Friday, March 26, 2010

S03. Cybernetic Samsara

Reading over Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, several recurrent themes made me reconsider the article’s primary focus, and see the cyborg for what it truly is: a liberation from archaic, alienating ideology. In a comparison to Frankenstein’s Monster, Haraway notes that the cyborg does not attempt to restore the “garden”, a reference both to the Garden of Eden and the Western idea of original sin. From the beginning man is set apart from other animals, in that he was given paradise and lost it. Eden is a hyperreal, in that it represents a space of perfection that can never be regained, creating the sense that nothing mankind achieves can ever match it. The creation of a cyborg: a new cybernetic, hybrid organism, is no longer the attempt to stitch together a new man from the pieces of the dead, but instead a move forward. It represents a leap from humanism to transhumanism. The Manifesto establishes that there is no need for man to stand apart from animals or machines, calling for a reevalutation of the traditional notions of identity. When one engages the interface of a computer: clicking through windows; files; etc. it seems there is a “life” present in the machine. Shutting off the screen and looking at the bare components however, we see only various circuits and drives. Similarly, upon dissection, a human body contains x-number of organs, but the component referred to as the “self”, that which makes this body “unique” is illusory. The cyborg offers the opportunity to upgrade the human interface. Note the way in which Haraway discusses gender, and her emphasis that the cyborg is genderless. Focusing less on the biological implications of the term, masculinity and femininity here refer to the assertion of control (man’s pursuit of dominance as a form of “misogyny”) and the focus on natural order, respectively. The cyborg is genderless in that it allows technology and nature to combine into a single entity. It represents freedom in that this avoids the “Star Wars” apocalypse scenario Haraway suggests our society is headed for (Note her use of the female body image). By surrendering this sense of self that has entrapped us; by blurring the line between men and women, humans and animals and machines, we create a possibility of life unplagued by such problematic distinctions. Note the parallels present between this reading and the Buddhist conception of the wheel of Samsara, the cycle of psychological causality that is the root of suffering. The first of the twelve links in the wheel is Ignorance, i.e. the ignorance that there is no self. The second is action based off of this misconception. Buddha’s ultimate realization was that the nature of the human condition is eternal suffering unless we stop the chain of causality. Rather than seeking to exert external change as a means to achieve “happiness”, the Cyborg Manifesto (like Eastern philosophy), turns the focus inward toward the removal of illusion- in this case, that we are anything more than a machine to begin with.

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