A Lineage of Cyborg Discourse

Donna J Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, Jasbir Puar’s I Would rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess, and Joshua Scannell’s Both a Cyborg and a Goddess collectively form a trilogy of works expanding on critical theory in new directions, complicating each other and expanding on ideological suggestions to navigate flawed ways of thinking imposed by societal ideology. Complications of exoticism, data mining, and intersectionality as a model vs as an all-consuming mode of individual identification all jostle each other in exciting new ways that send the mind racing into a new cutting-edge frontiers of critical theory. All three are valuable additions to critical theory perspective, and I have gained new insight from them that I cannot wait to apply. However, for me, they also foreground the most difficult struggle in theory discourse, which is just how quickly it moves and how difficult it can be to keep up.

The basic problem for me was really that I read them out of order. That was a personal mistake, but one that greatly changed the experience of the theory. 2, 3, 1 is a very odd angle of approach, and it has the impact for me of not understanding the full picture until the very end, when I understood where the previous lines of thought were building from. Puar made some magnificent points, and I was quite engaged by the theory being turned on its head in new directions, having taken concepts like intersectionality for granted without recognizing how that mode of thinking can be limited in some ways and could use with expanding beyond a narrow modlel. But here, as a film scholar and taking a feminist critical theory course, I at the very least have these resources. Me reading it out of order was a fluke rather than the natural experience.

My thoughts really go from here to where I primarily reside as a data body and where my main experience with critical discourse is, that of Internet communities on Tumblr and other social media cites. Within feminist fandom circles, feminist critical theory is rampant in a positive way, but those spaces are still engaged in primarily intersectional and representational discourse. There’s nothing wrong with that, they have been spaces of insight for me and I have grown far more comfortable with and accustomed to such discourses as a result, even shifting my way of thinking, and perhaps even shifting the attitudes of my favorite media, judging by the slow increase in diversity that seems to be happening. But I’m very struck by how these new critical theory ideas have yet to spread to those circles. They are powerful circles home to many motivated people, but they’re still centered on theory that theorists have moved past in exciting new directions.

I think the problem for me comes down to accessibility. Just as Puar made more sense with the context of Haraway, these theories all build on each other in important ways, tracing a long lineage of discourse. To push forward and to integrate understandings of new theory, one needs to keep looking for new responses as they come, moving into the post-post-structuralist and beyond. And that isn’t always easy to do, since the temptation is to keep applying old models to new things rather than reasses what’s come before to the old models.

My hope is that I can help apply these evolving theoretical approaches myself. Like I said before, I frequent fan circles that heavily embrace critical theory, and I am, dare I say, fairly influential in a few areas. So what happens if I start examining the merging of cyborg and goddess and such in those circles? If I apply new critical theory to a context many already have a grasp on? I’m not sure, but the possibility excites me. First, though, I believe I should probably read all three pieces over again, and in the right order.


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