04 February 2010

Cyborg Bodies

Believe it or not, I don't spend all of my time thinking about resumes, bodies, or fashion (though it probably seems like it to those who read my academic work). In the last couple of days, I've been returning to a text that I have found useful in a lot of contexts to work with ways that it can tease out different aspects of what I've been focusing on lately - fashion, bodies, queerness, the academy, and me (at heart, isn't most academic work about the academics themselves?).

The text is Donna Haraway's Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Haraway's background is interesting - she started as a feminist-socialist biologist and has since kind of slid into a poststructured, postmodern position against some pretty traditional feminist stances rooted in biology and binary politics and identities. In this book, she specifically advocates differntial politics for "inappropriate/d others," a phrase borrowed from Tinh T. Minh-ha which refers to a historical positioning of those people who refuse to adopt the personae of "self" or "other" offered by the dominating narratives of identity and politics. For Haraway, these inappropriate/d others are often those most dismissed in the world - women, people of color, members of ethnic or national groups which are considered "primitive."

Some of us, she says, become "cyborgs" - a chimera or intentionally-created hybrids of both the natural and the mechanical or constructed. This allows for room for many of us to move outside of binary concepts - Am I this way because I was born this way or because I was taught to be her? - and start to find a place in this hybridity.

The rejection of binaries has always been an attractive thing to me - to deny that people are one or the other, never both and certainly neither has an appeal that rings true in my experience of the world. It may be the baby punk that still lives somewhere inside me, but having someone tell me who and what I am, what that means ... it chafes.

What would it mean, then, for my body to be a cyborg body? How does that play into the discomforts I've been mulling over for the last couple of weeks with fashion and professional identity and queerness?

There are obvious constructs at play here -- "professional," "academic," "grown up," "woman," "queer," "feminine," so many others -- and many of them are at odds with each other. There are also things that I might want to call "natural" -- the concept of my own sexuality that I choose to call queer, the physical presence of my body. The tensions exist not just in the biological-to-construct parts of this story, but even within both groups. It is not as if my biology is rejecting the constructs or the constructed is rejecting my body; something far more insidious is happening. Each of the parts pulls at the others.

Even the tension of what clothes I put on to go to work this morning live within these points sometimes pulling and sometimes pushing at one another. A lot of people probably find this either ridiculous or depressing, but I am pretty sure that I find it comforting - I've always wanted to have explanations, theories, possible ideas that help the world make more sense.

And if the world, if it's this cyborg body, if it's the way that we construct ourselves, then it's not just me.

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