Thursday, September 10, 2009

Donna Haraway's lecture at EGS

EGS video: YouTube

Donna Haraway will be giving a lecture at CCA on 10.20.2009. She wrote "The Cyborg Manifesto", "Promise of Monsters","When Species Meet"... Here's a lecture available online, "Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species", about the birth of the kennel, cyborgs, dogs and companion species, humans, machines, computer, organisms, technoscience, genetics, nature, culture, consciousness, philosophy, emergent ontologies, social relationships, societies, Michel Foucault, figure, reference, cyborg manifesto, and socialist feminism, given to the students and faculty of the European Graduate School EGS, Switzerland, in 2000. Partial transcript:

Haraway: It’s a great pleasure to be here, this is something I wanted to do and was not able to do last year so I’m very pleased that Wolfgang renewed the invitation. It’s been a lot of fun. The title of the lecture tonight, in honor of my debt to Michel Foucault, is Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species. It is in light of my debts as a child who grew up with the milk of Darwin, Freud, genetically engineered organisms, and transgenic elements such as plutonium. I read this lecture in terms of my family, my sibling set, the milk of my mothers, Darwin, Foucault and Onco-mouse. This is an inquiry into a term that I’m borrowing from Helen Veron, an Australian philosopher of science, who has recently written quite a wonderful book on African logics and science, particularly on number systems among Aruba-speaking schoolchildren. Helen is using the term "emergent ontologies" in ways I’m finding very fruitful for thinking about technoscience and about the kind of figures around which I organize my work. As a person cursed and blessed with a sacramental consciousness and the indelible mark of having grown up Irish-Catholic in the United States, I’m saddled with a kind of indelible understanding that the sign is the thing in itself. An implosion of sign and substance is part of living with a sacramental consciousness, the literalness of metaphor, the materiality of trope, the tropic quality of materiality, the implosion of semi-auticity and materiality always seemed the case about the world. As opposed to a particularly fancy theoretical insight or mistake, it simply seemed the air we breathe. Figuration is something also inherited out of that same tradition, as taking figures to be those who collect up and reflect back the hopes of a people. Figures are about collective yearning. Figurations somehow collect up and give back the sense of the possibility of fulfillment, the possibility of damnation, or the possibility of a collective inclusion in figures larger than that to which they explicitly refer. I borrowed for many years from Herr Auerbach’s work on mimesis, written of course during the conditions of the war without his library, which is itself a wonderful ironic commentary on the commentary on the history of literature. I always felt very indebted to Auerbach’s conception of mimesis and the turn in Western literature and philosophy whereby the figure and referent somehow become confused with each other in a way which has informed the history of our thought for several hundred years, and the difference of that from classical thought, either of Greek or Hebrew varieties. This has informed my genealogy of cyborgs as well as my post-cyborg entities that I’m calling companion species, otherwise known as dogs, in the vernacular. My genealogy includes this appreciation of figuration that I learned out of both literature and philosophy, as well as this history of growing up as a girl in the American Catholic Church. Now for better and for worse I got known for an article from the early eighties called The Cyborg Manifesto, after the Communist Manifesto. It was a joke, in a way. I was given five pages by the Socialist Review, along with a group of other socialist feminists, to write about what we thought the future of socialist feminism would be in the eighties, after the election of a right-wing president and the growing ascendancy of neo-liberalism, signed by Ronald Reagan and Thatcher and many others. The paper exceeded five pages by quite a bit and was loved by the West Coast Socialist Review collective, and hated by the East Coast Socialist Review collective, who really did not ever want to publish it. It’s had a distressing half-life, the cyborg figure, and has been used to mean almost anything about the join between human and machine, in some kind of deeply ahistorical way that I find maddening, so I want to remind me and us about the historical specificity of the cyborg figure, as well as the material project of the cyborg. Let me begin by a slide that’s particularly about this audience, because I’ve discovered that this audience is particularly savvy in computer-mediated communication practices, a lot of people here do film, video, web design, a lot of people here are involved in various kinds of inventing careers in the margins of and in the centers of various kind of commercial operations, interdigitating with academic work and deep philosophical inquiry, people here are inside the material semi-auticity of informatics, including a strong emphasis in visual culture. The first slide is to remind us of the historical specificity of the cyborg figure.

[Slide shows a monkey sitting in a specially designed space-flight cockpit, inundated with various technological apparatuses]

This creature is named Ham, it’s an acronym for Holoman Aeromedical facility, where Ham, a child captive out of Africa, is raised in the space program, specifically as a "surrogate for man in a race for space." Ham is one of the first advanced primates in space, he is telemetrically implanted and otherwise variously hooked-up and monitored entity. He literalizes the cyborg as the enhanced man-for-space project. That is the project for constructing a co-engineered human machine system based on communication, command and control. Ham is a cyborg figure in a very particular World War II and post-World War II, Cold War space-race configuration. The cyborg is not a figure for just any human-machine moment of connection, it’s not a figure for all of technology all of the time, but for a very particular historical moment. 1960 is the birth moment of the word "cyborg", out of a paper written for a U.S. Air Force aviation medicine conference, in which a psychiatrist and a systems engineer collaborate for arguing the importance of physiological enhancement of man in space, and that the next frontier will be space. The same systems engineer and psychiatrist are the very ones used by Marge Percy in her foundational feminist text, Woman on the Edge of Time, written in the 1970’s, that looks back onto the early cyborg research and its experimental organisms, such as human mental patients as well as the other primates. The first telemetrically implanted cyborg, like all of those who have gone before us in the great exploration narratives, is a rat. A telemetrically implanted rat goes first on the great ships of exploration and will colonize the islands of space just as the European rats colonized the Pacific, much to the detriment of flora and fauna all over the world. Those of you who saw the first rat on Star Trek on Deep Space Nine will know something about the symbolism of the rodent in space narrative. The next slide is a 1988 version of the cyborg, now in the domain of neo-liberalism and the New World Order Incorporated.

[Slide shows an advertisement for Dupont featuring a mouse ascending a staircase]

It’s the world in which better things for better living come to life, the world of DuPont. Some of you have read that this is the figure Onco-mouse, which I regard as a re-telling of the allegory of the cave, moving out to the light out of the depths of the cave, out of the hysteria, that we have a kind of enlightenment figure, a techno-science post-Enlightenment figure, perhaps, again we have a surrogate for a particular figuration of what it means to be human, and we have the convergence of the market and the university, and the medical domain of cancer research. This is one of the products of Nixon’s war on cancer. It’s also one of the harbingers of the future of genetically engineered entities. This organism is the first organism in the world where a major nation-state’s patent trademark office patented not the process by which the organism is produced but the organism itself, so that a very interesting statement is made. The self-moving organism itself is property, but this by itself isn’t new, the history of slavery alone is enough to illustrate that, one needn’t go to other species to see it. I think the patent on this organism signals the sense in which the evolutionary niche, the place of the coming-to-being of species is now the join of the market and university. Patent trademark and copyright law was at the foundation of the U.S. constitution. It’s one of the important subjects that Thomas Jefferson paid attention to, the understanding of the attribution of ownership and authorship. What counts as property and what counts as author is understood to be at the origin of liberty, and at the origin of what counts as a citizen. In some sense these mythic narratives which are also merely mundane facts are stories about civic virtue and civic existence. The cyborg stories are always stories about what counts as civic virtue. The next slide is the feminist artist Lynn Randolph’s version of the story of Onco-mouse, written as the passion of Onco-mouse.

[Slide shows Randolph’s depiction of "The Passion of Onco-mouse"]

She has literally taken the sacrifice of the laboratory animal and produced here a Christ figure, who is a white female rat with breasts and a crown of thorns, in a peep-show, a kind of observation chamber, in a modern neo-liberal air pump chamber like the air-pump of the seventeenth century that figures the material, literary and social technologies that establish matters of fact. Onco-mouse is also a figure of the barely secularized salvation narrative of the barely repressed Christian technoscientific narrative. I argue that certainly in the United States technoscientific narrative makes heavy use of Christian salvation narrative materials.

[Slide shows a ceramic coffee cup emblazoned with the logo for the Washington University Technology Center, of a Native American bird-figure consuming a computer chip and DNA helix]

This is a personal coffee cup, which I’ve made it a point of honor to drink from for a few years. It feels like a kind of a reminder of where I am in the world. We have figured on here one of the major trickster figures of North American cultures, the raven figure, a crucial figure in myth systems all over the North American Pacific temperate rainforest climate areas. The trickster figure figures shape-shifting. The power of the trickster is as an intervener in and disturber of the ordinary. Not a particularly nice figure, the trickster is always a figure of danger, of risk-taking, and of course feeding our trickster figure, our indigenous symbol appropriated for leading-edge technology, that particular constant rip-off for the global universal. That oxymoronic global indigene that raven has become. Its nutrients include an integrated circuit and a double helix, the only thing missing is a dollar sign.

[Slide shows a cartoon of a woman on a cloud contemplating the image of a fetus on a computer screen]

This next slide comes out of a Swedish feminist magazine, I call it "the Creation of Adam", and of course so did Michaelanglo, we have a whole series of reversals in this ectopic pregnancy that goes off-screen, literally. We have the female Adam, specifically not Eve reaching her finger to the interface with God, the computer and the keyboard, is the figure of God the fetus, or is that the Eve, that God is embracing, is that God or what? The one thing we know about that fetus is that its fate is not to be born, at best to be downloaded, it’s very likely she"s aiming for the delete key, or perhaps simply editing the file, or any number of operations which certainly do not include birth. The relationship of that fetus to that female body is highly problematic, but we know we are at some moment of touch, from this today forward I hereby predict that you will not move a day through technoscience, that chronotrope in which we now live, without seeing some iconic reproduction of Michaelanglo’s touch of God with Adam. It is everywhere in contemporary technoscientific iconography. There is a small set of images, from Da Vinci, Michaelanglo, and so on, used to figure "genius, science, and me", elements that are used in the remarkable arrogance of technoscientific advertising. Now I’ve just shown you a series of slides I’m not talking about. The slides that you’ve seen up till now fit the cyborg paradigm rather well, in terms of the lineage of offspring from that 1960s moment. The next few slides sort of fit it, but we’re moving into the kennel, and I’m going to be moving us away from cyborg figuration and now I’m into companion species figuration. I want to start it at the cyborg end of things.

[Slide shows an advertisement featuring a terrier wearing an electronic monitor collar]

This is a lovely little Yorkshire terrier, it’s modeling the latest in reproductive technology for the kennel, which is marketed to monitor the pregnancy of a particular kind of dog whose head is too large to permit a so-called natural birth through the birth canal. If the puppies are born through the uterine canal, they will break their necks. There is an obligatory cesarean section for this particular breed of dog, whose recent evolutionary history has regarded selection for traits that don’t permit non-technologically mediated birthing. Now it’s possible to tell the evolution of the dog story in terms of dog-initiated use of human-provided resources, co-extensive with a history of the human species. Dog-wannabe wolves making use of human garbage, human wastes, dumps of various kinds, selecting themselves for shorter and shorter tolerance distances to human encampments, these kinds of stories are widely told these days about evolution of so-called domesticated dogs. Reversing the order of invention, humans didn’t invent dogs, dogs invented themselves and adopted humans as part of their reproductive strategy. The way of telling the technology story is not that technology invades nature once again, but that dogs have scored another coup, and now have appropriated high reproductive technology for their own reproductive strategy. That is of course a generous reading of this device here, which is actually a practice that offends me on many levels. It does permit more than one reading, which is one of the lessons I want to leave with this.

[Slide shows an advertisement for a camera device intended to be used by dog breeders to monitor their animals]
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