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Patchwork girl: reality or hallucination? February 26, 2009

Posted by jr4024 in humanity, monstrosity.
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 An interesting point that my group talked about in class was questioning whether Patchwork girl herself was this real human being or was she simply a creature that defies reality? I personally feel that she is both, if that makes any sense. She obviously is real in the sense that she is put together by pieces of human body parts, but the thought of her as a creation and/or connotation of being a goddess is interesting to think about. Shelley Jackson creates an intimate relationship with Patchwork Girl which leads us to believe that there is a maternal or sexual bond. However, it also is believable that Patchwork Girl could be this concept representing society perhaps with its different pieces of identity forming a whole, or even a representation of Mary Shelley in her non-linear yet sewn together imagination of her personality.  Therefore, I consider Patchwork Girl, character and medium, as an intricate and personal experience that does not have one sole meaning or signification.

Response to readings February 17, 2009

Posted by jr4024 in cyborgs, monstrosity, poetry, technology, writing.
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The readings for this week were from Evocative Objects. The first story was about a woman and her bracelet. She discussed that her jewelry box is set up into different sections based on properties and categories. For example, she had shells and stones in their own separate spaces. When I first read this, I automatically made a metaphor connecting with society and how we categorize and group different people based on similar stereotypes of identities and characteristics. In addition, within these different groups lies the same definition for each “member”. We can relate this labeling to societal notions about monsters/deviants and why they are placed in the “Other” group based on appearance and with no correlation to what is considered normal. Her bracelet also had a past, which can be linked to the history of what monsters look like and are supposed to “be”. If we consider ourselves cyborgs, then why does that not make us a monster?  

            The second reading was about a man and his yellow raincoat. I found this story very interesting because I immediately linked some of the author’s ideas to those of William Blake. In the story, the yellow raincoat symbolizes his protection from the outer world and creates a sort of barrier from which he created binaries. As we have read, Blake uses this system of binaries to contrast Songs and Experience. He states, “These conflicting denials of life and death are attached to the coat.” In addition to this binary, the author mentions: self and external world, rocks and people, playing an active and inactive role, and order and chaos. His binaries also tend to have a childhood vs. adulthood aspect to them because he analyzes his raincoat as an adult looking back on what it meant to him.

Blake and the Active Cyborg February 3, 2009

Posted by animatingthecyborg in class, cyborgs, gender, monstrosity, poetry, race.
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Since the next two weeks of class are broken up with travel and printmaking workshops, I just wanted to take a moment to highlight the choreography of the course and how the lecture on Blake today figures into the foundation for the rest of the semester.

Two of the key questions guiding the course, which can be found on the syllabus, are:

  1. What counts as “authentic” human experience and what does it mean to be human?
  2. How is the cyborg narrative been shaped through visual culture?

Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience call into question dominant cultural values (the hegemony of society) by creating fissures in the strict binaries by which society is organized and structured. So, when we consider what counts as authentic human experience, notions of object, personhood and citizenship are destabilized in the matrix that makes up dominant culture in 18th century Britain.

Personhood and citizenship are particularly important here as the Songs act as a prophecy or beacon where the Other has no proper place in society—and while most of you are familiar with the concept of the Other, for those of you who are not familiar with this idea: the Other is a person or group of people who are marginalized or ostracized by the dominant culture. The Other, or “boundary being” (as the Other typically survives on the fringes of society) is usually alienated along gender, race and/or class lines.

Blake shines a light on the “authenticity” or validity of the dominant culture’s binaries by introducing characters such as the Lamb, who, in the Songs of Innocence, appears to be “buying into” the organization of culture and the marginalizing of people as Other. The lamb is a familiar figure to readers (both today and in the 18th/19th century), because of both its Biblical and agricultural uses. However, by Songs of Experience, the Lamb is transformed into the Tyger (although familiar to us today, it was a creature most people in England had never seen), and the Tyger is coded as a strange and monstrous figure.

By taking something familiar and non-threatening as the Lamb and transforming it into the Tyger, Blake demonstrates that the Other is a part of us: every Lamb has the possibility of breaking from the herd, or flock, and expressing its independence as a person and thinker, thereby morphing into a Tyger—sameness (as can be seen in the images of the flock of sheep—sameness can also be read as “Innocence”), then, is abandoned for individuality (or awareness—or “Experience”), a truly scary concept in the wake of the French Revolution and the civil unrest in Britain at the time.

Exploring the binaries that govern the Songs, as well as the fissures that are created within its matrix, we can gain a better sense of how the subject position of the Other (or “boundary being”) is a monstrous concept—which aligns it not only with other monsters, but highlights the theoretical underpinnings that shape current cultural narratives of the cyborg today.

Although we cannot replicate the same relief etching process invented by Blake (which I explained earlier in class), our first project is in the spirit of William Blake’s work. You can even reduce the act of physically engraving the linoleum blocks down to the kinds of binaries that govern different embodiments of cyborgs today: encoded/decoded, full/empty, subject/object, strange/familiar.

In a similar way the cyborg is a hybrid creature (cybernetic, yet organic; constructed and programmed, yet aware and desiring an identity), this class, too, is a hybrid. We’re combining critical theory and creative expression, examining different incarnations of the cyborg in visual culture along the way. It’s a complicated dance (it’s a 300 level course, after all). Right now, we’re merely learning the steps so we can move on to more complicated movements.

So hopefully this helps highlight the diagram of the dance steps.