Science Fiction Studies

#55 = Volume 18, Part 3 = November 1991

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway

For the purposes of my argument, I offer the following working definition: SF names not a generic effects engine of literature and simulation arts (the usual sense of the phrase "science fiction"), so much as a mode of awareness, characterized by two linked forms of hesitation, a pair of gaps.

One gap extends between, on the one hand, belief that certain ideas and images of scientific-technological transformations of the world can be entertained, and, on the other, the rational recognition that they may be realized (along with their ramifications for worldly life). It is a gap that lies between the conceivability of future transformations and the possibility of their actualization. In its other aspect, SF names the gap between, on the one hand, belief in the immanent possibility (and perhaps inexorable necessity) of those transformations, and, on the other, reflection about their possible ethical, social, and spiritual interpretations (i.e., about their embeddedness in a web of social-historical relations). This gap stretches between conceiving of the plausibility, i.e., the prospective factual reality, of historically unforeseeable innovations in human experience (nova)1 and their broader ethical and social-cultural implications and resonances. SF thus involves two forms of hesitation—a historical-logical one (how plausible is the conceivable novum?) and an ethical one (how good/bad/altogether different are the transformations that would issue from the novum?) These gaps compose the black box in which scientific-technological conceptions, ostensibly unmediated by social and ethical contingencies, are transformed into a rational, "realistic" recognition of their possible materialization and their implications.

SF embeds scientific-technological concepts in the sphere of human interests and actions, explaining them and explicitly attributing social value to them. This may take many literary forms, from the resurrection of dead mythologies, pseudo-mimetic extrapolation, and satirical subversion, to utopian Aufhebung. It is an inherently, and radically, future-oriented process, since the exact ontological status of the fictive world is suspended. Unlike historical fiction (of which SF is a direct heir), where a less intense suspense operates because the outcome of the past is still in the process of being completed in the present's partisan conflicts, SF is suspended because all the relevant information about the future has not been created yet, and never can be.

Since future developments influence revisions of the past, SF's black box also involves the past, in the hesitation that comes in anticipating the complete revision of origins. A past that is not yet known is a form of the future. So is a present unanticipated by the past. Further, since SF is concerned mainly with the role of science and technology in defining human—i.e., cultural—value, there can be as many kinds of SF as there are theories of culture. Obviously, this conception of SF concerns the range of possible science fictions, many of which have not been realized (for many and various reasons), and not just the actual historical production of the commercial genre known as Science Fiction.

SF, then, is not a genre of literary entertainment only, but a mode of awareness, a complex hesitation about the relationship between imaginary conceptions and historical reality unfolding into the future.2 SF orients itself within a conception of history that holds that science and technology actively participate in the creation of reality, and thus "implant" human uncertainty into the nonhuman world. At the same time, SF's hesitations also involve a sense of fatality vis-à-vis instrumental rationality's inexorability in transforming (or undermining) the conditions of thought that gave rise to it. The same freedom that detaches nature from a mythology of natural necessity restores that necessity ironically, in the ineluctable power of human scientific thought to transform nature continually and without transcendental limits. SF's hesitations are about the degree or extent of the assent with which one greets the imaginary concepts of the rationalized future, or indeed how similar or different the future will be from the present and our present standards for making judgments.

SF has become a form of discourse that directly engages postmodern language and culture and has (for the moment at least) a privileged position because of its generic interest in the intersection of technology, scientific theory, and social practice. Since the late 1960s, when it became the chosen vehicle for both technocratic and critical utopian writing, SF has experienced a steady growth in popularity, critical interest, and theoretical sophistication. It reflects and engages the technological culture that is coming to pervade every aspect of human society. The irresistible expansion of communications technologies has drawn the traditional spheres of power into an ever-tightening web of instrumental rationalization. Simultaneously, the culture of information has rewritten the notions of nature and transcendence that have dominated Western societies for the past few centuries, replacing them with an as yet inchoate world-view we might call "artificial immanence"—in which every value that previous cultures considered transcendental or naturally given is at least theoretically capable of artificial replication or simulation. In this sense, SF has become a mode of discourse establishing its own domain linking literary, philosophical, and scientific imaginations, and subverting the cultural boundaries between them, and in its narratives producing and hyperbolizing the new immanence. It regularly employs drastic new scientific concepts of material and social relations, which in turn have influenced our conceptions of what is imaginable or plausible. And it has become an aspect of the quotidian consciousness of people living in the post-industrial world, daily witnesses to the transformations of their values and material conditions in the wake of technological acceleration beyond their conceptual threshold.

Two of the most interesting and acute theorists of the transformation of SF into a discursive practice are Jean Baudrillard, especially in his Simulations period, and Donna Haraway. The trends of their arguments differ greatly, and in this paper I will pit them against each other in a contest of interpretations of the science-fictionalization of theory. But they agree in at least three vital respects. They both begin with the axiom that science is a practice within the field of representations, not the explication of extradiscursive phenomena; they both hold that the development of communications-technologies and the culture surrounding them has transformed every conceivable aspect of human and terrestrial life into an aspect of a cybernetic control model; and they both deal with the all-assimilating/all-eroding power of the information-paradigm with radical irony —specifically the irony of SF.

Both Baudrillard and Haraway have explicitly associated their theoretical work with SF. Both have drawn central concepts from the thesaurus of SF imagery. I would argue that two of their works in particular, Baudrillard's "The Precession of Simulacra" and Haraway's "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," are the most fully developed articulations of the new fusion of SF and theory, and together form the prolegomena to any future SF and global theory that seeks to generate a "futurology."3 Indeed, we can read the differences between them as differences between vectors in the SF field, or between an apocalyptic-dystopian-idealist axis and a utopian-pragmatic-"open ended" one.

1. The Year 2000 Has Already Happened. Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Science Fiction" is the most explicit reflection by either author on the linkup of SF and theory, and it provides a good starting point for my discussion. In the essay, Baudrillard distinguishes three orders of the imaginary, appropriate to the three successive orders of simulation in history. The first is the utopian, the imaginary realm attending the order of representation—in which signs and values are made to counterfeit a putative original order of natural signs. This is followed by the order of production and work, the simulation-culture of the bourgeois order, in which signs and values strive for equivalence, the reproduction of themselves in a pure series; its imaginary-expression is "science fiction." The third order is our current one, the simulationist order of the hyperreal, the cybernetic striving for complete operational control over the generation of signs and values. Baudrillard is not sure there is an imaginary realm for this order. "The probable answer," he writes, "is that the good old imaginary of science fiction is dead, and that some other sort of thing is beginning to come into being (and not only in the novelistic mode, but also in theory). The same floating and indeterminacy have put an end to both science fiction and theory as specific genres" (305, above).

Baudrillard merely mentions this equivalence of theory and science fiction, but it is worth paying attention to, for it is the basis for the specific form of cybercritique that Baudrillard practices. It implies that theory is merely one form of the striving to work out, in the realm of the imaginary, the contradiction in the real. In each historical order it will share the strategies of its literary counterpart, utopia or science fiction. A certain distance between the real and the imaginary was required, Baudrillard writes, for the concepts of utopia and even classical science-fictional projection to crystallize. The distance was greatest in utopia and in utopia's individualized form, the romantic dream. The utopian imaginary signified a radically different universe from the real. Science fiction narrowed the distance considerably, bringing the imaginary closer to the real world of production, but it also introduced a process of infinite reproduction (of worlds, of technologies, of cultures, of scientific "facts," etc.). In the hyperreal, the gap disappears altogether. There is no need to differentiate the imaginary from the real; indeed, the relationship between them is inverted, and the real derives from the model, from the operational genetic code of which the real is merely the readout. This leaves no room for fictional anticipations, nor for any sort of transcendence. Fiction disappears, since it no longer has a dialectical other. "Paradoxically," Baudrillard writes, "it is the real that has become our utopia—but a utopia which is no longer a possibility, a utopia we can do no more than dream about, like a lost object" (310, above).

Baudrillard's "good old imaginary of science fiction" is what I would term classical science fiction, the genre of the fantastic, usually technocentric, fiction that more or less adhered to Gernsback's and Campbell's norms. The "other sort of thing" that Baudrillard believes is replacing "science fiction" in the third order of simulation already has a name—or rather, an insignia, a non-name: SF. In Baudrillard's account, the collapse of the distance between the real and the imaginary squeezes out utopian and science fiction—or perhaps "splatters them" would be a better phrase, distributing the hesitations and anticipations throughout experience. Projective "science fiction" implodes: its tissue of mediating connections is compressed, until all that is left is its monogram, SF, an insignia that clings to its traces but has no fixed referent. As I have argued at the beginning of this paper, SF marks the points at which the real and the imaginary are (as yet) indistinguishable, and hence the imploded monogram refers not only to fiction, but to the problematic autonomy of reality. SF thus includes other implosive concepts at "contested border zones" (Haraway): VR ("virtual reality"), the cyborg ("cybernetic organisms"), and AI ("artificial intelligence"). Pervading them all is SF-consciousness, the constant awareness that origins are subject to recall, that almost anything may be technically constructible, and that there may be no inherent limits to what technological civilizations, and technologically transformed bodies, are capable of. From this point of view, "science fiction" is dead because it is fiction. SF exists, in no small part, because theoretical discourse like Baudrillard's (and Haraway's) discerns the problematic topology that SF is called upon to articulate.4

If we consider that utopias and science fictions are always the imaginary totalizations of theories of technology and culture, we can also say that theory is the abstraction and foregrounding of utopian and science-fictional principles. For theory also requires a gap between sign and real referent, between value and "inert existence," which it is theory's self-conceived role first to locate and then to dream up ways of bridging. Once the referent becomes a readout of the sign, and existence a readout of control models, theory's condition of possibility has been absorbed in the operational program.

Classical science fiction, in Baudrillard's view, was characterized by the constant elaboration of the theme of expansion—of human production and exploration, of colonial culturation, of adventure. All of these can be translated into projections of the Earth. Once the actual technology of space-exploration and colonization crosses a certain threshold, the Earth ceases to be a source of centrifugal expansion and becomes the object of centripetal collapse. The implosion of SF occurs simultaneously with the implosion of terrestrialism, with the virtually total coding, mapping, and saturation of the physical world and the world of signs. For Baudrillard, the effect of the "conquest of space" was to bring an end to terrestrial reference and a de-realizing of human space. The recurring icon of this implosion of meaning in Baudrillard's work is the satellite/space capsule, a work of technological wizardry that essentially reproduces the banality of the human habitat in outer space—the two-rooms-kitchen-bath-and-shower launched into orbit. The "conquest" leads not to transcendence, but to the absorption of the cosmic ocean—and the cosmic Earth—into the satellite:

The conquest of space constitutes in this sense an irreversible threshold in the direction of the loss of the earthly referential. This is precisely the hemorrhage of reality as internal coherence of a limited universe when its limits retreat infinitely. The conquest of space follows that of the planet as the same fantastic enterprise of extending the jurisdiction of the real—to carry for example the flag, the technique, the two-rooms-and-kitchen to the moon—same tentative to substantiate the concepts or territorialize the unconscious—the latter equals making the human race unreal, or to reversing it into the hyperreality of simulation. ("The Orders of Simulacra" 158, verbatim)

What Baudrillard considers the traditional charms of science fiction—projection, extrapolation, excessive "pantography"—become impossible, because space no longer offers a scene for overcoming fundamental differences. SF will consequently no longer be romantic narrative of expansion and colonization; it will rather "evolve implosively in the same way as our image of the universe. It would seek to revitalize, to reactualize, to rebanalize the fragments of simulation—fragments of this universal simulation which our presumed 'real' world has now become for us" (311, above).

In another important essay, "The Year 2000 Has Already Happened," Baudrillard elaborates one of the implications of the notion of the hyperreal: that the acceleration and proliferation of information, and the technical drive to create exact replicas of phenomena (through digitization, for example), leads to the emptying out of an object's meaning, and its replacement as a simulacrum. This simulacrum is potentially capable of infinite serial reproduction in the shoreless anti-context of operational control, an emptying out that leaves a haunted absence that information pretends relentlessly and impossibly to fill:

At the very heart of information is the event the history of which is haunted by its own disappearance. At the heart of hi-fi is music, haunted by its disappearance. At the heart of the most sophisticated experimentation is science haunted by the disappearance of its object. At the heart of porn is sexuality haunted by its own disappearance. Everywhere the same effect of "rendering" of the absolute proximity of the real: the same effect of simulation. ("Year 2000" 40).

In this process objects disappear into their own too perfectly simulated presence. They have a technically controlled self-identity so complete that it leaves no other domain against which to differentiate themselves, no shadows. In exactly the same way SF disappears into its own presence.

"It is not necessary to write science-fiction: we have as of now, here and now, in our societies, with the media, the computers, the circuits, the networks, the acceleration of particles which has definitely broken the referential orbit of things" (36). Or we might add in more homely terms, the realization that the SF imaginary has become a whole new project, no longer limited to UFOs bringing the Rapture and extraterrestrial impregnators in the supermarket checkout racks, but affecting the fate of the world, with Star Wars, genetic engineering, Virtual Reality, and global satellite surveillance. With the saturation of technologies of digital replication we have the feeling that anything is technically reproducible—and in bulk. The substantialization of SF's objects has created a new form of haunted consciousness, haunted by the uncanny spectral actuality of its properly imaginary objects.

Baudrillard names the SF writers whom he believes capture the hyperreal: Borges, before the letter; Philip K. Dick, and the J.G. Ballard of Crash, which Baudrillard calls the "first great novel of the universe of simulation" (319, above). But Baudrillard is himself a virtuoso stylist of theory-SF, one of the few (perhaps with Deleuze-Guattari) recent theorists who have attempted to formulate a global theory in what is essentially a lyrical mode. In contrast with Haraway, whose SF is justified primarily by the struggle for liberation, Baudrillard's cold apocalypse—an apocalypse revealing that there is nothing to reveal—is a form of self-acknowledged nihilism:

I am no longer in a state to "reflect" on something. I can only push hypotheses to their limits, snatch them from their critical zones of reference, take them beyond the point of no return. I also take theory into the hyperspace of simulation—in which it loses all objective validity, but perhaps it gains a coherence, that is, a real affinity with the system that surrounds us. ("Year 2000" 37)

On the face of it, Baudrillard's SF is intended to mime the secret condition of the present. Like a postmodern Baudelaire or Lautréamont, Baudrillard writes to reveal and realize the theoretical conditions of the hyperreal through logical delirium. Paradoxically—or perhaps logically—the revolutionary Haraway chooses the strategy of discretion, pushing a few choice concepts to their limits (the cyborg, the alien), while Baudrillard's theory explodes in an intellectual rhapsody, unshackled by a cause and effect it studiously refutes, and in which the proliferation of concepts is bounded only by the limits of Baudrillard's explicit technique of "analogical transfer" (37).

One cannot read Baudrillard without being struck by the sheer volume of conceits taken from contemporary science and engineering to illuminate social phenomena. From the "leukemia of history" to "telefission," from the implosive chain reaction of history neutralizing the energy of an event to surveys and tests as the microbiological warfare against the social, through highly original and elaborate metaphors linking cancer, the genetic code, aerospace technology, information theory, astrophysics, computer sciences, high-energy particle physics, and many other disparate sciences, to the operations of the hyperreal, Baudrillard writes what is essentially a visionary SF poem or film—exuberant in its prodigious manufacture of associations, but ultimately ironic in the realization that the associations are all the same ones.

Baudrillard's scientific conceits are not illustrative, and they clarify nothing in the way that scientific metaphors do, by pointing toward the construction of possible models. Nor do they embellish scientific concepts by overlaying mythological interpretations on them. They are nonetheless logical, for they are consistently linked to larger rhetorical turns in Baudrillard's arguments, where certain motifs and themes dear to utopian and scientific fiction are treated as actualized phenomena. Amerique, for example, recapitulates again and again versions of News from Nowhere, Road Warrior, and The Man Who Fell to Earth—in the vision of America as the only achieved utopia, as the only remaining primitive society, and as the fading orgy of history. Next to the lyric evocations of speeding in the desert is the panorama of the mall in Washington as a series of museums encapsulating our entire universe from Stone Age to Space Age, a postmodern version of Morris's visit to the British Museum in News. And at the center, a narrator seduced into a fatal fascination with a brilliant new world that cuts him off from his own dying planet of Paris.

2. "The boundary between SF and social reality is an optical illusion." In her groundbreaking, iconoclastic essay, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," Haraway makes similar points, albeit without constructing an alternate historical phenomenology. For Haraway, like Baudrillard, "the boundary between SF and social reality is an optical illusion" (66). Haraway contends that the various scientific discourses and technologies strive to establish and to legitimate themselves through narratives that have the power to inscribe myths of origin and telos into their instruments and objects. Although these legitimation narratives are often outspoken, they are part of the essence of any tool or concept. Hence tools and technologies are signs in ideological systems. In the same move, legitimation narratives are deployed as instruments of power. In the culture of information this ambiguity of science and technology ceases to be a matter of disguised rhetoric; since the ultimate legitimating structure of science and technology is information (i.e., the hypostasis of language), there is no loss of explanatory "credibility" in making the code/language paradigm manifest:

[C]ommunications sciences and modern biologies are constructed by a common move—the translation of the world into a problem of coding, a search for a common language in which all resistance to instrumental control disappears, and all heterogeneity can be submitted to disassembly, reassembly, investment and exchange. (82-83)

Haraway's position here is congruent with Baudrillard's conception of the hyperreal, with one fundamental difference. For Haraway, the process of hyperrealization is still fluid, occurring where contestation and disruption are possible once one has accepted the inexorability, the validity, and even the desirability of the categorical breakdowns and generalized ambivalence resulting from the all-pervasive effects of informatics. For Baudrillard, SF represents the necessary fatality of consciousness coming to grips with the actually existing conditions of hyperreality; SF is the name for imaginative-theoretical adequacy in the hyperreal. For Haraway, SF is, over and above this, the necessary hopefulness that comes with knowing that neither the initial conditions (the origin) nor the outcome (the apocalypse) of any process, no matter how highly rationalized, can be determined. By placing scientific fact in a field full of "promising monsters," Haraway makes scientific discourse resonate with fiction, i.e., alternative constructions, and consequently lose some of its fatality:

SF is a territory of contested cultural reproduction in high-technological worlds. Placing the narratives of scientific fact within the heterogeneous space of SF produces a transformed field. The transformed field sets up resonances among all its regions and components. No region or component is 'reduced' to any other, but reading and writing practices respond to each other across a structural space. Speculative fiction has different tensions when its field also contains the inscription practices of scientific fact. The sciences have complex histories in the constitution of imaginative worlds and of actual bodies in modern and postmodern 'first world' cultures. (Primate Visions 5)

(It is interesting to note the spatial metaphors: "territory," "heterogeneous space," "transformed field," "structural space," "regions." Most of these images allude to virtual spaces, particularly mathematical or computer-simulation space. Hence they evoke the sense of a virtual scene, as if discourse might operate like a cybernetic combinatorial-device in which possible relationships among meanings can be simulated. There is a sense in which the chapters of Primate Visions can be read as a series of "screens" of actual combinations of possible primatological work. The combinations include historical evolution, but Haraway dwells very little on future transformations of the field, projected from the historical combinations and the parameters of the structural space. That future is open.)

3. Manifest Cyborgs. For an open future even to be conceivable at least two things are required: the dissolution of the myths of time that have informed western technology and mythology (from innocent origin, fall out of nature, and apocalyptic reunion); and the emergence of a conception of virtual timespace, where many possibilities might be realized fatelessly. Such a reformulation of cultural timespace, and necessarily also of conceptions of human freedom, cannot come about by theoretical fiat. The theorization of an open future depends on a condition of existence that can no longer be seen as essential, self-enclosed, and infinitely self-productive. For Haraway that condition exists at the site of the cyborg.

Haraway finds the name for the new conditions in one of the most revered of SF conventions. Traditionally, the cyborg is an ontologically mongrel creature that combines mechanical-artificial elements with organic and natural ones. SF has never been exclusive about this category: it includes a wide range of types, from the supermechanized Borg of the recent Star Trek, to Anne McCaffrey's heroic-romantic "Ship Who Sang," to the tragic genetically-altered spacepilots of Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain." Recent literary SF favors the cyborg perhaps above all other themes; the cyberpunk genre can be defined by its vision of a dystopian future saturated by cyborg technologies. Historically, the cyborg has stood for the radical anxiety of human consciousness about its own embodiment at the moment that embodiment appears almost fully contingent. Cyborg anxiety has stood for a panic oscillation between the "human" element (associated with affections, eros, error, innovation, projects begun in the face of mortality) and the "machine" element (the desire for long life, health, physical impermeability, self-contained control processes, dependability, and hence the ability to fulfill promises over a long term).

The classical SF cyborg is a site of panic psychology (to borrow a term from Arthur Kroker), the exaggeration of the body/intellect dualism into a form of literary prosthesis. The cyborg generates and absorbs dread, precisely because human beings, without knowledge of the original conditions of our construction, have no way of knowing the degree to which body and mind can be considered distinct (if they can at all); and we have no other way of approaching the problem than through our constructions—i.e., our mental and physical combinatory models, our cyborgs. These are inevitably parodic, since they already assume the difference we ask them to test.

The classical cyborg contest thus reverses the terms of Platonic dualism, in which the body is linked with illusion and mutability, the mind with the perceptions of eternal values. The cyborg is a creation of the culture of artificial immanence, of exteriorization of knowledge with respect to the knower (Lyotard), in which the creations of the intellect are directly translatable into technological embodiment. The intellect therefore comes to represent the superbody, the body transformed in the mind's image of the invulnerable and maintainable life-support system; while the archaic organic body comes to represent the scene of tragic knowledge of eternity through mortality, the necessary precondition for value-generating sacrifice. Thus, classically, the cyborg has fit into one of two niches: the Superman or the tragic technological monster. Traditionally, the cyborg is recuperated for "humanity," demonstrating—usually through sentimental nostalgia ("human envy")—the superior value of God's favorite creature just the way He made him.

Haraway's cyborg is not classical. For her, the cyborg is a theoretical object for which the schizophysical body is not necessary, in the same way Turing considered a machine to be a set of operations, relations, and algorithms, not necessarily a physical object.

Haraway intends to save the cyborg from its neurotic role in high-tech power dreams and the technophobia of humanists. Her cyborg is a state-of-the-art theoretical construction: simultaneously object and subject, without gender, without species, without "kingdom" even, and hence free of the conventional dialectics or narratives of power. Haraway—in a move also favored by Baudrillard—literalizes the SF metaphor into a theoretical being and detects the existence of the cyborg in actuality, where it has not yet received its new, accurate, alien name. Indeed, compared with most work of theory, all of Haraway's descriptions of actually existing conditions are SF: she describes a context that is so radically transformed and alien to the comforting essentialist categories of the dominant form of theoretical discourse, or the hyperabstract categories of most post-structuralist theory, that it fulfills the most rigorous conditions of cognitive estrangement, while attempting rigorously to describe the real.

Cyborgs represent for Haraway beings that combine mechanical and organic qualities, or animal and human qualities, within the limits of their physical bodies. But for Haraway these are localizations of a set of systematic relations in postmodern, high-tech cultures. The diffusion of informatic technologies throughout the world has created a condition of fluid chaos regarding the essential, objective nature of any living being or system. The cyborg is the site of a categorical breakdown, a system of transgressions, and an irrecoverable one, since the conditions of cyborg existence cannot be reversed, essential differences cannot be restored with the laser-scalpel of classical rationalities. For Haraway, cyborg does not necessarily name the tragic confusion of identities that follows on scientific hubris. On the contrary, it may name the condition of freedom from the illegitimate categories of "nature" (race, gender, species, kingdom)—a freedom that can only emerge with the destruction of those rationalities and of the mythologies of essential identity.

The urge to hope and to take pleasure in the possibilities offered by technological rationalization is evident throughout "Manifesto." Haraway links the cyborg to the concept of utopia; the essay, she writes, is written "in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender, which is perhaps a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end. The cyborg incarnation is outside salvation history" (66). "Salvation history," the totalizing mythology that legitimates the patriarchal, capitalist, heterosexist quest for reunion with a Mother Nature it was alienated from at The Origin, represents for Haraway the conceptual prison circumscribing all political language, including many of the languages of feminist resistance. Every name within the global taxonomy of historical patriarchy conjures up the same system of relations. Only a truly radical break with fundamental differences—especially within nature/culture and body/mind—can offer a way out:

Perhaps, ironically, we can learn from our fusions with animals and machines how not to be Man, the embodiment of Western logos. From the point of view of pleasure in these potent and taboo fusions, made inevitable by the social relations of science and technology, there might indeed be a feminist science. (92)

"Manifesto," then, is a form of utopian writing, a program based on imagining an alternative reality that can serve as a model for action in reality—and furthermore, action that seeks to realize the model, cognate with the way SF seeks to literalize the metaphors of science. First, neither the program nor the alternative vision is protected from chance and history by the aura of myth (i.e., they are subject to reality); and second, both the program and the alternative actually exist in the present (i.e., we are cyborgs and we are learning to take responsibility for it). Thus the title of the essay is a rich pun, like "utopia" itself: for the thing to be achieved is already "manifest," albeit in inchoate form.

Haraway never names her utopia, her vision of emancipated relations. She does not go beyond professions of hope and the critique of domination. This restraint comes from a precise sense of the historical lesson: utopia articulated tends to become the pretext for—and even the name of—the methodical domination of rationalization.

Haraway's originality, in terms equally valid for critical theory and SF, is her notion of imagining utopia by moving through the heart of dystopia. Recovering the cyborg from its role as ideological legitimator (for conservative humanists and naive technophiles both), Haraway attempts to clear a new path for utopian rationality through the sprawl of instrumental rationalization

4. The Cyborg Future is Unimaginable. Utopia has been the epic of rationality.

    Science fiction has been the epic of rationalization.

    Utopia has told the story of the accession of true rational relationships, often neglecting to imagine the instrumentality required to give them a "body."

Science fiction has told the story of the heroic quest for tools of material power, in a universe of proliferating instruments and mediations, often neglecting to reflect on the purposes and varieties of power.

In "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," Haraway attempts to bridge the chasm between the two imaginaries. In her ironic myth, the very power of instrumental rationality to create the conditions that undermine the categorical basis of substantive rationality carries it right out of its power to control its systems—the way a projectile employs a gravity sling to boost its acceleration with the aid of a planetary gravitational field.5

In this cyborg system, which is itself a "promising monster," Haraway repeatedly calls for an intellectual alertness that will allow the possibilities for utopian progress to be distinguished from technological domination:

[I]n the consciousness of our failures, we risk lapsing into boundless differences and giving up on the confusing task of making partial, real connection. Some differences are playful. Some are poles of world historical domination. 'Epistemology' is about knowing the difference. (79)

Ambivalence toward the disrupted unities mediated by high-tech culture requires not sorting consciousness into categories of 'clear-sighted critique grounding a solid political epistemology,' but subtle understanding of emerging pleasures, experiences and powers with serious potential for changing the rules of the game. (91)

These are not immoderate claims. Still, one can question whether they are grounded in theoretical necessity or in acts of will. One could argue that this is a form of whistling in the dark, rather than the result of compelling analysis. And indeed, it is out of the SF context that the rejoinder should come. Fredric Jameson, in his essay "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?" confronts the problem facing all people who try to imagine a utopian negation of the totality of domination in present. Since the language of the negation is itself part of the language of domination, there is an ironic shadow cast over the conception of emancipated relations— or, to alter the image, a Trojan Horse carried into the wish for the utopian future, from which issue the terms and relations of the present, which then set out to colonize the future. Jameson discerns this absolute terminus of language to be the informing aporia of SF. It is SF's

deepest demonstrate and to dramatize our incapacity to imagine the future, to body forth, through apparently full representations which prove on closer inspection to be structurally and constitutively impoverished, the atrophy of what Marcuse has called the utopian imagination, the imagination of otherness and radical difference, and to serve as unwitting and even unwilling vehicles for a meditation which, setting forth for the unknown, finds itself irrevocably mired in the all-too familiar, and thereby unexpectedly transformed into a contemplation of its own limits. (153)

Reading Haraway's "Manifesto," I sometimes feel that the claims for "epistemology"—the practice of seeing the difference between playful and dominating differences—is merely a sleight of hand, a gesture against a nihilism that might describe the undermining of patriarchal value just as well. The notion of subtly understanding powers "with serious potential for changing the rules of the game" may be premature when we don't even understand the game.6

5. Theory as SF. Before leaving the theme of Haraway's theory-SF, we must distinguish between "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" and Primate Visions. The two works treat the SF of theory in different ways. "Manifesto" is, to my mind, a work of SF. It posits a myth and a concrete social context, and even a form of appropriate irony, about the emergence of human society into the future. Haraway's irony is cognate to the structural irony of SF, for we cannot judge how much of her manifesto refers to the actual future, when human consciousness and bodies will be further changed by the global rationalization of communications and the "editing of the body," and how much to the present, in which our actual state (as cyborgs) only seems futuristic from the perspective of the archaic essentialist categories many people persist in thinking in. Furthermore, the question of the "real" cyborg condition resonates with SF's library of depictions of ethical and material possibilities. The gap between the concept and the material body no longer exists. The gap is between the materialization of the concept and its possibilities of future development—the characteristic problematic of SF.

Furthermore, "Manifesto" is written in the voice of a forerunner, whose ratiocination is ultimately a dense rhetorical instrument for the warrant of hope, for a utopia that may or may not be materially, "literally" realizable. It attempts to depict the resurrection of a utopia of ends out of the SF dystopia of unbridled, unreflective, fatal instrumentality. It is also a cyborg text in its performance, combining the earnest voice of a political polemicist writing in the Socialist Review, and the voice of an SF cyborg leader, like the Roy Baty of Blade Runner, resonating in a space outside the real.

Primate Visions, by contrast, is the manifesto's inversion; it uses SF as a tool for illuminating the social, textual, and material history of primatology in the US. Where the hesitations of SF in "Manifesto" give the SF notion of the cyborg a sense of actuality, Haraway uses SF in Primate Visions to demystify—i.e., to "de-actualize"—the patriarchal mythologies for which primatology became a particularly important legitimating discipline. In the one, SF acts to create conviction in an (ironic) myth; in the other, it serves to deconstruct other myths.

Like Baudrillard, Haraway names the SF writers she treats as models of the imaginative elaboration of the cyborg project: Vonda McIntyre, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Samuel Delany, John Varley, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, and above all, Octavia Butler. One can feel the presence of these writers in "Manifesto." In Primate Visions, Haraway especially emphasizes Butler's work. The concluding chapter, an account of Dawn, the first volume in Butler's Xenogenesis series, is intended to stand as a signpost for the sort of imaginative work that should complement the study of such mytho-sciences of human definition as ethnology and primatology. In a sense, the invocation of Butler's novel points the reader back to "Manifesto."

Haraway often makes self-reflective comments on Primate Visions within the text itself. Interestingly, these are ultimately less self-deconstructions than reminders of the ultimate utopian dimension of difficult, magisterial, analytic study. Primate Visions clearly has, like "Manifesto," a polemical purpose, and its language is fitted to its complex audience—a very different one from that of "Manifesto." In Primate Visions, Haraway's language is relatively discreet and prudent. Part of the difficulty of her argument results from her evident desire to balance several kinds of analytic discourse, indeed of different rationalities (including different discourses within feminism, socialism, and the philosophy and sociology of science). She works—to use her image—in contested border-zones. But against the clearly identified cyborg irony of "Manifesto," in Primate Visions Haraway is careful to keep her grasp on her not necessarily sympathetic audience. Consequently, the book has the voice of the ethnographic guide, the discretion of an urbane revolutionary, or the pantography of a Future Human patiently explaining the as-yet-unseen to the not-yet-emerged.

Especially when contrasted with Baudrillard's writing, one can sense that Haraway's commitment to a utopian new order emerging out of the chaos of the contemporary discursive border wars is in itself a project of discretion. It is founded on the need to discover hope, the traces of the novum, and a common ground without a common language. The difficult irony of "Manifesto" is required just as much as the analytic precision of Primate Visions. Haraway draws the cool language of considered theory up against the hot technocratic jive of patriarchal apocalyptics; she coaxes us to shift our gaze to where it has not gone before.

I believe that this strategy of discretion is not only a tactical choice but in fact defines Primate Visions much more than Haraway lets on in the text. It marks another aspect of Haraway's irony, one that links Primate Visions to an SF text very different from the ones invoked by the forerunner. For me, the book's voice resembles that of the narrator-protagonist of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, Kris Kelvin, as he ponders the impossibility of arriving at a method of making contact with the sentient plasmoid ocean that is Solaris. The narrator of Primate Visions, like Kelvin, cannot, will not, discard the discourse of scientific rationality, even though it cannot be trusted. Ultimately, the voice in Primate Visions has a utopian goal like Kelvin's, the dissolution of the mental/ideological prestructuring that prevents contact with the Other—or rather, which dissolves the distinctions between Self and Other without annihilating the intellect. Like Solaris, Primate Visions is a work of rationality critiquing rationalization, utopia criticizing science fiction. Both Kelvin and the Haraway of Primate Visions formulate the problem of the prison of rational discourse—anthropocentrism for Lem, androcentrism for Haraway. But like Kelvin, Haraway does not abandon meta-science.

In Solaris, Kelvin retires to the library of the Solaris Station to study the evolution of Solaristics, the project to make contact with the Alien. That history recapitulates in miniature the history of romantic, questing science, the project of uniting with the Other which will somehow lead either to a cosmic hypostasis or a superior proof of the power of Man. (The structure of the history of Solaristics lends itself to deconstruction in terms of Haraway's discussion of "salvation history.") Haraway, too, reconstructs the historical phases of primatology like books in a station library orbiting the Planet of the Apes. Her tone, like Kelvin's, is deeply skeptical, but not dismissive. For just as Kelvin learns more about human Solarists (and scientists in general) than about the sentient ocean, Haraway reveals that primatology reveals more about primatologists (and scientists in general) than about primates.

Both works conclude with a certain sense of the exhaustion of narratives. The juxtaposition of so many discrete narratives of scientific mythopoesis reveals their historical contingency and the impossibility of anticipating the novum, the new arrangements and relations of sentient beings to others. Neither Kelvin nor Haraway believes in the conclusions of these contingent, projective scientific methods; but neither discards anything either.7

6. Baudrillard and Haraway. There is much more that might be said about the new conception of theory developing in the contest of Baudrillard's and Haraway's writings. There are surprising points of complementarity. One could hardly ask for a better account of simulation than Haraway's description of Akeley's dioramas in the Museum of Natural History in Primate Visions. Nor could one ask for a better account of the patriarchal project's desire for all-consuming apocalypse and extra-terrestrialism than that in Baudrillard's meditations on hyperreality and the "satellization of the earth." And in the thesis of his remarkable essay "Les Bêtes"—that science is bent on breaking the silence of nature through experimentation on animals—Baudrillard offers what may be both a strong counterargument and a complement to Haraway's implicit acceptance of the cyborgization of animal life in Primate Visions.

At stake in the study of Haraway and Baudrillard and in the theorizing and imaginative writing that will come from their work is whether theory can engage a world in which its historical concepts and attitudes are, at best, nostalgic distractions from the way things are, and at worst, instruments of a domination of thought no theory has yet been able to bring itself to theorize. For all their differences, Haraway and Baudrillard are convincing us, seducing us to shift our gaze and see our place in a world we have made but have not yet recognized.


1. Although I have adopted the term from Ernst Bloch and Darko Suvin, I am using it less as a literary topos than as a necessary futurological concept. History is distinguished from mythology precisely to the degree that it assumes that things change unforeseeably, and therefore cannot be anticipated. Any event or knowledge that causes such transformations is a novum. It can be argued that nova are the elemental units of any futurology. (For Suvin's account of the novum, see Metamorphoses 63-66.)

2. This conception of SF is similar to Todorov's conception of the fantastic to the degree that, in Todorov, the diegetic hesitation inscribed in the narrative depends on extraliterary metaphysical-ontogical hesitation and is derived from the reader's uncertainty about the world. Todorov's fantastic, however, seems retrospective— concerned with the status of origins and initial ontological conditions, i.e., fates— while SF is concerned with the possible reconstruction of origins through as-yet-only-imagined future transformations. (For Todorov on hesitation in the fantastic, see pp. 31-35.)

3. The need for a futurological dimension in every area of research should be as obvious in the postmodern age as the need for a historical one. Only by attempting to limn the possible directions of evolution, and to clarify the ethical principles that one wishes to see guiding action, can intellectual work maintain a sense of connection with the breakneck acceleration of technological innovation.

Stanislaw Lem has articulated this (in a rather more positivistic tone) in his essay "Metafuturology":

[E]ach of the existing branches of science should devote some its efforts to futurology. Just as there is no 'universal history of everything that has ever happened' but rather the history of nations, of living organisms, of mathematics, of law, of art, of physics, of literature, etc., so there should be an analogous branch of the individual sciences, dealing with the future. At the moment, there is no humanistic 'counterweight' to the instrumental pragmatism of futurology....

It is futile to expect literature, whether it is fantastic or non-fantastic, to right the existing imbalance. The task is certainly beyond the powers of all the arts combined. At the same time, it is extremely important for literature to participate in this reorientation of thought and action. Since 'conventional' literature keeps its distance from this task, so-called 'science fiction' has an even greater responsibility. If futurology has an 'instrumental bias,' then literature must be true to its traditions by challenging it. After all, it has been literature's task from time immemorial to integrate the values and concepts that make up the horizon of human life. (263-64)

4. Because we must make a distinction between Baudrillard's notion of science fiction, the imaginary of the second-order simulation, and SF, we deviate from the usual SFS practice of using SF as a one-to-one substitute for science fiction. In the present context, science fiction and SF refer to different things.

5. Utopia in these terms is hardly distinguishable from the current use of the term chaos associated with dynamical systems theory. And indeed, there are many similarities between Haraway's cyborg world and recent interpretations of chaos science and dynamical systems as a source of hope in a world deprived of all other certainties, which appears to underlie much of the attraction that chaos holds for humanists.

6. I have given short shrift to the feminist aspect of the cyborg, which Haraway has considered basic—perhaps even essential—for its theorization. I did this not out of antipathy. Haraway also states, in a recent interview, that "the cyborg is a figure for whom gender is incredibly problematic" (Penley 23). It seems certain to me that the cyborg's future is inconceivable in terms of contemporary feminist discourse—or indeed any political or disciplinary discourse—no matter what its initial conditions of construction may have been. It is an aspect of Haraway's irony that her emancipatory theoretical construct must escape from its initial context. It is also an inherent trait of SF constructs to resist stern contextualization—they hesitate on the brink of actual existence, and always hint that they, like all actual things, can and will inhabit many previously unforeseen contexts.

7. An extended study of Solaris in terms of Haraway's formulations would be extremely fruitful. It would doubtless center on the role of the "Visitor" Rheya, the simulacrum of Kelvin's dead wife, who "returns" from Kelvin's unconscious to restore him to questing potency, and then sacrifices her immortality.


Baudrillard, Jean. America. Trans. Chris Turner. London, 1989.

—————. "Ballard's Crash." Above, 313-20.

—————. "Les Bêtes. Territoire et Métamorphoses." Simulacres et Simulations. Paris, 1981. 189-206.

—————. "The Orders of Simulacra." Simulations 83-159.

—————. "The Precession of Simulacra." Simulations 1-79.

—————. "Simulacra and Science Fiction." Above, 309-12.

—————. Simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Betjeman. NY, 1983.

—————. "The Year 2000 Has Already Happened." Trans. Nai-fei Ding & Kuang- Hsing Chen. Body Invaders: Panic Sex in America. Ed. Arthur & Marylouise Kroker. NY, 1987. 35-44.

Haraway, Donna. "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s." Socialist Review #80 (1985): 65-107.

—————. Primate Visions. NY, 1990.

Jameson, Fredric. "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?" SFS 9 (1982): 147-58.

Lem, Stanislaw. "Metafuturology." Trans. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. SFS 13 (1986): 261-71.

—————. Solaris. Trans. Fred Cox & Joanna Kilmartin. NY: Harcourt, 1987.

Penley, Constance, & Andrew Ross. "Cyborgs at Large: Interview with Donna Haraway." Social Text #25/26 (1990): 8-23.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven, CT, 1979.


Back to Home