The Craft of Writing – Film Focus – The Figure of the Cyborg in Visual Culture and Critical Thought
R1A 001 | CCN: 29085
Julia Irwin, Isaac Arland Preiss
Location: Dwinelle 209
Date and Time: M, W, F 1:00pm - 1:59pm
In the 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto,” Donna Haraway articulates several boundary breakdowns characterizing late twentieth-century technoscientific culture and their implications for the longstanding foundations of dominant Western thought. Questioning pop-biology and philosophical definitions of the human which depend on its absolute contradistinction to the animal and the machine, Haraway asserts, “language, tool use, social behavior, mental events—nothing really convincingly settles the separation” between the three. The figure of the cyborg is a fantastical representation of this profound mastication of traditional, anthropocentric dividing lines like human/nonhuman, natural/artificial. It makes visible, imaginable, the possibility of deposing structural categories like gender, race, and class—of queering the canon that molds identity from without. However, composed in part of “machines that are disturbingly lively,” whose chromatic-plastic casings conceal the deviant workings of electromagnetic waves, the cyborg troubles the expectation that what can be seen can be known. Following Haraway’s provocation, this class will explore the “transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities” signaled by representations of cyborgs in film, digital media, and new media art.
This is a reading and composition course, and as such, we will work through strategies for close reading of both theoretical texts and moving image works, critical thinking, and analytical writing. Readings will draw from scholarship associated with the post- or nonhuman turn in fields such as queer theory, trans studies, black studies, and new materialism. Guided by these frameworks, we will develop a practice for rigorous and critical spectatorship, which can shape our understanding of (and even indulgence in) the transgressive capacities of film. A primary learning objective is for students to come away with a working understanding of film and media terminology, an ability to craft rich descriptions of a film’s formal and narratological elements, and a facility in organizing their thinking into coherent, persuasive written arguments. Just as we will learn and become comfortable with these models of academic writing, through class discussions and some creative exercises, we will reflexively explore and unsettle the border between traditional writing conventions and formal experimentation.
(1) Haraway, Donna, “The Cyborg Manifesto,” in Manifestly Haraway (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016),11.
(2) ibid., 11.
(3) ibid., 14.