My Child is a Cyborg! Cyborg rhetorics: a pro-lego-mania of hybrids : LUSENET : Human-Machine Assimilation : One Thread

Cyborg rhetorics: a pro-lego-mania of hybrids

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It is a fact of life in the late twentieth century that technoscience lends itself to locutions out of The National Inquirer ("Woman gives self caesarean") and The Sun ("Gorilla Has Human Baby"). My wife Margann and I have struggled with both infertility and with its "cures" for many years, and our experience with In Fertilization (IVF) could easily yield such medicine-bites-dog stories: Doctor suppresses woman with her permission! Pornography found in andrology lab! Miracle process harvests eggs from inside woman's body, then puts them back!

Regardless, here are the facts: female infertility leading to high tech surgery followed by "natural" conception and then "unnatural" ectopic pregnancy, followed by even more high tech medicine followed by "unnatural" conception and then natural pregnancy, all coming to a head (!) when our baby, Bailey, emerged from his mother at 4 am on Summer Solstice, born at home with midwives attending.

His first view of life on earth was his father's face peering down at him, and the ceiling fan.

So, our first narrative genre is a comedy: all's well that ends well, as you like it. I could show you pictures. And the pictures would do what all pictures do: make some things visible at the expense of making other things invisible. We don't have pictures of the daily needle injections (addicted to breeding?) or the lapyroscopic view of Margann's ova follicles, though we do have the quintessential 90's baby artefact, Baby's First Ultrasound. These pictures side by side in the wallet would show the ghosts in the machinery of reproduction: behind, as it were, the organic coherent body (and he does look cute in that outfit) an entire techno-journey, a Nova special of the interior of the uterus before conception, the endometrial lining as jungle/future cultivated land.

Or I could tell you stories. But is IVF a comedy, or a tragedy? Romance of miracle technology, or farce of Frankenstein human reproductive and genetic engineering? Consider, if you will, a (not the) primal scene. Fall, 1995. My wife is lying on a hospital bed, sedated with Versed. It is nine in the morning by the large clock. The room is square, white and chrome. In the room are a nurse, an andrologist, a patient's advocate. Also in the room is a fine needle attached by Teflon tubing to a transvaginal ultrasound probe and a vacuum regulator and pump. We're waiting for the doctor to arrive and aspirate Margann's hyperstimulated egg follicles. The andrologist wheels in the humidicrib - the 37 degree controlled environment box the eggs will end up in - containing a stereomicroscope and petri dishes. I chat with the nurse, with the andrologist, they chat with each other. In a back room the radio is on; it's playing classical music of some kind: loud but low fi.

As the minutes pass I find myself split between two worlds and two paradigms for this reality. On the one hand, I am trying to stay present emotionally for my wife; this is a serious if not necessarily life threatening procedure, and it will involve some degree of pain for her. So I hold her hand, stroke her forehead, worry, try to stay calm. At the same time, I'm drawn into the surgery room banter. Television remotes; the nurse tells a story about how men control them, always flipping between stations; the andrologist confirms this, telling a funny story about her husband; I defend channel surfing, so does the advocate, and there's a lot of laughing and teasing of the male doctor when he arrives. He starts to rib the andrologist...

And all of a sudden I'm in the Twilight Zone. It's not a hospital, it's a...garage! And my wife is the car and these are the greasemonkeys, down to the bad radio blaring and the power tools. I feel a surge of anger at this; how could they treat my wife's body as if it is a machine? Then I waver - no; it's just that they've done this so many times it is mechanical for them, it shows confidence not disrespect. After all, I'm in their shop/hospital.

The entire time I flip back and forth between worlds. The body and/as the machine; machines and humans making humans by turning humans into machines; my wife's body as an organic, whole thing and her body as a car up on blocks. The heroic humanism of a symphony - Brahms First? - pathetically reduced, bravely escaping the tinny speakers of a little music machine; the amazing ultrasonic vision of human ova delicately enticed out along a tube, each journey ending with the terse "Got it" of the andrologist bent over her microscope. Each time we hear it, we as a group get that thrill, and I get the ghost of a chill. This complex set of feelings, this hybrid of machinery and human bodies - this is a primal scene of IVF. Following Bratton (1995) I argue that this experience of schizophrenia may help guide us through the social and cultural production of reproductive science and technology. I've come to believe that our relationship to reproductive and most other technologies in the late 20th Century is fundamentally schizophrenic and ambi-valent. Different voices tell me that IVF, for example, is simply science giving infertile women and men more choices, or simply science making progress in knowledge and over ignorance/s, or simply patriarchal eugenics or techno-apocalypse. Each voice, each text wants to keep its body pure, its boundaries intact, but just as women's bodies are dis- and reassembled in cyborg technologies of reproduction, so too linguistic bodies representing these technologies fragment, circulate in a larger linguistic economy, trade metaphors and transform figures. It is this parallel linguistic economy that I wish to invoke/explore in this paper; within this economy, strategies of naturalization and legitimization are crucial, for they reveal the always/already constructed nature of birth as well as its cyborgian transformations well underway in 1995 (Clarke, 1995). Textual bodies are constructed out of lending discourses, multiple genres, and reflect the political tensions and body anxieties of postmodern reproductive biotechnology.

-- scott (, February 09, 2000

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