The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 2/5

(Written 2008)

The Construction site of Woman

In a seminar called God and the jouissance of Woman which is published in his influential set of seminars Encore! Jacques Lacan explained of feminine enjoyment that since it requires more than just the phallus – the image definition of the symbolic order – it must exceed being. This excess of being, Lacan designates, is on par with God, for what God represents is the ‘other’ of being (the supreme being). Woman, as positioned in the (paternalized) symbolic order is the ‘other’ of Man’s being.

In light of this, how are we to interpret Haraway’s comments at the end of her manifesto ‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’?

As both Haraway and Lacan would testify Woman is a socially constructed category. For Lacan, male sexual desire is not fulfilled in Woman, but rather she is his objet petit a (cause of his desire), or object a(-utre); the ‘other’ of Man’s being which, in the dominating world of the visual (which assumes the dominance of the phallus over the so-called ‘lack’ of the female genitals), organizes Man’s fantasy. Further, as Teresa Brennan in her book Lacan After History posits “the idealized woman is the anchor of man’s identity and the guarantee of his ‘Truth’ ” (26). Brennan points out in a footnote that Lacan’s complex position of “idealization” is that it “makes the ‘lady’ into something considerably less than a subject” (26, fn. 1).

For Lacan, the idealization and denigration of women, as Brennan puts it, is a transhistorical inevitability; the symbolic order is necessary for sanity though at the same time it gives rise to the world of the visual, in which the phallus dominates. Brennan quite pessimistically expresses that the idealization, that is the psychical fantasy of Woman, of her as, not subject but simply objet petit a, is forever more, or at least for as long as we are sane.

For a contemporary Lacanian insight on gender, Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View concludes that “there is only One, the gap is inherent to the One itself” (36). So in Lacan’s terminology, feminine ontology functions as pastoute (not-all) “as a part which has to be integrated into the whole” (Benvenuto and Kennedy 1986, 186). For this reason, and again to qualify the Lacanese, ‘there is no sexual relationship’ (il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel) – there is only one identity; whole and partial. Donna Haraway recognizes this and in suit asks “[w]hat kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective – and, ironically, socialist-feminist?” (157)

The answer becomes clear.

“There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female” Haraway claims, “itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices” (155). On this point Haraway criticizes much of the US feminism movement for its second-rate response to domination with identity, and not, preferable to her ‘affinity’. Moreover, since, by Haraway’s own admission, ‘there is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women’; feminism might be best embracing partial identities. This branch of feminism Haraway goes on to call cyborg feminism, partly against Marxian and socialist-feminism which “totalizes” Woman.

The wider world in which the cyborg feminist must struggle to achieve, according to Haraway, “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (154). For a feminism which accepts the social construction thesis of Lacan – “nature’s discursive constitution” as Haraway specifies in her essay The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others (para. 4) – that Woman can never fully be a subject due to the visual nature of the symbolic order, and since sanity rests on their being a symbolic order so it remains, the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway issues a new emancipation in partiality, not wholeness.

Whereas the gendered world configures the sense of sight solely for the phallocrats, the cyborg world marks masculinity as partial.

To answer my question on how to interpret Haraway’s comments; though goddesses are superior beings, they are still mediated through masculinity; they are still so to speak of-god. The cyborg is a superior being, mediated not through the (ph)allacy of gender but by the totality of its environment.

Part 3 tomorrow

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2 Responses to The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 2/5

  1. aprudy says:

    I’m very much enjoying these… had Haraway for Feminist Theory during grad school at UCSC. Were these pieces part of a particular project? Did something come of it? Looking forward to 3, 4, and 5

    • you’re very kind Alan.

      And how very interesting that you studied under her; something I’d like to tap into if you stick around to read the other 3 parts – did you ever have the privilege of meeting her dog?

      The piece was something I did a couple of years ago and forgot about unfortunately. I sent it away to be published in a journal but to no success unfortunately, so I put it on a blog about a year and a half ago, though that wasn’t particularly well read (a bit of a sob story really). This blog is a little more popular than my previous attempts so I dug it out.

      I hope you can read the other parts and hold me to account.

      Cheers.

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