Cyborgs and Octavia Butler

This weekend I read Colleen Morgan’s newest piece on cyborgs archaeology in the European Journal of Archaeology. At just about the same time, I finished the first two novels of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series (Dawn and Adulthood Rites). 

There’s a kind of unintentional symmetry between these two pieces. Morgan’s article explores the relationship between archaeologists, their methods, their tools, and their knowledge of the past. The seamlessness of these relationships creates new spaces where the divisions between humans and non-humans, individuals and their avatars, and the past and the present cease to be meaningful.

Butler’s complex world likewise focuses on blurring the distinction between the human and non-human, the living and non-living, male and female, and many of the other dichotomies that defined how we saw the world in so much of the 20th century. It is hardly surprising that Butler’s works appeared within years of Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto.”  And Haraway recognizes the significance of Butler in her later work, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991), but because I’m pretty clueless, I didn’t realize how powerful the overlap between these ideas would be. Butler’s worlds provides a rich backdrop for narratives and characters that flow between genders, sexualities, time, and space. These moves are not, however, made simple, but are complicated without being unnatural or transgressive. 

As my summer moves from reading and thinking to spending time with artifacts, architecture, and landscapes, Colleen and Octavia Butler offer me thoughtful and provocative way of thinking about how our work, tool, mind, and lives produce one another. 

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