Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls – notes on the introduction

Toffoletti, K 2007, Cyborgs and Barbie dolls : feminism, popular culture and the posthuman body, I.B. Tauris, London.

Introduction (p1-9)

About posthumanism and how this is represented in popular culture.

  • Speculates  that readers probably have some level of interest in the topic, education, and access to hi-tech world
  • Says that, even if we are not of the digital world, its world wide effect is ubiquitous.
  • Cites The Six Million Dollar Man (movie) as an example of a man as fusion of flesh and technology.  (Term ‘Cyborg’ originated from a 1972 story about the film’s lead character, Steve Austin)
  • There are a number of different meanings for the term ‘posthuman’.  ‘Their [the] goal has been to consider what the image can tell us about ourselves.’  2
  • Toffoletti’s argument is that images have a dual function – are not just to reference reality, but to question reality itself.  ‘

‘While the role of image culture in subject formation is predominantly understood as the site where meaning and identity are secured, the possibilities for disabling identity at the level of the image remain largely unexplored in studies of the posthuman.  This led me to consider the impact of the visual on theorising the relationship between the self and the world.’  2

Simulated Realities

  • There is a blurring of physical and virtual reality (with modern biotechnology, virtual worlds and digital manipulation).  E.g. where body ends and technology begins, what is nature and what is machine?
  • Leads to a blurring of difficulty understanding what is self, humanity or gender
  • There is a questioning and rethinking of the whole human condition.
  • The theory of simulation – (cites Jean Baudrillaud on the visual world and its interrogation of what it is to be human)
  • This volume uses simulation ‘to establish a theory of the post-human at the collapse of the relation between representation and reality.’

‘By dissolving the relationship between the sign and reality, Baudrillard’s theory of simulation encourages us to engage with representation and subjectivity in a way that is beyond signification.  A theory of images and signs is vital to this book because it helps us to understand how posthuman images may create new articulations of the subject that exceed dialectical thought, and the impact of such images on notions of identity, the body and selfhood.‘  (bolding is mine) 3

  • Baudrillard’s challenge to our interpretation of images give a new framework for considering the relationship between the image and reality.  3

Posthuman Subjects

  • Quotes Rosi Braidotti – questioning of self and what it is to be human as we interact (and are changed) by technology.  3-4
  • Considers feminist debates about women’s relationship with technology (as opposed to or in tandem with the generic ‘man’s’ relationship with technology).
  • Questioning of the Western philosophical idea of what it is human.
  • Survey of the shifts in ‘feminist conceptualisations of technology’.  ‘A reading of the posthuman is developed that brings together feminist studies of technology and a theory of simulation.
  • ‘A tension between the human and technological is indicative of the posthuman.  It is this tension that disrupts traditional understandings of selfhood, identity, the body and reality.’4
  • Postmodern (e.g. photoshop enhanced) images may be appealing – an idealised identity – may offer ‘a better version of human existence. ‘ 4
  • Technology is altering social relationships – and changing our perception of how we interact with the world and others, and of our self-image.  4
  • ‘the posthuman resides in a space beyond the real where time and history defy linear progression.’  – examples of e.g. disruption of origin stories will be given.

Book can be read in a linear fashion, or chapters alone or in random order.

There is underpinning theory  in the first two chapters, followed by chapter by chapter examples of postmodern body in popular culture.  E.g.  Marilyn Manson, TDK advertising, art of Patricia Piccinini.

‘Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls moves us beyond current literature on the posthuman by exploring the role of representation in understanding the posthuman at the point where the material and the virtual collapse.’  6

  • Toffoletti neither condemns nor condones technology from a feminist standpoint – rather describing and explaining technology’s impact and women’s relationship with it
  • Uses Baudrillaud’s theories to survey how the relationship with reality and its representation has altered over time (from the Renaissance).
  • Chapter 3 is about the doll – Barbie – ‘a bridging figure between debates surrounding gender and representation and posthuman, post-gender configurations.’
  • Chapter 4 –’ posthuman forms erase social and biological differences.’ 7 Considered in the light of gender.  (Marilyn Manson)
  • Chapter 5 – TDK advertising – are we passive receivers of (and being moulded by)  information of do we interact?
  • Chapter 6 – the universe – inward implosion – ‘It is the ‘miniaturisation of the body’, to paraphrase Baudrillard, which forms the focus of the final chapter.’  Examination of cloning and genetic engineering debates (with Piccinini’s work as an example).  8

Aim of the book is ‘to reflect on how posthuman representations occupy the status of simulacrum, how this displaces the notion of an original, and the implications of this for theories of identity.’

The images become the reality.  (e.g. Barbie, TDK, Piccinini’s work)

Concedes that throughout history images have been used to depict (and distort) reality, but says (final sentence of introduction):

‘As it has been throughout the history of visual technologies, simulation demands new articulations of the self more suited to postmodern, posthuman experience of technology and the visual.’ 8

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