Cyborg or Goddess, or Both?

In her “Cyborg Manifesto”, Donna Haraway describes the cyborg as a creature that inhabits the very boundaries between binaries, living at the sites of boundary transgressions. Specifically, Haraway discusses the human and animal binary, the animal-human (organism) and machine binary, and finally the physical and non-physical binary. She argues that, in the late twentieth century, many of our preconceived notions that would keep these categories distinct from one another have been challenged, and the categories themselves have become murky. While the machine and the organism have in the past been understood as irreconcilably opposite, massive recent technological advancements have made machines more and more comparable to living entities. Similarly, the distinction between the physical and non-physical is being put into question. The mechanisms of machine/electronic technology have become so fluid, rapid and invisible, that physical human capacity cannot even begin to compare. The mechanical has transgressed into the non-physical with the ubiquity of its presence. For Haraway, the cyborg does precisely this, as the cyborg is practically invisible both materially and as a political force. Rather, Haraway’s cyborg has to do with consciousness, or the simulation of consciousness.

In her essay on Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics, Jasbir Puar elaborates on the differences between the identity theories of intersectionality and assemblage. First, Puar very helpfully explains that intersectionality makes the claim that all identities “are lived and experienced as intersectional.” In other words, identity categories cannot be closed to themselves as they are constantly interacting and intertwining with other identity categories, and that everyone, not matter whether or not they may be aware of it, is intersectional. Puar brings up an important issue with intersectionality, however, which is the way in which it emphasizes the very differences it ideally seeks to break down, and the way in which it works to “Other” Women of Color.

In her discussion on Assemblage, Puar brings up Donna Haraway who placed particular importance in the non-representational referent of “matter itself”. Assemblages de-privileges the human body as a distinct organic thing. Instead it theorizes (as stipulated by Haraway) that our bodies are amalgamations of information; we sit replete with other bodies within us (bacteria organisms, etc), and our bodies shed DNA wherever we go, making it impossible to conceptualize ourselves as discrete organisms. Next, “bodies” themselves are not assumed to be merely human and they cannot be divided strictly between the human/animal binary. Bodies can be used to describe various forms of matter. What is perhaps most fascinating about the theory of Assemblage is its theorization of categories such as race, gender, sexuality as “events, actions, and encounters between bodies” as opposed to categories used to describe subjects.

In “Both a Cyborg and a Goddess”, Joshua Scannell discusses Big Data, and the new logic of governance and population management that emerges from the new capacity to collect, store, and analyze massive amounts of data more rapidly than ever before. Scannell takes and both expands and warps the logics of Biopolitics and Neoliberal governmentality. Michel Foucault’s Biopolitics, governance and social control by means of collecting data about the population, payed particular attention to the human masses. Scannell, however, claims that the focus has shifted away from the “human massified target” and to the “massification of the data trial” itself. Scanell explains that, given the enormous quantitative increase in data that is now available for population surveillance, the production, maintenance, and care of the algorithms that facilitate population tracking themselves attract labor and significant attention from the population.

The “cyborged body” that Scannell refers to is the body of information that passes through data trails. Instead of separating the Cyborg from the Goddess, as done by Donna Haraway, Scannell merges the two, suggesting that the cyborg emerges in relation to the technology through which its information travels, but is not one with the technology itself. For Scannell, the “cyborged goddess” is not only a trail of information with no social influence. The cyborged goddess data traces intervene in society, and are just as much social agents as human beings themselves.

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