A Manifesto for Cyborgs

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Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Socialist Review #80, 15.2 (March-April 1985): 65-107. Rpt. Rob Latham, Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings. London: Bloomsbury, 2017: 306-29. Often referred to as "A Cyborg Manifesto."[1]

In an essay highly influential among academics and activists in the late 20th c., Haraway argues that "the cyborg" exists today and offers utopian possibilities for the breaking down of categories, including such already breached categories as human/animal and human-animal/machine (Socialist Review 66-69; see in Latham, p. 310).

Early in the essay, Haraway says, "I am making an argument for the cyborg as a fiction mapping our social beings and bodily reality and as an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings." The word "fiction," though, should be taken here in a philosophical sense going back at least to F. Nietzsche's "What can be thought must certainly be a fiction" (The Will to Power, 1901), significantly quoted in Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending (1965), as one of the headnotes to the chapter, "Fictions." Haraway goes on to call the late 20th c. "a mythic time" in which "[...] we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism," i.e., in the "Manifesto," cyborgs. "The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality." Haraway calls her discussion of the cyborg, "an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction" (in Latham, p. 307).

The final part of Haraway's discussion turns to science fiction as such ("Cyborgs: a myth of political identity," in Latham, pp. 322-29). Haraway acknowledges (in Latham, p. 322) a debt "to writers like Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, John Varley, James Tiptree, Jr. [i.e., Alice Sheldon], Octavia Butler, Monique Wittig, and Vonda McIntyre," and adds a gracious acknowledgement to "the anthropologist Mary Douglas" (1921-2007).[2] Haraway reviews quickly SF she finds instructive for her analysis, noting that "The replicant Rachel in the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner stands as the image of a cyborg culture's fear, love, and confusion" — her entire discussion of that film — and "Anne McCaffrey's pre-feminist The Ship Who Sang (1969) and its exploration of "the consciousness of a cyborg" (of sorts, in Latham pp. 325 and 326). More immediately useful for Haraway's project are Russ's The Adventures of Alyx and The Female Man; Delany's Tales of Nevèrÿon; Varley's Gaea Trilogy[3], wherein he "constructs a supreme cyborg in his arch-feminist exploration of Gaea, a mad goddess-planet-trickster-old woman-technological device on whose surface an extraordinary array of post-cyborg symbioses are spawned." Applying her expansive definition of "cyborg," Haraway also mentions Butler's Wild Seed, Kindred, and Dawn and the Xenogenesis series (in Latham, p. 326).

Haraway's longest discussion is her conflicted concluding one, of Vonda McIntyre's Superluminal, leading to the tentative summarizing statement, "Cyborg monsters in feminist science fiction" — with that expansive definition of "cyborg" to include many sorts of mixtures — "define quite different political possibilities and limits from those proposed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman" (in Latham, p. 327).

"Manifesto" is discussed in detail by I. Csicsery-Ronay in "The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway".

For contextualizing "Manifesto" among Haraway's other work, see "Theories from Elsewhere," review by C. Jason Smith of The Haraway Reader (New York City: Routledge, 2004), in SFS #98, 33.1 (March 2006): 182-84.


NOTE: Younger, secular readers would do well to bring to Haraway's "Manifesto" the reading of at least the chapter on "The Abominations in Leviticus" in Mary Douglas's 1966 Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Douglas later dropped her interpretation of the laws of koshruth, but she was right about deeply rooted ideas of purity and unity[4] — basic views of world-order that are violated in chimeras and cyborgs. Haraway's enthusiasm for transgressed boundaries is politically serious in societies with strong traditions of Puritanism and ideals of purity. Readers who think themselves free of unease over the transgression of boundaries should watch again Ridley Scott's ALIEN or Cameron and Hurd's ALIENS and look through the frequently disturbing images of bio-mechanics in H. R. Giger's Necronomicon.[5]

ALSO NOTE: For Haraway's relation to SF (and much else) see her acceptance speech for the Pilgrim Award of the Science Fiction Research Association, published in SFRA Review #297 (Summer 2011): pp. 13-19 (illustrated).[6]