Summary: “Trying to Plug In: Cyborgs and the Search for Connection” by Melissa Colleen Stevenson

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Stevenson, M. C. (2007) Trying to plug in: Posthuman cyborgs and the search for connection. Science Fiction Studies, 34-1, 87-105.

This week I chose an article that focused on the cyborg as a philosophical vehicle in science fiction, first because I’ve always had an interest in the subject, and second because I’ve just read “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by Tiptree. In this article, Stevenson approaches the various theoretical iterations of cyborg theory and decides to focus on two major works on the subject: Haraway’s cyborgs and Hayles’s theories of identity. She first discusses Haraway’s feminist utopian notion of the cyborg as an opportunity for women to make social network connections formerly impossible in their corporeal form (due to hierarchical power imbalances and the like). She then discusses Hayle’s theories in response to posthumanist fantasies of eternal life through a downloaded soul, which imply that human experiences are formed by embodiment as well as cognitive interactions. She then relates the two major theories by their (pretty much only) point of juncture: Hayles’s “splice” and Haraway’s “weaving” summarized by Stevenson as “the fruitful connections made between bodies and identities across categorizations previously thought to be mutually exclusive.” This notion of connections constituting humanness becomes the crux of her discussion on Moore’s “No Woman Born,” and Tiptree’s “The Girls Who Was Plugged In.”

She discusses Moore’s cyborg character Deidre as “superhuman” in the abandonment of her physical body, along with some other implications regarding the male gaze and political economy (she makes a similar point in regard to Tiptree’s P. Burke — saying that her identity, as well, was refracted and represented through the male perspective. A rather interesting point that Stevenson does not spend a great deal of time on).  She then focuses on P. Burke as a narrative personification of Butler’s performativity, arguing that Delphi is a positive, or even progressive, example of both Hayes and Haraway’s feminist cyborg theories — she (Burke) is both free from her body and embodied at once, and is making social connections that she would otherwise not have made, thus making her more human.

She concludes by viewing both characters within these theoretical frameworks as both successful and unsuccessful in different terms. She explains that both characters fall short in that they are isolated, unique beings, and therefore cannot form a community within which to make connections and interactions — the (post)humanist imperative Stevenson opens the article with.

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