What Cyborgs Dream

Part 2 in our series on "Horror, Ghosts, and Hauntings". Reblogged with permission, original here.

To Read Part 1 in the series, click here

By: Maile Arvin, University of California, Riverside

Yes, I am telling you a story, but you may be reading another one.

— Eve Tuck and C. Ree, A Glossary of Haunting

We met at a conference. I had just presented a paper about how cyborgs and animals are organizing their own communities against settler colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy. Animals, for instance, are everywhere making important connections between factory farming and dispossession of Indigenous lands and ways of life. Cyborgs (Black and non-Black) are major leaders in protests against police murders of Black youth, as they are similarly criminalized and killed in the streets.

Several male professors, all human but one cyborg, challenged me. Were not my ideas rather romantic? they asked. I don’t know anything about cyborgs or animals, or race or colonialism, but I doubt what you say is really the case, they challenged flatly, eyeing me as if in disbelief not just of my arguments but of my very existence, standing plainly in front of the blue of a projection screen recently vacated by Powerpoint.

Why don’t you focus more specifically on the five-year historical period when humans realized animals were sentient and communicate across species? Now that’s a very interesting time period, they droned, their voices echoing around me as a familiar anger expanded in my chest. Still, they concluded, everyone knows neither animals nor androids have empathy. I met their arrogant stares with my own disbelief.

“I was speaking of solidarity, not empathy,” I said. Then I walked out of my own panel.

A woman was standing outside the door, also staring at me, and I braced for another round of Q&A battle, while searching behind her for a quick escape route. She had dark hair and wore a bright striped coat. The first thing she said was, “That was disgusting. But I dug your paper.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. She was on my side. I looked at her more closely. A yellow-eyed owl sat embroidered on her coat’s label. “You’re Rachael Rosen,” I realized. “You’re Sonmi-451. The Sonmi-451,” she replied. “Let me buy you a drink.”

We were soon sitting at the hotel bar. “So you weren’t martyred, then,” Rachael began, margarita in hand.

“No. David Mitchell got it mostly wrong. I mean, I did read a lot of books on my sony, like he says—not that anyone remembers that part after the movie. I read everything I could. Western classical philosophy, Indigenous epistemologies, histories of Asia, novels and poetry. I kept reading. I found Ethnic Studies.”

“You’re a professor. A cyborg professor.” She laughed, more impressed than unbelieving.

“Yes. There are a few of us. And you? Do you still work for the Rosens?”

“No. Android rights lawyer.”

I grinned. “Phillip K. Dick got it wrong too, then.”

“Don’t get me started,” she sighed.

She didn’t tell me then about Deckard. Maybe the third or fourth time we got together for drinks. We were excited to know each other, but slow to share all the violence we had experienced, reluctant to reveal what we hoped and planned to do about it. We realized how familiar it was to both of us. It was a relief to know someone who understood. And because we understood, we were careful with each other.

Maybe our favorite thing as we got used to each other was joking about our movies, marveling at all they had gotten wrong, as we swirled the swizzle sticks in our drinks. That’s how it came out.

“In Dick’s book, I’m a villain, using sex as a weapon. In the movie, I’m sympathetic but helpless. I just go sleep during the major action,” Rachael snickered. “Like I’m too bored to be bothered by the action anymore!”

“Hollywood does love a good male human – female android romance,” I said.

She nodded. “Deckard, Dick, Scott. They all disabused me of my ideas about my own humanity. For that, I’m grateful.”

“Humanity is over-rated,” I agreed. “Is he still alive? Is he in jail?”

“He is a murderer and a rapist. So, of course, he is alive and well and free.”

My face warmed. Not surprising, but still.

“Did you really kill his goat, like in the book?”

“Why would I do that to a goat?” she said. “No, I didn’t kill it. I did free it. Released it in a preserve outside the city. The electric sheep too.”

That made me smile.

“So you didn’t really get revenge,” I observed.

She shook her head.

“We could work on that,” I said.

She searched my face to see if I meant it. I did.

She grinned.

“It’s not about Deckard, the movie, the book, so much. Actually, my movie got one thing right,” she sighed. “We’re not in the business. We are the business.”

We stared at our reflections in the mirror behind the bar.

“But I am working in this movement. That preserve outside the city. It isn’t just a preserve. It’s a feminist coalition of animals, cyborgs and humans working for decolonization. Against settler colonialism here and in the outer colonies.”

It was my turn to search her face. She meant it.

“But no martyrs, right?” That was what I needed to know.

“No martyrs,” she promised. “Will you work with us?”

That was the beginning.

Maile Arvin is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar. She holds a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from University of California, San Diego, and is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She is a member of Hinemoana of Turtle Island, a Pacific Islander feminist group of activists, poets, storytellers and scholars located in California and Oregon. She writes about Native feminist theories, settler colonialism, and race in the context of the history of science in Hawai‘i and the Pacific. Her other publications include the article “Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy,” co-authored with Eve Tuck and Angie Morrill, in Feminist Formations (Spring 2013)

Arvin, M. (2015) What Cyborgs Dream. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, No.6. doi:10.7264/N3QR4VCV