catacomber (catacomber) wrote,

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Haroway, Nakamura, Turkle

This week we read three authors, each of which wrote loosely on the subject of cultural identity correlated with the computer age. Turkle spoke of the way social interaction is changing via Multi User Domains, Haroway speaks of the changes in the way the very categories of identity are defined, and Nakamura wrote of the way people integrate old identities into the new mediums.

I would like to concetrate primarily on Haroway's piece, only for the reasons that there is not time to go into all three, and Haroway's was the one that got the brain clicking the most.

Haroway's Simian, Cyborgs, and Women offers an emulation of the old notion of cultural progression by suggesting that barriers are being challenged and broken by the advent of the postmodern age, that we have become cyborgs. Her substantiation of this is a bit abstract, as she speaks in relatively few specific examples of how the human is becoming more cyborg over the years. She asserts that it is being promulgated by medial extension and signal manipulation, an argument that resonates of the plague of semiotic transformation and subsumption Barthes and Baudriallard were harping about. (Pardon my poetics.) For her, the world has been translated into "a problem in coding".(164) Recall the emptying out of the referrent with Barthes, or the reduction of the world to a series of signs and links with Baudrillard.

It's not that I disagree with her about this change, Nor would I claim that the world is indeed not emptying out into the precarious status of a function of Functions, but it does bear scrutiny because these descriptions of the world are by no means cut and dried. To claim that we have all lost our sense of meaningful proximity with the world (As I interpret Baudrillard and Barthes to have done), then we must be extremely cautious about what kind of actions we base upon these apocalyptic cynicisms.

I will quickly answer the rebuttal that Haroway is hardly an apocalyptic. Indeed, she seems to want to trumpet the possible shapes she beieves may come from our metamorphosing world. I have no qualm with that.

For Haroway, there is a breakdown of three important categorical distinctions: that of man-woman, man-machine, man-animal. Semiotic systems are being challenged while we learn to cope with our new cyborg existences (that's pre-identitified existences). For her, the new blurring of old distinctions is an opportunity to level the playing fields that are and have been semiotically reified male-dominated institutions of power. The idea behind a lot of this is that these gender and machine and animal distinctions are basically tools to keep certain groups in power or certain other groups out of power. Of course, that means men.

I am hesitant to overtly dispute these claims, but I do have questions about the results of these distinction breakdowns. Perhaps I am not so hopeful that, as such, the playing field will necessarily be equalized. To say that through the autopoietic nature of culture these subsumptions fuel the changes of the betterized future seems a but unfounded. I like the idea, but it gives me some of the same willies that Adam Smith's "hand of God" gives me.

For one thing, if the categories disappear, and we know they do (read Bravmann and Wallach Scott on some insight on how this may work), there is nothing to measure our purported progress by. This reminds me of the reincarnation problem. Ask yourself, "why do I care if I am reincarnated if I can't remember who I was?" Is there a way to keep a mark on what once was in order to assure ourselves that indeed this all really was worth the pain? Or will this be one of those unique moments in history where tremendous cultural instability will not have produced tremendous frustration fear and pain? Sure, the bar changes, but it's just in a new location.
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