Envisioning Cyborg Bodies – Jennifer González
by Jiang Weilan
The term „cyborg“ was coined by Manfred E.Clynes and Nathan S.Kline in an astronautic article for a self-regulating human-machine, who can survived in the outer space. Cyborg as a scientific study began with the implanted rat. It was first researched in the military sphere, especially for the astronautics explore during the cold war time. One of the most important writer for cyborg is Donna Haraway. Since her Essay „A Manifesto for Cyborgs“, cyborg goes beyond the boundaries of many traditional science studies. She used the cyborg as „a blasphemous anti-racist feminist figure reshaped for science-studies analyses and feminist theory alike“ (Haraway 1985). Although cyborg came from the medical research and was influenced by the science-fiction entertainment, it was tightly linked to the society. In the „Introduction“ of „The Cyborg Handbook“ edited by Chris Hables Gray with Steven Mentor and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera, it was claimed that, we are now in the „cyborg society“.1 With the rapid develop of science and technology, the discussion of „cyborg“ become lively.
The Author Jennifer González for the text „Envisioning the Cyborg“ is a professor for history of art and visual culture in the university of California. She obtained her BA for philosophy from Yale University and PhD for History of Consciousness from University of California. She is member in Feminist Studies, History of Consciousness and especially interested in „the representation of the human body and its relation to discourses of race and gender“.2 She opened the discussion of cyborg in the way of imagination with five historical and contemporary iconographies.
In González’s opinion, cyborg is a representation of the possible being, which also related to the contemporary reality. „The cyborg is the figure born of the interface of automaton and autonomy.“2 She divided the definition of cyborg body into „organic cyborg“ and „mechanical cyborg“, while both of them link to „a cyborg consciousness“ in the western context. The Image of the cyborg represent some kind of the social reality, which Haraway also talked about in the sense of feminist based on the white middle-class American women’s view.3
The first historical iconography, that González introduced, is „L’Horlogère“ from eighteenth- century. It is an engraving, in which the woman body is combined with the machine as a whole. It represent the concept that the human body is to be seen as a machine. In the nineteenth century, the concept of a mechanized human body is influenced by widespread development of industry. The question of the identity became the representation of gender and class. González consider „L’Horlogère“ for an „embodied mechanism“, which represent the social context. The second picture she took, is „Das schöne Mädchen“ (1919-20) by Hannah Höch. It expressed the social and cultural change in the Weimar republic after the World War I. Unlike Donna haraway, González
read the cyborg as a sign of changing consciousness, which related to the historical context. In this image from Höch, it shows the chaos of the society. With the third image (tête mécanique by Raoul Hausmann, 1921) she introduced, it turns the cyborg’s mind to the outside. González described the mind of this cyborg as a result of the world. By the fourth one, she took the sculpture „All you Zombies: Truth before God“ by Robert Longo. With this sculpture, she claimed the „hybrid“ as problematic, that the world refuse origin. In the end, she mentioned the figure Kiddy from a Japanese comic book Silent Möbius (1991), to emphasize the social question that raised by the cyborg. Is the difference between the races important?
In this sense, the „cyborg“ is no more a scientific research for the future, but a mirror of the society. As a combination of human and machine, the cyborg should be ungendered, but many of the images of cyborg are gendered. Mostly the cyborg is a combination of machine and woman body, especially a dark woman. It is because the reality by discrimination of the race and gender. Many Feminist writer therefore play a part in this discussion, like Jennifer González. The figure „Kiddy“ in her essay, is a cyborg with dark skin and feel lost her identity after her transformation. Similarly, Donna Haraway discussed in her text also the social situation of the „colour women“ in America. It is no coincidence, that the Feminist interested in the topic of cyborg. According to Donna Haraway, the discussion of the cyborg is merely the question of breaking the boundaries between „nature“ and „culture“. But what is the „nature“ in this sense and who made the definition? All of these questions go back to the question of humanity and to the problem of society. Jennifer González, in another way, took the contemporary researches and lead a vision into the „nature“ of the cyborg body. Instead of „miscegenation“, she prefer to call it hybridisation, which question again the boundaries of race and sexuality.
When we now look around, the robotic mechanism has already become a part of our life and the influence of the globalisation is hitting the boundaries of races. The discrimination of gender became a big issue worldwide. Cyborg is no more just a scientific research for military, but also one of the way, how we look the society now and how we think about the future of human. Will we still be „natural human“ in the next 20 or 50 years? Will we be in some way „hybridised“? The problem of the „hybrid“ is actually the unconsciousness of identity. We are afraid and feel uncomfortable, when we are aware of unawareness. What „kiddy“ faced, is something she doesn’t know happened in her body. That makes her agitated. The conception of hybridisation is not what we are familiar with „natural“ or „origin“. Whether it is good or not, we don’t have any clue. However, the world develops in the way of multi-conception and many boundaries went broken since the globalisation. It is perhaps what we need to face, the „cyborg society“, both in scientific sense and in social and cultural sense.
- Chris H. Gray and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera, Steven Mentor (eds.), The Cyborg Handbook (London: Routledge. 1995).
- University of California, Santa Cruz, http://havc.ucsc.edu/faculty/jennifer-gonz%C3%A1lez.
- Jennifer González, “Envisioning Cyborg Bodies: Notes from Current Research,” in: Chris H. Gray and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera, Steven Mentor (eds.), The Cyborg Handbook (London: Routledge. 1995), 58-74.
- David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy (eds.), The Cybercultures Reader, (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).
- „kiddy“, https://myfigurecollection.net/item/1892
- „Das schöne Mädchen“, https://larevolucionserapatrocinada.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/ hannah-hoch-das-schone-madchen-1920/