Book review: Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway

Gülbike is one of the organisers of the monthly FCA book club. For this month’s session, the book club read “A Cyborg Manifesto” by feminist and science and technology studies theorist Donna Haraway. Gülbike has written a book review for anyone who could not make it to the discussion, recapping the book’s main points and discussing her thoughts on Haraway’s challenging and influential book. If you do not want to miss next month’s book club, be sure to follow us on Instagram, where we announce the locations and times for each month’s session!

Where is the boundary between the end of the organic beings and the start of the inorganics? What pollutes the clear divide between animals and humans? Is it still possible to differentiate tangibles from intangibles? Why mourn over the death of the wholeness fantasy?

For our 17th book club discussion, we have read and discussed “A Cyborg Manifesto” by Donna Haraway. Originally published in 1985 as an article in the US magazine Socialist Review,  this text has been considered as a seminal work in cultural theory. In this work, Haraway embraces cyborg to break down the boundaries in the structuralist understanding of the oppositions: “self-other, female-male, whole-part, right-wrong, God-man, maker-made…” She analyzes how the grammar of the machines has changed and how technocratic capitalism is present in both private and public spheres. To that end, a cyborg can be seen as a zombie: not alive but yet not dead; it is an augmented being related to a (sub)system.

For me, this was not an easy to read and readily consumable book. The text combines science and philosophy with popular culture, and is written in a playful but also challenging way. It is a physical text but it also felt like an optical illusion, a post-human embodiment, a hybrid between organic and inorganic. Haraway describes the material change in social reality and presents cyborg as an ontology. She criticizes the totalizing assumptions, identity politics, exclusiveness, and the whiteness of  traditional feminism. This is not a passive text: the manifesto calls to challenge the essentialist understanding of gender and other traditional concepts of identity; I think this is what makes this essay revolutionary for its time.

Some of the analogies presented in the essay were especially interesting to think about. For example, Harroway presents amusement parks as an important space for post-modern replications. It’s a fake magical world where we consume playing with human-animal machines. The real world is mimicked, and the outside becomes defamiliarized. I also liked the resonation of cyborg with the Creature of Mary Shelly. Frankenstein wants to create a perfect human body by assembling parts of humans and animals. It is made into a male space without any inclusion of a female being. In the end, this idealized dream turns out to be a quasi-human monster. However, unlike the Creature, the cyborg doesn’t desire to be a whole, doesn’t expect to be saved by a father, nor wants to re-create a heteronormative organic family. Cyborg is an “illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism.” Cyborg betrays its creators; it is disloyal and faithless.

“Cyborg as a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” Cyborg means pollution, unfaithful contaminations, slippery ironies, tensions, and lack of innocence. Cyborg is not a dystopian evil figure that lies in the future. Cyborg is now, we are already cyborgs, and this should be celebrated!

By Gülbike