Cyborg

“We are cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communication machines like the others. There is no fundamental ontological separation, as in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of the technical and the organic.”

Donna Haraway

In simple terms, the cyborg condition is that which pertains to cybernetic organisms. In the early days of the term, it was established as the condition of those life forms composed of organic and biomechatronic parts, a definition usually attributed to the reflections of Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, who coined the acronym in 1960 by combining cybernetics with organism, although since then, the word has mutated and taken on other meanings, with its multiple uses in the science fiction imagination where cyborgs— as Francisco Tirado and Martín David de Moura explain— acquire other properties, anthropomorphic, usually as male beings, with qualities of heroes, of mysterious origin and tragic destiny, who “deploy paranoid mechanisms of interpretation and constitute a weapon with consciousness, inevitably destroying and being destroyed,” locating themselves in an opaque ontological zone that prevents them from being totally things or totally subjects.

This idea from science fiction, along with its scientific counterpart, is taken up, questioned, deconstructed, and expanded in 1985, by Donna Haraway, who, between speculative fiction and scientific inquiry, delves into the hegemonic and anthropocentric connotations of the cyborg idea and proposes to get rid of the limited meaning attributed to superhuman white men and humanoid robots, to make room for a new consideration where the cyborg state is defined way much broader than the original concept, here not merely limited to the human, military, patriarchal, laboratory-based, and scientifically imagined perspective, but expanding the term towards a more open, ontological, epistemological, cultural, and expanded, fundamental biological condition.

Haraway’s idea of the cyborg proposes a new identity located in the computerized becoming and the impossibility of strict distinction between dualistic perspectives; a composite condition, evident in the bodies of the technoscientific era, which are integrated into a world the author calls articulated, in which difference is assembled and separated regardless of its categories; a world in which the cyborg is always a figure diluted in information, a constant mixture, a fluid and composite entity in which blurry tensions give way to constant transformation: the ambiguity of not recognizing an essential separation between matters such as subject and object, feminine and masculine, organic and technical, organism and machine, or natural and artificial. In this way, a conception of being emerges where boundaries blur and identity is always located in the interstice, in the fusion-confusion of factors, without drawing strict borders and inviting a permeable and heterogeneous view of being partially myth and machine, relation and anatomy, mind and body.

Her stance also departs from the idea of the cyborg as a mere romantic organism that unifies with added/designed parts. “A cyborg body is not innocent, it was not born in a garden; it does not seek a unitary identity,” she reminds us in her Cyborg Manifesto, where she constantly calls for conceiving the cyborg in a mixed and open situation that rejects any purported unification/definition of its factors, similar to what happens with other avatars typical of posthumanist theory like the monster, the corpse, the neuromancer, the chimera, the zombie, and the specter, products of incessant hybridization, incapable of determining a pure substance and, contrary to that, open to transformation, difference, disruption, and the trance state.

After Haraway, there has been further exploration of the idea, including that of Mark Dery, who criticizes Haraway’s idea of the cyborg without limits and without binaries to point to the cyborg as “an image of domination where flesh gives way to the machine both in reality and fiction,” although to a large extent, that image of the cyborg Robocop, Terminator, and doll controlled by progressive or military purposes is precisely what Haraway seeks to overcome, always warning of the complexity of the articulated world and embracing the irony and ontological controversy involved in thinking about the cyborg, which as Thyrza Nichols Goodeve affirms, “is more a child of surrealism than of the military industry.”

In other minds, like that of the artist Stelarc, the idea of the cyborg underlies from ancestral times with the development of artifacts, tools, and machines, which leads him to consider that “we have always been coupled with technology and have always been prosthetic bodies.” Stelarc locates the cyber in the detachment of the skin towards a corporeal multiplicity that leads us to a situation of partially in one side or the other, never in just one. “The Cartesian and neurotic body, with its cephalic and vertical control center, plunges into a Brownian motion of decentralization and disorganization,” remind us Nick Land and Sadie Plant. On the other hand, Yvonne Volkart proposes a cyborg as a rebellious organism, technologically skilled, and capable of a form of pleasure that is resistance to the limited and openness to a subversive and transgressive identity.

“If the cyborg is a post-gender figuration, then as Lyotard’s discussion reminds us sexual difference is the unconscious body or the unconscious as a body, requiring an alternative logic for thinking the complexity of thought. And it is here that one can claim that the vision of future intelligence must remain gendered, must explicitate not excessiveness, but the becoming conscious of the sexual unconscious of Modernity, the becoming of a body not in the biological, but in the informational order. The inhuman thought of the informational body is not only what makes it “go on endlessly and won’t allow itself to be thought,” but in suspending the already thought it activates its future configurations in the present.”

Luciana Parisi

To expand the concept: