A Question of Identity: Women, Science, and Literature

By Marina Benjamin | Go to book overview
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The Life Cycle of Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman

N. Katherine Hayles

For some time now there has been a rumor going around that the age of the human has given way to the posthuman. Not that humans have died out, but that the human as a concept has been succeeded by its evolutionary heir. Humans are not the end of the line. Beyond them looms the cyborg, a hybrid species created by crossing biological organism with cybernetic mechanism. Whereas it is possible to think of humans as natural phenomena, coming to maturity as a species through natural selection and spontaneous genetic mutations, no such illusions are possible with the cyborg. From the beginning it is constructed, a technobiological object that confounds the dichotomy between natural and unnatural, made and born.

If primatology brackets one end of the spectrum of humanity by the similarities and differences it constructs between Homo sapiens and other primates, cybernetics brackets the other by the continuities and ruptures it constructs between humans and machines. As Donna Haraway has pointed out, in the discourse of primatology "oldest" is privileged, for it points toward the most primeval and therefore the most fundamental aspects of humanity's evolutionary heritage. 1 "Oldest" comes closest to defining what is essential in the layered construction of humanity. In the discourse of cybernetics, "newest" is similarly privileged, for it reaches toward the limits of technological innovation. "Newest" comes closest to defining what is malleable and therefore subject to change in the layered construction of humanity. Whereas the most socially loaded arguments in primatology center on inertia, the most socially loaded arguments in cybernetics project acceleration.

Primatology and cybernetics are linked in other ways as well. Primates and cyborgs are simultaneously entities and metaphors, living beings and narrative constructions. The conjunction of technology and discourse is crucial. Were the cyborg only a product of discourse, it could perhaps be relegated to science fiction, of interest to SF aficionados but not of vital concern to the culture. Were it only a

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