I Want To Be a Literal Cyborg


*this is, surprisingly, not a selfie of mine

“The transmission of affect, if only for an instant, alters the biochemistry and neurology of the subject.” — Teresa Brennan

Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto was a seminal text for the way that I understood science and gender. She argues that our bodies are essentially robots in the sense that they have been influenced by science and more specifically machinery. In an interview with Wired published in 1997, the journalist Hari Kunzru deduced that “if women (and men) aren’t natural but are constructed, like a cyborg, then, given the right tools, we can all be reconstructed,” (via Wired). This is an interesting way to view affect theory and the theory behind how agents (and actants) have a certain power (albeit a technical, poststructural, and illusionary power) over people. Technology here is an agent which intrudes itself into not only our lives but also literally into our bodies. We take medicines. We have prosthetic limbs. We ingest plastic particles via prepackaged foods. We are cyborgs.

Jane Bennett writes that her goal in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things is to “[focus] on collectives conceived primarily as conglomerates of human designs and practices (‘discourse’). [And to] highlight the active role of nonhuman materials in public life… I will try to give voice to a thing-power,” (original emphasis). The idea of deconstructing the power of things as opposed to the power of people is crucial in part because:

  1. The primary focus on people and not things fails to keep in mind that things are (usually) created by people
  2. Artificial intelligence
  3. Nonhuman actants
  4. Geographical ecology and environment
  5. Internal processes, especially those that are cerebrally embedded

Bennett’s writing is, I would argue, a result of Donna Haraway’s pioneering in the field of cyborgism and technological influence on the body. Affect theory argues the same. Humans are results of technology’s influence on “nature”—of which Bennett also provides an interesting poststructuralist lens in which to read.

A similar idea about affect theory and gender theory is presented in Teresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect. She writes, “If transmission takes place and has effects on behavior, it is not genes that determine social life; it is the socially induced affect that changes our biology. The transmission of affect is not understood or studied because of the distance between the concept of transmission and the reigning modes of biological explanation.” In other words, the study of affect theory has no focus on binaries between natural/artificial, male/female, biological/environmental, real/fake, etcetera. In this way, affect theory is severely postmodern.

Speaking of “severely postmodern,” I have to quote Rhizome here. Deleuze and Guatarri write, “A book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations.” That is to say that material “objects” should not be viewed solely as objects but as a product “thing” of its conditions. The idea of a book being neither subject nor object takes into account the elimination of binaried descriptions that have been argued in cyborg theory as well as affect theory. Essentially, we’re in a situation of postmodern orgy and I’m kind of living for it.

— Seth Loftis

~ by sethloftis on September 19, 2016.

3 Responses to “I Want To Be a Literal Cyborg”

  1. Best learning – The fact that you brought in extra sources to discuss your thoughts with is why i’m giving this post my pick for “best learning.” You did a little extra work to get your thoughts across which I really appreciated. Your thoughts were laid out concisely and it seemed like you were using evidence from sources at least every other sentence! Very well done comparison between Bennett and Harway’s writings.
    – Erin

  2. Best learning—I think bringing in the cyborg manifesto here is spot on. Bennett was certainly drawing on Haraway’s destruction of boundaries in her work. I also want to be a cyborg… but then again I think we all already are. Also, s/o for best phrase: “postmodern orgy”

  3. Best learning: I agree with Erin; I really appreciated the extra effort put into bringing in outside resources, which kind of felt like a buy one get one free kind of deal, but with learning. However, having read Haraway before, I would have to say that her writing is insanely complex and I’m not sure if I’d come to the same conclusion had I read this with no prior knowledge.

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