The Cyborg Future of Enjoyment Part 3/5

(Written 2008)

A cyborg body is not innocent… The Cyborg Beginnings and Phases

…”it was not born in a garden”. Alluding to Eden, Haraway tells us the cyborg does not have the same gendered, male doministic origins as the human (man, and of-man-by-rib). Its roots are (perhaps worse) in “militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism” (151). Since the cyborg “doesn’t depend on human reproduction for its existence” (151) and is above gender, it poses limits on Freudian analysis. Evoking images of Plato’s Symposium the cyborg doesn’t seek completeness in sexual union or desire a nuclear family unit. Its essence is to be found in its environs as much as its own self – perpetuated by biotechnology and communication control loop systems.

For her justification, Haraway looks to biology and evolutionary theory, which has “reduced the border” between humans and animals. No matter how one identifies functioning humanism (the so-called pursuit, freedoms and rights for what it is to be human) – be it in an industrial age where humans use their arms and hands as naturally made tools, or thought without thought-simulation aids such as calculators or computers, or be it an age closer to Rousseau’s dream of humans being at one with their surrounding natures – by comparison the human being functions in a different manner, or rather, the human being has been manipulated by a new technological terrain.

In a lecture by the name of Birth of the Kennel given at the European Graduate School Haraway characterizes humans as in a space of ‘artifactuality’ that is, humans as ‘objects of knowledge’ are both prone to learning and being shaped by companion species – humans are artifacts! Her lecture title appears to come as an ironic critique of the essential hubris of the ego, caging dogs as mutts, denying ourselves a teacher of self-knowledge. Haraway aims to dignify learning from companion species against the overbearing pride of the human, content in the fallacy of completion. The image of the dog is one of tameness due to domesticity, of being a product not just of its evolution, but by its surroundings. Can we not recall ever hearing the (Rousseau for dogs?) argument that it is not fair that dogs should be domesticated but rather should be allowed to run wild and feral? It seems that this is not what Haraway is arguing at all, because she embraces the human-dog companionship. In this sense, evolution has erased the line between human and animal, but humans are also a product of their techno-scientific surroundings. As a means of learning to know ourselves, humans need to embrace this partial ontology. Haraway’s appeal seems to be more directed at the notion that for Woman, in order to escape the reality of an of-man existence, organisms and machines need to share companionship.

What, however, is one to think of techno-scientific responsibility in this context? An infamous picture details Donna Haraway on the steps of her home cuddling her dog Cayenne (see endnote), they both look at each other, she smiling, the dog appearing to flap its ears in glee. This is the imagery of companionship which Haraway aims to construct between organism and machine. She explains “cyborg imagery can help express […] taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology […] reconstructing the boundaries of daily life […] in communication with all our parts” (181). At once this polemic is for responsibility in positive cyborg imagery, standing opposite of Blade Runner’s Rachel who Haraway describes as “the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion” (177-78) which seems not be a reflective picture. Her explanation of a cyborg imagery also expresses the responsibility involved in reorganizing places in everyday life once prohibited, forward into one biotic component (a living organism which exists in a [perhaps communications] system).

These prohibitions apply particularly to females; I will quote at large Haraway as saying

“[u]p till now (once upon a time), female embodiment seemed to be given, organic, necessary […] Only by being out of place could we take intense pleasure in machines, and then with excuses that this was organic activity after all, appropriate to females.”

Also with regards to the economy (although Haraway is keen to show that she is aware that this is not necessarily a progressive statement and can be accommodated for in the White Patriarchal Capitalist circuitry) the ‘homework’ economy – a term borrowed from Richard Gordon who uses it to describe work in electronic assemblage, mainly done by women overseas, and the feminizing of labor in general – has already shaped, to a certain extent, the female cyborg self. For women, Haraway argues, technological advancements were boundaries of daily life, and a given ‘female nature’ had been wrongly ascribed. She calls for this to be a thing of the (Edenic) past.

Indeed, for the future of a cyborg world “what counts as nature – a source of insight and promise of innocence – is undermined, probably fatally”(152-53). To be sure, Haraway does not shy away from exposing the anxieties of some toward a future that embraces the obsoleteness of ‘humanism’.

One key question to this essay is (and indeed is a regular proposal to many written pieces on Haraway’s cyborg theory); if Donna Haraway is so anxious to remind us that a cyborg’s beginnings are far different from a humans, can the cyborg be said to have any Freudian basis at all? Where some might be keen to answer in the negative, I do see an element of Freudian basis to the new cyborg selves. I will stress that a cyborg Freudianism is not inasmuch as a human baby’s drives and desires may be derived from the oral or anal phase. That is to say, when one thinks of Freud, one may be reminded of the baby who as s/he is being breast fed enters into the oral phase, that when being fed, gains an amount of pleasure which emanates from the mouth. When that baby reaches an age where s/he could be fed properly, s/he, even more than before, desires the absent breast – the object of oral pleasure. Or one may be reminded of the baby who is allowed to micturate whenever s/he feels like it, or defecate and enjoy it immensely – a stage known as the anal stage – but as the diaper is replaced for underwear such enjoyable activity must be regulated. As the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham remarked, “instincts, which are allowed free expression in early childhood, are subjected to a considerable measure of repression and sublimation later on” (Abraham 281). The Freudianism applicable to a species which is half organism, half machine will not specifically look like the above description, in short, The American School, or ego psychology. The Freudianism applicable is from the Lacanian School.

Jacques Lacan resumed Freud to the letter, adding a knowledge of semiotics to the mix which Freud himself did not live to see popularize. One of the more important elements to Lacan’s lectures was his rejuvenation of the commonly misunderstood death drive. For Freud, the death drive was not some elementary striving for suicide, but, an act that aimed to go beyond the reality principle. The reality principle is based upon the constitution of society and gender; in the first it is in-keeping with societal expectations, to repress those things which are given free expression in early childhood like living only for bodily satisfaction; in the second it is in-keeping with what is expected of one as a gendered person, for example, since Man carries the phallic signifier of the symbolic order, he dominates over Woman’s so-called ‘lack’. Heterosexual union, necessary to the upkeep of the symbolic order, decrees female pleasure to be at the beck-and-call of male intercourse – this being a component of female ontology. The death drive for Woman, however, is a deviation from her ontological constitution, where her sexual enjoyment is organized in a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism. Lacan has a term for this – jouissance.

The contrast between the pleasure principle and the death drive in Freudian psychoanalysis is formally the same as the contrast between plasir and jouissance – the former can be accommodated within the reality principle, the reality principle allows for a minimum of (phallic) pleasure, but the latter works exactly like a cybernetic machine, as we have mentioned, self-enclosed, along with no consideration of societal expectations or ontological constitution. In other words it is in excess of reality. The reality principle imposes limits on the pleasure principle, whereas the ‘Real’ of jouissance is consequently beyond the pleasure principle. In short, the cyborg is a species of jouissance.

The cyborg may well have bypassed any Oedipallic constitution, but it is still subject to the same principles concerning sexual enjoyment. As I have already mentioned, its cybernetic basis makes it perfectly adaptable to Lacan’s understanding of jouissance. At this stage, I will further explain how.

Part 4 tomorrow


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