cyborg

From Glossary terms (W.J. Mitchell)

The OED defines a cyborg as "a person whose physical tolerances or capabilities are
extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other external agency that
modifies the body's functions; an integrated man-machine system." The term emerged
as a blend of cyb[ernetic] - pertaining to Norman Weiner's cybernetics, "the entire field
of control and communications theory, whether in the machine or animal" - ad
org[anism] - "an organized body, consisting of mutually connecting and dependent parts
constituted to share a common life." The cyborg was a human, but its non-human
extensions make it something else entirely. Like Marshall McLuhan's "extensions of
man," the cyborg represents the relationship between organic bodies and media
technologies that extend either "bodies through space" or the "central nervous system
itself" (3).
The figure of the cyborg depends on a systems-based understanding of organisms. The
systems model draws an analogy between neural and cellular human physiology and the
electronic circuitry of computers. The brain acts like the central processing unit of the
body, directing and controlling the operation of its individual parts. A prosthetic can be
incorporated into this system and the brain will interact and synthesize with the
"machine of other external agency" to form a cyborg. The machine aspect of the cyborg
is a medium for the communication of human consciousness and the organic body of the
cyborg is a site of synthesis and integration.
As a hybrid creature, the cyborg has no parentage. In "A Cyborg Manifesto," Donna
Haraway suggested that "the cyborg has no origin story in the Western sense" (151-52).
However, the character of the cyborg originated out of the emergent field of cybernetics
in the 1960's. Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline helped coin the term in 1960 as a
concept that would "allow man to optimize his internal regulation to suit the
environment he may seek" in outerspace (Clynes, 32). Along this line of history, cyborg
creations are positive additions to the human body that improve upon its capabilities.
Such instantiations of the cyborg might also include "anyone whose immune system has
been programmed through vaccination to recognize the polio virus" (Gray, Mentor,
Figueroa-Sarriera, 2-3). Along another line of history, the cyborg takes its origin from
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein . Frankenstein's monster is often cited as the first cyborg
(Gray, Mentor, Figueroa-Sarriera, 5). Not born of woman, Frankenstein assembled his
monster on the operating table. The history of the cyborg as monster evokes modern
society's "profound anxiety that we have lost control of, and may even be destroyed by,
the technology we have created in the modern age (Gusterson, 109).
Thus, two dominant types of cyborgs emerge in their history: the cyborg as a
reconceptualized post-human body and the cyborg as machine-controlled monster.
Because the cyborg is a symbiotic relationship between human and machine and is
equally faithful to its organic components and its machine attributes, its manifestations
vary according to which aspect is attributed dominance or materiality. At the same time,

As N. communication and connection. the cyborg is an exemplar of the possibilities of creating communities through transcending boundaries and she argues for " pleasure in the confusion of boundaries" (150). prostheses. and materialism" develops the character of the cyborg as "a creature in a post-gender world. the "integrated man-machine system" subsumes issues of control and dependence. it has no truck with bisexuality. The posthuman model of the body situates consciousness as a "function of the organism. living beings and narrative constructions" ("The Life Cycle of Cyborgs: Writing the Posthuman. pre-oedipal symbiosis. discursive subjects. She conceives of the cyborg as the final end of humanity . as writers like Sherry Turkle and Sandy Stone acknowledge. Cyborgs are both political reality and mythical. Although real embodiments of the cyborg character certainly exist. the brain]" and repudiates the claim that the human has fixed boundaries (Pepperell 13). the [screen . The virtualization of sense perception in a game powered by the human's central nervous system in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ might provide one example of a cyborg. As a utopian fantasy. or other "enhancements" have altered the functioning of the human body to restore. Katherine Hayles suggests." 152). As a real body. Yet. or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity" (150). Its character is "a condensed image of both imagination and material reality" (150). and shape are rendered invisible (Turkle. in defining the cyborg as a hybrid entity. age. But cyborgs also have the potential to improve the body. hiding these in its technological structure. Without the surgeries required for physical prostheses. When these attributes are rendered invisible. Cyborg humans with pacemakers. "cyborgs are simultaneously entities and metaphors. the cyborg is a kind of posthuman. unalienated labour." Her "ironic political myth faithful to feminism. Perhaps the most significant text in this history of the cyborg is Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto.representations of cyborgs deny clearly defined boundaries between human and machine. the cyborg identity suffers the . Furthermore.e. modify. qualify as cyborg relations. 154). or improve their capabilities. Thus.the last stage of human evolution as the symbiosis of humans and their creations. The cyborg body has the potential to think of the body more holistically. 1995). socialism. however. (2)] can act as a kind of prosthesis through which race. the cyborg body is an improved and superior body. gender. For Haraway. the cyborg is fundamentally ironic and contradictory (Haraway. These writers concentrate in particular on the possibilities of alternative identities on the Internet. theorists like Haraway and Hayles situate the cyborg as a subject position. not an organ [i. human-machine interactions that articulate new subject positions based on human dependence on the machine interface. The cyborg functions both really and fictionally as a way of reconfiguring identity in an era of emergent biotechnological possibilities and fractured subjectivities.

.. The cyborg is a person with extensions or modifications. The possibility of disposing of the body and situating consciousness inside the computer becomes the terror of the ghost in the machine. but almost never here in the positive sense" (Stone. powerful extensions to the body. information machines bypass. 398). 151). sees a need to reposition the body "from the psycho world of the biological to the cyber zone of the interface and extension . a body without organs. Science-fiction writers. The cyborg figure has not always been constructed so optimistically however. have taken up the cyborg character as a way to imagine the possibilities of technologically enhanced human beings. Recent incarnations of mythical cyborg characters are often dangerous or violent. and improving flaws. to create a mechanical body for the human brain. In 2001: A Space Odyssey . Typewriter .problem of disembodiment. The dream of Artificial Intelligence and robotics. the computer HAL kills most of his spaceship's crew when he/it malfunctions and begins to think for him/itself. disguising disabilities. are "everywhere and somewhere and nowhere. These cyborgs share a utopian mythology that situates the "human" as dominant in the machine-human relationship. In his performance of the cyborg body Stelarc. But not all cyborg monsters are as destructive as Frankenstein or the Terminator. More recent cyborg constructions include the bodies of Stelarc and Orlan. Automation takes over the machine-human hybrid system with potentially disastrous consequences. has the potential to liberate the idea of "human. as in comic books or cartoons. Film. As Friedrich Kittler notes in Gramophone. who both use technological systems to alter their physical boundaries. The fear of machines that control and destroy stands in opposition to the possibility of machines liberating consciousness from the human body and providing useful. "the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the 'West's' escalating dominations of abstract individuation" (Haraway.avatars and textual embodiments. Cyborg can be constructed as a way to reconfigure identity and to extend the possibilities of a human without a body. like Octavia Butler and William Gibson. As the cyborg creature is about supplementing human deficiencies. with only "a simple feedback loop. The manifestations of such a cyborg subject position cross-pollinate with the virtual figures of cyberspace . but the cyborg still has noticeable human traits. Ironically. Other cyborg creations endow humans with superpowers. like Swamp-Thing or Spider-Man . The cyborg as monster reflects modern terrors of technological power.from genetic containment to electronic extension" (560). Various manifestations of machine-human symbiosis and hybridity have descended from the original Frankenstein monster. the terror of a cyborg creation that develops its own flaws is the nightmare of cyborg science. who like the phone-sex workers in her study. The replicants in BladeRunner and the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation are examples of cyborgs whose machine/computer half has gone awry. The character of the cyborg and its presence in contemporary culture reveals a mixture ." but also has the risk of creating disaster and turning on humans. Stone considers the problem of the disembodied subjectivity of cyborgs. their so-called inventors" (258).

part automaton and part autonomy. the cyborg is a synthesis .or perhaps a dialectic. Jessica Santone Winter 2003 .of pleasure and terror from the relationship between man and machine. as Hayles proposes in "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers" between pattern and randomness. Essentializing human as body or as mind determines in part how the cyborg character is constructed. Giving dominance to the machine or to the human (body or mind) determines how a particular instantiation of the cyborg will perform. Part utopic fantasy and part apocalyptic monster.