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Deunan Knute in Appleseed Ex Machina

Final Wiki Essay

Transcending Dichotomies: A Complex Web of Cyborgism

Kelsey Ryan

“Cyborgs are about particular sorts of breached boundaries that confuse a specific historical people’s stories about what counts as distinct categories crucial to that culture’s natural-technical evolutionary narratives.” -Donna Haraway in “Cyborgs and Symbionts,” XVI

Throughout science fiction and in the human imagination, perceived dichotomies are both held up and transcended by the concept of the cyborg. What follows is my collection of thought and theory on the subject.
Donna Haraway: Boundary Confusion
The introduction to Donna Haraway’s book Simians, Cyborgs and Women states a central theme of her work: the concept that "nature is constructed, not discovered--truth is made, not found." It is a theme that ties together her works on primatology and developmental biology, the human relationship to cyborgs and machines, and her feminist works. She points out perceived dichotomies such as organic vs. technical, textual vs. mythic and economic vs. political in her theories, and relishes boundary confusion:
“In the traditions of 'Western' science and politics … the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. The stakes in the border war have been the territories of production, reproduction, and imagination. [The Cyborg Manifesto] is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.” (Simians, 150)

Boundaries Confused by Cyborgism:

cybernetic device
science fiction chimera
social & scientific reality
frozen moment
motor of social & imaginative reality
animals/other organisms
self-controlled, self-governing (autonomous) machines
self-controlled, self-governing organisms and humans (models of autonomy)
Oppositions described in “Cyborgs and Symbionts”

At the beginning of her “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway defines a cyborg as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” and social reality as “lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction” (Simians, 149). Her central theme of the “natural” as a construct recurs throughout her work. Her most emphatic message is not about the physical implications of future cyborgism, but rather about the social implications of our current cyborg lives. She emphasizes that “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs” (Simians, 150), and discusses how machines of the current era “have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (Simians, 152). Haraway describes the blurred border between materiality and information: “The boundary between physical and non-physical is very imprecise for us. Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile -- a matter of immense human pain in Detroit and Singapore. People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence” (Simians, 153). Haraway’s manifesto opens a door for consideration of the confusion of boundaries, and a radical new perspective on our social existence.
"The cyborg point of view is literal, material and technical; it is built, located and specific." -Haraway in "Cyborgs and Symbionts," XIV
In her foreword to the Cyborg Handbook, “Cyborgs and Symbionts: Living Together in the New World Order,” Haraway describes two paradigmatic cyborgs, the Terminator and the cyborg lab rat of New York’s Rockland State Hospital in the late 1950s, and two less obvious cyborgs, the planet Earth and the microorganism Mixotricha paradoxa. Her analysis of the Earth as a cyborg is based on the Gaia hypothesis, formulated by James Lovelock and further developed by Lynn Margulis. In his book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Lovelock decribes the earth as a “complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet” (Lovelock 11). Haraway comments on this theory (emphasis mine): “Lovelock’s Earth--itself a cyborg, a complex autopoietic system that terminally blurred the boundaries among the geological, the organic and the technological and was the natural habitat, and the launching pad, of other cyborgs” (Cyborg Handbook, XIII).
Haraway also details the coining of the term “cyborg” in her foreword. Defined as “self-regulating man-machine systems” (Clynes 27), the term was created by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in 1960. She goes on to reference her own “Manifesto,” and defines her use of the words “trans,” “transcendence” and “transgression” in the context of cyborgs to mean “defying their founding identities as weapons and self-acting control devices--thus trying to trouble U.S. cultural commitments to what counts as agency and self-determination for people--and for other organisms and machines” (Cyborg Handbook, XVI). This is a powerful statement that is played out in much of cyborg fiction, as will be discussed below. In her response to Lynn Margulis and Damion Sagan’s description of the microorganism Mixotricha paradoxa in their book What is Life?, Haraway states “the global and the universal are not pre-existing empirical qualities; they are deeply fraught, dangerous and inescapable inventions. The cyborg is a figure for exploring those inventions, whom they serve, and how they can be reconfigured” (Cyborg Handbook, XIX). Her model of the microorganism as a cyborg that blurs the lines of individual and collective is played out in the books of Alastair Reynolds, and also discussed by N. Katherine Hayles.

N. Katherine Hayles: Human and Posthuman

In her book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, N. Katherine Hayles describes how redefining machines as intelligent redefines humanity as well. According to Hayles, the Turing Test “necessarily bring[s] into question other characteristics of the liberal subject, for it made the crucial move of distinguishing between the enacted body, present in the flesh on one side of the computer screen, and the represented body, produced through the verbal and semiotic markers constituting it in an electronic environment. This construction necessarily makes the subject into a cyborg, for the enacted and represented bodies are brought into conjuction through the technology that connects them” (Hayles, Location 156). She describes perceived dichotomies of information and materiality (embodied reality), the reality of the abstract and the falseness of the material, and inscription and embodiment/incorporation.

Using four novels as “tutor texts,” Hayles unpacks the concept of the posthuman in each. In her discussion of Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2, Rick and neural net Helen’s mutual training sessions remind Hayles of “Veronica Hollinger’s argument that we need texts that ‘deconstruct the human/machine opposition and begin to ask new questions about the ways in which we and our technologies interface to produce what has become a mutual evolution” (Hayles 264). Her concluding comments are thought-provoking: “the construction of the posthuman is deeply involved with boundary questions, particularly when the redrawing of boundaries changes the locus of selfhood” (Hayles 279). She describes the “fragility of consciousness” and states, “this vulnerability is directly related to a changed view of signification. The more consciousness is seen to be the product of multiple coding levels, the greater is the number of sites where interventions can produce catastrophic effects. We can no longer simply assume that consciousness guarantees the existence of the self. In this sense, the posthuman subject is also a postconscious subject” (Hayles 279-280). Hayles describes the progression from human to posthuman as a “series of exchanges” involving evolving/devolving inscription and incorporation.

Cyborg Handbook: “Transgress[ing] the Machinic-Organic Border”
In their introduction to the Cyborg Handbook collection, “Cyborgology: Constructing the Knowledge of Cybernetic Organisms," editors Chris Gray, Steven Mentor and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera state, "there is no one kind of cyborg" (Gray 2). They discuss the “four cyborgology centers” of cyborg creation: military, medicine, entertainment and work, and detail the types of cyborgs: “normalizing,” reconfiguring (creating the posthuman), enhancing (dream of cyborgphiles) and degrading (nightmare of cyborgphobes). The editors describe the progression of humanity from hunter-gatherers to tool users through armies of people as “biopower machines” and machine culture (Gray 4). They cite Norbert Weiner’s description of cybernetics as “technoscience that explains both organic and mechanic processes as parts of informational systems” (Gray 5). The editors go on to describe another progression in which “Western” intellectual history has overcome a series of great illusions (discontinuities) that were posited as natural: the separation of humans from the cosmos (Copernicus), of humans from other life (Darwin), of humans from the unconscious (Freud) and of humans from machines: “wherever we note [this] discontinuity, cyborgs thrive” (Gray 6). They state that bodies of people, business and government are also becoming cyborgs as they become tied to technologies.
Dichotomies discussed in "Cyborgology":

dying flesh
undead circuits
living cells
artificial cells
embodied realities

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Crescent Earth from Apollo Four
The editors also mention the campaign for a photo of the whole earth that inspired the name of the Whole Earth Catalog. On the Whole Earth website the story is described: "Stewart wanted NASA to release a photo of the whole Earth because he believed it would have significant psychological impact: it would be visual proof of our unity and specialness, as our luminous blue ball-of-a-home contrasted dramatically with the dead black emptiness of space ... we are all in this together and humanity is but a small part of a miraculous and delicate ecosystem." Without these photographs, how differently would we view our world?
“Cyborgs remind us that we are always embodied, but the ways that we are embodied aren’t simple” (Gray 7): embodiment is complicated, mortal even, but “real.” In concluding their introduction, the editors state "there is a fascination (but no consensus), with agency and subjectivity" and "tension is a great source of pleasure and power" (Gray 12-13). The tension the concept of the cyborg creates between previously concepts previously considered as separate is its greatest power.
Cyborgs in Television, Film and Fiction

"Cyborg science fiction dramatizes our fears and hopes as we visualize the emerging cyborg world." -Chris Gray et al., 6

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The human vs. machine (cylon) saga of Battlestar Galactica explores the question “what if machines wanted to become human?” The cylons evolve through generations to become increasingly humanlike and eventually indistinguishable from humans. On the other extreme of the vertical axis we have the question of “what if humans wanted to become machines?” This question is played out by the Conjoiners of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. Through mental augmentation and body modification, the Conjoiners gain “Transenlightenment” and superhuman strength. Some of the Conjoiners depicted in Reynolds’ books become so altered from their original human state that their human origin is almost unrecognizable.

On the horizontal axis, cyborgs in Appleseed and Doctor Who exemplify two extremes of emotional regulation. The second-generation bioroids of Appleseed have regulated emotions in order to promote a peaceful society, and bioroids do not kill one another. The Daleks and Cybermen of Doctor Who also have regulated emotions, except in their case this promotes violence. The creator of the once humanoid, now mutated Daleks removed all of their emotions except hate, and their objects are conquest and domination. The Cybermen have appeared in the main universe of Doctor Who and also made their way from a parallel universe. The original Cybermen were humanoid aliens who “upgraded” themselves to mostly nonorganic parts, leaving only their brains intact, then began recruiting new Cyber converts by force. The parallel Cybermen appeared on parallel Earth and began forcibly converting humans into Cybermen. They have emotional inhibitors to prevent their human(oid) brains from feeling the pain of conversion and rejecting their Cyber state. They bear a similarity to Appleseed’s Briareos in that they are mostly nonorganic but retain their brains, but Briareos does not appear to need emotional inhibition to prevent aversion at his state. These imagined worlds of emotional inhibition and regulation reflect two very different extremes of possibility: regulation of emotion resulting in violence and regulation of emotion resulting in peace.

Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cylon

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Not to spoil you or anything, but there are six cylons in this picture.
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica’s second-generation humanoid cylons, deeply religious, driven by emotion and unaware of their origins, are an imagined reflection of a fear (or hope?) that humans and machines could become indistinguishable. In this version of BSG, the cylons are cybernetic workers and soldiers created by humans. Unbeknownst to their creators, the cylons develop a society and culture of their own. Able to sense and feel, they rebel in order to gain their freedom in the beginning of the Cylon War. The war ends after twelve years in an armistice with colonial and cylon territories divided. The cylons do not reappear until about forty years later, when they return to attack the twelve human colonies, rendering the human race almost extinct. Only a small fleet of older ships without cylon-vulnerable networked computers survives, including the battlestar Galactica. As the series progresses, viewers discover that some of the inhabitants of Galactica are actually cylon sleeper cells, unaware that they are not human until activation.

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The imagined world of Battlestar Galactica depicts a cyclical history of human-machine conflict, repeatedly forgotten and reenacted. The end of the series reveals the identities of a “final five” out of the thirteen models of cylons, who were actually created by the Galactica-era humans’ ancestors on their homeworlds of Earth and Kobol. These older humanoid cylons were able to reproduce, while the later humanoid cylons were not. The only exception is cylon-human child Hera, the daughter of a human and a humanoid cylon Number Eight model. Despite this difficulty, the humanoid cylons can resurrect themselves by transporting a dying cylon’s consciousness from one body to another, calling upon the mind/body separation theme that appears so frequently in our imaginings of a cyborg world. In the finale of the series, the cylons and humans, including Hera and her parents, finally land peacefully back on their rediscovered home planet Earth after much conflict. Viewers are also transported into the future of this Earth’s timeline, where Hera’s 150,000 year old fossilized remains are discovered by architects from the Smithsonian and are speculated to be the “Mitochondrial Eve,” the most recent common ancestor of all living humans.

Battlestar Galactica's depiction of a history of interactions between cylons and humans seems hopeful in the end despite the prevalence of conflict. The end of the series depicts peaceful coexistence of cylons and humans together, and throughout the series cylons and humans develop dynamic relationships with each other. Whether they are in conflict with humans or not, viewers are provided with a view of the cylons as human-like in their feelings and actions, flawed but sympathetic.

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The cylon fleet

Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space Universe

The Conjoiners are one of four human factions depicted in Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. They are pejoratively referred to as “spiders” by members of other factions, just as Battlestar Galactica’s cylons are dismissed as an Other by the derisive nickname “toasters.” They are mentally augmented humans, connected to each other by their brain implants yet still retaining individuality. Created by scientist and matriarch Galiana on Mars in the early 22nd century, the Conjoiners refer to the achievement of their mental state of collective consciousness as “Transenlightenment” and name their community the “Mother Nest.”
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Mars in the Revelation Space universe by Grrrod

Galiana is a charismatic leader who, after capturing Coalition for Neural Purity leader Nevil Clavain during the Coalition-Conjoiner war, convinces him of the merits of the Conjoined state. Like Briareos of Appleseed, Clavain becomes injured and awakens to find that he has become a cyborg to save his life. With nanobots already in his brain, he accepts full Conjoiner implants in order to help the Conjoined escape an attack by the Coalition.

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The planet Hela and its moon Haldora from Absolution Gap by BLZseethe

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Having lost the war against the Coalition, the Conjoiners leave the solar system and begin colonizing other star systems. Their technology becomes considerably more advanced than that of other human factions, and they live as a peaceful society for hundreds of years before a rivalry between Clavain and younger, more radical Conjoiner Skade breaks the Conjoined into factions. Again like the cylons, the Conjoiners can hack into computers and machinery with their minds. Nanomachines inside their brains augment their mental capabilities, and they use neural communication with one another. Speaking out loud is considered archaic by the Conjoined, but a few older Conjoiners such as Clavain still use speech. Some of the Conjoiners also employ body modification to make themselves physically stronger, or in the case of Skade who goes through various periods of injury and rebuilding as a more physically cyborg being, to replace body parts that are lost. Skade is also always depicted with a cranial crest, a trend among the younger Conjoined, that helps to vent the thermal energy of her enhanced brain.

Much as older ships are the only survivors of cylon attacks in Battlestar Galactica, only Clavain is able to withstand Skade’s neural attacks on other Conjoiners, which he describes as “like trying to hack into a clockwork calculator” (Absolution Gap, 316).

A sketch of villian Conjoiner Skade by Elijah Stillson

Appleseed: Briareos and Bioroidsexternal image mangacrop.pngexternal image briareosdeunan.pngBriareos and Deunan in the manga And in Appleseed Ex Machina
external image 03appleseed500Film.jpgAramaki Shinji’s film Appleseed, based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow, depicts a world ravaged by a global war. Our protagonist, soldier Deunan Knute, is one of its last survivors. She is rescued from battle and taken to the utopian city-state Olympus, untouched by the war, where she discovers that the war had ended officially the previous year. Olympus is populated by a combination of humans, cyborgs and bioroids, a genetically engineered race created from the DNA of Deunan’s father, making them her half-siblings. There are two generations of bioroids, the second characterized by regulated emotions in order to prevent violence and war.

Briareos in Appleseed

Deunan is shocked by the appearance of her formerly missing human partner Briareos Hecatonchires, now a cyborg due to severe damage sustained in battle by his previous body. He still retains his same voice, expressions and empathetic personality. His body is almost completely artificial, with elastic skin capable of feeling sensation, “rabbit ear” sensors, eight eyes, and an information processor brain augmentation in addition to his human brain.
Doctor Who: Daleks and Cybermen

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The Daleks of Doctor Who originated on the planet Skaro, where their predecessors the humanoid Kaleds were mutated and cyborgized by the scientist Davros in order to give them an advantage in their generations long war with a rival people, the Thals. Davros, who himself was mobilized by a life-support chair, experimented on Kaled cells until he found an "ideal" form of mutation which he placed inside an armored shell similar in appearance to his chair to create the Daleks. The Daleks have had their emotions removed with the exception of hate, which drives them toward their goals of conquest and domination.

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The Cybermen originally appeared on the planet Mondas, then in a different iteration in a parallel universe. The parallel Cybermen hold human(oid) brains inside a metal exoskeleton, and have emotional inhibitors to prevent their rebellion from the Cyber state and to shield them from the experience of the pain of conversion. When their emotional inhibitors are removed, they are overwhelmed by pain and emotion at their transformation and are killed.


"Perhaps [the] most important site of cyborg production today is the imagination... there is a real of pure fantasy production which has produced some of the most startling, and insightful, takes on cyborgs." -Gray et al., 10
Fictional cyborgs can take various forms, from positive to negative and simple to complex. Fiction and imagination is the place where we can explore these issues, and will continue to for some time yet.

Works Cited

Appleseed. Dir. Shinji Aramaki. Toho, 2004. Digital file. Film.
Appleseed Ex Machina. Dir. Shinji Aramaki. Prod. John Woo. Toei Co., Ltd., 2007. Digital file. Film.

Battlestar Galactica. Prod. Ronald D. Moore. Sci-Fi (now Sy-Fy) Channel, 2003-2009. Digital files. Television.

Clynes, Manfred E. and Nathan S. Kline. "Cyborgs and Space." Astronautics. September 1960. PDF. <http://web.mit.edu/digitalapollo/Documents/Chapter1/cyborgs.pdf>
Doctor Who. Writ. (current) Steven Moffat. BBC, 1963-1989, 1996, 2005-present. Digital files. Television.
Gray, Chris, Steven Mentor and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera. “Cyborgology: Constructing the Knowledge of Cybernetic Organisms.” Cyborg Handbook. Ed. Chris Hables Gray, Steven Mentor and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera. New York: Routledge, 1995. 1-13. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “Cyborgs and Symbionts: Living Together in the New World Order.” Cyborg Handbook. Ed. Chris Hables Gray, Steven Mentor and Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera. New York: Routledge, 1995. XI-XIX. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-181. Print and HTML. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Haraway-CyborgManifesto.html>

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Amazon Kindle eBook.

Hollinger, Veronica. “Cybernetic Deconstructions: Cyberpunk and Postmodernism,” Mosaic 23 (1990): 42.
Lovelock, James. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979. Print.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What is Life? Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000. Print.

Reynolds, Alastair. Revelation Space. New York: Ace Books, 2000. Print.

Reynolds, Alastair. Redemption Ark. New York: Ace Books, 2002. Print.

Reynolds, Alastair. Absolution Gap. New York: Ace Books, 2003. Print.