Donna Haraway’s Cyborgs: The Refusal of Given as Given

Introduction

In the last three decades, discussions over the prevalence of cyborgs have become prominent in academic debates, scientific circles and science fiction. This is mainly due to the fact that advancements in technology have begun to increasingly affect our lives. Although the word “cyborg” often connotes the image of a body that is half-human and half-machine, scholars like Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti see the cyborg in a different way. Haraway (1991) defines the cyborg as a “cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149). Her understanding of a cyborg calls for a non-essentialist re-evaluation of our point of view on the world based on affinity instead of identity (155).

Braidotti (2008) perceives the cyborg as able to dismantle the hierarchy of anthropocentrism, which is a system where the human is structured in terms of dominance (177). Within anthropocentrism, there is an important distinction between bios (life of a human being) and zoe (universal occurrence of life) (177). In this binary, zoe is under the shadow of bios which Braidotti describes as an intelligent life (177). As a result, she believes the cyborg is able to push our understanding of “the human” away from the hierarchical bios towards the egalitarian zoe because it is free of binarisms that define the current human and has the ability to blur the line between the human and non-human. Hence, such cyborgs have the potential to create a new structure of the world that is less hierarchical and gendered.

While cyborgs are mainly envisioned through the realm of science fiction, they have now become part of our reality in a form previously unknown to us. Social media are one sphere where cyborgs can spread their ideas to challenge normative social roles and familiar structures. For example, Instagram is part of this sphere and can serve as a medium to critique the common and popular aesthetics of general users.

Two of the most well-known accounts, as covered by the press and media, are Fecal Matter (@matieresfecales) – a fashion designer duo from Canada and Salvia (@salvjiia) – a makeup artist from Wales. They both have a uniquely interesting way of using their bodies as malleable materials in order to reproduce their imagined selves outside of established norms and existing boundaries. The accounts specifically challenge the concept of gender, body, identity, and boundaries between human and machine and human and animal. As Haraway (1991) proposes, cyborgs trouble “the statuses of man or woman, human, artefact, member of a race, individual entity, or body” (178). Therefore, both Fecal Matter and Salvia can be interpreted as real-life cyborgs. Consequently, this essay will discuss, from a posthumanist perspective, to what extent Fecal Matter and Salvia challenge what it means to be human.

The essay begins with an introduction to the academic debates surrounding posthumanism where two of its main branches are identified: transhumanism and critical posthumanism. Critical posthumanism has been selected as a useful theory that attempts to challenge pre-established notions of what it means to be human in a non-hierarchical manner. This theory particularly challenges any preconceived notion of human nature and exposes the constructedness of fixed boundaries between human and animal and human and machine. Section II elaborates in greater detail on critical posthumanism, including the insights of Haraway’s cyborg feminism and Braidotti’s post-anthropocentrism.

As a result, Section III explores the scholars’ arguments on the two case studies of Fecal Matter and Salvia, both of which embody the concepts of post-gender and post-anthropocentrism. The analysis should serve to support this essay’s argument that through an exposition of their bodies and designs, they contribute to defamiliarization of what constitutes the norm, thus having the potential to destabilize the binaries and essences that have structured and shaped what it currently means to be human. The essay also critically evaluates their stance on transhumanism together with their incorporation into capitalist discourse, hence acknowledging their limitations in terms of their yet unclear messages and goals. Section III concludes that Fecal Matter and Salvia have essentially reinterpreted the notion of “the human” into one that has a more zoe-egalitarian understanding, as it is less gendered and less privileged than the human defined by bios. As such, this author aims to shed light on the urgency of supporting new forms of creativity that can envision the posthuman as a departure from transhumanism and anthropocentrism.

SECTION I: TRANSHUMANISM VERSUS CRITICAL POSTHUMANISM

 

Posthumanism

In the mid-1990s, posthumanism entered the discourse of humanities and helped to remove “the human” from a central position in connection to “matters of meaning, information, and cognition” (Wolfe 2009, xii). At the moment, technology is challenging our conception of human nature and dignity, both of which are rarely questioned in the humanities. Posthumanism calls for the anthropological re-evaluation of humanity which has led to heated academic debates on the topic of the obscure divide between human and machine and human and animal. There are two main branches of posthumanism, being transhumanism and critical posthumanism, which are further discussed in the next two sub-sections. Although they use different approaches, both advocate for the manipulation of the body and mind to emphasize the necessity of re-shaping the understanding of what it means to be human in order to allow for social acceptance and personal growth (Vicini and Brazal 2015, 156).

 

TRANSHUMANISM

Transhumanism is an intellectual and cultural movement that aims to bring humans into the sphere of advancements in science and technology (Thacker 2003, 73). Transhumanists assume that “technology is inherently good and that it holds the solution to all of our problems,” making the technological transformation of humans inevitable (Vicini and Brazal 2015, 157).  The second premise upon which transhumanists build their argument is that technology allows for the manipulation of the human body, “aiming at an infinite malleability and fluidity” (157). Thirdly, they aspire for “transcendent immortality” by possibly turning humans into computer software (158).

However, transhumanism implies that this branch of thought presents itself as a type of humanism (Thacker 2003, 74). Transhumanism still considers human qualities to be its main tenets, such as self-awareness, consciousness, development, and rational thought (75). Therefore, similarly to humanists, transhumanists focus on human well-being, but they take humanism further by “challenging human limits by means of science and technology” (75). Currently, transhumanism considers humans to be imperfect and hopes to transcend the biological limitations of human species (Duarte and Park 2014, 260; Vicini and Brazal 2015, 155).

More specifically, transhumanists aim to avoid aging and death by enhancing intelligence and humans’ physical capabilities (Thacker 2003, 75). Hence, technological progress is understood as human progress that does not escape the essentialism of humanism, its predecessor (75). As such, transhumanism is an “upgraded humanism” which allows posthumanism to reproduce the privileged position of “the human” through science and technology, and consequently allows for human transformation to take place up until a certain point to “still remain human” (76).

This essay aims to distance itself from this type of posthumanism as it does not reflect upon the ways in which humans have always been posthuman and how technology can be considered to be a non-human actor (Thacker 2003, 76-77). Transhumanism makes a distinction between human and machine in order to assure human agency and the neutrality of technology (77). This premise lies on the presupposition that life belongs only to beings. However, how do we define life or agency? When do we know when life or agency occurs? Furthermore, as McLuhan (1995, 11-12) argues “the most dangerous position vis-à-vis technology is to assume its neutrality”. Therefore, critical posthumanism will be introduced as a different non-hierarchical branch of posthumanism which is further adopted by this paper.

CRITICAL POSTHUMANISM

Critical posthumanism is based on postmodern theories of the subject in the era of emerging technologies (Thacker 2003, 73). Rosi Braidotti (2013) outlines four golden rules defining this branch of posthumanism: cartographies, non-linearity, memory and imagination, and defamiliarization (163). Cartographic accuracy refers to ethical accountability by “unveiling the power relations which structure our subject-position,” taking into account one’s spatial and temporal dimension (164). For Braidotti, the understanding of today’s world through non-linearity is based on “web-like, scattered and poly-centred” sets of data which structure the current era (165).

Furthermore, memory can be referred to as an array of “nomadic transpositions” actively reinventing itself and functioning in opposition to consistency (167). Lastly, defamiliarization attempts to dislocate the self from the normative and dominant point of view, possibly towards disengagement with dominant representations of femininity and masculinity together with stereotypical assumptions about race, which currently structure the human subject (168). Thus, Braidotti proposes a “nomadic vision of the posthuman” as a subject “constituted as a time continuum and a collective assemblage” which encompasses processes of change and assesses the ethics of interaction between humans and non-humans (169).

From this viewpoint, there is no pre-existing essence of “the human,” which further offers to obscure the boundaries between humans and machines or animals in a non-hierarchical manner (Vicini and Brazal 2015, 156). Hence, it is understood as having a unique relationship with machines and animals, as ideas of “‘the human’ diversify, self-transform and mutate as rapidly as do new technologies” (Thacker 2003, 73). Therefore, this philosophy challenges our perception of clear demarcations “between active subjects and passive objects” which further complicates the idea of what it means to be human (80). Hence, critical posthumanism does not refer to either evolution or deterioration of “the human”; instead, it allows for “re-distribution of difference and identity”[1] (Halberstam and Livingston 1995, 10).

Critical posthumanism, from a political and social perspective, offers a richer oeuvre on the imagining of our future than transhumanism (Thacker 2003, 80). It recognizes that “technology is more than a tool and that (the) elusive materiality called the body is something other than the sum of its parts” (95). Secondly, it emphasizes the aspect of an assemblage and its interrelations which give space for creativity (Braidotti 2013, 191). Therefore, this type of posthumanism is not about creating a utopia; rather, it is about establishing a dialectical understanding of evolution and creation based on transformation, which additionally explains why this branch of posthumanism will be used throughout this essay as a theoretical framework from which to evaluate “the human”. In order to elaborate further on this matter, the paper will discuss cyborg feminism and post-anthropocentrism as consecutive branches of critical posthumanism.

 

SECTION II: DONNA HARAWAY’S CYBORGS

 

Cyborg Feminism

In 1984, Donna Haraway wrote her famous essay “Cyborg Manifesto”, which is considered a milestone in the development of feminist posthumanism. In the text, she introduces the concept of the cyborg with the aim of repudiating fixed boundaries, particularly those that distinguish human from machine and human from animal. Furthermore, she advocates for the revision of gender as a fluid and non-stable concept, suggesting instead the possibility of a world without gender (Haraway 1991, 150). Haraway argues that “the cyborg is our ontology” and it can be associated with “partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity” (151). She perceives the cyborg as a medium to transgress existing boundaries and highlight flaws of dualisms that structure the Western world in terms of dominance (154).

She specifically addresses the domination of those who are defined as “others” in society, such as women, people of color, nature, workers and animals (Haraway 1991, 177). However, she observes that high-tech culture has the potential to challenge such dualisms by making us understand that we have already become cyborgs (177). Haraway proposes that cyborg politics can be established through a change in the language that structures current oppression and thus new meanings, understandings, and codes can be created (176). Hence, this fusion of human with animal and machine provides new perspectives on how to understand the concept of human as being in constant transformation and closely related to other human and non-human beings. This begs the question: in which ways can cyborgs complicate our understandings of gender, race, and nature?

Numerous feminist scholars[2] have adopted and built upon Haraway’s insights in order to contribute to the discussion on revising “the human”. These academics reflect upon post-gendered possibilities as new boundary-free zones which could critique different forms of domination based on class, race, and gender (Vicini and Brazal 2015, 152; Devoss 2000, 835; Halberstam 1991, 440). In practice, devices such as prostheses, teleoperators, and reproductive technologies can challenge our understanding of “human nature,” since people using these devices can already be labeled as cyborgs[3] (Devoss 2000, 835).

Devoss (2000) further advocates that there is a need for bodies that challenge the natural (and unnatural) by breaking established binaries (837). From this perspective, cyborg bodies formulate cyborg identities that lead to the exposure of “the constructedness of otherness” (837). However, she is concerned about how the internet and science fiction often represent cyborg bodies as gendered,[4] which further reinforces that current gender dynamics should be avoided (837). Duarte and Park (2014) refer to cyborgs as a collective of “body hackers”, “grinders” or “self-made cyborgs” who engage in unconventional body modifications and do not adjust their body for a specific purpose (or due to disability), but rather are enthusiasts who consider their body to be a flexible material to work with (259). Like Haraway, Halberstam (1991) argues more radically that all humans are already cyborgs because we are as “embedded within the new technologies as they are embodied within us” (458).

These different interpretations of the term “cyborg” indicate that it is highly flexible and allows for multiple possibilities. The malleability of our bodies questions contemporary understandings of the human body as a “pure” entity that needs to be protected from other human and non-human forces (Duarte and Park 2014, 261). Therefore, any attempts to “fix” any bodily distortions go against posthumanist values of human diversity and social inclusion (261). Instead, the free will of body modification challenges the future of “gender, race, society, diversity and inclusion” as cyborg technologies illuminate our close bodily entanglement with nature and technology (261). Due to this deconstruction of essentialist categories, it is possible to question whether we have ever been truly human in the first place.

 

Post-Anthropocentrism

In connection to cyborg feminism, post-anthropocentrism is another important aspect of structuring the posthuman subject by highlighting its relation to its surrounding environment, animals and technological innovations (Braidotti 2013, 94). Post-anthropocentrism rejects the nature-culture divide and positions itself against anthropocentrism, which is the theory that humans are at the center of the universe (65-66). In the binary of the privileged bios and subordinate zoe, zoe encompasses all animal kingdoms together with people who are defined as “others” (the sexual and ethnic other) whereas bios includes “the human” (encompassing primarily white heterosexual men) (178). The posthuman attempts to shift this power dynamics towards zoe in order to cross all the previously defined boundaries and become the other, the animal (178).

This multiplicity of non-hierarchical and open-ended relationships allows for the trespass of dualisms that define today’s world, helping us to dissolve ourselves into the web of both human and non-human relations (Braidotti 2013, 179-182). The body then carries a “privileged bond with multiple others and merges with one’s technologically mediated planetary environment” (92). In a nutshell, the posthuman body is simultaneously dependent on its environment through the strong connections that bind the two and part of a collective identity escaping humanism and anthropocentrism (182). From this perspective, the posthuman is included in a new social ecology of society, politics, ethics, and aesthetics that also takes into consideration the relationships between these factors (93).

Post-anthropocentrism and cyborg feminism are related as they avoid the transhumanist attempt to achieve “finite materiality of the enfleshed self,” highlighting instead the interdependence of body and technology (Braidotti 2013, 92). By escaping functionalism, we are then able to re-evaluate “our bodies as part of (the) nature-culture continuum” (92). In this sense, posthumanism contributes to a non-deterministic and post-anthropocentric perception of evolution, while departing from linearity and dogmatism (94). Therefore, posthumanism as an open-ended system does not provide true and fixed understandings based on familiar frameworks; instead, it aims to speculate and create new concepts and scenarios.

 

SECTION III: FECAL MATTER AND SALVIA

 

Real-Life Cyborgs?

Figure 1 – Fecal Matter and their Prostheses (via Instagram @matieresfecales)

 

Fecal Matter and Salvia are currently trending on Instagram as the proponents of a new type of alien, post-gender, and trans-species aesthetics. Fecal Matter is a fashion designer couple from Montreal featuring Hannah Rose Dalton (22) and Steven Raj Bhaskaran (24) (Satenstein 2018). They not only produce clothes, but also devise certain looks that complement their outfit which is worn in public in order to provoke society. By modelling their own designs and giving Instagram users a glimpse into their lives, their audience turns into voyeurs that can compare their lives to the duo of Fecal Matter. Their signature look has become their shaved heads and eyebrows, together with their hand-made shoe prosthetics. Figure 1 demonstrates that the prosthetic shoes look more like an appendage to their feet instead of footwear. Indeed, by using devices such as prostheses, they subvert the notion of human nature and can be identified as living cyborgs (Devoss 2000, 835).

Figure 2 – Salvia and her Alien Aesthetics (via Instagram account @salvjiia)

 

Salvia is a Welsh drag makeup artist who often digitally alters her images (Figure 2) in order to modify her look even further. Interestingly, her name refers to the plant salvia divinorum, which is known to have strong psychedelic effects on its consumers and can allude to the hallucinatory lens through which she imagines and depicts herself. As a transgender woman and drag artist, she already challenges the binary of sex and gender. However, some of the looks she has embodied are so far from the ordinary that they could be seen as being on the edge of humanity, rejecting traditional notions of beauty and aesthetics (Vivisxn 2018). To achieve this, she uses the imagery of extra limbs, multi-species entanglement, and a sexless body. Hence, by incorporating her surreal expression, she adds another layer through which she can be considered to be a cyborg, in accordance with Haraway’s definition.

Both Fecal Matter and Salvia engage in creative body modifications that do not have a specific purpose other than to show the malleability of their bodies, which they perceive as a material that can be shaped and artistically altered (Duarte and Park 2014, 259). The physical or bodily changes they undergo do not necessarily fit the established binaries, as they instead operate in between them. Hence, Fecal Matter and Salvia can both be interpreted as living cyborgs in Haraway’s terms and therefore, they will be used as the respective case studies. The subsequent section will elaborate further on how they both attempt to contribute to the notion of the defamiliarization of concepts such as gender, sexuality, and human nature through their unusual embodiment of aesthetics.

Defamiliarization

Post-gender

Figure 3 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Gender

           Figure 4 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Masculinity and Femininity

Figure 5 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Masculinity and Femininity

 

Does gender exist? From a posthumanist perspective, it can be argued that the demarcations between male and female are “as unclear and as unstable as the boundary between human and machine intelligence” (Halberstam 1991, 443). Through their appearance, both Fecal Matter and Salvia attempt to deconstruct stereotypically conservative gender roles. As can be observed in Figure 3, Hannah poses on the beach naked while her body lacks any mark of sex or gender. She does not have breasts as they are instead replaced with a symbol representing toxicity. Furthermore, her genitals are blurred to some extent and do not refer to anything typically male or female. In Figure 4, where the duo is depicted together, they pose as pregnant, nipple-less, and sex-less. This image can be interpreted as illustrating femininity and masculinity as artificial constructs because it destabilizes the gender stereotype of femininity paired with maternity and reinforces androgyny.

By doing this, they point to the fact that their sexualities are indeterminate, or not based on their sex and gender (Penley, Ross and Haraway 1990, 23). In addition, they further problematize the portrayal of bodies in terms of heterosexuality, as even though they are a couple composed of a “man” and a “woman”, they nevertheless transgress normative representations of gender and instead offer a different possibility that defies classification. This notion is reinforced in Figure 5, because Steven poses in platform high heels and feminine dress which contradicts the binary of the male sex paired with masculinity. As a consequence, “dis-identification from familiar and hence normative values” takes place and leads to the “process of becoming minoritarian” (Braidotti 2013, 89).

Figure 6 – Salvia and her Genderless Self

In Figure 6, Salvia presents herself as a two-headed, breastless, and pregnant-pseudo-malformed figure with ambiguous facial features and expressions. She has designed this image of herself based on her imagination of how things could be; it is a speculation of the alternative world of potential posthumanist landscapes where speculative life forms emerge (Dunne and Raby 2014, 69-76). However, images of cyborgs like Salvia are not only distant utopian or dystopian possibilities of the future because they represent real human beings in the present (Gonzáles 1995, 276-279). Therefore, such speculations aim to disrupt the present rather than to predict the future (Dunne and Raby 2014, 88). In this sense, Salvia imagines a world without gender, subverting the essentialist understanding of gender at the current moment.[5] Hence, visual representations of cyborg bodies function “as a site of condensation and displacement” which mirror the fears and desires involving the transformation of contemporary culture (Gonzáles 1995, 276-279).

Fecal Matter and Salvia challenge the binary logic of the current system by making it impossible to distinguish between gender and its portrayal (Halberstam 1991, 454). Their bodies represent gender as a conglomerative construction shaped by flexible structures outside the masculine and feminine (456). Thus, it is possible to ask: What then are the consequences when bodies are no longer sexualized, racialized or naturalized? Both Fecal Matter and Salvia are represented as neutralized “figures of mixity, hybridity and interconnectiveness” which subsequently have the ability to turn transsexuality into a dominant posthuman discourse (Braidotti 2013, 97). Their bodies on display function as extensions “beyond gender and race, but also beyond the human” (99). They further demonstrate the urgency of “rethinking sexuality without genders” and suggest a more polymorphous and “perverse” alternative to these binaries (99). In this framework, cyborg bodies like those of Fecal Matter and Salvia represent a liberating force because they attempt to displace different forms of social privilege by operating outside stable categories of gender and race.

 

The Assemblages of Human and Non-human

 

Figure 7 – Fecal Matter embodying multi-species entanglement


Figure 8 – Salvia as a Trans-species and Transgender Hybrid

 

Besides being post-gender, Fecal Matter and Salvia also incorporate visions of multi-species entanglements in their art, hence presenting themselves as trans-species hybrids in order to strengthen this imagery. In Figure 7, Hannah portrays herself as a hybrid of human, lizard, butterflies and plants. To achieve this look, she uses extreme makeup together with props such as colored contact lenses, plastic flowers, animals and medical tubes. By using Photoshop, Salvia goes one step further and selects even more extreme visuals to substitute her limbs with for instance – octopus tentacle, insect wings or a mermaid tail (Figure 8). In doing so, they de-stabilize anthropocentrism and recognize trans-species solidarity by being incorporated in a symbiosis with other species and the environment (Braidotti 2013, 67).

This disturbs any form of species hierarchy and the “common standard for “Man” as the measure of all things” (67). The awareness of such close networks of susceptibility can contribute to the generation of new modes of posthuman community and empathy (69). Braidotti (2013) argues that as a result of the departure from bios (Man), zoe-egalitarian turn can take place which allows for the establishment of an “equitable relationship with animals” (71). Therefore, the posthuman in post-anthropocentric terms displaces existing binaries and thus opposes any processes of othering. Correspondingly, the question of body shifts from speciesism of “what is” towards ethical acknowledgement of “what the (hybrid) body can do” (72).  Hence, Fecal Matter and Salvia contribute to a new understanding of the human in terms of zoe-egalitarianism as they depart from the anthropocentric categories of bios.

Figure 9 – Salvia in comparison to David Dixon’s illustrations

 

Fecal Matter and Salvia pose a stronger danger to binarism and essentialism than science fiction because they distort any perception of the existence of fixed categories. Haraway (1991) and Braidotti (2013) stress the urgency of creating and making public “new images, visions and representation of the human-animal continuum”[6], which Fecal Matter and Salvia do commit to by producing and publicizing this imagery. For instance, in Figure 9, Salvia’s visage can be compared to illustrations made by David Dixon. They both envision speculative life forms that might inhabit posthumanist landscapes; however, since Salvia uses her body as an art form and operates in the real world, she has a more forceful and shocking impact on her audience than Dixon’s illustrations. This is because Dixon’s work remains part of the unreal and the imagined whereas Salvia turns this hypothetical scenario into a reality by using her body, blurring the distinction between what is real and unreal.

Consequently, Salvia’s and Fecal Matter’s real and unsettling bodies problematize the notion of a binary and essentialist human nature as understood in terms of bios, which is also the reason why they often receive negative “hate” comments on their Instagram accounts. However, Instagram users also react positively, which can then increase public exposure of new visions of the human. Accordingly, people might re-evaluate their point of view based on defamiliarization with the dominant vision of the subject. Defamiliarization can subsequently lead to dis-identification from which a change in perspective can also initiate transformation of our habits and hence leave space for creative alternatives (Braidotti 2013, 88-89). Thus, accounts like Fecal Matter and Salvia do have a potential for change and can advance a fresh understanding of the human and non-human continuum.

In addition, Fecal Matter and Salvia can qualify as cyborgs because they deconstruct the nature-culture divide through their unconventional visage. They stimulate controversial cultural representations through their posthuman visions of “the human” as genderless and post-anthropocentric. As they challenge the preconceived ideas of gender, race, and societal norms, this gives them the ability to destabilize the binary system that structures the world in this era. They accomplish this through their embodiment of what it means to be post-gender and through their display of close entanglement with nature and technology. As a result of this close relationship between human and non-human subjects accompanied by the deconstruction of any essential categories, they not only support the definition of Haraway’s cyborgs but also provide an alternative way to understand the human in a zoe perspective.

 

Important Message or a Look to Sell?

Figure 10 – Fecal Matter Claiming Themselves to be Transhumans

 

Based on previous arguments, Fecal Matter and Salvia have served as positive examples of how to envision posthumans by using Haraway’s and Braidotti’s terminology. On the other hand, this section discusses their potential limitations based on some of their problematic claims relating to transhumanism and their embeddedness in advanced capitalism. In Figure 10, Fecal Matter states that they are transhumans. This could be perceived as contradictory to my previous analysis concerning how the couple can be interpreted as posthumans because through this statement, they have re-established a hierarchy by claiming to be better than ordinary humans who do not engage in body modifications. Furthermore, the claim purports to reproduce the idea that humans are at the center of everything and, therefore, departs from the essence-free zoe back to the privileged bios. As such, the question remains: why do they define themselves as trans humans when their bodily transformations do not function as tools to, for instance, enhance their intelligence or prevent them from aging?

Figure 11 – Fecal Matter’s Looks to Sell

 

Another point of confusion is how to interpret their looks: either as something innovative that challenges the boundaries of what it means to be human or as looks to be sold. Braidotti (2013) argues that post-anthropocentrism operates against the opportunistic force of capitalism (60). In her perspective, capitalism turns human and non-human matter into a commodity for trade and profit which leads to exploitative “bio-piracy” and that is why, according to her, zoe-egalitarianism should be non-profit (96). Both Fecal Matter and Salvia produce their looks and sell them in the form of clothes designs or makeup. Fecal Matter has an online shop on Depop.com (Figure 11) where people can order their designs from anywhere around the world and Salvia features her e-mail address as open for work inquiries on her Instagram account. From this point of view, Fecal Matter can be criticized for commodifying, for instance, shackles and chains as something fashionable which can be understood as a practice trivializing slavery.

However, this seems to be a different scenario from what Braidotti outlines as commodification, in that Fecal Matter and Salvia profit not from the use of “others,” but rather by using “themselves” and their designs. Hence, their commodification of chains (and referring to themselves as slaves) can be interpreted as a critique of the society where people are slaves to their lifestyles, their country, and companies. Furthermore, Fecal Matter’s affordable designs always utilize recycled material in the attempt to shed light on the exploitative nature of the fast fashion of dominant industries. Therefore, they not only present an alternative to dominant fashion brands but also introduce an open-minded vision of the future of non-exploitative fashion (Moran 2016).  In contrast to Braidotti, Dunne and Raby (2014) provide a more positive outlook towards critical and speculative design that is part of the capitalist system. They claim that in contemporary consumerist society “it is through buying goods that reality takes shape” and the main purpose of critical design is “to help us become more discerning consumers” and hence “to encourage people to demand more from industry and society as critical consumers” (37-38). As a result, designers are not positioned above their consumers but rather they are absorbed in the system together (38).

The critical design in this sense has the ability to question, inspire and stimulate critical thinking, provide new perspectives, and expose the constructedness of given (Dunne and Raby 2014, 43). Since Fecal Matter and Salvia’s designs are used in everyday life, that is where their power to provoke lies. Their designs suggest an alternative to current lifestyles and offer a possibility to change things as they are now (43). Through their alternative imaginary, they provide new viewpoints on how to tackle challenges that people face (189). Therefore, their work is important in terms of how it makes people feel and in how their thoughts stimulate and encourage others to critically envision new realities (189). As such, their integration into the capitalist system can be seen as positive because it gives them the opportunity to share their thoughts which can have an impact on their audience and re-shape their mindset. However, it can be interpreted as negative as well because it might point to the fact that their main goal is to promote and sell their looks and products, rather than spreading novel ideas on how to envision “the human”.

 

CONCLUSION

The essay has explored the potential prospects of posthuman cyborg bodies, namely through the case studies of Fecal Matter and Salvia. The analysis has demonstrated that regarding posthumanism, there is an urgent need to creatively envision bodies in a post-gender and post-anthropocentric sense in order to oppose transhumanism and anthropocentrism. The case studies illustrated how social media have the ability to subvert societal fixed categories of gender, for instance, by avoiding the familiar and normative representations of femininity and masculinity. Furthermore, their looks also pointed to the importance of imagining human bodies as being in constant interaction with their environment and other human and non-human matter. Their aesthetics therefore challenge the notion of human nature defined by bios and revise it under the lens of zoe, allowing for greater equality and creativity. Thus, to be human in these terms means to be an unstable and malleable entity, and involves revealing and possibly rejecting the constructedness of categories that previously defined it.

However, there are still a few limitations to the chosen case studies, seeing as their main message remains somewhat unclear. Even though they challenge gender dualisms and the binary between human and animal and human and technology, Fecal Matter still define themselves in transhumanist terms which does not challenge preconceived ideas about a fixed human essence. Furthermore, both Fecal Matter’s and Salvia’s incorporation into the capitalist system is debatable and can point to the fact that their looks are designed to be sold, without having a deeper purpose of questioning “the human”. In sum, Fecal Matter and Salvia do challenge the notion of “the human” in terms of human nature by demonstrating, through their bodily malleability, the instability of fixed categories. However, they do not fully pursue post-anthropocentrism as they fail to entirely escape from binarisms due to their transhumanist claims and involvement in capitalism.

To conclude, cyborgs have become a reality that is no longer mere science fiction. In fact, many scholars claim that it is only the trappings of language and the limits of our imagination that prevent us from understanding that we have already become cyborgs. Therefore, the increased emergence of designers and artists that encourage this realization through their work is a necessary part of freeing “the human” from the shackles of power and hierarchy. What we are remained with is hope – a strong motivating force and an ambition for a better future of a different society.

 

Thank you Janaan Farhat for your editorial remarks regarding this essay.

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Duarte, Bárbara Nascimento, and Enno Park. 2014. “Body, Technology and Society: A Dance of Encounters.” NanoEthics 8, no. 3: 259-61.

Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. 2014. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. London: MIT Press.

González, J. 1995. Envisioning Cyborg Bodies: Notes from Current Research. In The Cyborg Handbook, edited by Gray C.H., Mentor S., Figueroa-Sarriera H., 267-279. London: Routledge.

Halberstam, Judith. 1991. “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Feminist Studies 17, no. 3: 439-60.

Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston. 1995. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1995. Understanding Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Moran, Justin. 2016. “How Underground Designer Trio Fecal Matter Is Challenging Fashion Industry Norms.” Bullett Media, February 11, 2016. http://bullettmedia.com/article/how-underground-designer-trio-fecal-matter-is-challenging-fashion-industry-norms/.

Penley, Constance, Andrew Ross, and Donna Haraway. 1990. “Cyborgs at Large: Interview with Donna Haraway.” Duke University Press, no. 25/26: 8-23.

Satenstein, Liana. 2018. “Yes, “Fecal Matter” Is the Name of an Instagram You Should Be Following.” Vogue, April 25, 2018.
https://www.vogue.com/article/fecal-matter-instagram-duo-to-follow.

Thacker, Eugene. 2003. “Data Made Flesh: Biotechnology and the Discourse of the Posthuman.” Cultural Critique 53, no. 1: 72-97.

Vicini, Andrea, and Agnes M. Brazal. 2015. “Longing for Transcendence: Cyborgs and Trans- and Posthumans.” Theological Studies 76, no. 1: 148-65.

Vivisxn. 2018. “Salvjiia – Otherworldy Beauty Queen.” n.d.
http://vivisxn.com/salvjiia-infamy-showstudio-nick-knight-amazing-beauty-salvia-disrupts-beauty-avant-garde-and-surreal-aesthetics/.

Wolfe, Cary. 2009. What Is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

 

 

APPENDIX I: TABLE OF FIGURES

Figure 0 – Fecal Matter on the Street____________________________________________0
Source: https://www.vogue.com/article/fecal-matter-instagram-duo-to-follow

Figure 1 – Fecal Matter and their Prostheses (via Instagram @matieresfecales) 9

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BinI4MChnL9/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

Figure 2 – Salvia and her Alien Aesthetics (via Instagram account @salvjiia) 10

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZodl11BZou/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

Figure 3 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Gender  ________________________ 11

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BhNBjGoBLj8/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

Figure 4 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Masculinity and Femininity 11

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BhNBjGoBLj8/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

Figure 5 – Fecal Matter: Troubling Masculinity and Femininity 11

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbVOJ4Ih94j/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

Figure 6 – Salvia and her Genderless Self 12

(left) https://www.instagram.com/p/BbHt87ahtPq/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

(right) https://www.instagram.com/p/BX3NEExBGrZ/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

Figure 7 – Fecal Matter embodying multi-species entanglement 13

Source:

(left) https://www.instagram.com/p/Ba7eJwXh2Dz/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

(right) https://www.instagram.com/p/BRHTCMIhBd6/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales

Figure 8 – Salvia as a Trans-species and Transgender Hybrid_ 14

Source:

(left) https://www.instagram.com/p/BgeWb9WB5eV/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

(right) https://www.instagram.com/p/BhHp6b2hhrF/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

Figure 9 – Salvia in comparison to David Dixon’s illustrations 15

Sources:

(left) https://www.instagram.com/p/BiXdmYVhBMv/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

(middle) Dougal Dixon, “Flooer” and “Night Stalker,” from After Man: A Zoology of the Future (London: Eddison Sadd Editions, 1998). Image courtesy of Eddison Sadd Editions. © 1991 and 1998 Eddison Sadd Editions. (Image found in Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. 2014. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. London: MIT Press. page 77)

(right) https://www.instagram.com/p/BhM3Tr8hfJZ/?hl=cs&taken-by=salvjiia

Figure 10 – Fecal Matter Claiming Themselves to be Transhumans 16

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BNxzjOlBPTH/?hl=cs&taken-by=matieresfecales
Figure 11 – Fecal Matter’s Looks to Sell 17

Source: https://www.depop.com/fecalmatter/

 

__________________________________________________________________________

[1] Halberstam and Livingston (1995) argue that the human operates to “domesticate and hierarchize difference within the human (whether according to race, class, gender) and to absolutize difference between the human and nonhuman” (10). Therefore, the posthuman does not reduce itself as “different from other” or “different from the self”, instead it operates in between the two and allows for the emergence of new relationships (10).

[2] see Vicini and Brazal 2015; Braidotti 2013; Duarte and Park 2014; Devoss 2000; Halberstam 1991

[3] The cyborg discourse is, according to Devoss (2000), inclusive of disabled people as they do make use of these devices and are already often referred to as genderless and asexual (843). The embodiment of cyborg theory thus allows for not only looking at disabled people as already cyborgs, but it also allows to view them from a non-hierarchical perspective – erasing the established stereotypes. Therefore, later to Haraway’s “others” were also added different marginalized groups such as above-mentioned disabled people and queer. Hence, the discourse constantly transforms itself in order to be applicable to today’s circumstances.

[4] On the web and in science fiction, cyborg bodies are often represented under a lens of heterosexism and misogyny which is far from the understanding of a cyborg Haraway envisioned (Devoss 2000, 838). These representations reproduce current norms on gender and sexuality placed on certain women’s bodies (839).

[5] Even though in the Western society gender has become more fluid than ever – especially thanks to queer theory – there is still a need to reproduce this new “minoritarian” imagery further in order to counter the dominant essentialist understanding of gender.

[6] Direct quote is from Braidotti (2013, 74) however, Haraway (1991) refers to the same urgency on page 181.

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