The Ties that Bind

Shelley Jackson's hypermedia project Patchwork Girl echoes Mary Shelley's science-fiction and horror story Frankenstein. Not only is her female monster stitched together, but the inspiration and the text itself is drawn from a number of different sources. A great deal of emphasis in hypertext fiction, and even in general cyborg theory, is placed on the link, a connection that binds disparate parts together. "Jackson uses sutures to tie various pieces together so that narrative may merely exist," comments Tim McConville. [George Landow, Hypertext 2.0, p. 202] Another theory has arisen that hypertext seeks to resolve "nonexistent" dichotomies in life. Recognizing that conventional thought tends to organize itself into "polarized abstractions" like male and female, hypermedia author Carolyn Guyer calls for focus instead on "the constant transformations of one pole into the other. What's important to recognize is not the impossible duality of the poles, but what actually happens between then." [Hypertext 2.0, p.208]

This call for a blurring of boundaries echoes a theory expressed about the nature of the cyborg itself. Before Donna Haraway launches into her discussion of postmodern, cyborg feminism in A Cyborg Manifesto, she asserts that the duty of a cyborg is to transgress boundaries.

The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation. In the traditions of 'Western' science and politics ... the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction. [Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, p.150]

Boundaries Blurred

Irish folk musician and folklorist Johnny McCarthy describes folk ritual in the Sliabh Luacra region of Ireland as being infused and centered on the overlap between the real and the spiritual world, which he calls a region of liminality. Adapted from a psychological term for the limits of perceivable stimuli, the liminal is the transitional, the in-between, limbo. Liminal spaces have always been the domain of the cyborg. Traditional lunar festivals ("liminant periods" to Irish folklorists) were a rejection of established order, a Rabelaisian revelry in chaos where even marital law didn't apply. Particularly once she picks up her feminist themes, Haraway's quest for the liberation of the cyborgic individual from the constraints of established society echoes these "simpler" folk rituals. If humans have been cyborgs since the development of language itself, these similarities are nothing to wonder at. It is natural that humankind tests the limits and reaches into the beyond. While the popular notion of the cyborg is the joining of the human and the technological, the very first leaky distinction Haraway attacks is the boundary with nature. "The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed," she writes. [p.152] A rejection of the natural is impossible for the cyborg. After all, it is our difference from animals that makes us cyborgs in the first place.

Two more distinctions Haraway targets are the blend of the organic and mechanical ("traditional" cyborg fare), and the related boundary "between the physical and the non-physical." [p.153] It is common sense that as our machines shrink to portable sizes or become surgically integrated, we interface more with physical technology. William Mitchell, author of the book ME++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, recalls that at least at first "the virtual and the physical were imagined as separate realms—cyberspace and meatspace, as William Gibson's insouciantly in-your face formulation put it...Now, though, the boundary between them is dissolving." The computer user does not leave their body behind when they log on; they simply extend their consciousness beyond it. The point that writers like Haraway or William Mitchell bring forward is that these enhancements naturally extend the cyborg consciousness beyond the physical realm. Even in later cyberpunk this initial duality had crumbled: Stephenson's and even Gibson's cyborgs are always plugged in, constantly at work on both planes at once.

Where Next?

Either by the cyborg's simple existence or by conscious action, these boundaries will be transgressed. Where to next? A logical step would be to seek self-expression: having freed themselves from the restrictive boundaries of traditional worldviews, cyborgs should seek appropriate media to convey their awakened feelings and consciousness. With that thought we turn again towards hypermedia as the natural complement to the cyborg as both take shape only through their links, their connectivity. The cyborg must learn to write again, taking advantage of the disjointed nature of cyberspace to fashion their own personal reality from the vast sea of component parts. Baudrillard's theory joins with Haraway's here as each cyborg embraces an informational simulacrum, the "copy without an original" that naturally follows from the collage of hypertext in cyberspace. [Hypertext 2.0, p. 201]

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Other Works Cited:
Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs and Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore: John's Hopkins University Press, 1997.
McCarthy, Johnny. Lecture: "Sliabh Luacra Style," Blas Ceol Music Program, Limerick, Ireland. June 2004.
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

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