Tag Archives: Donna Haraway

Lucy

I decided to see the movie Lucy today because the commercials I’d seen for it made it look like it would raise some interesting philosophical questions about what it means to be human rather than simply being a stereotypical action film, and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed it thoroughly; it was one of those rare art pieces that helps me touch the sublime. My mind is still buzzing from it.

I won’t go into too much detail about the film here because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that the major reason I liked it was because it dealt rather explicitly with two of my favorite theories: Walt Whitman’s idea that everything is connected and thus life is in a sense eternal (though not in a religious way) and Donna Haraway’s idea of humans as cyborgs, beings that extend beyond the boundaries of their physical bodies to encompass other elements of the world. At one point Lucy says “we never really die,” and this idea is never explained clearly within the context of the movie itself (I fear that most viewers will miss its significance), but in light of Whitman’s constant assertions throughout “Song of Myself” that we continue to exist after our bodies die in the natural world, the statement makes perfect sense. At the end of the film a character asks of Lucy “where is she?,” and she, for lack of a better term, texts “I am everywhere,” just as the 1855 version of “Song of Myself” ends “I stop some where waiting for you.” Likewise, the film explores Whitman’s idea of universal divinity as Lucy becomes a kind of secular Christ figure, connecting humanity back to the Big Bang and reconnecting with the first human, “Lucy” (for whom the title character is, of course, named), reminding us that we are all interconnected.

Similarly, with regard to Haraway’s idea of what it means to be “post-human,” Lucy literally becomes a cyborg in the RoboCop sense of the word, melding with a super computer before her ultimate meld with the universe. This post-humanness is the saddest part of the film, and is acknowledged by Lucy as such, because even though she breaks the restrictive bonds of what it is to be human, in doing so she loses her humanity, her selfhood, and is not given a choice in the matter. She is impregnated with her powers in a way reminiscent of the virgin Mary (i.e., it is not literal rape, but it is very close, and yes, Lucy is both a Jesus figure and a Marian one, but the film manages this double symbolism quite nicely), forced to do her best with her lot. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job portraying Lucy’s other-than-humanness in heart-breaking, compelling fashion. By the end of the film, her character makes the viewer uncomfortable because as a post-human she has become objectified, and this objectification verges on exploitation, but at the same time Lucy recognizes her objectification and uses it for the good of humanity, so maybe it is okay. I’m still trying to process it. But that is a good thing because the best art refuses to offer easy answers, and this is why Lucy succeeds.

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Saying Goodbye To Old Friends

The books that I am removing from my library.

The books that I am removing from my library.

I have decided to de-accession some of my books in preparation for my upcoming move. This is a difficult decision because I love my books, not just for their content, but also for the history that they embody. My obsessive book collecting is one way to document my life. There are many books that I have which I know I will almost certainly not read again and which probably will never come in handy as reference for my research, but I keep them because of the memories that I associate with them. Thus giving some of them away is like giving away part of myself, which sounds cliche, but is true in my case. I am not just a person with lots of books, I am a cyborg in the Harawayan sense who consists of my physical person and my books (and perhaps a few other objects as well).

But this group of books that I’ll take to my local bookstore (the Central Book Exchange) for some cash no longer have enough nostalgia attached to them to justify moving across the country. Most of the nonfiction is well-written, I’ll just never read it again. Most of the fiction (clearly not all–War and Peace is pretty decent, ha ha) is not. A few of the books are excellent, but I have two copies and only need one. It is an interesting cross-section of texts: some old religion textbooks from my undergraduate days, some superfluous chess books (I’ve had Pawn Power in Chess since high school, but I still haven’t read it, and haven’t played in about three years, so I wouldn’t get to it any time soon), some fiction.

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On Being a Cyborg

My primary computer was infected with a trojan several days ago, so I spent a large chunk of time this weekend working to eradicate it. Aside from feeling annoyed about the process in general–anger at whoever created the malware, trepidation about the damage it caused, frustration at the disruption of my plans in order to deal with the problem–I also found myself, my self feeling unsettled, as though it were actually my body that was infected.

I recognized this dis-ease as a symptom of the state of contemporary life which Donna Haraway describes in her “Cyborg Manifesto,” that is, having one’s selfhood extend outside of one’s physical body into the objects that seem essential to one’s existence (thus creating a cyborg–a being that is part-human, part human-made material), a state that is much more pronounced now than it was when Haraway was writing two decades ago. I have been well-aware for quite some time that my cyborg self extends at least as far as computers (especially as gateways to the internet), my cell phone, and my book collection, but every time I have a fresh reminder it scares me a little bit just how dependent I am on material objects.

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