We are all cyborgs (video + blogpost)

The video titled ‘We Are All Cyborgs’ is a short introduction and artistic interpretation of Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985).

What is a cyborg you might ask? Well, as most of you are by now well aware a cyborg is defined as “a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.” This means that each and every one of us using any sort of device or tool that is mechanic in nature, or otherwise electronic, can be considered a cyborg. This is, of course, a very rudimentary understanding of the term. Nonetheless, it is essentially what Donna Haraway is arguing.

Haraway is first and foremost a feminist scholar. Her Cyborg Manifesto does not only conceptualize who we are as humans physically, but more significantly, approaches the idea of the cyborg from a posthuman and feminist lens. Posthumanism has various definitions, some relating to or stemming from one another, but all quite complex in theory. In short, posthumanism is an idea or era that steps away from the traditional notions of what it means to be human so, does away with the age of humanism. We as a society have typically relied on a few recurring assumptions when searching for the essence of what it means to be human. Some of these presumptions trace back to abstract constructs such as belief, gender, or knowledge, whereas others, focus on the physicality of beings. Sometimes it is difficult to discern between the two, and even more so, which are abstract and constructed markers of humanity and which are “inherently” human. However, over time we have come to recognize that all of these factors are, in fact, constructs that have over the course of history become ingrained into our society – into “universal truths”.

This is what posthumanism has overcome. Posthumanism is a rejection of these truths. It does away with the dualistic categorization of the world that has been perpetuated by society time and time again. We are now living in a posthuman era. Society is evolving and is consciously starting to step away from the constructed dichotomies within culture and look at humans from a new light. Essentially, posthumanism is the end of ‘man’ as a biological category or species, as well as, the end of the humanist notion of ‘man’ as a cultural construct. This is where Donna Haraway’s theory on the cyborg comes into play. Haraway uses the cyborg as a metaphor to deconstruct boundaries, for instance of gender hierarchies, and to move beyond traditional concepts, such as, that of gender as a whole. Her cyborg acts as a hybrid species that escapes the humanist dichotomy, which presupposes a hierarchical relationship between the dualistic genres. The cyborg represents the ‘Other’(ed) in this relationship. This hybrid acts as a metaphor for the oppressed, such as women, people of color, or non-hetero-normative sexualities. Yet, at the same time, the cyborg acts as a metaphor for everyone, as it escapes naturalism and essentialism. When no one is natural, then we are all cyborgs.

Finally, this circles back to the not inherently feminist aspect to Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’, which is the physicality of the cyborg in relation to humans today. We are not only cyborgs from the perspective of posthuman theory, but we are also cyborgs from a technological standpoint. By using technology and other tools as an extension of our natural capabilities, whether that is prosthetic limbs, corrective glasses, mobile phones or even clothing, we have already evolved into beings that can be considered bionic or cyborg.

The video created for the purpose of introducing the ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ is an artistic take on the subject matter. As I was personally and initially presented with these theories through examples of artistic production, such as film, art installations, photography and performance, I thought it appropriate to intertwine the iconic anime titled, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ by director Mamoru Oshii from 1995 into the video ‘We Are All Cyborgs’. The music used in the video is from the soundtrack of Oshii’s film and was featured in the opening credits of the anime. Since ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is widely considered a revolutionary piece of Japanese cultural production, which brought light to the cyborg on a larger, more mainstream scale, I thought it also relevant to my own introduction of the cyborg to a smaller audience. Other clips used in the creation of this video, showcase contemporary artists and artworks that play with the themes of technology, posthumanism and the cyborg, such as Heather Dewey-Hagsborg’s ‘Stranger Visions’.  One of the later fragments of ‘We Are All Cyborgs’ is from the 1997 film ‘Gattaca’ starring Uma Thurman. This movie is about a dystopian future, in which parents can pick the genetic traits of their soon-to-be born children. Some do not have the ability to genetically engineer their offspring, which creates a genetically inferior race within the human species. The videos subtitles, written by myself, were inspired by the structure of a manifesto, similarly to Julian Rosefeldt’s film installation ‘Manifesto’, as well as, by the title of Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’. However, by transforming the first three lines into questions, as opposed to statements, the text also engages the viewer to question their own understanding of humanity.