Scientific Research & Self-Development Activism
Hello all readers.
This was my submission for my third year Science Fiction class. It got a rather high first, and I'm quite proud of it. It's a little long but I believe worth the read. (obviously I'd say that).
Not been activ in a while. Sorry about that. No empty promises this time.
14) With reference to at least two different science fiction film, or television, texts from around the world discuss the concept of the post-human? How do your texts challenge/support critical writing around the post-human.
Donna Haraway describes the post-human as a “cyborg”, which she classes as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction." (Haraway, 1991) Cyborgs are characters that represent current transformations in contemporary society, as Claudia Springer notes how the character of the cyborg has be used to spark “disputes concerning gender and sexuality, with the future providing a clean slate, or a blank screen, onto which we can project our fascination and fears.” (Springer, 1991) This notion supports modern feminist theory that a gender is just a word, meaning that sex and gender are different things; the first being a linguistic label to describe how some humans act (or should act) (subjective). The second being what the thing is (objective), male or female.
It could be argued that Oshii Mamoru’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), based on the popular manga by Shiro Masamue, explores how a cyborg, a human ghost in a robot shell, breeds with a non-physical machine to create a “post-human” that is ambiguous in nature and gender.
By a similar vein Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) describes the events of a birth of a “post-human” through the plot of a global apocalypse, from inception to final birth. The cyborg pilot of the mech-suit Shinji-EVA, transforms from a dualistic form of boy and machine, to a living “post-human”, free from the restraints of human technology, with power enough to collapse a dimension.
Sharalyn Orbaugh calls the nature of the cyborg a “notion of personhood: sexuality and singularity”. Cyborg’s existence suggests worlds where what is a live goes beyond normal social ideas of a union of “male” and “female” genders.
Orbaugh states that sexuality and singularity are related “since partnered sex and its various consequences present one of the most common contexts within which the human experience of the singularity of the subject is challenged – through intimacy, loss of self in orgasm, pregnancy, infection, and so on.” She continues further noting how “cyborgs, which are by definition not naturally occurring, serve in a - significant way to mark the borders of modern(ist) subjectivity and simultaneously to reveal the ways those borders are breaking down and being redrawn in postmodern, posthuman paradigms.” Reproduction between genderless beings then has produced a good stage for the cyborg to feature on, as it has allowed issues of gender to represent other things. Culturally specific to Japanese narratives, is the adoption of “female” gendered cyborgs. Orbough argues that this portray of gender “relates back…to Japan’s experience of feminization by the dominant Western powers of the nineteenth century.” This is reference to the nuclear attack at the end of the Second World War, that left the country Freudianly “castrated”, crippled by radiation fall out.
This question about the nature of abject reproduction is well expressed by Neon Genesis Evangelion. The series explores “aspects of human sexuality involving bodily conjoining, intimacy, and penetration/ permeability played out through a cyborg subject.” (ibid.)
The story is rather complex, but briefly: the setting is fifteen years after what is known in the story as the “second impact”, where a meteor collision with Earth caused global disaster. In actuality, the “second impact” was the resulting explosion of a defeated alien attacker (referred to in the English translation of the series as an “angel”). Fifteen years later the “angels” have started appearing again. Mankind’s most powerful weapon against the “angels” are giant “metal suit” robots called EVAs, developed by a special defence force called NERV. Each EVA is piloted by a fourteen year old child who has a developed ability to bio-electrically synchronize harmoniously with the biomechanical interface of the EVA. Despite its strength as a weapon the EVA is reliant on an external power supply. This umbilical cord shaped device is used as a physical limit to the EVA’s power (adding a sense of suspense to the narrative) but is also a symbolic precursor to the cataclysmic birth of the fully synchronized Shinji-EVA cyborg.
In the first episode the protagonist, Ikari Shinji, is summoned to the headquarters of NERV by his father under false pretences: he is actually summoned to pilot an EVA in order to fend off the latest “angel” attack.
His initial reluctance is overcome when he sees the wounded body of another fourteen year old “female” pilot who went before him. In the scene following “we see a cylindrical capsule, the “entry plug,” being lowered into an opening in the “neck” of the giant EVA suit.
The scene shifts to Shinji inside the plug as it begins to fill with some kind of liquid.” (ibid.) Orbough labels this moment as the “scene of the first creation of the Shinji-EVA cyborg” via a process of Orbough calls “intercorperation – that is, mutual incorporation of the other.” This references images of Shinji, inside the phallic shaped entry plug, being lowered into an orifice of the EVA suit. The exchange of fluids analogous to heterosexual intercourse is represented by the liquid in the capsule with Shinji, who after initial terror, was told that by breathing it in he would be supplied with oxygen.
The filling of Shinji into EVA, and Eva into Shinji in this sexual way is interpreted by Orbough as: “each of the cyborg’s two components – the mechanical EVA and the biotic Shinji – has penetrated into and filled the other; each has been incorporated by the other.” In this way the two separate beings become one hybrid cyborg. Orbough comments that with this process of “incorporation”, this case of cyborg conception is very unlike human reproduction in that “only females incorporate genetic information from the semen their bodies take in with sexual penetration, and only females have their body boundaries forcefully breached by the act of giving birth to the baby that is the product of that original incorporation.” In this way the Shinji-EVA’s cyborg body is gender non-specific. However reproduction by “intercorporation” is portrayed as terrifying by the male protagonist Shinji. This is used to play on male viewing audience fear of “feminization” of the body (relating back to WWII lingering anxieties of western castration).
Orbough provides another example of cyborg “intercorperation” in the film Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1988) “which opens with a man intentionally “inflicting” or “impregnating” himself by thrusting a metal bar into a slit in his thigh, which gradually turns him into a monstrous amalgam of the machinic and the organic. He then goes on to “infect” or “impregnate” others.” In this instance the ambiguity of Tetsuo’s gender is brought into questioning due to his ability to impregnate himself and others, similar to that of an infection or parasite. This represents anxieties of mutation of the male fertility due to effects of atomic radiation.
“Control of the body and body boundaries is clearly an important node of anxiety being played out though many cyborg narratives.” (ibid.) the classical robot body in SF is totally controllable. It represents an ideal modernist conception of the body/ self. Cyborg narrative often supplies a consequence for increasing attempts at control of the body. Orbough suggests that “the repressed always returns. As the imagined social body has become increasingly more perfect and controlled…the likelihood of the eruption of the repressed body, in all its abject, excessive, imperfect, uncontrolled, boundary-challened “female-ness,” increases.
As is shown in NGE the release of this masculine repression is embodied in the release of emotion in the form of rage by the Shinji-EVA, in episode 19. In summary the events leading to this follow: Shinji sees his two other EVA pilot comrades fall in combat to a new “angel”. Shinji-Eva loses the battle to the “angel”, however; while drained of power and at complete mercy of the adversary, Shinji, “screaming with frustration, manages to “synchronize” so completely with the EVA suit that he disappears, simultaneously managing to activate some power in the cyborg amalgam of himself and the suit that allows him/ it/ her to rise up, regenerate its own [dismembered] arm…and defeat the ‘angel’”. (Orbough) Wendy Goldberg, notes this as a genre defining moment: “the EVA moves on four legs…and crawl-walks over to the fallen figure of his enemy. Holding the head down, he begins to tear at the creature with his mouth…We see the EVA from a shadowy distance; he looks up at us, his eyes glowing like an animal in the dark. Victory is no longer the clean, unambiguous position in the conventional mecha genre.” (Goldberg)
As the mecha armour falls off the EVA in its rage, a character comments: “That isn’t armor. Those are restraints that allow us to control the EVA’s power. But now the EVA is removing the web that binds it to our will. We can no longer control the EVA.”
The above scene depicts the unleashing of the “masculine” repression, in the form of the character accepting “feminine” loss of emotional control. This is the ultimate synchronisation of the biotic and mechanical components of the Shinji-EVA cyborg. Korani describes this scene as “the explosion of the radically feminine”: The moment electric technology becomes unavailable [his power supply cords have been cut], Shinji strongly hopes for a miracle. Thus, with the ultimate aim to defeat the enemy, Shinji very naturally but miraculously come to feminize himself. This sequence unveils Shinji’s epiphany. The more strongly he desires a miraculous breakthrough, the more deconstructive his own sexuality becomes. Hence the abrupt explosion of fearful femininity out of Shinji’s own male subjectivity.” (Kotani, “Evangelion as the Immaculate Virgin”, 3,5.)
By removing the limitations of gender Shinji is able to fully become “post-human” and gains the power to defeat the “angel”. However the cost of this power is portrayed in the monstrous depiction of “the uncontrollable, insufficiently bounded body/ subjectivity that enlightened, rational modernity has sought to repress”. (ibid.) That is fear of the power of female emotions in a post-human world, unbound by traditional gender tropes and labels, physically depicted in the monstrous cannibalistic nature of the EVA, which may “intercorporate” with masculinity due to the lowering of gender lines. This is a direct reduction of masculine power, and thus an echoed form of national masculine castration.
From the narrative of NGE it can be argued that, “despite the terror it provokes, the only hope for humankind is to move towards increased intimacy – permeability/ penetrability – with the mechanical other.” (ibid.) NGE manages to present a cyborg body, a hybrid of biotic and mechanical: that, while it is able to have genders ascribed to it in the form of physical limitations, is in actuality gender ambiguous. In fact, for the Shinji-EVA to fully synchronise both fears and control of gender must be forgotten to fully form the “post-human” cyborg that changes the world at the end of the story.
Haraway explains that “by retelling origin stories, cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of Western culture. We have all been colonized by those origin myths, with their longing for fulfilment in apocalypse.” This subversion Haraway talks about, is with reference to the cyborg’s diversity of form and lack of gender. For example in creation stories, such as the Greek creation myths, many comparisons can be drawn between the cyborg and the Olympian Gods. As a hypothetical example of this one instance, if the Olympian Gods are cast without gender ascribed to them, i.e. they were seen as the equivalent of cyborgs (claim justified if the Gods can be seen as hybrids of a physical power, such as the sea, and non-physical power, embodied by the concept of an existing god e.g. Posideon. A physical - non-physical hybrid is a type of cyborg listed by Haraway.), then it is likely that the Ancient Greek society may not have been as patriarchal a society as it was.
The west has used cyborgs less to question the nature of gender, but more to create examples, and embodiments of the best and worst aspects of humanity. Western superhero sci-fi has grown characters, such as the manifestation of rage: the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk), a creature caused by a radioactive weapons testing accident that granted the human Bruce Banner phenomenal strength and invulnerability, at the cost of loss of physical control by transformation into the Hulk, and subsequently loss of control of himself during that time. Similar to the rage of EVA, the Hulk is an expression of mutated repressed masculine anxieties that fears castration by military, or another authoritative power. Contrary to NGE, the Hulk as a cyborg can be interpreted as a genderless as he cannot reproduce. The monstrous transformation of the Hulk is triggered by sexual excitement, as well as anger, which causes the Hulk to not have a suitable body for reproduction; it’s just too dangerous for the other human in the act of reproduction. In this way genderless body of the cyborg is deemed genderless out of necessity for the protection of normal humans.
It is more so in Japanese culture that gendered female cyborg body is used to discuss the nature of possible cyborg reproduction. Ghost in the Shell features a female cyborg protagonist who has an entirely cybernetic body. Major Kusanagi Motoko is a special security forces officer who leads a team in “Division Nine of the Security Branch of the Department of the Interior”. Orbough notes that her cyborg body is “under perfect control: nothing goes into out of it except what/ when/ how she wishes.” However, this body is not constructed to enhance her preferences, but to “maximise [her] usefulness to the state”. (Ghost in the Shell) While Kusanagi is presumably female by origin, she has no obligation to reproduce due to her cyborg body. In an opposition to the feminisation of the masculine in NGE, Kusanagi’s female body has been masculinised. The appearance of complete physical control is an incarnation of the “modernist idea of autonomous subjectivity” (ibid,), as Orbough notes; control over the body is a masculine gender quality.
Kusanagi is brought in to deal with a terrorist under the name of the “Puppet Master”, who has been hacking into cyborgs and reprograms them to perform acts of terrorism. Eventually the Puppet Master is revealed to be an advanced computer programme turned sentient, that has escaped its creators in a manufactured body. While on the hunt for the sentient software, Kusanagi meets the people reprogramed by the Puppet Master. Their implanted memories cause her to question whether she is actually real, or if everything she knows about herself is artificial; like her body.
Upon finding the Puppet Master, Kusanagi is questioned by the computer programme to the legitimacy of her own life. He offers her a chance to prove that she is a living organism by merging with him to create a single more powerful entity, “capable of traveling the Net [internet in the world] as the Puppet Master does but still retaining some element of Kusanagi’s subjectivity.” (ibid.) In this scene Ghost in the Shell attempts to explore a possible form of reproduction between two sexually androgynous, non-organic life forms. This questions the reproduction of the machine by merely replicative means, and suggests an actual way to create a being similar to the exchange of genes in humans. “the interest is focused not on the infinite replicability of cyborgs but on the limits imposed on subjectivity by such perfect control and how these limits may be transcended, moving to the next stage of evolution.” (ibid.) By reproducing, argued by the Puppet Master, Kusanagi and the Puppet Master will have fulfilled a defining characteristic of a life-form, proving that Kusanagi is more than just an artificial creation, also that reproduction is not necessarily based on an act of sexual intimacy between two gender types.
Donna Haraway has said that “the cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world.” (Cyborg Manifesto, 150) While that is true, a post-gender world does not mean any gender. Japanese cyborg narratives rely on the gender of the protagonist show anxieties related to social/ cultural repression, in the form of castration for the male genders, and issues of control for female genders. Comparatively western cyborgs, in the form of the superhero SF genre, while are genderless like all cyborgs, rely on gender to carry a whole host of contexts. Western cyborgs in pop-culture focus on the post-human’s power and how this interacts with the rest of the world: contrastingly creation stories on the post-human, such as NGE and Ghost in the Shell, try to show a world where the idea of a post-human being is made possible, in order to depict a world that either come to terms with gender differences, or just gets rid of them all together. Either way, the cyborg is a useful tool to show how genders are just labels for people in a society who act a certain way, as cyborgs are genderless by nature and thus can be presented as any gender, which supports modernist gender theory.
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Haraway, D. (1991). “A Cyborg Manifest: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. New York: Routledge.
Springer, C. (1991). “The Pleasure of the Interface”, Screen 32
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