This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
on Star Trek: Voyager
by Jonathan Key
Student Number: s1715224 Course Title: Gender Studies: The Virgin and the Whore, Corporeality and Sacrality Course Code: THB3TBGBG Credits: 5 Instructor: Dr. Mathilde van Dijk Date of Submission: Monday, July 4, 2011 Number of Words: 10,348
Key 2 When the Federation starship USS Voyager set off on its maiden voyage in 1995 (or, if you will, in 2371), it launched the fourth television installment of the sprawling Star Trek franchise, which originated on television in 1966 with Star Trek: The Original Series, and would ultimately expand to include three additional television spin-offs (of which the last, Star Trek: Enterprise, ceased production in 2005), as well as eleven feature film adaptations (with the latest, Star Trek, lighting up the silver screen in 2009). Spanning over forty years, the Star Trek saga has not only secured a position as “a touchstone of U.S. popular culture” (Ott and Aoki 392), but has become tantamount to “a modern myth” that resonates with audiences because at the heart of its ongoing mission lies “the question of how to define humanity” (Barrett and Barrett 1, 109). Although Star Trek posits a utopian future in which “there is no poverty, no inequality, no material wants” (Collins 140) and, in the same vein, articulates a definition of humanity that is no longer burdened by “race and gender differences,” (Ono 157) these issues run like a thread through the entire franchise, as “space travel ... problematiz[es] the status of humanity” (Barrett and Barrett 3) and complicates contemporary understandings of race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion. Despite being narrowly intertwined with all of these categories, the notion of virginity remains largely absent from Star Trek’s narrative until, midway through Star Trek: Voyager’s sevenseason run, Voyager enters into a temporary alliance with the Borg, a cyborg species that marauds the galaxy in order to attain perfection via the forceful integration of alien species into their collective consciousness (a process known as “assimilation”). When the alliance is terminated, Voyager and its crew succeed in keeping one female, and formerly human, member of the Borg aboard the ship by destroying her link to the Borg central consciousness (referred to interchangeably as the “Collective” or the “Hive Mind”). Once the human/Borg hybrid called Seven of Nine (or Seven for short) is severed from the Borg Collective, her body and person become the contested site of oppositional ideologies: on the one hand, the liberal humanism and individualism espoused by the Federation (which, in its celebration of the Western man, carries distinct masculine overtones) and, on the other, the radical difference and collectivism of the Borg (who, by virtue of their cyborg Queen, hold out the promise of a revalorization of the feminine). In their efforts to stake a lasting claim to Seven’s body, each side engages in a discourse of virginity by accusing the other of having violated Seven against her will, before pledging to restore her virginity so as to permanently fix their respective ideologies. Ultimately, Seven’s journey not only underscores the tenacity and endurance of the cultural leitmotif of female virginity, but imagines how it may be reembodied in the future. Once integrated into the cyborg’s subversive circuitry, virginity aligns
Key 3 itself with a female cyborg hybridity that has the potential of fundamentally reshaping the notion of female subjectivity. Given Star Trek’s self-avowedly humanist project, which plays out as both a defense and “celebrati[on]” of humanity (Boyd 101) against the backdrop of a vast universe that serves as its “‘constitutive outside’” (Barrett and Barrett 3), the franchise would seem like a perfect fit for a discussion of virginity. After all, Hanne Blank prefaces her Untouched History of virginity by designating it “as distinctly human a notion as philanthropy” (3), with “a long and distinguished heritage in Western culture” (5). Significantly, virginity has great bearing on Star Trek’s quest to chart the limits of human subjectivity by functioning, according to Blank, as “an integral part of how we experience our bodies and selves” (3). At the same time, Kathleen Coyne Kelly points out that “contemporary American culture is perfectly capable of imagining/representing virginity” (122), and devotes the final chapter of her own survey, which deals primarily with classical and medieval constructs of virginity, to its contemporary manifestations in popular culture. In examining representations of virginity through the lens of popular culture Kelly reveals that, while the construction of virginity varies depending on its (historical) setting, the underlying “question of the ontology of virginity remains a constant in Western culture” (121), which echoes Blank’s characterization of virginity as both “ancient” and “absolutely contemporary” (xi). Furthermore, the contemporary virgins of film and television function in much the same way as did their medieval predecessors; both are “vastly overdetermined sign[s]” deployed in overarching ideological projects, in which their “virgin bod[ies] com[e] to function as a metonym” for the respective institutions whose bidding they are made to do (Kelly 141, 13). If the female saint of medieval hagiography saw her virginity elevated to “the first line of defense ... for the institution [of the Christian Church],” then the “TV Guide virgin” of the New Millennium is a stand-in for “the proper functioning of the sex/gender system” which sanctions and keeps in place compulsory heterosexuality and its attendant “male heterosexual hierarchical prerogatives,” while containing and repressing the dual threats of female authority and divergent sexual orientations (Kelly 41-42, 137-138). In order to reappropriate virginity and the virgin as a metaphorical shield for the protection of an ideological agenda, the concept of virginity is predicated upon the notion of “a stable, readable, knowable female body” (Kelly 11-12) which can be, and is, subjected to a host of tests in order to verify its virginal status (a necessary precondition if the virgin is to function dutifully as a repository of an ideologically-slanted truth). Forestalling such efforts, however, is the fact that virginity “[b]y any material reckoning ... does not exist,” nor can it be “seen or measured” in any
Key 4 reliable fashion (Blank 3, 77). As a result, there exists no unified standard against which to gauge alleged claims of virginity (Blank 5), which brings into play “the possibilities of performing virginity” instead (Kelly 122, italics in the original). The paradox of virginity as “a notion unseen, and yet minutely described” (Meltzer 77) is thus unpacked by taking recourse to expressions of female agency located in the social realm, which further complicates the question of virginity, and potentially subverts its straight-forward and effective use as an ideological tool. Caught between being “a point of enormous importance” and a “constantly elusive,” as well as variably defined quality, virginity is ultimately best captured by “a kind of mixed metaphor or confusion of categories” (Meltzer 64; Kelly 122). Such metaphors play right into the hands of science fiction, where they have taken on a life of their own as the cybernetic organisms known as cyborgs. Although the genealogy of the cyborg yields different points of origin, with some accounts stretching as far back as 1818 in order to cite Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and its eponymous protagonist as the first incarnation of the joint embodiment of both organic material and a “mysterious ‘vital’ electric spark” (Barrett and Barrett 120), the figure of the cyborg is most often traced back to American mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), who coined the related term of cybernetics (and built a scientific discipline around it) in the aftermath of the Second World War (Bell 3; Hayles 85). Cybernetics is principally concerned with studying the ways in which biological, technological, and even social systems are guided and controlled by “regulatory feedback [loops]” that interact with, and respond to, the external environment by “loop[ing]” changes back to the system, so that the latter can react accordingly and “maintain a steady state” known as “homeostasis” (Bell 3; Hayles 8). Spurred by the technological developments that were inaugurated by the war effort, but also taking into account the accompanying moral and ethical dilemmas of their implementation, Wiener expanded the theory of cybernetics to include human beings, who, at their core, “were to be seen primarily as information-processing entities,” and consequently, “essentially similar to intelligent machines” (Hayles 7, italics in the original). In her influential treatise on the construction of the posthuman subject (which includes, but is not limited to, the cyborg) entitled How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics, N. Katherine Hayles takes pains to emphasize that although Wiener laid the groundwork for the recombination of human and machine in the construction of the cyborg, he did so with the explicit intent of “extend[ing] [the] liberal humanism” that informs the subject of Western man, not “subvert[ing] it” (7). Nevertheless, once cybernetics had successfully called into question the boundaries between the human subject and the technological machine, it turned against its creator by articulating a second, yet altogether “more disturbing and potentially revolutionary”
Key 5 challenge: that the “boundaries of the human subject [itself] are constructed rather than given” (84). Wiener never did manage to contain the transgressive proclivity of cybernetics, and before long, cybernetics had laid bare the liberal humanism, possessive individualism, and masculinist inflections of both that comprise the pillars of the Western subject (86). If only Wiener could have heeded the call of Donna Haraway, who not only adopted Wiener’s infant cyborg and nurtured its subversive potential, but never forgot that:
The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential. (Haraway 10)
If Norbert Wiener is the father of cybernetics, then Donna Haraway is without a doubt the cyborg’s mother; a status she owes largely to her seminal “A Manifesto for Cyborgs,” which, upon its first publication in 1985 caused “an enormous ‘cyberquake’ reverberating across intellectual domains,” whose aftershocks are still being registered today (Bell 91). Originally envisaged as a commentary piece on the state of social feminism in the United States in the Reagan era, Haraway broadened her scope by including a critique of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (derisively nicknamed “Star Wars” by the popular press) which entailed the deployment of highlyadvanced forcefields and X-ray lasers to ward off a potential nuclear attack (Bell 96). Weaving together the threads of feminism and the technological advancement heralded by cybernetics, Haraway envisions the cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism” that, being “a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction,” is uniquely situated to address women’s subjectivity, which is similarly “a fiction and fact of the must crucial, political kind” (7). The cyborg “changes what counts as women’s experience” by first deconstructing the binary oppositions that patriarchal late-capitalism (rechristened as “the informatics of domination”) holds most dear (to wit: human/animal, organism/machine, and the physical/non-physical) (8-11). This process of crossing and denying boundaries radically destabilizes the notion of identity (itself deeply problematic due to its close affiliation with the monolithic category of “Man in ‘Western’ traditions”) and favors instead a politics of “affinity” which is built around and explicitly valorizes notions of “otherness and difference” (14). Rather than clinging to the illusory (and discriminatory) category of ‘Woman,’ a tactic which Haraway cautions will continue to cause “[p]ainful fragmentation among feminists” (ibid.), women should “code” the “self” of the cyborg (23) and
Key 6 mirror its embrace of “the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment” (38). “From the perspective of cyborgs,” Haraway detects “powerful possibilities” of redrawing not just the contours of feminism, but the notion of (female) subjectivity itself, including all of its traditional vestiges (34, 39). Elaborating on her earlier premise that the cyborg simultaneously dwells in “social reality” and fiction, Haraway includes a select examination of science fiction representations of the cyborg in her “Manifesto,” and finds that they “make very problematic the statuses of man or woman, human, artifact, member of a race, individual identity, or body” (7, 36). Science fiction texts are ideally suited as “testing grounds for feminist critical thought” because the tension between the known and the unknown that animates the genre opens up “spaces of abstraction” that allow science fiction narratives to act as “‘blueprints’ of social theories” unbound by the restrictions of the real, or realistic fiction (Melzer 2-5, 11). In particular, science fiction “makes possible, and encourages” feminism’s plight of envisioning women as “subjects free from the constraints of mundane fiction,” without losing sight of “the basis of gendered subjectivity” (Lefanu 9), whose legitimacy is imperiled by the partial and hybrid subjectivity of one of sci-fi’s most popular denizens: the cyborg (Melzer 25). By consequently encouraging the reader to “tak[e] seriously the imagery of cyborgs” in science fiction (37), Haraway has opened the floodgates for critical appraisals of popular culture’s cyborg characters, which have not always lived up to Haraway’s optimistic rendering. Female cyborgs, in particular, have born the brunt of critical disenchantment; in “Reading Cyborgs Writing Feminism,” Anne Balsamo levels the charge that prominent female cyborgs, such as Rachel in Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner (1982), do little to advance a feminist agenda (151). Instead of broaching the constructedness of female subjectivity, they replicate “traditional feminine roles” (ibid.), figure primarily as “object[s] of man’s consumption” (ibid.), and ultimately reinscribe the “dominant ideology ... [of] femininity” (156). While Balsamo does not give up on the (female) cyborg altogether, she finds evidence of its subversive qualities solely in Haraway’s “social reality,” where they do contribute to a reevaluation of gender, the body, and female subjectivity (157). On television, female cyborgs have been few and far between, and have tended to vindicate Balsamo’s dim view, rather than underwriting Haraway’s. The trailblazer, Jaime Sommers of ABC and NBC’s The Bionic Woman (1976-1978) proves illustrative. On the one hand, the lead character, whose life is saved (and physical abilities enhanced) through “bionic” (i.e. technological) implants, presents the audience with “the strong body of a female cyborg,” and, after Jaime is enlisted as a spy, magnifies the notion of female agency in the public realm (Sharp 517). That being said, The Bionic Woman tempers Jaime’s incipient feminist activism by continually
Key 7 emphasizing her “traditional feminine norms of behavior,” as well as her sexuality, which predominate the narrative at the expense of “the oppositional meanings inher[ing] in [her] cyborg image” (Sharp 508, 517). By far the most promising exemplar of the female cyborg is Seven of Nine (portrayed by the actress Jeri Ryan), who joins the crew of Star Trek: Voyager in the first episode of its fourth season and, en route back to earth, draws frequently on her human/cyborg hybridity (and decidedly not her femininity, let alone her sexuality) to save the ship from disaster. Throughout the series Seven’s human/cyborg hybridity is instrumental in negotiating the conflicting demands of her human and Borg progenitors, who are each determined to manipulate her (virginal) body and self into bearing the mark of their respective ideologies. “The quintessential ‘cyborg’” (Barrett and Barrett 119), Seven of Nine is added to the crew as the result of a chain of events initiated in the season three cliffhanger “Scorpion, Part I,” which finds Voyager entering the heart of Borg space on their way home from the Delta to the Alpha Quadrant (in the Star Trek universe, the galaxy is subdivided into four sections, or quadrants; the Alpha Quadrant is home to earth). The episode opens up in a holographic simulation of Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop, where Voyager’s commanding officer, Captain Kathryn Janeway (played by Kate Mulgrew), is pleading with the Renaissance polymath to set aside for her a small space (“a corner, one bench”) that would allow her to work on artistic projects of her own. “Just being here in your company is inspiring to me,” she coos, and Janeway’s blend of deference and admiration toward the Italian master should be attributed to more than personal idolatry. The United Federation of Planets, the interstellar federal republic to which Janeway belongs, is after all modeled after da Vinci’s example of human ingenuity, progress, and the individual’s quest for self-betterment, but, as Katrina Boyd notes, the Federation (and, by extension, the whole of the Star Trek franchise) has in the process neglected to “adequately investigat[e] the status that Western Man has historically been given” in the history of enlightened, liberal humanism (101). Consequently, Star Trek is found guilty of holding up “Western, patriarchal culture as a universal standard” (ibid.), which it then exports to other planets and peoples through its exploratory, scientific and military arm, Starfleet, with which Voyager and its crew are directly affiliated. Charges of neocolonialism abound, even if Star Trek practices a rather unique brand of reverse colonialism, which seeks not to restrict or deny the definition of humanity, but to project and expand it into space, with the hopes of “‘humaniz[ing]’ as many people as possible” (Barrett and Barrett 62). On a second but related level, this scene works to establish a close correspondence between man and technology, whereby the former is understood to be in (legitimate) control of the latter. While pondering Captain Janeway’s request, the da Vinci hologram is constructing a mechanical arm, to which he has attached the moniker “the
Key 8 Arm of Hephaestus.” In one move, technology is thus doubly coded as masculine: not only is Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Man (my italics), presented as the supreme technological architect, but his mastery over technology is traced back to, and sanctioned by, Greek mythology (in the Greek pantheon, Hephaestus is the god of technology and metallurgy). Janeway, conversely, plans to devote her time to “paintings, sculptures,” and does not help matters when she, in awe of da Vinci, solemnly declares: “All invention is but an extension of the body of man” (the emphasis is mine). Eventually, and at a price, da Vinci agrees to Janeway’s request, suggesting even that they collaborate on his next project. Before they can get to work, however, duty calls, and Janeway is forced to face the threat of technology fallen into the wrong, female hands. As Janeway soon finds out, Voyager’s course to the Alpha Quadrant intersects a vast region of space occupied by the Borg, a cybernetic species that hails from the Delta Quadrant and constitutes the single biggest challenge to the Federation’s reigning philosophy of liberal humanism. Making their first appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s second-season episode “Q Who?” (1989), the Borg are described by Q, the omnipotent being that has catapulted the USS Enterprise-D straight into their path, as “the ultimate user,” and it does not take long for the crew of the Enterprise to find out why. Bent on achieving perfection, the Borg extract and subsequently absorb the biological and technological distinctiveness of select species through a process known as assimilation, whereby individuals are injected with Borg “nanoprobes” that colonize the victim’s blood cells, suppress their individuality, and prep them for integration into the Borg collective consciousness. Once assimilated, the victim is outfitted with cybernetic implants that grant them increased strength (and, crucially, allow them to assimilate others), while the individual’s consciousness is woven into the “Hive Mind,” a central processing unit that channels the multitude of thoughts into one common voice. By their sheer disdain for the individual and glorification of the collective, the Borg represent “the radical opposite, or Other” of the Federation, and mark “the limit to the Federation’s liberal project” (Jackson and Nexon 144, 151). Katrina Boyd goes on to argue that the terror inspired by the Borg does not lie, in the last instance, in their difference, but in their similarity; in the same way the Borg prioritize the collective ‘good’ over the will of the individual, the crews of the Enterprise, Voyager, and every other starship enlisted in Starfleet direct their unique abilities toward “creating a ‘whole’ crew that always works in harmony to attain technological and moral progress” (105). In order to stave off the allegation that the Borg signify “a nightmare vision” of the Federation (by exposing the thin and shifting line between consensus and coercion) (Boyd 106), one-on-one confrontations with the Borg invariably favor the Federation, and
Key 9 are reliably won by “portray[ing] individual innovativeness and force of will as the key elements” to success (Jackson and Nexon 154, italics in the original). Not only do the Borg connote collectivism gone awry, but by revealing that their leadership is in the hands of a formidable Borg Queen, they unfasten the binary couplings of man/technology (i.e. culture), and woman/nature, which lays bare and seriously undermines the Federation’s (and, by extension, Western Man’s) monopoly on technology. When the Borg are first featured in “Q Who?”, Q remarks that the individual Borg (also known as a “drone”) is “not a he, not a she; not like anything you’ve ever seen,” which highlights that “the male/female dichotomy ... is apparently still characteristic of human beings in the twenty-fourth century” (Jackson and Nexon 150). On the surface, the Borg seem to sidestep the “she-I” or “he-I” language binary that mandates that “the subject is always gendered” (Braidotti 199) by referring to themselves exclusively via plural pronouns (“We are the Borg.”). The male/female binary quickly reasserts itself, however, with even Q soon reverting to the masculine personal pronoun when referring to the Borg; as Mia Consalvo adds, in this and later episodes, the Borg are “largely gendered masculine” by virtue of both their behavioral characteristics (they are severely “cold and logical”) and their mission, which is limited to “dealing with technology,” while disregarding “the arts or humanities” (183). For the time being, Haraway’s cyborg, although ostensibly genderless, “defaults to the masculine yet again” (Consalvo 192). That all changes when the Borg Queen makes her entrance in the feature film Star Trek: First Contact (1996), which once again pits the crew of the newly overhauled Enterprise against the Borg, this time in an attempt to foil the Collective’s plot of assimilating earth by traveling back in time. This surreptitious operation turns out to be overseen by the Borg Queen who, as she explains it herself, is “the one who is many,” who “bring[s] order to chaos,” and who, in no uncertain terms “[is] the Collective.” In her insightful analysis of the Borg Queen, Tudor Balinisteanu regards her as the twenty-fourth century corollary to the mythical nature goddesses, who “suggest a symbiotic relationship between humans [culture] and the world around them [nature]” (404). Displaced by “godly male warriors” who judged the intertwining of nature and culture as “a source of decay and corruption,” the nature goddess and her innate hybridity were banished, while a border was put in place to segregate her dual domains, with culture cordoned off for men, and nature and women forced to join hands as “sites for masculine domination” (404-405). The figure of the Borg Queen “recuperates a goddess ethos” in her sensuous celebration of the flesh (she tempts a captive Data, the Enterprise’s android officer, by grafting “[the] beautiful gift” of skin onto his robotic exterior), while simultaneously exemplifying the female cyborg’s potential of “re-imagining women’s
Key 10 relationship with culture” (401). Embodying the best of both worlds, the Borg Queen emerges as a cyborg goddess:
[She] symbolizes the interconnectedness between nature and (technological) culture while suggesting a kind of femininity that is empowered to retain its connection with nature in the acknowledgment of her sensuality as life generating force — nature that is not to be conquered but nourished and sustained by technology (Balinisteanu 401).
Needless to say, the Borg Queen-cum-cyborg goddess taps into many of the Federation’s dormant anxieties: from the fear that nature may avenge itself on culture, to the notion of female technological mastery (wrested back from the “brotherhood of men”) (Balinisteanu 413) and, finally, the dire realization that where the procreative capacity of nature meets the resistance afforded by technology lies the death of the Western subject, and the vanishing point of liberal humanism. Faced with the imminent risk that the Borg Queen may throw into stark relief the foundational dualisms that underlie the Federation’s “fragile utopia” (Boyd 109), the Enterprise effaces the threat by releasing a corrosive gas that liquifies the Queen’s organic components, and ends her reign. Or so it seems. Corroborating N. Katherine Hayles’s definition of the posthuman cyborg as “a (disembodied) entity that can flow between carbon-based organic components and silicon-based electronic components” (2), the Queen does not die, but is simply reembodied elsewhere. When Captain Picard of the Enterprise passes the baton to Captain Janeway, the battleground shifts as well, from a direct confrontation between the Federation and the Borg, to a symbolic struggle for one former drone’s/human’s heart, soul, and virginity. In “Scorpion, Part I,” events come to a head when Janeway and her crew arrive at the scene of a Borg debris field, and discover that the assailant, a purely biological life form designated by the Borg as “Species 8472,” is set on eliminating not just its immediate cybernetic opponent, but any and all life forms that do not adhere to its strict standards of organic purity. With both Voyager’s offensive and defensive capabilities rendered useless by Species 8472’s biological prowess, Janeway is caught in a bind: either she and her crew stare down certain destruction at the hands of their newest enemy, or they turn the ship about, abort Voyager’s journey home, and settle down in the Delta Quadrant. After the Leonardo da Vinci hologram counsels her to pray to God, she decides to modify his advice slightly, and instead make “an appeal to the Devil” by securing an alliance with the Borg. In exchange for safe passage through Borg space, Janeway will share her Chief Medical Officer’s promising research into Species 8472’s immune system with the Borg, so that
Key 11 they can devise a weapon to neutralize the threat. Despite her First Officer Chakotay’s objections, Janeway’s plan is pushed through, and once the crew have located a Borg vessel, Janeway is beamed aboard and an agreement is struck. When the Borg strongly suggest, in one of the first scenes of “The Scorpion, Part II,” that Janeway and her Chief Tactical Officer Tuvok be partially linked to the Collective so as to establish “maximum communication,” Janeway counters with the notion of a representative: “[a] single Borg [they] can work with and talk to directly.” The Borg assent and the camera pans to reveal a single female drone, stationary in her alcove (an alcove being an individual Borg’s processing unit and regeneration device). In an instance, several wires detach from the female Borg’s body, she opens her eyes, and proclaims: “I speak for the Borg.” When pressed by Janeway for her “designation,” she replies gravely: “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01, but you may call me Seven of Nine.” Françoise Meltzer cites Mircea Eliade’s definition of a virgin birth, or parthenogenesis, as “any miraculous conception and birth” (qtd. in Meltzer 70), before further characterizing such a birth by its typical locales, which include caves, mangers, and sacred groves (Meltzer 70). This kind of imagery metaphorically denotes the vagina (ibid.), and the Borg alcove, a crevasse embedded in the “darkness, warmth, and dampness” of the Borg vessel (Balinisteanu 409) fulfills the same function. Lending further support to Seven’s virgin birth is her materialization as a fully-functioning Borg drone; throughout the course of the series, Seven of Nine’s assimilation is never shown, or described in any detail. Befitting a virgin birth, Seven thus reenacts “the mystery of female reproduction, and its anatomy” (Meltzer 70), neither of which are revealed during her activation. Finally, the Borg’s selection of Seven of Nine as their proxy in the alliance between the Federation and the Borg has its antecedent in the vestal virgins of Rome, whose “state-sponsored consecrated bodies” served as “the conduit between the human and the divine,” guaranteeing a “direct intersection” between the gods and their subjects (Blank 130-131, Kelly ix-x). The very reason for Seven’s being depends on her status as a virgin, and throughout Voyager’s following four seasons, the contest between the Borg and the Federation is deflected onto Seven’s virginal body, with both sides claiming it as an exclusive vessel for their respective ideologies of female-centric cyborg collectivism and male-inflected liberal humanism. As soon as Captain Janeway notices that Seven of Nine used to be human, she begins scratching at the Borg surface by asking for her (real) name and inquiring about her past. Seven remains undeterred (“This body was assimilated eighteen years ago; it ceased to be human at that time.”) and the mission goes as planned, until the Borg and Federation vessel are intercepted by a Species 8472 “bioship,” and the Borg vessel purposefully collides with the enemy ship in order to protect the reprogrammed nanoprobes designed by Voyager’s holographic doctor to target and
Key 12 destroy Species 8472’s complex DNA structure. Captain Janeway is critically injured in the process, and Chakotay reluctantly takes over command, promptly deciding to terminate the alliance with the Borg (who have assimilated one of Voyager’s cargo bays as their makeshift command center). When Chakotay informs Seven of Nine of his change of heart, she delivers the following scathing verdict of humanity:
When your Captain first approached us, we suspected that an agreement with humans would prove impossible to maintain. You are erratic, conflicted, disorganized. Every decision is debated, every action questioned, every individual entitled to their own small opinion. You lack harmony, cohesion, greatness. It will be your undoing.
Seven sounds the death knell for humanity by seizing on “the clumsiness and inefficiencies associated with command economies” (Jackson and Nexon 151), which pale in comparison to the Borg’s “ultimate liberal nightmare” (ibid.) of a collective will and unity of purpose that presupposes the subjugation of the individual. Although Chakotay does not waver from his position, Seven of Nine takes matters into her own hands and commandeers Voyager into the realm of Species 8472. In the meantime, Janeway has recovered from her injuries, and she and Chakotay devise a plan that will go forward with the alliance, but this time without “fighting each other,” capitalizing instead on their individuality to weather the crisis. When Voyager’s nanoprobe-infused torpedoes prove highly effective, Species 8472 retreats, but the Borg refuse to hold up their end of the bargain and instruct Seven of Nine to assimilate Voyager. Having anticipated such treachery, Chakotay is standing by with a neural transceiver that he uses to unearth fragments of Seven’s suppressed memories, and when all else fails, the transceiver relays an electrical charge to Seven of Nine’s cortical node (one of her principal Borg implants) that severs her link to the Collective. Despite Seven of Nine’s prognostication, Voyager is not only able to vanquish the biological essentialism advocated by Species 8472, but once again makes the case that “individuality and personal freedom [will] ultimately [be] vindicated” (Jackson and Nexon 153), when they prove instrumental in snuffing out the ensuing Borg assimilation attempt. Aviva Dove-Viebahn extrapolates on Voyager’s integration of conflicting and hybrid personalities (from Chakotay’s Native-American spiritualism, to the Doctor’s subaltern status as a hologram, and Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres’s dual genetic and cultural heritage as a human/Klingon hybrid) to find the ship a worthy candidate for the Foucauldian notion of a heterotopia, or “a heterogeneous site of interrelation, contradiction, inversion, and cultural imagination” (599). According to Dove-Viebahn, Voyager, and especially its
Key 13 captain, promote an atmosphere of tolerance, where difference is “played out, worked through ... and ultimately valued” (609), instead of being subsumed under the kind of (forced) homogeneity relentlessly furthered by the Borg. Seven of Nine’s separation from the Collective and subsequent rehabilitation aboard Voyager strain Dove-Viebahn’s claims of heterotopian bliss, when Seven’s difference proves beyond the pale, and her virgin body is medically and forcibly altered to reflect the Federation’s vaunted precept of human individuality. In “The Gift,” the fourth-season episode that immediately follows the events of the “Scorpion” two-parter, Janeway wastes no time in attempting to bring “the newest addition to [the] family” into the fold. The first hurdle is Seven’s precarious physiological condition; now that she is no longer linked to the Hive Mind, the Doctor informs the captain that “a battle is being waged inside [Seven’s] body between the biological and the technological,” and that her human immune system has already started to reject several of her Borg implants. Although surgically removing the defunct Borg technology is indicated, Janeway admits that this is “the last thing Seven would want,” with the former drone demanding to be returned to the Collective at all costs. At this juncture, Seven exemplifies the historical condition of the virgin: she is “a subject that does not exist as such,” suspended instead between the rubric of “near monstrosity” (visualized by Seven’s Borg exoskeleton and its gruesome incursions into her human body) and “a point of extreme ambiguity and otherness” that challenges the traditional concept of the male Western subject as the absolute “sovereign” (rendered through Seven’s immovable recalcitrance in the face of Janeway’s exhortations) (Meltzer 58). Compounded by Seven’s ontological status as a boundary-crossing cyborg, she doubly reminds the Federation that the “human agency, and the subjectivity it has so loudly cherished ... is, has always been, at risk” (Meltzer 59). In keeping with the “one constant” in the history of female virginity, the virgin whose status is called into question “may not speak for [herself]” (Blank 77) and Janeway grants the Doctor permission to proceed with the surgical extraction of Seven’s Borg implants. Janeway rationalizes away the purging of Seven’s difference:
[She] is no ordinary patient. She may have been raised by the Borg, raised to think like a Borg, but she’s with us now. And underneath all that technology, she is a human being, whether she’s ready to accept that or not. And until she is ready, someone has to make the decisions for her.
Blank notes that in order for the virgin to be deployed as “a potent social weapon,” virginity must be understood as capable of being “destroyed, removed permanently” in order to for the virgin’s
Key 14 claimant to rest secure in his ownership, and her allegiance (107). Seven of Nine’s cyborg systems (which, by virtue of the Borg nanoprobes coursing through her veins, have the ability to regenerate and appear anew) throw a wrench into this process of verification, and underscore how virginity “withdraws ... from reliable analysis” and remains “constantly elusive” (Meltzer 63-64). Unwilling to let slip the opportunity of recuperating Seven’s ‘real,’ human virginity in the service of the Federation, Janeway then resorts to the time-honored approach of “produc[ing] and maintain[ing] virginity in a discursive space” which, as had been established by the Latin Church Fathers, “takes precedence over the actual physical space that it may be said to occupy” (Kelly 33, italics in the original). Having confined Seven to the brig after she gained access to Voyager’s communication systems and sent a message to the Borg, Janeway redoubles her efforts to reason with the former drone, in what would amount to “the most dramatic example of humanization in the continuing world of Star Trek” (Barrett and Barrett 110). Showing Seven a picture of her former human self (a six-year old girl named Annika Hansen), Janeway ensures Seven that she can return to that existence:
Janeway: Your mind is independent now, with its own unique identity. Seven: You are forcing that identity upon me; it’s not mine! Janeway: Oh, yes, it is. I’m just giving back what was stolen from you; the existence you were denied. The child who never had a chance; that life is yours to live now. Seven: I don’t want that life! Janeway: It’s what you are, don’t resist it. (my italics)
Janeway steers Seven back to humanity by “embody[ing] the ... ethical and moral role of the Lacanian Father” (Dove-Viebahn 605), who as a stand-in for the Federation (and its notion of humanity writ large) works tirelessly to keep the abject Other (i.e. the Borg) at bay. At the same time, Janeway’s language is couched in the terminology of rape, virginity, and its restoration (cf. my emphases) and adheres closely to the pop-cultural “script in which virginity is described as something ‘given’ or ‘lost’ or ‘taken’” (Kelly 139). In an irony that is not lost on Seven of Nine, Janeway is “no different than the Borg” in her insistence that Seven must conform to the Federation’s guiding principles, and is “denied ... the choice” to make her own fate. Seven accuses Janeway of acting out of partisan interests, in the same way the early Church appropriated the virgin as a “rhetorical shield” (Kelly 13):
You have imprisoned us in the name of humanity, and you will not grant us your most cherished human right: to choose our own fate. You are hypocritical, manipulative. We do not want to be what you are.
By the end of the episode, however, most of Seven’s cybernetic implants are extracted, her blonde hair has grown back, and she dons a tight-fitting body suit that accentuates her overtly feminine physique. With her body reined in to reflect “popular lore about the correlation between outward appearance [physical beauty] and virginity” (Kelly 134), Seven takes the next step of her own volition, when she volunteers her past self’s favorite color; a piece of trivia she would surely have deemed “irrelevant” when the episode began. What transpires in “The Gift” is, to extend the parallel Seven herself divined, “the ‘assimilation’ of a Borg drone” into Voyager’s human collective (Barrett and Barrett 114), which takes the Borg down a peg by insinuating that the Queen’s hold on her drones can be circumvented, and her concomitant ideology of female cyborg subjectivity displaced. In the end, Star Trek and the Federation reduce the Borg to “a totalitarian regime, underneath which fester oppressed individuals struggling to emerge” (Jackson and Nexon 159), and tout Seven’s restored virginity and hard-won allegiance as the metaphorical proof. Yet, as two later episodes make clear, cyborgs and virginity are equally difficult to pin down, and their obedience to one master is hardly a foregone conclusion. Approximately two years after her ‘liberation’ from the Collective, Seven of Nine and the Borg are reacquainted in the fifth season feature-length television movie “Dark Frontier.” When Captain Janeway hatches a plan to steal a vital piece of Borg propulsion technology (which, once outfitted to Voyager’s engines, will significantly shorten the journey home), Seven is contacted by the Borg Queen, who informs her that Janeway’s plan will fail and Voyager and its crew will be assimilated, unless Seven voluntary rejoins the Collective. Seven obliges, and stays behind during the away mission, only to be whisked off to a Borg “unicomplex,” or central command center, where she is directly escorted to the Queen’s chambers for a mandatory audience. Fighting fire with fire, the Queen inspects her former drone, and does so in a language that is strikingly familiar to Janeway’s in “The Gift”:
You’ve changed: your exoplating, your ocular implant. They’ve taken you apart, and they’ve recreated you in their own image. Hair, garments, but at the core you are still mine.
Key 16 In effect, the Borg Queen lays a rape charge at the feet of Captain Janeway and her crew, but as she assures Seven during their next exchange: “They’ve corrupted you, but the damage can be repaired.” The Queen’s analogy of rape and promise of restoration find their origins in medieval hagiography, in which rape is often narratively negotiated through the mechanisms of “displacement and substitution” (Kelly 43). In Seven’s case, her physical dismantling doubles as rape, while her compromised body is recuperated as a metonym for the “inviolate body” of the Borg Collective (Kelly 44). At stake then for the Queen is to determine whether Seven’s “spiritual virginity,” which hagiography holds far “more valuable” than its physical counterpart due to the former’s alleged impenetrability, is still intact (Kelly 47). To that effect, she submits Seven to a series of tests (a test being indicated whenever “the subject’s virginity is in doubt”) which, in accordance with the guidelines laid down by Saint Augustine in his monumental treatise on Christian philosophy De Civitate Dei (fifth century AD), are designed to gauge the virgin’s “moral commitment, spiritual purity, and personal strength” (Kelly 13, Blank 145). The first test involves the assimilation of a species, and Seven is tasked with compiling a tactical profile on the Borg’s target, a humanoid life form which the Borg have designated Species 10026. Although she initially complies, she hesitates during the ensuing confrontation, before righting herself and furnishing the Queen with the necessary tactical modifications to render useless Species 10026’s offensive weaponry. Pleased, the Queen then orders Seven to monitor the “bio-extraction process,” but reassigns her to a shield repair crew when Seven recoils. Horrified and disoriented by the sight and sound of Species 10026’s assimilation, she stumbles into an assimilation chamber, where an elderly member of Species 10026 is being outfitted with a prosthetic arm, surrounded by three of his compatriots. Guilt-ridden, Seven deactivates the drone overseer and secretly transports the foursome to one of their abandoned space craft, providing them with the coordinates for an escape route that should not attract the Borg’s attention. Nevertheless, when the Queen debriefs Seven afterwards, she detects the vessel and holds it in a tractor beam. Reminding Seven that “Species 10026 will survive, and continue to resist [the Borg]” if the individuals on board are allowed to escape, the Queen has a sudden change of heart when she spots the tears in Seven’s eyes, and she releases the ship. Once again, the narrative aligns Seven of Nine with the vestal virgins of Rome, whose considerable privileges included “the prerogative to pardon any condemned criminal ... [and] the power to commute a death sentence” (Blank 129). Furthermore, the Queen’s multiple acts of leniency stand in stark contrast with Captain Janeway’s iron-clad immovability in “The Gift,” when Janeway denied Seven any and all agency, and even contained her behind by a force field to ensure that she did not escape. Whereas Janeway acted unilaterally in her decision to restore Seven’s
Key 17 human biological systems (and thereby dealt a severe blow to the spirit of cooperation and celebration of hybridity that were supposed to be characteristic of Voyager’s heterotopia), the Queen, in keeping with Tudor Balinisteanu and Donna Haraway’s anti-binary cyborg, makes a much stronger case for valuing hybridity when she promises Seven:
You are the only Borg that has ever returned to a state of individuality. We want to keep you exactly the way you are. Otherwise, you would lose your human perspective. We don’t want another drone. We want you.
Meanwhile, the cracks in Voyager’s heterotopian façade widen when the crew’s reaction to Seven’s ‘departure’ oscillates between relief (B’Elanna: “She was never one of our own.”) and resignation (Chakotay: “Maybe she’d been planning it all along.”). Both of these responses are rooted in the (fallacious) popular myth that virgins imprint on their first sexual partners by “form[ing] an instantaneous and unshakeable emotional bond with [them],” which leaves the virgin with “an inevitable and permanent mark” afterwards (Blank 108). In Seven’s case, her remaining Borg implants (prominently situated on her hands and face) bespeak a prior (sexual) alliance with the Borg; one that runs counter to the virgin birth narrative that Janeway supports in order to reclaim Seven’s virginity for the Federation, and one which provides a (visible) motive for the crew’s inability to conceive of Seven of Nine as anything than an Other. When Janeway pieces together that Seven had been in direct contact with the Borg Queen prior to her sudden defection, she organizes a rescue mission, and marshals the stolen Borg technology in order to track her down. Justifying her decision to retrieve Seven of Nine, Janeway insists that “she’s one of us,” and as a Starfleet Captain, she has sworn “never [to] abandon a member of [her] crew.” That being said, there is more at stake here for Janeway than an incomplete crew manifest. Stranded in the Delta Quadrant with a perilous and long journey ahead of them, Voyager and its crew need a rallying cause; a symbol of hope to hold onto as they pass through a Quadrant that is home to hosts of unknown dangers. Seven of Nine fills that slot by reminding the crew of one of their most resounding triumphs (over none other than the Borg), and unifying them in the conviction that they will ultimately prevail and reach earth. In tracing the history of virginity, Hanne Blank argues that its (cultural) endurance cannot be attributed to a “purely biological argument,” but sprang from the social realm instead, where it “filled a broadly pragmatic role in ... the creation and maintenance of kinship groups and social hierarchies” (25). Lightyears removed from the social realm of the
Key 18 Federation, Voyager and its crew are dependent on one another, and draw strength from the example set by Seven of Nine’s ‘liberation’ from the Collective to smooth the edges of their frayed kinship. Unbeknownst to Janeway and her crew, the Borg Queen has similar designs on Seven. Rebuffed in her first attempt to assimilate earth (in Star Trek: First Contact), the Queen is intent on correcting her past mistake, in the hopes of restoring the Borg’s reputation of flawlessness in the process. This time, instead of another direct assault on earth, she plans to detonate a “biogenic charge” in the planet’s atmosphere, dispersing “nanoprobe viruses” that would gradually turn the population into Borg. Pleased with herself, she predicts that “[b]y the time they realized what was happening, half their population would be drones.” Given Seven’s intimate “knowledge for the target species,” the Queen tasks her with programming the nanoprobes; in effect, she is directing Seven to use her newfound humanity to usher in the end of mankind. The Queen is thus hoping to unlock the full potential of the cyborg virgin; as a human/Borg hybrid who is not fully committed to either, Seven encapsulates the dualistic “semiology of feminine virginity,” whereby the virgin signifies both “incompleteness” and “alatheia, or the possibility of truth in an economy of mystery” (Meltzer 72, italics in the original). As the keeper of mankind’s secrets, Seven of Nine can help the Queen to “understand the nature of their resistance,” which will remove the last obstacle standing in the way of humanity’s assimilation. Just like the virgins before her, Seven of Nine signals “the otherness of death,” or, in the words of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, the moment when the Western subject (as harnessed by, and synonymous with, the Federation) will be “no longer able to be able” (qtd. in Meltzer 59, italics in the original). In a move characteristic of Haraway’s authority-defying cyborg, Seven refuses to comply, which the Queen chalks up to the inherent liminality of the (cyborg) virgin, being that she is “perpetually on the horizon of being” (Meltzer 68), and disinclined to pick a side:
You’re torn between your desire to be one with us, and your loyalty to them. It’s time to complete your task. All of your emotions: grief, guilt, remorse, compassion will be irrelevant once humanity is assimilated. Forget Voyager; they were never your Collective.
Although she previously indicated otherwise, the Queen cannot brook Seven’s virginal alterity indefinitely; even a cyborg goddess is no match for the dangerous liminality of the cyborg virgin, whose threat to “the solitude of the subject” (Meltzer 60) may not be limited to her human half. The Queen’s suspicion is soon warranted, when Janeway infiltrates the Borg unicomplex, and the battle for Seven’s virginity reaches its climax. With the Borg Queen threatening to destroy Janeway’s
Key 19 shuttlecraft, and Janeway pointing a phaser rifle at her in return, each party repeats its earlier arguments, with the survival of both at stake. After a tense back-and-forth, Seven sides with Janeway, informing her that if she targets a phaser beam at the power node above the Queen’s personal alcove, the dispersal field protecting the Queen’s chamber will be deactivated, and the Queen herself will temporarily lose control over her drones. Aghast, the Queen turns sharply to Seven, who deadpans: “Our thoughts are one.” Once safely back on Voyager, Seven uploads all the information she gathered on the Borg during her stay in the unicomplex into Voyager’s database, doing exactly what the Queen had ordered her to do, with the only difference being the object of inquiry. On a symbolic level, Seven of Nine’s virginity has seemingly exhausted itself; she has proven her worth as a stand-in and shield of Starfleet and its humanist philosophy, and her cyborg hybridity has further ensured that Voyager and its crew will be able to better defend these ideals in the future. “Dark Frontier” is yet another testament to Kelly’s finding that “[t]he virgin pursued is capable of generating endless plot lines and complications” (139), and although the issue of Seven’s spiritual virginity has been settled in favor of the Federation, its physical component, invigorated by (and fused with) cybernetics, makes Seven’s cyborg virginity difficult, if not impossible, to subdue. “The broadest and most general way to define virginity” coincides with, and acts as a precursor to, heteronormativity; from time immemorial virginity has been characterized as “a human sexual status” that predates sexual intercourse, whereby the latter is exclusively understood as “the particular combination of penis and vagina ... that terminates virginity” (Blank 6, 10). Accordingly, the least problematic model of virginity is “default virginity,” which encompasses all women who are not yet “physiologically sexually mature” (Blank 13). Assimilated by the Borg at age six, and only freed eighteen years later, Seven’s window of “transitional virginity” (the years that bridge pre-sexual childhood and “the assumption of full social adulthood”) (Blank 14) has all but closed, with Seven’s virginal status nearing its socially-prescribed expiration date. With the Doctor’s aide, Seven has been exploring her humanity since her arrival on Voyager, but in the seventh-season episode “Human Error,” she takes matters into her own hands, and creates a program on the holodeck to test-drive her human sexuality under controlled conditions. In this holographic alternate reality, all of Seven of Nine’s residual cyborg implants have been removed, she has opted for a standard Starfleet uniform in lieu of her previous catsuits, and on her fictional dates with First Officer Chakotay, Seven exchanges that uniform for a red, free-flowing evening gown, and wears her hair long instead of in a bun. Seven’s choice of partner indicates that she has embraced heterosexuality as the default socio-sexual setting of the twenty-fourth century, and she anticipates and prepares for the heterosexual act by literally dressing for the part. Furthermore, her
Key 20 decision to wear a regulation uniform leaves no doubt as to where her allegiance lies; in the Star Trek universe, as in real life, fashion works “to construct and to follow a mode of behavior ... in a sense, then, to assimilate” (Hastie 117, italics in the original). From the outset, “Human Error” points to a number of caveats with regard to the subversive scope of the cyborg virgin in popular culture. Seven’s sexualized appearance, which was a deliberate choice on the part of Voyager’s coexecutive producer Brannon Braga to boost the show’s lackluster ratings via “an infusion of sexuality” (qtd. in Snierson), undercuts the female cyborg’s unconventional human embodiment by “enmesh[ing] [her] in ... a too-faithful performance of femininity” (Hollinger 133). Although Seven’s professional demeanor onboard Voyager, which hews close to the dispassionate and unforgiving modus operandi of the Borg, indicates an “unwilling[ness] to gender her behavior in a feminine way” (Consalvo 186), Seven’s body tells another story. With her remaining cyborg implants holographically obscured, her blonde hair set loose, and her wardrobe straight from the set of a daytime soap opera, Seven’s appearance “provides the map for determining ‘which’ gender ‘she’ must enact” (Consalvo 187), and primes her for the sexual act that will do away with her physical virginity, while definitively settling the question of where she belongs. Also, despite Jeri Ryan’s acknowledgment that “Seven would be the obvious character to explore [lesbianism] with,” Star Trek persists in omitting homosexuality from the Vulcan motto of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” and instead deploys the (cyborg) virgin as the enduring “icon of normative (and compulsory) heterosexual behavior” (Logan 16; Kelly 122). On closer inspection, however, Seven of Nine’s status by the end of Star Trek: Voyager’s run may not be so cut-and-dry, with her cyborg virginity the key to this ambivalence. On her first date with Commander Chakotay, Seven’s choice of words belies her heterosexual conditioning as a human woman. When preparing their candle-lit dinner, she unceremoniously orders Chakotay to “slice [the] vegetables transversally in five millimeter increments,” chides him when his technique is unsatisfactory in her eyes and, in a clumsy attempt at a romantic overture, complements the “intriguing physical structure” of his face. Seven has not yet interiorized the vocabulary of human romantic interactions, and her failure to do so discloses the existence of a socio-sexual script she has not yet mastered. Her Borg nature, and the high premium it places on perfection, stifles her exercise in heterosexual romance, while hinting at its constructed nature; her carefully selected wardrobe is in turn exposed as a manifestation of Mary Ann Doane’s theory of the masquerade, whereby femininity may be flaunted, but is ultimately “[held] ... at a distance” (25). Seven of Nine’s frequent stumbles point unequivocally to femininity’s “constructed[ness] as mask — as the decorative layer which conceals a non-identity” (ibid.) or, in Seven’s case, proves incompatible with
Key 21 her cyborg identity. In keeping with the functionality of the masquerade, Seven’s hybridity “manufacture[s] a distance” (Doane 32) not just between herself and human femininity, but humanity as a whole; a distance that her cyborg body will not allow her to cross. When Seven kisses Chakotay during a lull in the culinary part of the evening, a mechanical shrieking disrupts their embrace. Even though Seven ignores these physical symptoms at first (as well as the nightmares in which she is haunted by the image of her former Borg self staring back at her in the mirror), they become progressively worse, while her simulated life on the holodeck begins to overtake, and interfere with, her regular duties aboard Voyager. Her relationship with Chakotay grows more intimate, but runs aground on Seven’s inability to part with her Borg heritage, which prevents her from fully giving in to her human emotions. During a heated exchange with Chakotay, Seven voices her concern about the toll their relationship is taking on her, and decides to end it there and then:
Chakotay: You’re making a mistake. Seven: No, I’m trying to correct one. Chakotay: Ask yourself why you want to end this. Every time you move closer to your emotions you back away. ... I think you’re afraid that embracing your humanity will make you weak, less than perfect, but think about what you stand to gain. Seven: That’s irrelevant! Chakotay: No, it’s not! Real intimacy with another person? Nothing’s more relevant! [The mechanical shrieking inside Seven’s head resumes, at a higher pitch than before.] Seven [with her hands pressed against her temples]: I can’t function this way! Chakotay: You’re not a drone anymore; you’re human! Seven [disoriented]: Stop! [She collapses to the floor.]
Although Chakotay’s romantic interest in Seven may be genuine, he predicates “[r]eal intimacy” on Seven’s abjuration of her human/Borg hybridity, suggesting forcibly that “embracing [her] humanity” is the precondition for a lasting (sexual) relationship (and, by extension, for full membership into Voyager and the Federation). According to Hanne Blank, the erotic appeal of virgins is directly linked to their “unknownness,” whereby the virginal body figures as a “blank screen upon which to project one’s fantasies of sex” (193). The act of first-time sexual intercourse, although nominally transgressive, is “in fact terrifically socially conservative ... serv[ing] only to
Key 22 reinforce the system” that considers the loss of virginity an ideological litmus test (196). Chakotay, by insisting on Seven of Nine’s humanity (and explicitly stating that she is “not a drone anymore”), forces Seven to deny her hybridity, relying on Blank’s characterization of sex as “a vehicle for completion and transformation” which “colonizes [the virgin], body and soul” (196) to claim Seven for the Federation once and for all. Threatened by the imminent loss of virginity (and the cyborg hybridity for which it stands), Seven shuts down. After examining her, the Doctor’s diagnosis is severe: far from a simple “malfunction,” Seven’s cyborg systems were designed by the Borg as a “failsafe mechanism” that incapacitates wayward drones who “achieve a certain level of emotional stimulation.” He editorializes that “[k]nowing the Borg, it makes perfect sense; finding one’s heart is the shortest road to individuality.” In stoical acceptance of her fate, Seven deletes the holodeck program, and resigns herself to a life lived in solitude, visually rendered in the final scene of the episode, where she walks through the corridors of Voyager, alone. Donna Haraway hints at the cyborg’s lonely existence when she posits “an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency” as the necessary sacrifice the cyborg must make to act out against the “‘West’s’ escalating dominations of abstract individuation” (9). Although the cyborg has a history of “address[ing] the pressing questions of agency and posthuman subjectivity” (Melzer 22), Seven of Nine’s loneliness throws into relief the cyborg’s own limited agency. With her virginity frozen in time by her cyborg body, Seven illustrates how the figure of the cyborg only compounds the virgin’s plight of forever remaining a “woman in potentia,” whose agency is severely delimited by “the lack of female subjectivity as a hypostasized possibility in the West” (Meltzer 75). Seven may embody the “postmodernist identity ... of otherness and difference” that Haraway favors over second-wave feminism’s self-destructive search for ‘Woman’ (14), while time and again deflecting the ideological claims on her (virgin) body, but only at such grave personal expense that “[the] way out of the maze of dualisms” which Haraway would have her cyborg chart (39) may prove too arduous. The latest account of Seven of Nine is given in Kristin Beyer’s Star Trek: Voyager novel Unworthy (published in 2009), which is part of the official Star Trek: Voyager relaunch series that imagines what might happen to the vessel and its crew after they make it back to earth in “Endgame,” the final episode of the television series. In Unworthy, Seven’s life is thrown into chaos after a mysterious species known as the Caeliar absorbs the Borg into its “gestalt,” liberating billions of drones in the process, and replacing their cybernetic implants with “catoms”: highly adaptive “programmable matter” that takes over the regulatory function exercised by Borg implants (100). The Caeliar’s gift comes with strings attached, when Seven is plagued by a voice inside her head that will not rest until she abides by its singular command: “You are Annika” (47). Describing
Key 23 her temporarily link to the Caeliar, Seven can discern only vague sensations of “completion,” “harmony,” and “perfection,” and she concludes that the Caeliar “didn’t take [her] with them” because she must be “insufficient in some way” (134-136). Yet, although the Caeliar beckon her with the familiar exhortation to abandon her hybridity, Seven cannot comply, and “cannot accept the notion that [she] is only Annika Hansen” (137). Once again, unity, coherence, and belonging are held up as mutually exclusive with Seven’s human/Borg hybridity, but this time, Seven asserts the value of hybridity in no uncertain terms by informing the Caeliar voice that:
I am Annika, but I am also Seven of Nine. I cannot be less than that for you or anyone. I am more than you can possibly imagine or contain. Accept me as I am, and I will do the same for you. (320)
The voice acquiesces and, having taken the form of Seven of Nine prior to her assimilation, she jumps into Seven’s arms and disappears, adding another layer to Seven’s hybridity. When Voyager encounters the Indign, a species who emulates the Borg and hopes to be found worthy of their example by murdering innocent species and presenting them a gifts to the Collective, Seven draws on her newly-gained ability of telepathy (courtesy of the Caeliar) to communicate with the Indign. She pierces through their indifference by introducing herself as “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One,” strategically deploying her partial identity as Borg to update the Indign on the Collective’s demise, while convincing them to call a halt to their futile gift-giving (320-323). Once more, she draws on the vestal virgin’s capacity for communication (Blank 131), but this time, she does so on her own terms. The crisis resolved, she reflects on her encounter with the Caeliar, and realizes that she was the one who rejected them, as well as the “fulfillment of the Borg’s deepest needs” they promised (335). She elaborates that:
The truth is, neither ‘Annika’ nor ‘Seven’ is an appropriate designation, but both are equally insufficient. I am a human, who was once Borg, and now am also part Caeliar. Only time will tell which, if any, of these pieces of my heritage will prove dominant. (361)
In Unworthy, Seven holds out hope that the “painful fragmentation” observed by Haraway in feminism’s ill-fated quest for a univocal female subjectivity may yet be repaired by the figure of the cyborg, who embodies the eclectic and patchwork “conscious coalition” of disparate parts and local identities that Haraway promulgates in its stead (14-15). At the same time, virginity may be
Key 24 recuperable as a valuable asset to the female cyborg; both “[suggest] the limits of subjectivity” (Meltzer 75), and both “[tell] no story about [themselves] but enable the story to be told” (Munich, qtd. in Kelly 62). What that story is depends on the voice of the virgin cyborg, but if Star Trek: Voyager’s Seven of Nine is any indication, the female cyborg has the potential to take the “profoundly changeable and malleable cultural idea” of virginity (Blank 8) and leverage it to pave a path for the female subject, and call an end to the historical project of collapsing virginity into the female abject.
Key 25 Works Cited
Balinisteanu, Tudor. “The Cyborg Goddess: Social Myths of Women as Goddesses of Technologized Otherworlds.” Feminist Studies 33.2 (2007): 394-423. Balsamo, Anne. “Reading Cyborgs Writing Feminism.” The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader. Eds. Gill Kirkup et al. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 148-159. Barrett, Michèle, and Duncan Barrett. Star Trek: The Human Frontier. Oxford: Polity Press, 2001. Bell, David. Cyborg Theorists: Manuel Castells and Donna Haraway. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Beyer, Kristin. Unworthy. New York: Pocket Books, 2009. Blank, Hanne. Virgin: The Untouched History. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Boyd, Katherine G. “Cyborgs in Utopia: The Problem of Radical Difference in Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Eds. Taylor Harrison, et al. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996. 95-113. Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Collins, Steven F. “‘For the Greater Good’: Trilateralism and Hegemony in Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Eds. Taylor Harrison, et al. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996. 137-156. Consalvo, Mia. “Borg Babes, Drones, and the Collective: Reading Gender and the Body in Star Trek.” Women’s Studies in Communication 27.2 (2001): 177-203. “Dark Frontier.” Star Trek: Voyager: The Complete Fifth Season. Writ. Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. Dir. Cliff Bole and Terry Windell. Paramount, 2004. DVD. Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Film Theory. London and New York: Routledge, 1991. Dove-Viebahn, Aviva. “Embodying Hybridity, (En)gendering Community: Captain Janeway and the Enactment of a Feminist Heterotopia on Star Trek: Voyager.” Women’s Studies 36.8 (2007): 597-618. Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” The Haraway Reader. Ed. Donna Haraway. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. 7-47.
Key 26 Hastie, Amelie. “A Fabricated Space: Assimilating the Individual on Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Eds. Taylor Harrison, et al. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996. 115-136. Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Hollinger, Veronica. “Feminist Theory and Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Eds. James Edward, and Farah Mendlesohn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 125-135. “Human Error.” Star Trek: Voyager: The Complete Seventh Season. Writ. Brannon Braga, Andre Bormanis, and Kenneth Biller. Dir. Allen Kroeker. Paramount, 2004. DVD. Jackson, Patrick Thaddeus, and Daniel H. Nexon. “Representation is Futile?: American AntiCollectivism and the Borg.” To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics. Ed. Jutta Weldes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 143-167. Kelly, Kathleen Coyne. Performing Virginity and Testing Chastity in the Middle Ages. New York and London: Routledge, 2000. Lefanu, Sarah. In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. London: The Women’s Press, 1988. Logan, Michael. “Wonder Women.” TV Guide 10-16 Apr. 1999: 14-18. Meltzer, Françoise. For Fear of the Fire: Joan of Arc and the Limits of Subjectivity. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001. Melzer, Patricia. Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas Press, 2006. Ono, Kent A. “Domesticating Terrorism: A Neocolonial Economy of Différance.” Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek. Eds. Taylor Harrison, et al. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996. 157-185. Ott, Brian L., and Eric Aoki. “Popular Imagination and Identity Politics: Reading the Future in Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Western Journal of Communication 65.4 (2001): 392-415. “Q Who?” Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Complete Second Season. Writ. Maurice Hurley. Dir. Rob Bowman. Paramount, 2002. DVD. “Scorpion, Part I.” Star Trek: Voyager: The Complete Third Season. Writ. Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. Dir. David Livingston. Paramount, 2004. DVD.
Key 27 “Scorpion, Part II.” Star Trek: Voyager: The Complete Fourth Season. Writ. Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky. Dir. Winrich Kolbe. Paramount, 2004. DVD. Sharp, Sharon. “Fembot Feminism: The Cyborg Body and Feminist Discourse in The Bionic Woman.” Women’s Studies 36.7 (2007): 507-523. Snierson, Dan. “Lust in Space: Can Jeri Ryan’s Sexy Borg Save the Series?” EW.com. Entertainment Weekly Magazine, 19 Sept. 1997. Web. 25 Mar. 2011. Star Trek: First Contact. Dir. Jonathan Frakes. Perf. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Alice Krige, James Cromwell, and Alfre Woodard. Paramount, 1998. DVD. “The Gift.” Star Trek: Voyager: The Complete Fourth Season. Writ. Joe Menosky. Dir. Anson Williams. Paramount, 2004. DVD.