Cyborg Blasphemy

Patrick Nagle '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

In her essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," Donna Haraway attempts to create an "ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism." But her mythmaking is not propagandistic or totalizing; rather, she envisions a myth that is "perhaps more faithful as blasphemy is faithful, than as reverent worship and identification." (149) The blasphemy of the cyborg gives people a way of conceptualizing themselves and the world that embodies (at least partially) the ideas of socialist-feminism but rejects its negative elements. Haraway's myth is ironic inasmuch as it critiques socialism without abandoning a critique of capital; it is feminist but questions the epistemological foundations of much feminism; it creates a new category of identity, the cyborg, and simultaneously acknowledges that identity politics are too limiting. She focuses her criticisms on dualistic thinking:

One of my premises is that most American socialists and feminists see deepened dualisms of mind and body, animal and machine, idealism and materialism in the social practices, symbolic formulations, and physical artifacts associated with "high technology" and scientific culture . . . .[T]he analytic resources developed by progressives have insisted on the necessary domination of technics and recalled us to an imagined organic body to integrate our resistance. Another of my premises is that the need for unity of people trying to resist world-wide intensification of domination has never been more acute. But a slightly perverse shift of perspective might better enable us to contest for meanings, as well as for other forms of power and pleasure in technologically mediated societies. (154)

Haraway's analysis centers around both feminists' and socialists' uses of binary logic. Such logics embrace hierarchies of oppression (in Marxism's conception of labor as the structuring element of existence) and formulate resistance in terms of univocal categories (such as "woman" in feminism). Haraway argues that these harmful binaries arise out of a perceived need for total explanations:

[N]either Marxist nor radical feminist points of view have tended to embrace the status of a partial explanation; both were regularly constituted as totalities. Western explanation has demanded as much; how else could the "Western" author incorporate its others? Each tried to annex other forms of domination by expanding its basic categories through analogy, simple listing, or addition. Embarrassed silence about race among white radical and socialist feminists was one major, devastating political consequence. History and polyvocality disappear into political taxonomies that try to establish genealogies. There was no structural room for race (or for much else) in theory claiming to reveal the construction of the category woman and social group women as a unified or totalizable whole. (160)

Haraway's solution abandons total theories (which our high-tech culture has already challenged) and emphasizes coalition, affinity, and embodied partial perspective. The concept of the cyborg is useful in this capacity because cyborgs do not seek unified selves or total theories. Rather, the cyborg requires a "theory of wholes and parts." (181)

This concept of cyborg theory is similar to Lévi-Strauss's idea of bricolage:

The bricoleur, says Lévi-Strauss, is someone who uses "the means at hand," that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous — and so forth. (Derrida, 964)

Haraway's revision of socialism and feminism fuses the two in ways that do not rely on origin myths, appropriation of nature, or the othering of women to create a hybrid philosophy that parallels the unique fusion of animal and machine in cyborgs.


Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. pp.149-181.

Derrida, Jacques. "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." tr. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato.The Critical Tradition ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Course Website cyborg Body & Self

Last modified 17 November 2006