Confession: I love cyborgs. I first read Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” as an undergraduate (in Anna Joy Springer‘s experimental writing class, a course that has had lingering impacts on me, my writing and my reading ever since) and although I didn’t understand all that much of what Haraway was saying, I loved it. It was weird and complicated and full of inside jokes that I very much wanted to get. I’m teaching Gender and Technology in the information, technology and informatics program at Rutgers this semester, and in preparation for the unit on cyborgs, I asked students to look for photos and videos of cyborgs, and to write up little blurbs on how gender related to the media they found. If you want to check out what they found, here’s a link to the course tumblr.
Some of the descriptions of gender are fairly straightforward (“I think this cyborg is a man because …”) but some of them are a bit more nuanced (Stephen Hawking’s choice of a masculine voice synthesizer). I was blown away that one of my students submitted a fairly in-depth analysis of an Adrienne Rich poem. As a whole, the themes are largely what you’d expect – sci fi, sex appeal, probably not as much bestiality as Haraway would have wanted. And although I’m aware that for some portion of my students, the process was probably just a Google search and a quick synopsis that touched on the first thing that said “gender” to them, even those searches say something about cyborg imagery in popular discourse. Haraway’s article was written before most of my students were born, but in re-reading the text in preparation for class, I was struck by different ways I found her piece still useful – hybridity has continued to make traction as a means of feminist analysis (particularly in terms of methodology), her comments on the industrial-military complex in education continues to be salient, and the feminization of labor (although the term “homework economy” hasn’t made much headway) is at the core of a lot of dialogue on class and labor. It’s fun to come back to this piece periodically, partly because I get more Haraway’s humor, partly because I’m appreciative of how influential the piece has been and how relevant it continues to be, partly because I like thinking of cyborgs as a theoretical, visceral nexus of bodies, machines, technologies, discourses and perversions.