Category Archives: Week 13

The Posthuman Blues


Donna Haraway’s seminal piece “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” (1985) smartly utilizes the word “manifesto,” declaring the idea of traditional feminism to be dead. Modern feminism or second wave feminism focused on identity, where women fit into society, and in a sense, living in reaction to a male dominated world. Haraway, rather, is not only suggesting a post-modern feminist construct but a posthuman construct. She uses the metaphor of a cyborg to move beyond the binary and past the standard limitations of traditional notions of gender, feminism and politics.


Let’s take a look at a visual representation of Haraway’s cyborg construct. We have an animal totem, a rejection of the Garden of Eden and the religious dogma of man’s separation from nature. According to Haraway, there are no rigid boundaries between human and animal. Nor is there a separation from human to machine. Note how there is a biological component to this connection in addition to the hands on the keyboard. Thus animal, human, and machine are all interconnected. As for the machines, Haraway notes the line is blurring. “But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream.” Notice the symbolism in the phallic. She writes that the boundary between the physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us. It’s all just sort of out there. The machines make it understandable. See, we’ve become cyborgs without even realizing it. “Modern machines are quintessentially microelectronic devices: they are everywhere and they are invisible.” Because of this omniscience, technology has become the new deity, and the technological determinists are her priests.

girlcyborgWhat is most fascinating for my scholarly interests is that not proposing this connection to communication systems is a positive or negative construct. She instead suggests that as women and femininity are being redefined by technology, that the postfeminist should be conscious of this technological system, which seeks to recraft the female body. Women should see the machines everywhere as empowerment and internalize those constructs by presenting and embracing themselves as cyborgs. Where once, machines framed women in a particular way, cyborgs can change the definition. Because we’re all connected, nature, human, and machine, and the boundaries are thus invisible, that women have the ability to define themselves outside of the context of a biological or culturally determined femininity. The cyborg is liberation.

Popular media, rather, often shows cyborgism assomething sinister and wholly inhuman, an important distinction from Haraway’s notions of posthumanism. The term posthuman provides a neutrality to the addition of the technological to the biological. But cybernetics on celluloid often accompany disfigurement and villainy. 


One of the first cyborgs on the silver screen may be one of the best examples of this ontological shift, Dr. No of the eponymous James Bond film from 1962. A brilliant scientist and former treasurer of the Chinese mafia, Dr. No falls victim to his experiments which cost him both of his hands, replaced with rather crude “bionic” ones, capable of great strength, crushing a metal statue as an example of their power. No exhibits characteristics of the classic mad scientist trope, popular in pulp, comics, and B-movies previously, and his grotesque metal hands (from his playing God with the evils of science, no doubt!) playing their part in his further isolation from normalcy and humanity. Ultimately, the hands prove his undoing; though imbued with crushing strength, their lack of manual dexterity cannot effectively help hime climb a ladder and he is boiled to death in the coolant of an overheating nuclear reactor. Bond in his hegemonic masculinity and heroic “humanity” escapes, saves the girl, and wins the day.

Cybernetic enhancement has so often equated with a loss of humanity (and ultimately an embrace of villainy) it has become a common trope in Hollywood. While brave Luke Skywalker of Star Wars has a cybernetic arm to replace that biological one his father has cut off, he never gives in to the same dark technological forces Darth Vader does. Vader forsook his humanity in embracing not only the dark side, but the cybernetic implants that transform him into something less than human. It’s an odd parallel, the Hollywood cyborg has augmented strength, superior intellect, and numerous advantages over his unspoiled human brethren, yet it is viewed as weak for “giving in to the technology.” Heroes such as Skywalker or Del Spooner of I, Robot can subject themselves to integration of the technology, but must reject becoming beholden to that technology. Posthumans are never seen as masters of their technology, only as slaves to it.

Being a cyborg isn’t about how many bits of silicon you have under your skin or how many prosthetics your body contains. It’s about Donna Haraway going to the gym, looking at a shelf of carbo-loaded bodybuilding foods, checking out the Nautilus machines, and realizing that she’s in a place that wouldn’t exist without the idea of the body as high-performance machine. It’s about athletic shoes. “On the other hand, if women (and men) aren’t natural but are constructed, like a cyborg, then, given the right tools, we can all be reconstructed.” I argue this is the crux of Haraway’s argument. If a posthuman can be made, designed like any common machine, than we can ultimately reject gender essentialism.

The Cyborg Dystopia

Emily Rothkopf

The representation of cyborgs in pop culture can be explained as an extension of Sigmund Freud’s theories on human pleasure, as articulated in his 1930 book Civilization and its Discontents.  Freud theorizes that in the absence of understanding one’s purpose in life, option B is simply to live a life in search of happiness.  And that quest for happiness is satisfied by fulfilling man’s basic pleasures, which Freud explains as fulfilling sexual desires and predisposed aggression.  He continues to theorize that one means to pleasure is to remove the limits of man’s motor and sensory functioning.  So for example, “thanks to ships and aircraft, neither water nor air can hinder [man’s] movements; by means of spectacles he corrects defects in the lens of his own eye…” (Freud 1930).  Thus, we see that the pattern and development of technology is part of man’s means to pleasure and happiness.  The cyborg is the highest form of technology enhancing man’s motor and sensory functioning.  However, when the aggressivity factor of Freud’s theory is added to the mix, trouble ensues.  Classic films like Frankenstein and The Terminator expound upon this notion, in dramatic, dystopian fashion.

“Man has … become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times” (Freud 1930).



The protagonist in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is “consumed by the desire to discover the secret of life and, after several years of research, becomes convinced that he has found it”; he embarks on his journey to create “Frankenstein” (SparkNotes 2014).  His creation is deemed a monster and is instantly regretted; Frankenstein acts out in fits of rages and then, as an outcast, needs his sexual desires fulfilled through the creation of a mate, or second “monster.”  As Freud discusses in his pleasure principles theory, civilization imposes great sacrifices on man’s aggressivity; in other words, there are societal norms and accepted rules that govern man’s behavior and limit the output of aggression.  These norms are ingrained in man subconciously over time.  But when a cyborg is created without that social development, a la Frankenstein, the cyborg often acts out its aggressive instincts just as a child throws a tantrum in public.  A cyborg is part man, combined with more powerful technology that enhances its movement or capabilities.  The resulting effect is a powerful creature with unsuppressed aggression.  The cyborg will act out on the uninhibited aggressivity, and in the case of Frankenstein, can unintentionally cause devastation. 

The Terminator II

James Cameron’s The Terminator series represents a more intentional fulfillment of aggressivity, which in essence portrays a revenge of the aggressivity suppression.  In the series, cyborg assassins that outwardly appear as humans are commissioned by the antagonist, Skynet, to exterminate the human race (Wikipedia 2014).  The film pits artificial intelligence against the human race, a clash against good and evil.  AI represents an unsuppressed civilization and the human race represents a civilized population that has adopted societal norms to suppress the aggression.  The film portrays a classic theme of the threat of a more advanced race, both technologically and physically, overtaking the human race.  In the end, the human race is able to outsmart the cyborgs and their uncontrolled agression.

The portrayal of cyborgs in pop culture examines the differences between man and machine.  This is crucial to the study of the posthuman in today’s technologically advanced age.  How do/will technological prostheses change human behavior and culture?  WIll new societal norms be created and/or set aside?  While film often portrays the cyborg in a dramatic dystopian future, real world scenarios and applications may play out resulting in a more subtle dystopia.


Works Cited

“Frankenstein.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930.

“Terminator (franchise).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.


Desire, Fear, and the “Other”

Layan Jawdat

Vampire Diaries from

Vampire Diaries from

The popularity of vampires in popular culture like movies and TV shows (for example, HBO’s True Blood, the blockbuster film series Twilight, and CW’s Vampire Diaries) immediately came to mind when I was reading about Michel Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality” and Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and its Discontents.” Human-machine and human-computer hybrids are yet another example of projecting our fears and desires onto an “other” that are close enough to humans that we can relate to them, but different enough that they fulfill our fantasies.

Although vampires aren’t machines or computers, I’d like to take them as an example of this same process of projection. Freud explains that technological tools and advances have lead us to become “a kind of prosthetic God;” “with every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits of their functioning.” Spectacles, cameras, and telephones are examples of this, according to Freud. In spite of these advances and increasing likeness to God, Freud explains that we are still unhappy. This is where projections of our fantasies and fears onto an “other,” come in. Whether a cultural or racial other, or a monster or human-machine/computer other, these others serve the same purpose.

Freud explains that living within civilization, man has had to curb his desire to kill and his impulses for sexual gratification. Man’s desire to be free is in tension with the repression imposed by being a member of society, restricted and controlled by laws. In their popular representation on TV and in film, vampires typically look like humans most of the time, and change when aroused sexually or violently. They are also typically uninhibited when it comes to killing and sex. They are immortal for the most part, and can transport themselves quickly and without the help of cars and planes. In these ways, vampires represent a freedom and power that people desire, fear, and cannot attain. The interplay between humans and vampires in the popular TV shows and films ensures that vampires remain of the human realm to a certain extent, and remain physically relatable.

Stuart Hall explains that “fetishism takes us into the realm where fantasy intervenes in representation; to the level where what is shown or seen, in representation, can only be understood in relation to what cannot be seen, what cannot be shown”(266). Here Hall is talking about racializing the “other” in popular culture. An example of this is violent, sexualized representations of the “Orient,” described in detail by Edward Said in Orientalism. The popularity of human-machine/computers and monsters like vampires in our popular culture also may be an example of such fetishism. It feels easier to project our desires for the freedom to act out our aggression and unbounded sexual needs on creatures that are different from humans.


Works Cited

 Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents,1930.

 Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. Print.

Novak, Jennifer. “The History of Sexuality: An Introduction.” : Communication Studies : University of Minnesota. N.p., 3 Dec. 2003. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <>.

 Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.