I will stop asking questions now.
Instead, it is the mechanisms of uncontrolled growth that might offer an understanding of the breakdown of the integrity of the individual body on the one hand, and the restoration or prosthesis of the body on the other (Shields, 213).
The mechanisms of uncontrolled growth as a cipher to understanding the seemingly contradictory notions of the breakdown of integrity of the individual body in sync with the restoration of the body on the other. Understanding the mechanisms of uncontrolled growth. How else could we understand these apparent contradictions without narrative and metaphor? Are we at a point where we accept irony, contradictions, beings constantly at odds with themselves, as being essentially human? The cyborg as soothsayer leading us further and further both out and in, using our own frictions as fuel for uncontrolled growth. Or maybe this is progress. Perhaps we have been hurtling inwards and outwards since The Big Bang; we were meant to be in motion. Sorry for the long post here, but I will leave you with another Vonnegut quote from Slaughterhouse Five.
“We went to the New York World’s Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors. And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” (Vonnegut, 1969).
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1 Comment

  1. So it goes.

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