Screen bound/skin bound : the politics of embodiment in the posthuman age

Van der Schyff, Karlien (2010-03)

Thesis (MA (English))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The end of the second millennium saw a sudden return to corporeality, especially within feminist scholarship, where embodiment and issues surrounding the body were, for the first time, made explicit. This study examines the corporeal body in relation to technology and the impact that newly emerging virtual technologies have on our understanding of the body, not only through examining representations of the technologically modified body, but also by exploring how contemporary cultural practices produce corporeal bodies that view themselves as somehow integrated with technology. It focuses on the material artefacts of contemporary culture in relation to explicitly virtual technologies, both arguing for a return to corporeality and contesting the pervasive trope of disembodiment that characterises so-called “posthuman” age. This study thus takes one of the most popular metaphors for the relationship between the corporeal body and technology as its starting point, namely Donna Haraway’s cyborg figures. Following the publication of Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985), the female cyborg became an icon of emancipation for many feminist scholars, who utilised Haraway’s cyborg discourse as a means of discussing the cultural practices that both construct and limit female gendered identity. Through closely examining the metaphor of Haraway’s cyborg figures in relation to cultural representations of female cyborg bodies, this study argues that, ultimately, the metaphor of the cyborg is inherently neither challenging nor liberating. It then examines the failure of the cyborg as an icon of postgenderedness in terms of its negation of the corporeal, as cyborg figures paradoxically only strengthen the same Cartesian dualism Haraway’s cyborg discourse attempts to deconstruct. It explores representations of three female cyborg figures found in contemporary popular culture to illustrate how the cyborg body’s negation of the corporeal only results in the reiteration of conventional gendered stereotypes, rather than liberation from oppressive gendered practices. Finally, this study examines the crucial interplay between the corporeal and the technological, not only when speaking of more imaginary cyborg configurations and tropes, but also when speaking of the physical reality of lived bodies and embodied experiences. By examining the increasingly embodied nature of cyberspace, this study explores possible alternatives to the figure of the hypersexualised and disembodied cyborg, through investigating new figurations with which to describe the embodied postmodern subject and his/her dependence on technology. Since the central task for a feminist ethics of embodiment would be grounded in the project of representing the female body, in such a way that it constructs autonomous women’s representations without falling prey to patriarchal, stereotypical or estranging images of women’s bodies, this study concludes with more useful methods of representing the corporeal body in relation to virtual technology through an appeal to an ethics of embodiment.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die einde van die tweede millennium het ‘n skielike belangstelling in beliggaamdheid ontlok, veral binne feministiese vakgeleerdheid, waar beliggaamdheid en kwessies rondom die ligaam vir die eerste keer eksplisiet gestel is. Hierdie studie ondersoek die stoflike liggaam in verhouding tot tegnologie en die invloed wat nuwe, virtuele tegnologiëe op ons begrip van die liggaam het, nie slegs deur voorstellings van die tegnologies-gemodifieërde ligaam te ondersoek nie, maar deur ook te kyk na hoe kontemporêre kulturele praktyke beliggaamde subjekte produseer wat huself op een of ander wyse as geïntegreerd met tegnologie sien. Die studie fokus op die materiële artefakte van kontemporêre kultuur in verhouding tot eksplisiet virtuele tegnologiëe. Dit bevorder ‘n terugkeer tot beliggaamdheid, terwyl dit teen die sogenaamde “postmenslike” era se mees kenmerkende troop van ontliggaamdheid argumenteer. Die studie begin dus deur een van die mees populêre metafore vir die verhouding tussen die liggaamlike en die tegnologiese te ondersoek, naamlik Donna Haraway se siborgfigure. Sedert die publikasie van Haraway se “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985), het verskeie feministiese vakgeleerdes die vroulike siborg-figuur beide as ’n ikoon vir emansipasie beskou en gebruik om die kulturele praktyke wat vroulike geslagsidentiteit gelyktydig konstrueer én beperk te bespreek. Deur Haraway se siborg-figure met kulturele voorstellings van vroulike siborg-liggame te vergelyk, kom hierdie studie tot die gevolgtrekking dat die metafoor van die siborg inherent nóg uitdaagend nóg bevrydend is. Gevolglik ondersoek die studie die onbevoegdheid van die siborg-figuur as ‘n ikoon vir postgeslagtigheid in terme van die siborg-liggaam se negering van beliggaamdheid, aangesien siborg-figure op ‘n paradoksale wyse die selfde Cartesiaanse dualisme versterk wat Haraway se siborg-diskoers wou dekonstrueer. Dit ondersoek voorstellings van drie vroulike siborg-figure in kontemporêre populêre kultuur om te illustreer hoe die siborgliggaam se negering van beliggaamdheid slegs konvensionele geslagstereotipes versterk, eerder as om ons van beperkende, patriargale geslagspraktyke te bevry. Ten slotte ondersoek hierdie studie die deurslaggewende tussenspel tussen die ligaamlike en die tegnologiese, nie slegs in terme van meer denkbeeldige siborg tropes nie, maar ook in terme van die fisiese reailiteit van konkrete, beliggaamde lewenservaringe. Deur die toenemend beliggaamde kwaliteit van kiberruimtes te ondersoek, stel hierdie studie moontlike alternatiewe maniere voor om die postmoderne subjek en sy/haar afhanklikheid van tegnologie te beskryf, eerder as om op ontliggaamde en hipergeseksualiseerde siborg-figure staat te maak. Aangesien ‘n feministiese beliggaamde etiek gegrond is in ‘n projek om die vroulike liggaam op só ‘n wyse voor te stel dat patriargale, stereotipiese of vervreemdbare beelde van die vroulike liggaam vermy word, eindig hierdie studie met meer nuttige metodes om die stoflike liggaam in verhouding tot virtuele tegnologie voor te stel deur ‘n beroep tot ‘n meer beliggaamde etiek te maak.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4139
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