Academic journal article The Space Between

Proto-Cyborgs in Wartime: The Tank, the Drill, and the Motor-Chair

Academic journal article The Space Between

Proto-Cyborgs in Wartime: The Tank, the Drill, and the Motor-Chair

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this essay I bring together interrelated stories about wartime fusions of humans and machines to explore overlaps and cultural continuities and to argue that these cyborgic entities harbor masculine fantasies of self-reproduction. The three main stories I tell, about the British Army's revolutionary weapon, Jacob Epstein's Rock Drill, and D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, all involve cyborgs embodying masculine prerogatives of domination and reproducibility. Building on previous seminal interventions into the field, including Tim Armstrong's Modernism, Technology and the Body, Alex Goody's Technology, Literature and Culture and Trudi Tate's Modernism, History and the First World War, I focus my inquiry into human and technological integration on the particularities of the gender implications of the cyborg figure conceptualized within the context of British wartime culture. I look back to the First World War and the immediately preceding years from a position informed by a blend of contemporary theories, notably cyborg theory, to argue that the conflation of human subject and mechanical object dramatically demonstrated in the tank and its embrace by the popular press engenders a new hybrid form of modern subjectivity, a kind of proto-cyborg, that also found expression in modernist representations of the human-machine hybridity. The tank, essentially a symbol of British fortitude and invincibility in the press-regardless of its military efficacy (or ineffectualness)-reifies the ameliorative potential of the human, masculine form enhanced by machine prosthesis in the popular culture of wartime. The preponderance of proto-cyborgs in high modernist aesthetics that were variously shaped by the war-Futurism, Vorticism, Dadaism-suggests an unlikely proximity between discourses of "low" and "high" cultural expression which sought to contain anxieties over the growing intrusion of machines into modern life. After all, if you can't beat them, join them, or better, fuse with them. In this paper I want to focus on two diverse modernist proto-cyborgs, Jacob Epstein's Rock Drill (1913-15) and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), which I situate as cultural bookends of the First World War. The proto-cyborg figure that emerges in these texts manifests a volatile disquietude, in turns ardent and anxious, about the human relation to technology and the environment, and about gender. In particular, the proto-cyborg resonates with cultural anxieties over the fantasy of masculine reproductivity, which is invoked by Epstein's pre-war driller and Lawrence's Sir Clifford Chatterley, post-war mine-owner. I argue that from the perspective of the Great War's centenary, we can come to a better understanding of the meaning of these and similar aesthetic texts if we read them in terms of First World War military and popular press discourses about new technological fusions, in particular discourse about the tank.

"Motor-Monster"

In September 1916, the British Expeditionary Force pushed its very latest military technology into action on the Western Front, with mixed results. Keen to break the stalemate of the Somme, GHQ fast-tracked into service the tank, a top secret, self-propelled armed and armored vehicle. Proponents envisioned a mobile weapon impervious to machine-gun fire that could advance over the rough and cratered terrain of no-man's-land, intimidate German troops and crush the machine-guns nests that were resistant to artillery bombardments, thereby allowing the infantry to advance to engage the enemy relatively unmolested by devastating machine-gun fire. That was the plan. Sixty tanks were sent to France. Due to mechanical breakdown or becoming stranded in mud, thirty-six reached their pre-operative waiting stations at the frontlines. Of these, thirty were able to start the attack and only twenty-one tanks engaged in combat (Harris 65). The tanks were slow, slower than foot soldiers unless on exceptionally advantageous terrain, unable to coordinate with other forces (or other tanks) once underway, difficult to navigate, susceptible to losing bearings and firing upon their own troops or running over injured comrades. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.