The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 1/5

(Written July 2008)

Popular culture has created many fictional forms of the cyborg, from Rachel in Ripley Scott’s Blade Runner to The Terminator. But for some, the cyborg is not simply a fictional myth. Foremost cyborg theorist Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto has defined it as a cybernetic creature of both lived society and fiction. Since there are no indicated boundaries between the two, there is a struggle to define and control the cyborg properly, this “border war” being fought vie an “optical illusion” (149).

Modern Medicine, Haraway continues, is already full of cyborgs. Indeed the possibility of a complete scanning of the human body in order to replicate a digitized 3-D figure for digital slicing, an effort known as VHP (Visible Human Project), will be made common medical practice in the near future (for more see Hayles). The cyborg, also, is not defined by gender; “it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis […] or other seductions to organic wholeness [constituted by] all the powers of the parts into a higher unity” (150).

For some who are anxious of those who, like Haraway expresses in her Informatics of Domination, embrace genetic engineering, such as R. Klein who Nadia Mahjouri in her paper on Techno-Maternity quotes as saying “[g]enetic and reproductive engineering is another attempt to end self-determination over our own bodies” (para. 4) Haraway is keen to show that techno-science has already begun the process of such engineering, and the feeling of being mediated by it already exists.

The cyborg also designates new and legitimate forms of sexual enjoyment. In much the same way that a cyborg is a cybernetic organism receiving and transmitting information in a control loop, eroticism is, in Lacan’s terminology, the aim, or the directing of oneself in a pleasurable act. The pleasure is pleasure experienced within oneself, and so therefore ones aim is returned. As Elizabeth Grosz terms it “[a] reintegration into the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism” (77).

The cyborg as hybrid of machine and organism takes on the circuitry of both, the control system of the former, and the auto-eroticism of the latter. In terms of sexuality, the cyborg is perfectly created for self-satisfaction. For example, cybersex is an encounter which takes place with an assumed reciprocate. The enjoyment of the incoming messages from the communication technology is self-enclosed, it is not an enjoyment which is obligated simultaneously to satisfy a phallic signifier, a point I will extend later.

Similarly, Slavoj Zizek, in an interview with Flash Art in 1992 talks about the ‘minitel’, a once fashionable mini-computer available in France, which was the preferred medium of instant-messaging sex. Not one to miss a Lacanian reading, Zizek informs that the point of the message exchange is not that it will lead to meeting up, swapping addresses, but rather the “entire satisfaction, the jouissance is that you do not know and will never know who the other is” (para. 18). The satisfaction gained is, as he describes it, wound up in the “purely symbolic exchange.”

Cybersex even has its laws and taboos. A unique case occurred May 16, 2008 when a Texas Minister of a Dallas Megachurch was charged with online solicitation of a minor, the first time a sexual legal case has taken place where the victim and culprit were not in the same room at the scene of the crime.

So since sex mediated by machines has its principles, and these principles can be exceeded (as the above example demonstrates) cyborgs can experience the form of excess, otherwise known as jouissance.

The aim of this article is to marry the cyborg as Donna Haraway theorized it with Lacan’s notion of jouissance in order to get some sense of the future of (sexual) enjoyment in an age of combined bio- and communication-technologies, that is to say, humanity mediated in the domain of science and technology. To do this, I will firstly bring together both Haraway’s and Lacan’s accounts of feminine ontology, then go into a more detailed definition of the cyborg, and round it up by seeing where jouissance fits into the cyborg ontology. With this I will use an example of a chat-room user who engages in the activity I have come to term as cyborg enjoyment.

Part 2 tomorrow