Cyborg Manifesto | Donna Haraway, Silko, Octavia Butler, & Nancy Kress

cyborg manifesto - donna haraway

In Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway’s use of the cyborg is, for the most part, metaphorical. She is only tenuously invested in robotics and uses the techno figure of the cyborg to partially refer to the information systems of the cyberneticists like Weiner, Shannon, Kieber, Turing and McCulloch, but mostly to present a de-essentialized feminist vision, one not in need of Edenic metanarratives of patriarchal genesis. As far as information theory goes, she is interested in intersections of a posthuman consciousness vis a vis Katherine Hayles that is free of embodiment. 

In Cyborg Manifesto, Haraway’s primary engagement with the cyborg is to present a figure that is not dependent on binary systems like male/female for identity construction. In the question of communication and intelligence it is helpful to focus on the body/mind binary which posthumanist discourse seeks freedom from. Cyborgs need neither the male/female or body/mind binaries in order to stabilize identity. If males are not needed to produce female identities and bodies are not needed to produce minds with their attending thoughts, the possibility for subversion of systems is open; cyborg agency creates fields of difference and is borne of subjects removed from totalizing systems of power. Since the cyborg figure does not belong to oppressive discourse or totalizing systems of control, it is free to structure for itself new identities.

Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko

silko ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko is a woman of color who occupies Haraway’s conception of a cyborg identity in Cyborg Manifesto. In Ceremony, Silko recodes stories of white domination over Native American populations as a curse, the genesis of which was caused by Native Americans. Tayo himself becomes sick as a result of prolonged connection with western practices and finds release through the ceremonies and stories of his people. Silko refuses to allow the grand narratives of western colonialism, progress and domination to define the story of her people and enters fields of difference to project different possible causes and outcomes. 

For Silko the story is first of all, laden with the power to change and make new and is second of all unfinished. The historic tragedies of policies of removal with mediation of violence through armed military and private headhunters both killing and displacing indigenous people groups is not the final word. Silko’s use of the sunrise and sunset in Ceremony as bookends to her novel intimate the possibility of renewal for Native American people especially given their ties to the land. Rather than destroying it, as in nuclear tests that many on nearby reservations witnessed, Native Americans come from traditions of deep ecology and husbandry. Silko successfully finds her identity not as colonized other, but in the ceremonies and traditions of her people, a move invested in Haraway’s cyborg identity. 

Octavia Butler - Parable of the Sower

 Octavia Butler - Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is another example of Donna Haraway's cyborg writing as defined in Cyborg Manifesto. Lauren, the empathic protagonist of the novel, is a map for restructuring society outside of traditionally held strictures. As a black woman, she becomes the leader of a new religion, Earthseed, and gains many converts as she makes a journey through dangerous lands, breaking feminine stereotypes of defenselessness by defending men, women, and children that she encounters. The new society that she creates is blind to dominant structures of race, class, and gender. 

Lauren, a young black woman without means to economic independence, develops a relationship with an older, independently wealthy white man. Binaries that would have previously marginalized Lauren give way to Haraway’s fields of difference. Lauren is of worth not because of outside signifiers like her age or skin color but because of her ability to transcend oppressive conditions and present liberatory discourses of hope and renewal. Haraway’s cyborgs are not concerned with essential unity and neither is Lauren. Lauren does not define the parameters of the new society formed around Earthseed. The Earthseed community took a shape of its own and Lauren was more of a steward and witness to its homogeneity rather than phallogocentric creator. Earthseed is an example of Deleuze and Guatarri’s rhizomatic structure, a diffuse spreading out rather than centrally organized system. Cyborg identity allows for such fields of difference to take root.

Nancy Kress - Beggars in Spain

Image result for Nancy Kress - Beggars in Spain

Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain exhibits Donna Haraway’s vision of cyborg intelligence that commands and controls as discussed in Cyborg Manifesto. Kress takes a different stance than either Silko or Butler. Her novel follows the story of Leisha Camden and other sleepless, genetically altered humans lacking the need for sleep to restore central processes for functionality. Not requiring sleep allows for great benefits to the sleepless, and leads to their becoming very knowledgeable, skilled and ultimately very wealthy, setting them apart from the rest of humanity. Here, Kress is partially literalizing the figure of the cyborg, turning her characters into posthumans. The posthuman mode is successful because it allows Kress to build characters that move beyond stereotypes. The sleepless eventually separate themselves off from the rest of humanity in order to be free of the hurtful prejudices of their not-so-fellow man. 

Kress’ figure of the sleepless is a stand-in for those in society receiving harmful prejudicial treatment. In Beggars in Spain It is very easy to see the representation of 20th-century struggles by people of color and women in America. But, the posthuman cyborg figures don’t allow the vehicle of oppressive discourse that is aimed at them to control their futures. The sleepless, like the cyborg, are free of repressive origin stories that ensure conformative action; rather, they forgo histories and write their own futures.

Donna Haraway’s figure of the cyborg in Cyborg Manifesto is a productive metaphor for breaking apart repressive epistemological structures and has been appropriated by American writers, allowing for the creation of fields of difference in the space of American fiction.

Order Cyborg Manifesto, Ceremony, Parable of the Sower, and Beggars in Spain at Amazon