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Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”)


“Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”  Donna Haraway


         Attempting to perform Donna Haraway’s utopian social vision of the cyborg (a hybrid of a body and machine) as the model for a subject without a fixed identity, this text tracks 3 “voices”: the main essay voice which is my survey of some of the literature on cyborgs and on Donna Haraway’s “manifesto” is in this regular type; in boldface italics is the talk-back-to-the-essay, poetic voice, and [IN BRACKETS, THE OCCASIONAL SIGH OF THE CYBORG].  My dances are also often made with this multi-angle, compositional technique.


Cyborg Lore


Arnold Schwarzenegger:  “You don’t really see a muscle as part of you, in a way.  You see it as a thing. You look at it and you say well, this thing has to be built a little longer. And you look at it and it doesn’t even seem to belong to you.  Like a sculpture.”


Frankenstein’s monster, the tin man from OZ, Robocop, The Terminator, The Fly, the Bionic Woman, Johnny Mnemonic, Star Trek, Teenage Ninja Turtles –- we have seen them in the movies, on TV, read about them in science fiction, played their video games.  They are cyborgs, an acronym for cybernetic organism that refers to a being that is part machine, part human.  [IF BRAINS COULD WALK] They are a techno-flesh marriage, technology’s penetration into the body, mutants constructed by fantasy or accident or design. [I’M OUTING SOME OF MY BODY]


They exist in medicine (pacemakers, birth control implants, artificial limbs, the elderly with baby baboon hearts, in x-rays and body scanners exteriorizing what we can’t see, in test tube sex [DIGITAL GLOP CUPPED MY PISTILBUSS]; they are in the gym, on the street (cell phones, ipods), they’re in the office, as we mingle in cyberspace and with digital technology; we watch our machines get viruses while our body is physically reduced to a tapping finger signaling carpal tunnel syndrome. [WHERE’S YOUR BODY? I HAD IT SCRAPPED] [I’M ALICE IN WONDERLAND EXCEPT I’M ON THE JOB] And they are in dance as we give more of our movement memory to video and program our ideas and visuals into the computer. [I HAVE TROUBLE SEEING ANYTHING NOT ON SCAN LINES] [WE REMEMBER IT FOR YOU AT RETAIL PRICE]  There are now people who get their e-mail on their eyeglasses, ...cutting it off is a tattoo for the machine...  who can data process as they walk, and who are designing ready-to-wear computers for our future. ...electrically addicted buttonheads...  [I AM SELF-AWARE DATA]


And there is no doubt they feed our anxieties about what is to be left of our bodies.  The current panic around physical fitness, the right to life, [SPLINTERED PLASMATIC] surgical enlargements and reductions, the right to death, gene technology crossing animals with plants, ...corn cobs bred to be toe shoes...  eating disorders, the war on drugs, surveillance at the workplace, steroids in sports, the sex exploits of our public figures ... boring again Christian..., are signs of fear about the body’s disappearance and about keeping the body relevant in our datascaped, increasingly virtual world.  They are in the dance world’s fears of an art form made increasingly irrelevant in a non-tactile, sensory deprived, nonmoving world. Perhaps they explain part of our desires for dance techniques that argue for a return to ‘innocence’ as if there once was a self in a ‘natural’ state to which we can return. [I LOVE IT WHEN THEY CALL ME MONSTER]


A cyborg is a cut-up of multiple meanings -- the embodiment of media culture.  It brings with it a consistent sense of human obsolescence and the very definition of human. The term came into existence in 1960 and the first cyborg was a mouse implanted with a pump designed to automatically inject chemicals at a controlled rate.  In 1963 NASA commissioned a paper: “Engineering Man for Space: The Cyborg Study.”


The cyborg  moved to academia and most of the studies of cyborgs now focus on how they break down gender and other nature/nurture boundaries and transform our sense of the body. The cyborg has come to represent both society’s ills and a utopian vision of the future. [WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO MAKE MY BRAIN WEIGH MORE?]


Donna Haraway’s Vision


 “A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualities without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony for granted.”  Donna Haraway


“The truth of art lies in this: that the world really is as it appears in the work of art.”  Herbert Marcuse


Donna Haraway is a scientist who has studied primate behavior and the institutions that study them.  She is a historian of science, and a Professor at the History of Consciousness Board, U.C. Santa Cruz.  Since her incredibly influential 1978 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”, cyborgism has become a central concept not only for medical and technological theorists but also for people in cultural studies engaged with rethinking society.


Haraway sees the cyborg as political myth that is also a tool for looking at the instruments of domination in our society. ...paradiszy... It has become a tool for making and looking at art and for looking at the world from multiple perspectives.  Because the cyborg crosses the boundaries of what is male/female, organic/inorganic, mind/body, nature/nurture, it becomes for Haraway, a challenge to organic wholeness that so many logics of oppression are built on.  It is a challenge to the grand rationalist tradition that creates a system of domination (the female as other) and mastery that has come to be known as our patriarchal world. ...Being in a position of difference means things come at you without your having to do anything – passivity or anger becomes built in (Don’t worry, we still wanna have fun)...    Her cyborg is for those who want to shift their perspective as a way to contest for meanings, for other forms of power and pleasure in a technologically mediated society.  It is for those who seek affinities with what they can’t understand, who “are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.   A unitary identity means antagonistic dualities without end.” Haraway ... Although my imagination includes a post-gender utopia, I worship “women-love represents”...


On the one hand she sees the need to see the cyborg world as about our last stand on a final control grid that can be placed on the world with its current systems of dominations and control. On the other hand is the perspective of potential liberational thinking  that operates by diagonal strikes, strategies of irony, and coalitions based on affinities.[A PETAL IN MY CUBIC HEAPS] By dodging identity, ... all that remains of the subject position is meat... -- the target is always moving and the “other-centered” society of race, gender and class loses its definitional force. ...Decentered gets you out of gender and narrative binds -- but where’s the position from which to resist?...  Haraway’s is an argument for the pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and the responsibility in their construction. ... My fear is that it’s just in the realm and the imagination of the privileged...   For a scientist like Haraway, the questions become how to speak cogently about the scientific-techno world while still keeping a sense of wonder and admiration. ... The swan forming the neck as a political energy ... Haraway has created a utopian interpretation that asks whether (especially a female) body becoming combinatory with unnature helps create a better action in her situation. ... If you can say unnature I can say unzoo...


For me, besides a way of looking at the powerful cybernetic forces around us, and for conceptualizing a new way of envisioning politics, the cyborg is a tactical spur for thinking about the body on stage ...that remote control improv voice...  and as a tool for making and looking at art from multiple perspectives. [I GET CANCELLED BUT THE SHOW GOES ON] And as Donna Haraway ends her essay: “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”


Sally Silvers is a choreographer/performer who has also co-directed 2 experimental dance films.




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