The Cyborg

Cyber Space and Critical Theory

Snow Crash

A Cyborg Manifesto

Last modified April 12, 2005


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A Cyborg Manifesto: Confusing and Dense

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Haraway takes a popular idea from science fiction that we all know and love, the cyborg, and twists it into something that makes you cringe as you read. The Manifesto is replete with passages such as “The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence” (Haraway, 151). Haraway also seems to enjoy run-on sentences (or at least sentences that are much longer than necessary) which you have to read several times in order to verify that there is indeed no hope of comprehension, and possibly no hope “that there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for,” in the words of Samwise Gamgee ( The Return of the King , 2003).

The following is such a sentence from page 151,

“An origin story in the ‘Western’, humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism.”

This sentence is entirely unclear. Clearly, we have a subject, “an origin story” which depends on “the myth … must separate”. At this point things get a little fuzzy. Does the story also depend on this task of individual development? It would seem so, but a conjunction might help things. Presumably our origin story also depends on “the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism.” As I read it, the last part of the sentence could be rewritten as “the two powerful myths of psychoanalysis and Maxism,” which would at least be clear, if not comprehensible.

In fact, I have assembled a list of some of the passages in A Cyborg Manifesto that took me a long time to parse and left me guessing at their meaning (at least to some extent), along with a bit of commentary on each one.

Discussion Questions

  1. Must critical theorists write in a style that makes their work significantly less accessible than it otherwise would be? What benefits does Haraway’s writing style have? At what cost?
  2. Do we really need critical theory at all? Wouldn’t the world be a happier place without it? (Okay, maybe I’m getting a little sarcastic. Or rather, maybe I’ve been somewhat sarcastic all along.)
  3. Have we as freshmen just not reached a level where this kind of text is easy to read, or is there no such level? If so, why did Haraway chose to write it this way?
  4. To what extent is my criticism of Haraway an oversimplification?
  5. Would Haraway be more comprehensible if we had a background in semiotics? If so, does semiotics have to have its own language and be as inaccessible as it is? Could we re-envision a semiotics that had a shallower learning curve?


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