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Cyborgs & the Truth of the Metropolis

I think over the course of the next week it will become painfully obvious that I enjoyed Shields’s “Flanerie for Cyborgs” article tremendously. It captured a bit of my somewhat simplistic preference for the view of cyborg as, if not citizen, then traveler, one constantly seeking “the truth of the flux of the public space” (Shields, 210). This “space” is not necessarily a public square, subway, school, or cemetery, but “the truths of genetic space”.  This view of cyborg is expansive (merely being a cyborg implies that) as it allows for the appropriation of space beyond previous limitations; it turns its gaze both inward (biological, psychological) and outward (networks, presence, “nodes of power”). All are embodied by the cyborg.  The cyborg observes and alters these “places”, enacts “shifts in preoccupations”, defines ideology, changes “Home”  (Shields, 212).

I am greatly drawn to this “truth in the flux” notion; a cyborg inhabits, investigates, and interacts with constant flux, a negotiation of a particular space at a particular time. This cyborg embraces (and I am getting away from Shields here) the flux, the fluidity of association and redefinition of nodes, constructs, ideologies. The heightened “powers” of the cyborg signals shifts in perception, consciousness, and observation in the individual; those same “powers” mediate change on the node/construct level. Let me let Shields speak properly, though:

Anticipating the hard-boiled hero of the detective novel, the flâneur pursued clues to the truth of the metropolis, attempting to think through its historical specificity, to inhabit it, even as the truth of empire and commodity capitalism was hidden from him (Messac, 1929: 425, cited in Benjamin, 1999: M13, 2):

The eye is drawn to this man who walks right through society’s laws, its pitfalls, the treason of his accomplices, like a savage of the New World amongst the reptiles, the ferocious beasts and enemy peoples (Shields, 210).

Clues to the truth of the metropolis. A soothsayer? A mystic? A cipher? A detective, an artist, a monk, a philosopher? All roles that I could imagine ascribing to the cyborg as they redefine boundaries, limitations merely by not observing them. A savage of the New World, savage in its primacy, a kid in a candy store, a bull in a china shop. Things get broken as they are in opposition, perhaps too fragile too survive the flux. Unraveling the truth of the Metropolis and embracing the fact that maybe, just maybe, it might all turn out to be a house of cards.

I will stop. Just a great article.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

2 Comments

  1. Hi, Michael.

    Blade Runner. Searching. Urban sprawl.

    Your post alludes to progression, flux – movement. Again, I recall Donald Norman’s positing that all of our tools, objects represent ‘doing’ – to achieve some purpose. And from your suggestion, it would appear that this is never-ending, painting a positive (or bleak) view of human existence…

    What about post-Cyborgian existence?

    1. Thanks for this, Hugh. Good food for thought. I do liken movement/doing/interacting as a key element in all life, let alone the cyborg one. Does this represent the sum total of human or cyborg existence? Probably not, but I do believe that life, human, cyborg, or otherwise, is meant to be in motion. To be responsive to the unlimited stimuli it encounters daily, to “be subject to the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to”, to constantly interact and mediate. Like a shark, we need to be in motion; we might not necessarily die in statis but we atrophy a bit. But is this a condition of just being? I don’t know; that is a tough one. I recognize that motion is good for my existence, but is it a prerequisite? Not sure.

      I don’t think, however, this is a particular condition of a cyborg. The cyborg just moves in a way that defies boundaries or demonstrates them as obsolete. It just looks like a greater span of movement than the average human, but in actuality it is only because the boundaries have yet to be delineated in any meaningful way. They have been torn asunder (by the cyborg) and need to be reconstituted; the cyborg perhaps leaves this in their wake. Good stuff!

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