Certainly the traditional boundaries between humans and machines have undergone a near-dissolution in recent years. Most of us already know people with pacemakers, reconstructed joints, or artificial or transplanted organs. By means of their bodily incorporation of machine (and especially computer) technology, these people dissolve the distinction between organisms and machines. Their status as " cyborgs" -- part human, part machine -- exposes the leakiness of the distinction between technology and nature. By questioning the traditional method of defining what is human (which usually entails comparisons with creature that fall into an equally badly-defined category of what is not), they question our received notions of what it means to be human. Through them, we begin to recognize the limited utility of the distinction between nature and culture. As Donna Haraway puts it, " Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert" .
Thinking about cyborgs provides a way to talk about bodies without losing sight of the material (or technological) conditions that ground their lived experience. As we learn that bodies are susceptible to technological augmentation and enhancement, we find that the so-called natural body isn't quite so natural, unconstructed, or innocent after all. But talking about cyborgs means talking as much about technology as about bodies, and talking even more about how received conceptions of both bodies and technology uphold the very structures and processes that gave rise to such distinctions in the first place. As technological reconstructions of the body become commonplace, it is necessary to confront technology's political dimension, as a power to shape individuals -- to shape the body politic. Just as cyborgs integrate a variety of technological prostheses in order to constitute their own subjectivities, hypertext writing allows both reader and writer to weave their own meanings from a set of disparate textual elements. Hypertext, as a literal embodiment not only of postmodern fragmentation but also its possible resolution, repeats the cyborg paradigm on a textual, narrative level. Of course, a hypertext resists closure; as others have argued, a hypertexts resists endings, final validations or refutations of the reader's point of view. [See Harpold and Joyce] But perhaps we should not take our satisfactions for granted: perhaps the need for, and satisfaction of, closure is merely a special case of the desire to objectify and classify in the first place, a denial of subjectivity to others with equal, if occluded, claims to it. In that case, hypertext shares not only the cyborg insistence on patchwork subjectivity, a narrative " art of making do," but also the cyborg resistance to final determination or characterization, a resistance with consequences that are not only intellectual and theoretical, but also political -- as a technology with consequences for material bodies as they ground actual lives.
Hypertext thus exemplifies the permeability of the boundary between organisms and machines, as it is embodied in the cyborg paradigm. But without an exploration of its implications, this observation of the uncanny resemblances between hypertext and cyborgs is merely academic; that is, in order for a hypertextually-motivated collapse of categories such as nature and culture to have real consequences, a politics of hypertext must be articulated. Early hypertext pioneers had some inkling of the political ramifications of such a close coupling of bodies and machines. Yet, despite hypertext theory's embrace of avant garde literary productions and its sympathies with postmodern literary criticism, it has yet to come to grips with the political questions hypertext poses for the relation of people to machines.
- Hypertext with Consequences: Recovering a Politics of Hypertext [Introduction]
- Why Is Literary Theory Important for Hypertext?
- Hypertext Has Always Been Political and about Bodies
- Cyborgs among Us: Bodies and Hypertext
- Female Writing?