Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Right click on Haraway

As I was reading Nelson’s paper, it occurred to me that his vision of a system that archives as it updates represents a philosophy that could be interpreted as contrary to Haraway’s idea of feminism. Nelson writes that in ELF, “Variant entries and lists can take virtually no space, being modification data plus pointers to the original. When a modified version of a list or entry is created, the machine patches the original with the changes necessary to make the modified version.” This means, as he explains, that all versions of the original entry are remembered and stored in this system. One could look back at the entry at all points in its existence and literally watch it evolve. This point clarified itself even further in the Foucault reading in his “fourth principle” of “heterochronies.” As I thought about libraries and museums in this context, I realize that a major element of hypertext is not necessarily the existence of the undead, but the perpetual reliving of history. At any given moment, a person operating ELF (in Nelson’s paper) or visiting a museum (in Foucault’s essay) could understand an object, textual or physical, to mean both itself and all the former incarnations of itself. This fits in nicely with Haraway’s vision of irony; the identity of an entry is not the sum of its evolutionary phases, but all these phases are inherent in its identity (just as a cyborg is not comprised of its characteristics, although all those elements are present in a discussion of cyborgs). It does not, however, align with Haraway’s vision of cyborgs - or feminism - as non-innocent beings without origin or initial wholeness. Feminism, under a Nelson-Foucault archiving system, would represent its current manifestation (third wave riot grrl politics, for example) along with every incarnation throughout its evolution (Susan B. Anthony, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, etc.). One would never be able to discuss gender politics, sexuality, or feminism without being aware of their historical relationships to the “Western, capitalist patriarchy.” A discourse about contemporary issues facing feminism would be rife with understood “links” to various points along feminism’s “heterochronie.”

So I’m left wondering: what would Haraway say about hypertext? Is it an effective example of a cyborg-like ability to encompass multiple, ironic identities? Are hyperlinks and “zippered lists” good examples of affinity politics at work in a computerized system? Or does the problem of remembering and understanding evolution get in the way?

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