Life is elsewhere. Cross frontiers. Fly away. – Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet
The patron of cyborg writing is the god Janus. Many-faced god, god of beginnings, passages, change and time as a stream through which we can freely move. God of transit, of transition. God of border-crossings. God of doorways. God of the spaces between.
In the beginning was the Word.
Well. Not literally. But you get the idea. Also, literally is sort of a problematic word in itself.
Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other. – Donna Haraway
These words show up repeatedly in what I produce. There’s a reason for that. Creeds are uncomfortable things because dogma is dangerous, but creeds are also useful. Creeds solidify. Creeds brand, burn, scar. Creeds can also change.
“Every time we write, we become a cyborg and the more we use technology to write, the less aware of our enhancements we seem to be.” Except you and I both know this isn’t entirely true, isn’t the whole truth, because we don’t become cyborgs, we are cyborgs, and writing makes us cyborgs in the same way that respiration makes us alive. Writing is how we know we are cyborgs. We write because we are cyborgs.
Cyborg writing is the first instant of picking up the tools. Cyborg writing is the process of making and unmaking and remaking the world in all of our own images. Cyborg writing is the internal made powerfully, dangerously, lethally external.
We have never “been aware of our enhancements”. The instant we scratch words in the dust, the instant we have words to scratch, the world changes, and we don’t see those changes, because we don’t remember what it was like to not see them, to inhabit the world without words; we might as well attempt to imagine the universe prior to the birth of the current one.
We can try, mind. We just probably won’t do a very good job.
When we imagine, when we see and hear and feel words inside of us, we run up against the barrier of our skulls and skin, the membrane that separates the might be from the is. Writing collapses the barrier. Writing is the breaking down of walls and the sundering of boundaries. When we speak of enmeshing, writing is the first act of the mesh.
I’ve said that keyboards gave me my words. This isn’t exactly true either.
What keyboards did was bring down the wall; it was the collapsing of a dam and for the first time the words truly flowed into shapes cut into the fabric of everything, look, look and see what I made. I am with the words, I am the words, I make a space for myself outside myself and in that space I can make myself, I seize the tools, I have the power to decide what I’ll be. When all you can see are words I am anything.
But I’m not a dog.
Once upon a time: Priests kept the books away from the common people, erected more walls even as they tore their own down. Then the printing press. Now the thing I’m typing on right now, making what you’re reading, hello. Science, food production, medicine, communication, atomic bombs. Begin with writing. This is where we are, who we are, who we’ll be. Not everyone gets to decide. The degree to which we are cyborgs is not evenly distributed. But the making and unmaking of the world is democratized. The process is slow. No one remembers what it looked like before it began. No one knows what it will look like when it’s complete.
Complete may be a lie.
Words were the first step; writing is the next. They’re related, enmeshed if you like the term, but don’t confuse one with the other.
Writing is the removal of story from past-laden oral history. Writing is the carving of the words into an eternal now, the projection of words into the future. At once writing removes words from time. They come from nowhere in particular; who knows where they ultimately go? They simply are. There is no direct dependance on others in the act of creation. A single writer picks up their tools. A single writer writes. For the moment the other voices are silent.
“When text performs a role, becoming an active agent in its own right, the process of reading adopts a conversational element.” Text gives writers agency. Through writing, writers have agency. Writers inhabit the text; the tools grant them entry. The dam comes down; we pour ourselves in and make a home there. Links are doorways to new rooms, to new homes. The words themselves only seize more agency in as much as the writer can act. The writer can reach out. Take your head gently in their hands. Direct your gaze.
“Hyperlinked texts present a cyborg face: they are there to be read, but they are also there to direct.” But the presented cyborg face is the face of the writer. It is also the face of the reader. The writer directs; the reader makes the choice to step through the doors. They choose to follow one path or another; to remain still. The writer and the reader become co-authors in the act of unfolding the world. Together they produce meaning; they reach through the growing holes in the wall and clasp hands.
Cyborg writing is telepathy.
I recently noticed additional crossover from reading practices on the Internet in a recent update to the book-reading software for iPads. The original version of this application was designed to carefully mimic traditional printed books, complete with realistic page-turning graphics, colors that replicate faded book paper, and digital bookmarks represented by red tabs flipped over the edge of a page. The new version added a continual-scrolling feature, allowing an entire book to be read as a single unending page, forever scrolling vertically. It seems, at least from Apple’s perspective, that the single-page scenario of the Internet is perhaps preferable to the age-old feel of turning pages.
Look: In my mind is a single flowing page, constant, unbroken; when I write it pours out of me. Not seamless but nearly so. It might be more seamless still, in time; there might be no more walls, just me and my words and the world. I reject the idea of “age-old”. What age? How old? Better to ask what the words look like when still inside, how they flow outward, what they look like when they are at once inside me and inside you.
My cyborg writing is play, power, and connection. I’m reaching for you. Come here, I’ll come there, and let’s see what kinds of stories we’ll be.