Eastgate Systems

Cyborg is a hypertextual essay unusual in its form and subject that explores the relationship between modern technology and the body. Diane Greco connects ideas from writers such as William Gibson, Deleuze or Derrida, interpreting them with a disquieting insight. In the words of the author:

"I want to take machines and metaphors, scramble them, then toss them onto the hot skillet that is your laptop computer, so that– before you can say "mushroom omelette" –you´ve lived what is a hopefully fruitful and provocative fusion of machine and text.

A fusion that, for better or worse, would be impossible without hypertext."

Diane Greco takes the world of cyberpunk science fiction to explore a context where the conception of the body has changed to such a point that we can´t talk about identity and gender in the traditional way any more. But unlike fiction, real technology hasn´t yet affected our notion of identity very much, so that the old injustices (Greco mentions gender, politics, economy, society... ) perpetuate themselves adapting unchallenged to the new medium. Using the cyberpunk metaphor about the body, the author finds a way to question essential principles that we usually take for granted without a second thought.

Cyborg has an index that could place the writing spaces into definite "sections" but for the fact that it is possible to jump from one to the other following the multiple links that relate the spaces. It is a complex net of relationships that favours recurrence and intertextuality, providing the reader with multiple answers and playful challenges. Thus, the index doesn´t work as such, but as an approximate inventory of the main "headlines" that could apply to the different text spaces, although this is not always clear:

— Introduction
— Your Body is Meat
— Machine Dreams
— Mind, Body, Anti-Body
— Cyborg Visions
— Communication & Control
— Writing the Cyborg
— What Do Cyborgs Know?

The reader can choose between navigating the text spaces using the text-links that take her to related spaces or exploring the map view that arranges the spaces into neat clusters apparently ordered but in truth carefully disorienting. The structure cannot be seen but has to be constructed by the reader, putting the pieces together.

This hypertextual essay also has a traditional bibliography with the references of the works cited. Greco always identifies her citations´ sources, succesfully integrating the voices of philosophers, literary critics, science fiction authors and others. Her fresh heterogeneous approach to philosophical matters would certainly shock the most traditional circles but, to me, this is the main achievement of her work, and I don´t think it would be possible without the hypertextual form.

"Technology is not the answer. Technology is the question."

This sentence could be Cyborg´s motto because it poses the necessary questions about technology. The danger is not to pose these questions or, maybe worse, to let others answer them for us. Diane Greco claims constantly for openness:

"In re-inscribing these narratives according to the demands of a cybernetic world, why not abandon the notion that there must be one model for identity upon which all others must be based? The prototype that readily accommodates upgrades and modifications replaces the original that abides no deviation."

Other worries concern the new types of social interaction and individual perception brought by cyberspace. Our world is changing and we should keep close track of the changes to remain conscious and able to react and adapt ourselves to the new environments.

"At the disappearing core of the matter is the issue of identity; according to what criteria does one locate oneself in social reality, and how does this location reflect the actual qualities of the person who chooses that location? And in the case where, because the worlds are virtual, there is no way to separate deception in self-presentation from the person who deceives, does the second question matter? For identity, which does not exist in a vacuum, is constructed as much by internalized norms and cultural expectations as it is by some unified and independent entity called the "self.""

Cyborgs can teach us something about the integration of different parts, against the dominating idea of the unique point of view and the ever-growing social danger of fragmentation and isolation.

"With a visceral knowledge of limits and transgression — knowing that bodies might begin and end anywhere the stitching does — cyborgs are in a particularly good position to understand that transcendence of these limits is not necessarily the best option. Appreciating parts, segments, and relations between them — in all their complexity — is a better way; understanding historical and contextual complexities gives the lie to a perspective that claims an absolute objectivity and transhistoricity. According to Donna Haraway's vision of feminist objectivity, "The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular.""

Cyborg is a most valuable and deep reflection upon the cybernetical self, society and what all that has to do with us. Diane Greco provides us with useful clues to the way of keeping ourselves awake and paradoxically become more human through the critical use of technology.

Susana Pajares Toska
July 1998