I printed Haraway off to read later but couldn’t resist a quick peek. Got hooked though and had to blog.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I really loved Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. Why haven’t I read it before? Actually, I know why – I thought it was about cyborgs; but, as Haraway explains, her “cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions and dangerous possibilities” (37). That sounds much more exciting. So, thanks Sian and Jen for the steer.
The Cyborg Manifesto evokes memories of obvious earlier political manifestos (Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto an obvious reference point as too is Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto). However, for me it has other echoes too – for example of Hélène Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa in its mix of lyricism, fantasy, polemic and provocation. Oh, and its unashamedly utopian stance (it’s a text about liberation).
Strangely, Haraway acknowledges the influence of the ‘New French Feminisms’ – “French feminists … know how to write the body; how to weave eroticism, cosmology, and politics from imagery if embodiment, and especially for Wittig, from imagery of fragmentation and reconstitution of bodies” (52) – but doesn’t name Cixous.
It’s really hard to summarise such a dense and complex text. I hesitate to decribe it as a ‘feminist’ manifesto as it’s more an ‘oppositional consciousness’ manifesto, an argument for the development of permanently shifting affinities no longer based on the perception of shared class, race or gender ‘identities’ . Haraway rejects wholeness, essentialism, stability of identity – her cyborgs are “wary of holism, but needy for connection” (36). What we might think of as being the foundation stones of our identity – as woman or working-class - are historical impositions:
Gender, race or class consciousness is an acheivement forced on us by the terrible historical experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism. (38)
Liberation can’t be acheived unless we move beyond such fixed notions of identity. Haraway argues that “[t]here are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender and class” (51).
Although Sian claims it’s a good text to help one think beyond binaries, it’s the boundary metaphor that struck more most. Haraway is arguing for permanent boundary transgressions. For example, she breaks from the Cartesian separation of man from the animal world (Descartes, like the Bible, argued man had dominion over animals) and articulates sympathy for the animal rights movement (”not irrational denials of human uniqueness … a clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture” (36)).
I found myself drawn to the section on the ‘homework economy’ outside the ‘home’ (46-9) and its claims of a New Industrial Revolution creating a “new worldwide working class”:
Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labour force; seen less as workeds than as servers; subjected to time arrangements on and off the paid job that make a mockery of a limited working day; leading an existence that always borders on being obscene, out of place and reducible to sex. (46)
Although The Cyborg Manifesto is a Reagan-Thatcher era text – I enjoyed the reference to the “so unnatural Greenham women” (37) – it feels very relevant to today (rising unemployment, growth of super rich, casualised labour, G8 protests, Climate Camp etc.). The emphasis on new forms of political action based on affinity had a resonance for me too – just think of the different kinds of people who protested against GM foods a few years back.
Gotta go. Great stuff though; need to read it again as I skimmed bits (e.g. skirmish with Katherine MacKinnon).