Looking at Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” with Gane and Beer’s treatment of information and Hayles’ advocacy for media-specific analysis, it is clear that dualism and liminality provide the foundation on which materiality can be applied to the analysis of how communication takes place.
Dualisms—or more specifically, the dissolution of dualisms—are central to both Haraway’s and Hayles’ writing. Haraway contends that “mind, body, and tool are on very intimate terms,” and Hayles asserts that the mind and body of the tool, or the text, are an inseparable and “dynamically interacting whole” (525, 86). The text must “always be embodied to exist in the world,” information now being understood as a “material property that is in no way distinct from the physical components” that make it possible (Hayles 69, Gane and Beer 41). Traditionally, information was believed to be contained within the physical, but this paradigm must be abandoned as it reinforces the faulty notion of the immaterial text merely present in some medium. As well, no boundary exists between “instrument and concept”: Information “can never be understood in isolation from the technical devices through which it is produced and communicated” (Haraway 524, Gane and Beer 39).
Haraway extends this premise to the biological such that the organismal is merely a medium indistinct from the information it communicates, which puts Hayles point that “media constantly engage in a recursive dynamic of imitating each other, incorporating aspects of competing media into themselves while simultaneously flaunting the advantages that their own forms of mediation offer” in an interesting light with respect to McLuhan’s position that technological media are to be understood as an “‘extension of man,’” which is then consistent with Kittler’s point that “media can only be described and analysed through the use of other media” (Hayles 69, Gane and Beer 39-40). In addition to the abstract blurring of lines between “machine and organism,” Hayles argues that “media are to be thought of in connection to the bodily practices through which information is brought into the material world” (Haraway 525, Gane and Beer 44).
It is this experiential, physical context for information conveyance that grounds Shannon’s five-stage model of source, transmitter, channel, receiver, and destination, which treats each stage—along with the message, traveling in the form of an encoded signal—as discrete units. Haraway would challenge that structure of that model as the transmitters and channels and receivers are “us, our processes, [aspects] of our embodiment” (534). She also protests any code that would translate all meaning perfectly, asserting cyborg politics as “the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication” (532). It is noise that prevents communication from being perfect; that operates as a “form of information” rather than simply interference; and that “expands the limits of a set of messages,” increasing the range of information a system might contain thereby decreasing the accuracy of a given message (Hayles 77, Gane and Beer 37-38). In this way, noise can be thought of an impetus for mutation, thus facilitating an informational evolution.
An evolution of this sort would bring about the end of such “troubling dualisms” as “self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man,” realizing a true state of heterogeneity manifest through the expression of the liminal (Haraway 532). By disrupting the “basic homogeneity” of the code that underpins the “apparent heterogeneity of contemporary culture,” noise can recode “communication and intelligence to subvert command and control” by bringing that phallogocentric code into view (Gane and Beer 44, Haraway 531). Within the metaphor of the cyborg, there is a celebration of “the intimate experience of boundaries, their construction and deconstruction” as a means of undermining the binaries that privilege one group over another (Haraway 534).
It is to this end of disrupting dualisms, which inherently privilege, that materiality can be employed in the analysis of communication, itself occupying “a borderland—or better, perform[ing] as connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user” (Hayles 72). In this sense, materiality is “the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies” (emphasis in original), existing in a complex and dynamic relationship “with content,” the information being conveyed (Hayles 72, 71). It is the consideration how meaning is conveyed and conferred given the “specificity of the medium” as it is being understood and utilized at a given point in time (Hayles 87). To my shame, I have not fully considered materiality in my personal engagement of literature or in my presentation of it to my students. As one who teaches writing, which is “pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs,” I aim to develop within my students an awareness of the materialization of information and its effects on how they process and produce it as well as an agency rooted in an awareness of “boundaries of daily life” (Haraway 532, 535).
Gane, Nicholas, and David Beer. New Media. Berg, 2012.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, MIT Press, 2010, pp. 516-541.
Hayles, N. Katherine. “Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis.” University of Illinois, 2004.