Tag Archives: Haraway

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Steve Jones and the Humanities, Everted

Steve Jones was a Distinguished Visiting Professor for the Advanced Research Collaborative at The Graduate Center last year (2014-2015), and as a result, I had the chance to hear him speak a few times. One of the features I admire about his work is the way it traces beginnings to moments of critical mass–certainly a goal of the introduction and first chapter of his 2013 book, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities. As I understand, Jones is now working on a history of Father Busa, the so-called founding father of digital humanities-type research who produced a concordance of Saint Thomas Aquinas using IBM’s computers around the 1950s. This project, like his others, suggests a common methodology: return to historical roots for new ways of thinking, uncover institutional forces that shaped movements, and interrogate these systems to highlight their current digital and networked instantiations.

Something that has struck me throughout this course is the intense relevance of science fiction, and thinking to Cory Doctorow, young adult versions of this genre, to imagining digital futures. Jones uses the work of William Gibson–who also coined the term “cyberspace”–to refine the term “eversion” (also Gibson’s word) for conceiving of our relationship to technology anew. For Jones, “eversion” is the idea that we no longer tune in to digital worlds, or engage with networks by booting up or down a computer, but that the omnipresence of the network creeps outward into our daily lives and physical space. The WiFi waves that surround our bodies when we’re in networked buildings, the GPS in our phones (GPS is a huge turning point for Jones’ argument about eversion, perhaps worthy of classroom discussion) that tracks our location on grids, gaming devices like the Wii, all indicate that we are surrounded by the stuff of digitality and can no longer contain it in a tiny screen or device. This idea dovetails with Hayles’ argument from How We Became Posthuman that information is material, suggesting, in part, that what’s at stake in Jones’ argument–although he doesn’t necessarily pick this up–is what it means to be human in an everted age. Perhaps Haraway might have something to add!

Jones covers much ground in the first two sections of The Emergence of the Digital Humanities, but by far the most resonant and applicable idea that I’ve extracted is that of “eversion.” Since this term is also the organizing principle for his book, in lieu of a blow-by-blow of the readings, I’ll trot right to the provocations:

***The introduction ends with Jones’ statement that “the digital humanities is the humanities everted” (16). As evidence, he suggests that “DH has the potential to facilitate…productive breaches, to afford the kinds of cultural exchange that have shaped the new DH since its emergence” both inside and outside of the academy (16). Do you agree with his assessment of DH constituted an everted humanities? I’ve been chewing on this one a while.

***Related to eversion, Jones suggests that “the new DH starts from the assumption of a new, mixed-reality humanities” (32) that functions “less like an academic movement and more like a transitional set of practices at a crucial juncture, on the one hand moving between old ideas of the digital and of the humanities, and on the other hand, moving toward new ideas about both.” Looping about around to Haraway and Hayles (very poetic at the end of the semester), how might we build further nuance into this argument? Are “mixed-reality humanities” depending on either student or institutional economic stability/wealth, ideological systems, or perhaps combinations of other factors?

***Jones makes an important distinction in his definition of eversion by noting that the network doesn’t turn “itself inside out,” but rather “human agency” accomplishes this task–just how “games require players” and “digital humanities research requires scholar-practitioners” (36). Many of our course themes have attempted to account for human elements in digital research and pedagogy–it always comes back to the embodied self. How do we continue to negotiate the balance between concepts and theories like eversion and the human elements that are inherent in their animation?

Haraway (reposted)

Hi ITP crew-

I posted this in the Forum, but thought perhaps I ought to put it here. (The internet is for redundancy? Or at least forgives it to an alarming degree?)

Art attribution… somewhat difficult to track. The image is linked to its url, but I pulled this off a google search and found it floating around a number of sites.

“This chapter is an effort to build an ironic political myth faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism” Donna J. Haraway (149).

Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (first published in Socialist Review in 1985, then included as a chapter in 1991) is a great place to start deepening our conversation from last week. Not only do her concerns express fundamental conditions of current trends in theorizing the digital, her writing style manifests the blurred boundaries of the organic and the mechanical she describes.

The way Haraway so fluidly metastasizes metaphor and science corresponds with her mission of myth making. She writes in images and with wry allusion (“other than a shroud for the day after the apocalypse that so prophetically ends salvation history” (158)). The politics Haraway argues for reorganizes “world-wide social relations tied to science and technology” (161), identifying dichotomies that mark the transition from “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” to “scary new networks” she calls “informatics of domination” (161). Choosing to list and categorize concepts and classifications, she highlights the role of language in paradoxically establishing and transgressing boundaries.

I pose, as a reaction to this reading, a few questions about the cyborg made manifest. Have we reached a point at which the materialism of digital tools has superseded our theoretical concerns? Do these metaphors still work? What function does the cyborg serve as we become more and more connected to our smartphones?

Haraway discusses the shift in world ideological frameworks and I am curious whether we have dissolved even further since her claim that “boundary-maintaining images of base and superstructure, public and private, or material and ideal never seemed more feeble” (165). Has the omnipresence of technological redundancy further diluted our attempts at unifying ideas or movements?

“‘Networking’ is both a feminist practice and a multinational corporate strategy — weaving is for oppositional cyborgs.” (170) Haraway looks for new coalitions within the loosened picture of women in society that no longer relates solely to the private/public dichotomy. As Haraway describes the shifting realm and power of women, “the task,” she states, “is to survive the diaspora”(170). As the internet continues to expand these consortia, how do movements coalesce? Is Amy Schumer really the face of new feminism? “Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control” (175). Do new representations of women succeed to any extent of Haraway’s mission? What will we include in our “powerful infidel heteroglossia” (181)?

I look forward to hearing how each of the disciplines represented in class approach the vast political, economic, gendered reaches of this text. Irony seems to be an excellent adhesive for cohering these extremes. Lean on the opposite to assert your position. What ironies are most notable in Haraway’s text? Does irony ultimately hold? Or do we all become mustaches on coffee mugs?

ironic mustache mugs. as labelled by the internet.

-Jojo

 

Citation

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto:  Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Routledge, 1991, 149-81.

Nakamura and Gane & Haraway

In her ethnographic study of the online world LambdaMOO, Nakamura finds that individuals “perform bodies as text”, often taking on racial identities that (possibly) do not match their real life (RL) racial identities. When individuals are in “[control of] the conditions of their own self-representations“ does this make a space more or less democratic? Is it problematic that race can be overlooked or “not even an option”, or are people increasingly free to take on new identities and shed RL ties (if only while in the cyber world)? This leads to what Nakamura called identity tourism in which players choose to perform a type of racial play. While people may insist that everyone is “the same” in these virtual worlds, access to technology is not; “one of the dangers of identity tourism is that is takes this restriction across the axes of race/class in the ‘real world’ to an even more subtle and complex degree by reducing non-white identity positions to part of a costume”. Identity tourism suppresses racial discourse and degrades the concept of race into something to be performed, not lived, and hence offers an escape only for those who: 1. have access to these spaces and 2. desire to perform race virtually with no repercussions in RL.

This calls to mind Haraway’s insistence that the virtual is never immaterial and one must always consider the “materialities of information”. In considering the materialities of our virtual lives and self-descriptions, to what truths and RL experiences should we be held accountable? And how do we accurately textualize and contextualize our existence in the virtual world? How do we best “wield the signs of subordinated identity in a public domain” (Judith Butler in Nakamura)?

Haraway may have been asking a similar question when talking about our inherent connected, situated, relational existence when she asked: “Taking this relationship seriously and unwinding who we are here lands us in many concatenated worlds, in a very situated ‘becoming’. Then the fundamental, ethical, political question is: to what are you accountable if you try to take what you have inherited seriously?” How do we recognize and acknowledge the many worlds we inhabit and the connections they imply?

Race and gender bring to mind another seemingly related concept – our existence as a human species. According to Nakamura, “new and futuristic technologies call into question the integrity of categories of the human”. Haraway complicates our understanding of our existence as “human” when she claims that we (humans) have been “worlded” and “produced” as species through “the powerful world changing discourses of biology”. Our existence has been anthropomorphized by language and discourse. What, then, does it mean to be “human”? Haraway contends that though living as a species is non-optional because we have been produced this way, we also live as cyborgs and living as a cyborg allows and prompts us to question the (re)constitution of our world. How do we find and use ghosts/bugs in the system and tropes/trippings to look at the world we inhabit to identify cracks, fissures, and opportunities for change?

Furthermore, just as race and gender are understood as a social constructs, should “human” fall into the same category? Haraway calls for a new focus on ‘category work’. When Haraway speaks of category work, she asks for a new and deeper understanding the relationality and connected nature of our lives. How do we engage in category work in an intersectional world? How do we address and understand our own “becoming “ and the “torque” we experience from simultaneously inhabiting various worlds?

————
Gane, N. (2006). When we have never been human, what is to be done?: Interview with Donna Haraway. Theory Culture Society, 23:135.

Nakamura, L. “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet.”