Monday, November 02, 2009

the cyborgs in the Garden

...Seeking a way to articulate an answer to this question, I dare to imitate Haraway’s use of provocative figures to shape an answer that flatly contradicts her assertion that the cyborg does not belong in the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve as cyborg.[1] The Genesis narrative of humanity’s first parents need not be read in the organic, originary, heteronormative, naturalized and universalizing mode that has given us both a problematic original innocence and an even more problematic original sin. As interpreters of this biblical narrative of our cyborg origins, in which Adam is not born of Woman but is manufactured of material elements not unlike those of the flesh of humanity’s monstrous cousin the golem, and in which Eve, too, is manufactured in a strange foreshadowing of our own emergent biotech capabilities, how can we read such a myth as one of Nature, Man, and Woman in perfectly ordered, natural existence? The elements of relationality as definitive for a posthuman ontology are also undeniably present: God marks this creature, the human, as unique in no way other than God’s own choice to relate to it; the human dwells, walks and talks with the nonhuman—God, but also the animals; the human is not left “alone in the world” but created with another human. In the Garden of Eden, all manner of human and nonhuman creatures exist. Embedded within a nexus of strange boundaries of human and nonhuman relationships—human and divine, human and animal, human and human—the cyborg pair in the Garden are what they are because of the construction and contestation of these boundaries. What does it mean to be made a cyborg in the imago dei? Simply to have been made a creature who is simultaneously kin and other: to God, to other humans, and to nonhumans. The boundaries do not disappear in our acknowledgment and negotiation of them—but they become conditions of relationship, and not obstacles preventing it.
            This cyborg reconstruction suggests further that the Fall represents, not a loss of original innocence (which does not exist) nor a loss or deformation of the imago dei (which, as relationship, continues), but a poignant renegotiation of the ontological boundary between the human and the divine. Van Huyssteen suggests that Genesis 3:22 provides a “rather dramatic new dimension to the image or likeness of God,” but a negative dimension, one which stands in tension with God’s intent of divine and human closeness. Yet, further, this new dimension is one which questions the presumed boundary between human and divine: “the ultimate focus on this thin line between the divine and human worlds finally culminates in the breaking down of the necessary boundaries between these two worlds, and results in the symbolic first sinful act that leads to divine punishment.”[2]
Van Huyssteen suggests that nothing in the biblical narrative reconciles the contradiction between the created likeness and the epistemological likeness; yet he himself, in defining the human, makes a postfoundational notion of rationality central. This pair of moves leads us to the question, must we assume that this renegotiation of ontological boundaries is wholly negative? In our cyborg parents’ bid for greater understanding and closeness to the divine, for greater incorporation of the divine into themselves (eating, after all, being a material act), what is there that seems strange, or even necessarily blameworthy? Transgression of categorical boundaries in the living out of material embodied reality is, after all, what cyborgs and (post)humans are all about. Van Huyssteen’s own work on human uniqueness suggests that the very element of our humanness lamented in this text is the means by which we come to know, and relate, to each other and our nonhuman kin, including God. This is not to suggest that this element of our humanness is unproblematic, an entirely “happy fault;” but the cyborg has always been an ambivalent figure, capable of good and evil, and is no less so here...

[1] Donna J. Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 151.
[2] J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology, The Gifford Lectures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 123.

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