Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 8

8. ‘BETTER … STRONGER … FASTER …’: Becoming Cyborg

Alongside debates on identity and community, one of the most important issues in contemporary cyberculture is the status and experience of the body. The question of embodiment and the place and role of the body in the on-line world is one that has attracted much attention, especially as many are arguing today for its active transmutation or even jettisoning in favour of the ‘posthuman’. We’ve already considered embodiment in relation to virtuality and virtual worlds online and this lecture will develop the debate around the body and new technology by focusing upon the concept of the ‘cyborg’ – a cybernetic organism that combines the biological and the mechanical, either to restore or to enhance human functions. This is an idea with a long practical and fictional history. Experiments in prosthetic devices date back to the Greeks and today new developments in cyborg technologies – in limbs, in organs and in sensory replacements – are being regularly reported. Many are uneasy with this interpenetration of human and machine. Our literature, television and cinema warns us continually of the dangers of cyborgs and the loss of humanity (whether in cybermen of the borg), though other representations point to an improvement that is aspirational (children in the 1970s grew up with their bionic man dolls wishing they had bionic sight and strength…). This lecture will examine the history of the cyborg, the real developments in cyborg technology happening today and our cultural reaction to this implicit collapse in distinction between human and machine.


For a broad introduction to the question of the body in cyberculture start with:

Bell, D. (2001) ‘Bodies in Cyberculture’, in An Introduction to Cyberculture, London:
Routledge, pp. 137-62.

The best student discussion of the cyborg and its history can be found in:

Perkowitz, S. (2004) Digital People. From Bionic Humans to Androids, Washington: Joseph Henry Press.

Stelarc is one of the most famous proponents of the cyborg-augmented body. Find his homepage at: http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/ Read his manifestos about the body and its fate and then look at:

Atzori, P. and Woolford, K. ‘(1995) ‘Extended Body: Interview With Stelarc’, in CTheory, at:

Fernandes, M. (2002) ‘The Body Without Memory. An Interview With Stelarc’, in CTheory,
at: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=71

Stelarc, (2005) ‘Prosthetic Head: Intelligence, Awareness and Agency’, at:

(2005) ‘From Zombie to Cyborg Bodies: Extra Ear, Exoskeleton and Avatars’, at:

Smith, M. (2007) Stelarc. The Monograph, London: MIT Press.

Then explore the following:

Haraway, D. J. (1991) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The reinvention of Nature, London: Routledge, pp. 149-81, plus in many different readers, see for example, Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 291-324. It’s also on-line at http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html

Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, Essays by Landsberg and Terranova, pp. 190-201; 268-79, and the whole of Parts 6 and 7, pp. 471-624: in particular the essays by Balsamo, Stelarc and Dery, pp. 489-503; 560-576, and 577-587.

Hables Gray, C. (ed.) (1995) The Cyborg Handbook, London: Routledge.

Hables Gray, C. (2002) Cyborg Citizen, London: Routledge.

Hayles, N. K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman, London: University of Chicago Press.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton, chs 4 and 6.

Featherstone, M. and Burrows, R. (eds.) (1995) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk, London: Sage.

Geary, J. (2002) The Body Electric. An Anatomy of the New Bionic Senses, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

O’Mahony, M. (2002) Cyborg. The Man Machine, London: Thames and Hudson.

Warwick, K. (2002) I, Cyborg, London: Century Books.
(2005) ‘Professor Kevin Warwick’, Homepage, at: http://www.kevinwarwick.com/

‘The Cyborg’, at: http://www.cyberartsweb.org/cpace/cyborg/cyborgov.html

Other texts that you might find useful on fictional and popular cultural representations of the cyborg include:

Cavallaro, D. (2000) ‘Cyberpunk and the Body’, in Cyberpunk and Cyberculture, London: Athlone Press, pp. 72-108.

Napier, S. J. (2000) ‘Doll Parts: Technology and the Body in Ghost in the Shell’, in Anime: From Akira to Princess Mononoke, London: Palgrave.

Bukatman, S. (1993) Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, chs 4 and 5.

Recommended Viewing includes clips of the Daleks and Cybermen from BBC TV’s DR Who (from the classic series look at The Daleks, The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of the Cybermen and Invasion and from the new series look at the series 2 episodes, The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel), Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man, and the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation (Q Who, The Best of Both Worlds, parts 1 and 2 and I Borg) – see the new box-set, Star trek. Fan Collective: Borg, Paramount Home Entertainment (UK) (2006)) and Star Trek: First Contact. Films include:

Cameron, J. (2003) The Terminator, MGM [DVD 1984]

(2003) Terminator 2: Judgement Day, MGM [DVD 1991]

Shirow, M. (2003) Ghost in the Shell, Manga Entertainment Ltd. [DVD 1995]

(2006) Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Manga Entertainment Ltd. [DVD 2004]

Tsukamoto, S. (2002) Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Kaijyu Theatre [DVD 1989]

(2002) Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer [DVD 1991]

Cronenberg, D. (2002) Videodrome, Universal Studios {DVD 1982].

(1999) Crash, Columbia Tristar [DVD 1996].

Keep up with the latest developments in mind-machine interfaces and robotics at the BBC News site and other technology sites. My blog links to many of the most important publicised developments over the last year, and before that I’d recommend the following stories that I quote in class:

BBC News (2003) ‘Monkey Brains Control Robot Arms’, BBC News online, 13th October at:

(2005) ‘“Thoughts Read” Via Brain Scans’, BBC News online, 7th August, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4715327.stm

Sample, I. (2005) ‘Chip Reads Mind of Paralysed Man’, in The Guardian, 31st March, pp. 1., at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1448835,00.html

(2005) ‘Meet the Mind Readers’, in The Guardian, Life, 31st March, pp. 4-5., at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/mar/31/health.society

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