Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity

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Orbaugh, Sharalyn. "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity." SFS #88 = 29.3 (November 2002): 436-52. [1] Japanese Science Fiction issue. Available on line.[2]

From the opening paragraph:

As Claudia Springer and Jennifer Gonzalez contend, cyborgs are not about the future, they are about contemporary society and its current transformations. [... Discusses] recent Japanese narratives that use the figure of the cyborg to explore new paradigms of subjectivity, as the advanced nations [...] become increasingly postmodern, postnational, postindustrial, and even posthuman. [... Focusses] on two aspects of subjectivity that have been fundamental to the modern - as opposed to postmodern - notion of personhood: sexuality and singularity. The figure of the cyborg - that embodied amalgam of the organic and the technological - confounds the modernist criteria for subjectivity and, when featured in narrative, allows readers/viewers to think through the ramifications of the changes we currently face. (p. 436)[3]

From "Conclusion":

Donna Haraway has proclaimed that "the cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world" (150). That may be true of Haraway's idealized vision of cyborgs themselves, but [...] contemporary Japanese cyborg narratives are still very much concerned with the binary oppositions of sex and gender, and the sexuality presumed to accompany them. Nonetheless, I would argue that these narratives relate a breakdown in [...] the "'heterosexual matrix,' [in which] gendered identity and the construction of stable body contours rely upon fixed sites of corporeal permeability and impermeability" ([C. J. Fuchs] 283). As we have seen, that permeability is no longer differentiated by sex/gender in cyborg narrative.[4]

From the Abstract (p. 452):

This paper examines two aspects of subjectivity - sexuality and singularity - that are considered fundamental to a modernist notion of the person. These aspects of subjectivity are under siege as new technologies of reproduction challenge our understanding of sexed bodies and as, simultaneously, a postmodern world-view brings forward the multiplicity of sexual subject positions and embodied hybridity that modernist thinking sought to control or dismiss. In this time of conceptual crisis regarding subjectivity and embodiment, the popular culture media of many advanced countries have produced increasing numbers of narratives about cyborgs, those embodied amalgams of the organic and the machinic [sic]. I begin by explaining why the concepts "sexuality" and "singularity" are so important in this context, and why Japanese popular culture is a particularly fruitful ground for exploration of cyborg subjectivities. Then I discuss two recent anime narratives - Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-96, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Kôkaku kidôtai (1995, Ghost in the Shell) - in terms of their depictions of specific aspects of sexuality and as the nexus of contemporary fears or desires regarding subjectivity [...].[5]

In addition to the subjects cited above, see for a variation in Evangelion on powered armor (Starship Troopers et al.): "a kind of huge 'metal suit' robot, called an EVA" in the tradition of "the conventional fighting robots of the metal suit ('mecha') genre," but with their own variations. Note for the motif of the female robot going back in film to at least METROPOLIS, that

Despite the hyper-masculine outlines of the EVA suit and the fact that the pilot of 01 is a boy, over the course of the series in scenes such as this one the Shinji-EVA cyborg amalgam is decisively gendered feminine: the uncontrollable, insufficiently bounded body/subjectivity that enlightened, rational modernity has sought to repress. And yet, it is in precisely these same scenes that the Shinji-EVA cyborg manages through some kind of hysterical crisis to overcome the limits of technology [...].[6]

Handles passim the GODZILLA films to that date (for apocalyptic contrast); AKIRA (p. 437); Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (p. 438); THE GUYVER; "the live-action cult film Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1988; with English subtitles, 1992), "which opens with a man intentionally 'infecting' or 'impregnating' himself by thrusting a metal bar into a slit in his thigh, which gradually turns him into a monstrous amalgam of the machinic [sic] and the organic" (p. 443).

RDE, Initial Compiler, 30May19