On SF & Donna Haraway:

Contained in these briefest of sketches, however, are important keys to understanding the full intent of Haraway’s ironic myth. The Manifesto calls on SF in a number of ways. First, and crucially, looking to SF becomes a way of foregrounding and talking about the mythic elements of technoscience. Thee Manifesto is centrally concerned with a reconstruction of socialist-feminist politics “in the belly of the monster” -a drive that requires a “theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations” (Haraway 1991a: 163). For Haraway, SF is a useful tool for foregrounding such “systems of myth;’ especially if we export our SF reading practices to science and see both as stories about science.

SF in the Manifesto is also, of course, a key source for the figure of the cyborg itself. As in all her work, “grokking” the cyborg entails accepting the enmeshing of the material and semiotic, the “reality” of subjects described by science as well as their historical constructedness. Thus “the cyborg is a matter of fiction and lived experience” and Haraway’s cyborg, at least, sees its promise in the confusion of boundaries between organism and machine that seemed reified as part of the science/arts, nature/culture, human/animal binaries. The SF cyborgs Haraway cites as cogenitors are key for the way they “populate worlds ambiguously natural and
crafted” (Haraway 1991c:149). That is, the SF worlds writing cyborgs into being always skirt the im/possibility of the natural/artifactual dualism. It is in this sense that Haraway calls her feminist SF writers “theorists for cyborgs” and our “story-tellers exploring what it means to be embodied in high-tech worlds” (Haraway 1991c:173).

Key to Haraway’s approach in the Manifesto is the need to oppose a technophobic fear of the machine and instead accept the machinic-and the collapse of technological/organic boundaries-as part of our embodiment; “the machine is us, our processes, and aspect of our embodiment”(Haraway 1991c:180). These are, of course, not the only boundaries that must be challenged. Importantly, “cyborg monsters in feminist science fiction define quite different political possibilities and limits from those proposed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman” (Haraway 1991c:180 )that is, our stories of sexual, gendered, and species divisions, amongst others. Haraway provides a whole list of oppositions and objects whose status as natural, given, universals is challenged in this work. “Thee cyborgs populating feminist science fiction make very problematic the statuses of man or woman, human, artefact, member of a race, individual entity or body” (Haraway 1991c:178). Indeed, most of the examples Haraway cites in the close of the Manifesto do not so much confuse the human/machine boundaries we commonly associate with the SF cyborg as they trouble these other problematic boundaries. Russ’s Female Man “refuse(s) the reader’s search for innocent wholeness” (Haraway 1991c:178); while Tiptree is called on for her “generations of male brood pouches and male nurturing”; Varley for his “mad goddess-planet-trickster-old womantechnological device” Gaea; and Butler for her black sorceresses, shapeshifters, mixed species and human-alien characters. 1here is human/technology interface here, certainly, but in the case of Tiptree, Varley, and Butler these are cyborgian monsters produced through biotechnology, and ones where the human/other boundary is polluted through intermingling between races, species, aliens, and animals. What all these texts have in common is the way in which they were consciously engaged in rewriting and revisioning both traditional SF narratives as well as broader scientific and social discourses. Most of the texts Haraway references were associated with the feminist utopian movement, however these visions were not-as some commentators persisted in arguing-blueprints for a real “elsewhere.”” Communion or joining with the alien or animal in feminist SF is not a desire to escape planet Earth and indulge in miscegenation, but a way of thinking differently about what it means to be human-to resist and warp the self-other dyad. The appeal of all these texts for a cyborg trickster figuration is their resistance to wholeness, unity, and innocence… The alien species, races, organisms, and machines populating these texts mean we cannot escape the fact that right from the beginning there was always more going on than the boys from Wired or the cyberpunks might have thought.

It is this destruction that “provokes the necessity of active rewriting as reading.”

Haraway-qua-reader feels compelled to rewrite not just the story itself but “the whole human and unhuman collective that is Lisa Foo” (that is: just as she has reread and rewritten the cyborg, oncomouse, or dogs). She uses this act or performance of rereading to make her real point, which  is about the aim and function of such rereadings, reappropriations, and reconfigurings. … This is, of course, precisely what Haraway does with her other figurations, including the cyborg: she rearticulates or redescribes them in order to foreground that which is hidden or foreclosed. “It’s not a ‘happy ending’ we need, but a non-ending” (Haraway 2004:no).

From Beyond the Cyborg: Adventures with Donna Haraway 

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: “I Don’t Want to Be the Strong Female Lead” by Brit Marling

Even the spirited Antigone, the brave Joan of Arc and the unfettered Thelma and Louise meet tragic ends in large part because they are spirited, brave and unfettered. They can defy kings, refuse beauty and defend themselves against violence. But it’s challenging for a writer to imagine a world in which such free women can exist without brutal consequences.

Butler and other writers like Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood did not employ speculative fiction to colonize other planets, enslave new life-forms, or extract alien minerals for capital gains only to have them taken at gunpoint by A.I. robots. These women used the tenets of genre to reveal the injustices of the present and imagine our evolution.

As time has passed, I’ve come to understand what deep influence shaping a narrative has. Stories inspire our actions. They frame for us existences that are and are not possible, delineate tracks we can or cannot travel. They choose who we can find empathy for and who we cannot. What we have fellow feeling for, we protect. What we objectify and commodify, we eventually destroy.

I don’t want to be the dead girl, or Dave’s wife. But I don’t want to be a strong female lead either, if my power is defined largely by violence and domination, conquest and colonization.

Sometimes I get a feeling of what she could be like. A truly free woman. But when I try to fit her into the hero’s journey she recedes from the picture like a mirage. She says to me: Brit, the hero’s journey is centuries of narrative precedent written by men to mythologize men. Its pattern is inciting incident, rising tension, explosive climax and denouement. What does that remind you of?

And I say, a male orgasm.

And she says: Correct. I love the arc of male pleasure. But how could you bring me into being if I must satisfy the choreography of his desire only?

I imagine new structures and mythologies born from the choreography of female bodies, non-gendered bodies, bodies of color, disabled bodies. I imagine excavating my own desires, wants and needs, which I have buried so deeply to meet the desires, wants and needs of men around me that I’m not yet sure how my own desire would power the protagonist of a narrative.

These are not yet solutions. But they are places to dig.

Excavating, teaching and celebrating the feminine through stories is, inside our climate emergency, a matter of human survival. The moment we start imagining a new world and sharing it with one another through story is the moment that new world may actually come.



GRIMES: A bit of both. I’m really obsessed with polytheism. I love how the ancient Greeks or the ancient Egyptians lived in this weird anime world where there were just tons of gods that could be anything. It’s like every form of suffering had a representation. I wonder if it almost has a positive psychological effect. If your kid dies in a war, you can literally go speak to War and be like, “Why did you do this?” Or, “I hope you did this for a reason.” There’s a weird philosophical justification for all pain, and there’s an anAthropomoArphization of every form of pain. In our current society, we don’t even know how to talk about things. So my album’s about a modern demonology or a modern pantheon where every song is about a different way to suffer or a different way to die. If you think about it, god-making or god-designing just seems so fun. The idea of making the Goddess of Plastic seems so fun to me.

GRIMES: I’ve hit this point where there’s so much stuff that people think about me that has no basis in reality that I feel like I have to remove myself from my public self. I had to kill my ego, because there was no way to remain invested in myself as having anything to do with the culture while surviving mentally.

DEL REY: There are cycles to it. You can have years of ambivalence, and then it’s like that natural female hot and cold cycle. You can come back into caring extremely and being invested in yourself and your work, and then not caring at all. I think the good thing about what’s going on with you is that for all the hardship and the confusion, you can continue to make music and people will be intrigued because there have been so many little twists and turns.

GRIMES: I think my motto in life is just, “Don’t be bored.” Even if I’m having the worst time, I’m like, “Wow, this rules.” In some of my worst moments I remember thinking, “Damn, this is such sick fodder for my eventual book.” Speaking of which, would you ever write a book?

DEL REY: It’s funny, people have been asking me that lately. Ever since I started caring a bit less, and, like you said, disregarding ego—which is easy for me, thankfully—I’ve been writing more short stanza poetry. And now that I’ve done that, I was thinking, “Would I ever write something long-form?” I think I would want to, but honestly, I’m so hyperactive in my life. I don’t know if I could complete it, so I think it might be something like chicken scratch, all placed together in some long-form novel.

GRIMES: I was reading a study of the average age of artists. People are always saying shit like, “Oh, you’re so much less creative as you get older,” like your brain becomes less plastic and more static, which I actually disagree with.

DEL REY: Yeah, me too.

GRIMES: What’s interesting is that most novelists peak in their sixties. When I think about many of my favorite books, it’s mostly old-ass people who wrote them. My thought was, “Oh, I’ll just wait until I’m old and out of musical ideas, and then I’ll sit down and write a novel.” I’ll be so much more physically lazy when I’m old, too, so I’ll probably be way happier to sit down for 12 hours a day.

MARLING: There are so few representations of women on screen that are wholly authored by women. You have such authorial control over the whole process, from conception to execution. When I see you do these things, it feels like a political act, like you’re saying, “Fuck all of the bullshit stereotypical patriarchal roles that women are allowed to be inside entertainment,” whether that’s the virgin, the whore, or the mother. It feels like you’re making characters that are mischievous and carnal and brilliant. I’ve had so many moments watching your work where I’ve been like, “Oh my god. If I could embody that character in a film, that’s the role I want to play.”

GRIMES: That’s how I feel about you. People were like, “You’ve got to watch The OA.” I’m like, “Well, what is it?” I don’t know how to describe what it is. I always tell people that it’s the closest thing to IRL anime. It’s a cartoon-style narrative that is committed to film.

MARLING: That’s in your work, too. We allow magic to happen inside anime because it’s a cartoon, but when you put it in real life, it’s harder for people to digest.

GRIMES: It’s also a cost thing in real life. If you’re animating something crazy, it normally won’t cost a thing, whereas on film, something crazy is very expensive. We’re always negotiating the cost versus the craziness, which is why we always end up editing ourselves.

MARLING: On The OA at least, if you don’t control every part of the process, you fail miserably because what you’re doing is so far-out. If you tell a sound engineer, “The 16-foot telepathic octopus is rising out of the tank for human contact, make the sound of that,” everybody thinks it sounds like something different, because it’s never happened before.

GRIMES: How do you do it? When I see The OA and see hours of narrative, I’m like, “What the fuck?” It takes me a month to make a three-minute video.

MARLING: When I watch your videos, I think “What the fuck?” too. To me, you’re speaking in the poetry of symbolism.

GRIMES: I’ve been obsessed with symbolism lately. Mac [Boucher, Grimes’s brother] was telling me that in the medieval times, when literacy was at its lowest, everything got really symbolic, like the cross. Nuance got lost. I feel like we’re going back to a time like that, where everything is symbolic. No one reads past a headline because our attention spans are so short.

MARLING: Everything is reduced to an archetype.

GRIMES: The same symbols are being fed to people, and they’re gathering completely opposite meanings from them, and it’s creating chaos.

MARLING: The American flag means one thing to one group of people, and one thing to another. To one, it’s a metaphor for freedom. To another, it’s an image of oppression. That duality of symbolism applies to so many things. But we live in an increasingly complex time where it’s hard to grasp things in symbols. We’re having to deal with all of these hyperobjects. Climate change is a hyperobject that people cannot wrap their minds around, because, among other things, it involves a contemplation of time that is off the scope of the human body. We’re at a moment when we need nuanced, layered thinking more than ever, and somehow the moment is being met with a real shrinking away from context or depth. What is something technology related that hasn’t yet come, but feels inevitable?

MARLING: It’s thinking about power in a limited way. With old versions of power you would harness an army, kill a lot of people, and have power. AI is way ahead of that. AI’s like, “Actually, I only need to control 12 people on the planet. As long as I control those 12 people, the world is going to look like what I want it to look like.”

GRIMES: I might be wrong, and I might be aggrandizing here, but I feel like this might be one of the most important times in history. Especially in the last two years, it feels like we’ve walked right up to the edge between the old world and the new world. It’s like before the pyramids and after the pyramids. We’re at a “pyramids got built” moment. We’re going to be digitizing reality and colonizing space simultaneously, which may be two of the craziest things that will have occurred in the history of humanity. It’s going to happen while we’re alive and while we’re young, which is nuts. I was going to make this podcast called The Last Artist, and I really wanted you to come on. Did I tell you about this?

GRIMES: We’re always looking for our maker: “Who is our god? Who created us?” What’s interesting is, for AI, we are their god. That will be the first intelligent being that knows its creator, and knows everything about us.



See also: “Gods in Our Machines by G.B. Gabbler

The Bleak Futures of Octavia Butler

‘Throughout her fiction, Butler seems unable to conceptualize human beings as we currently are surviving. Whether it’s intervention from an extraterrestrial species or developing traits that allow us to evolve beyond our humanity, we have to become something unrecognizable in order to survive. Then the question becomes: if that is the requirement, did humans really survive? Or are we fated to self-immolate? When I read the news, I often feel that Butler was sharing a truth with this observation–but I don’t want it to be true. I want humans to be capable of collectively overcoming whatever impulse there is inside us that causes us to want to destroy one another.’

Sci Femme

Books discussed in this essay: Parable of the Sower (1993); Parable of the Talents (1998); Lilith’s Brood(2000); Fledgling (2005); Seed to Harvest (2007). Some spoilers.

Octavia Butler had a bleak outlook on the future of humanity, judging by her forward-looking science fiction novels. The dystopias portrayed in Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Clay’s Ark (part of the Patternist series) depict a complete regression of civilization and are marked by senseless violence and brutality. In the Xenogenesis series, humanity has been all but wiped out in a global nuclear war.

When Butler looked ahead, she seemed to see only one thing that could save us: a transcendence beyond our brutal human natures. What we would become in these visions may no longer resemble human beings–and Butler seemed ambivalent about this–but it might offer the only hope for our salvation.

1415945710943494543Each of these series posits such…

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