Chris Hables Gray, ed., The Cyborg Handbook

New York and London: Routledge, 1995; 546 pp., ill. b. & w.


This guide brings together critical essays on the genealogy, science and imagination of cyborgs in ways that are relevant and culturally specific. The term “cyborg,” imputable to Manfred Clynes, by now attaches to wherever a “human-machine living system” (p. 5) is imagined, invented or produced. Hence this text probes the problematic discontinuity between humans and machines. The Cyborg Handbook is to be experienced as a chart around and across suspicion and fascination.

The audience completely filled Outpost’s modestly sized space

Cyborgism, the ideology, and cyborgology, the attitude and the praxis, admit the transmutation of the body and its intelligences along with the crosscutting of recombinant machineries. Their combined effect, Donna Haraway theorizes, results in “situated knowledges.” Enter the cyborg. Cyborg culture locates an intimate conjoining of what is built, imagined and commodified. Not just the economic, semiotic, technological and mythical, but also the specific and the universal exist within its order. Such that, in its explication, these essays do not simply fuse aspects of its biological, theoretical, philosophical and communicative components along with its terms, but also try to bring to issue the implications and consequences of cyborg technology for our present and future lives. The sheer size of this volume prevents more elaborate discussion here. But, from the standpoint of cultural studies, medicine, philosophy, anthropology and visio-virtual practice, among others, what this collection begins to formulate is the description of a fascinating and comprehensive encounter. S. D.

An important text for museum and cultural studies

An important text for museum and cultural studies, Civilizing Rituals destabilizes binarisms such as art/artifact, ritual observed/ritual enacted, and sacred/secular. Duncan’s theoretical approach is based on notions of liminality and ritual; how the museum serves to temporarily suspend “normal” social behaviour in its effect on the visitor. The result of this suspension is that the viewer, gendered male by modernist art historical discourse and curatorial practice, is propelled towards a form of aesthetic enlightenment similar to spiritual illumination.

Within the liminal space of the art museum, Duncan argues, the (male) viewer, the male benefactor and corporate funding compose a ritualized experience that flows smoothly along the modernist trajectory. Duncan describes this experience and trajectory as characterized by a socially exclusive, economically elitist and, often, sexist conception of reality. Convincingly argued, Duncan’s feminist analysis of MOMA completes several brief but rigorous social histories of major Western museums such as the Louvre and the British National Gallery. In the final chapter, she describes how MOMA positions images of women as destructive or seductive Other to the otherwise cerebral aesthetics of modernism.

Duncan’s underlying theme is that the literal and conceptual construction of such museums maintains an eighteenth-century notion of aesthetic experience. As it has been described and desired in various philosophical and museological texts, aesthetic experience equates with revelation. Sensitive to the historical circumstances which generated the art institutions discussed, Duncan presents the gallery as a flexible tool that can have political and nationalistic purposes as well as fulfilling individuals’ need to exonerate themselves through public commemoration. Duncan balances her reading of the museum as economically motivated and culturally specific sign with a theoretically promising investigation of ritual and liminality in the gallery context. C. H.