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Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Touching

(Up/On) Luce Irigaray’s Ethics

and the Interval Between: Poethics
as Embodied Writing

In this article, I argue that Donna Haraway’s figure of the cyborg needs to be reas-
sessed and extricated from the many misunderstandings that surround it. First, I
suggest that we consider her cyborg as an ethical concept. I propose that her cyborg can
be productively placed within the ethical framework developed by Luce Irigaray, es-
pecially in relationship to her concept of the ‘‘interval between.’’ Second, I consider
how Haraway’s ‘‘cyborg writing’’ can be understood as embodied ethical writing, that
is, as a contemporary écriture feminine. I believe that this cyborgian ‘‘writing the
body’’ offers us a way of both creating and understanding texts that think through
ethics, bodies, aesthetics, and politics together as part of a vital and relevant contem-
porary feminist ethics of embodiment. I employ the term ‘‘poethics’’ as a useful way to
describe such a practice.

The central purpose of this paper is to (re)claim the figure of Donna Haraway’s
cyborg as an important way of understanding crucial aspects of what it is to be
embodied in our contemporary world. In the polemical ‘‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’’
first published in the mid-1980s, Haraway suggests the figure of ‘‘the cyborg’’ as
an ‘‘ironic political myth,’’ that is, a ‘‘political-fictional tool’’ that has the po-
tential to introduce into socialist feminism a way of understanding ‘‘what
counts as women’s experience’’ at that moment in history (Haraway 1991a,
150–51). The cyborg can be understood as ‘‘a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of
machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fic-
tion’’ (147). Playing with this line between ‘‘fiction and lived experience’’

Hypatia vol. 27, no. 1 (Winter 2012) © by Hypatia, Inc.

Margaret E. Toye 183

(150), Haraway makes the contested claim that at this time, ‘‘we are all chi-
meras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we
are cyborgs’’ (150). The cyborg becomes a locus for various border crossings and
a site of hybridity where the relations between selves and others are renegoti-
ated, including in relation to subjectivity, identity, concepts of the body, sex,
reproduction, the family, labor, language, oppression and resistance. In short, it
is ‘‘an imaginative resource suggesting some very fruitful couplings’’ (150). The
cyborg has an overt political purpose, tied also to an aesthetic one, namely, to
explode ‘‘the myths and meanings structuring our imaginations’’ (163). As
Haraway explains, the figure offers a way out of ‘‘the maze of dualisms in which
we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves’’ (181). Even though it
is charged with problematic and violent ties to ‘‘militarism and patriarchal
capitalism’’ (151), the cyborg serves an important function for the way it cre-
atively interrupts our regular way of thinking.
But the cyborg also displays a strong ethical prerogative, evident in Har-
away’s thesis statement that her essay is both an argument ‘‘for pleasure’’ in the
blurring of boundaries at the same time as it is a call ‘‘for responsibility’’ in their
construction (Haraway 1991a, 150). The postmodern, destructive, and playful
aesthetic aspects of Haraway’s cyborg are balanced by this constructive and
ethical call for us to be responsible for our representations and the lives of the
signs we generate. But a cyborg ethics is more complex than one focused just on
creative responsibility. The cyborg can also be understood as a figure for what
Drucilla Cornell calls ‘‘the philosophy of the limit.’’ Cornell renames decon-
struction, when reread from an ethical perspective, as ‘‘the philosophy of the
limit,’’ as it is a practice that ‘‘exposes the quasi-transcendental conditions that
establish any system’’ (Cornell 1992, 1). As a figure that deconstructs a whole
host of dualisms, the cyborg is a figure for ‘‘the limit’’ par excellence. While the
cyborg is generally identified for exposing the limits of the machine/human bi-
nary opposition, Haraway expands our sense of the figure by placing the cyborg
within a more ancient genealogy of monsters, traditionally identified in terms
of crossings between animals and humans. She indicates that the cyborg ap-
pears in this mythology ‘‘precisely where the boundary between animal and
human is transgressed’’ (Haraway 1991a, 152). In the cyborg manifesto, she
then opens the concept as a way of thinking through more general transgres-
sions of categories and hybridizations of identities. As such, the cyborg becomes
a site for various border crossings where boundaries are blurred, many limits are
revealed, and multiple relations among terms are renegotiated. But it is through
a partial domesticating of the monsters, by declaring ‘‘we are they’’ (Haraway
1991a, 180) that Haraway really develops her ethics. Like Julia Kristeva in
Strangers to Ourselves, Haraway places ‘‘the Other’’ within us, and underlines
our responsibility for this other, whom Kristeva identifies as ‘‘us’’ (Kristeva
1991, 192). Instead of a ‘‘border war’’ (Haraway 1991a, 150) between repro-
184 Hypatia

ductions of the self and reflections of the other, they are conjoined in the one
figure of the cyborg. It is this emphasis on renegotiating the lines between
‘‘self ’’ and ‘‘other’’ where Haraway reveals the ethical commitment at the root
of her figure. The cyborg includes the Other without incorporating it, without
subsuming it; the other remains in-itself and for-itself, existing side by
side with others, meeting, but not blending, with them. Cyborgs are therefore
not just figures for limits, borders, and boundaries but, significantly, they are
also liminal creatures, existing on the threshold, neither one nor the
other. They are beginning to be, but are not quite articulated. Indeed, Rosi
Braidotti describes Haraway’s cyborg as a ‘‘feminist becoming-woman’’
(Braidotti 2002, 241).
While Rhonda Shaw observes a widespread continuing desire within fem-
inist theory to debate the adequacy of the cyborg ‘‘as metaphor, image,
innovation, and event’’ (Shaw 2003, 47), she stresses that ‘‘not all feminist
discussions have represented the cyborg image as indefatigably affirmative’’
(47). In fact, many feminists have hesitated at the idea of embracing the
cyborg; its adoption has been particularly resisted by those who fear any hint of
a celebratory tone toward the technology implied in the figure, by those who
are at odds with postmodernist theoretical approaches, and by those who reject
the suggestion of a post-gender world.1 A crucial challenge to its continuing
currency can also be found in Haraway’s own attempts to distance herself from
the figure of the cyborg.2 Haraway is continually asked to comment on her re-
lationship to this infamous figure, and she responds by attempting to correct
the many misconceptions surrounding it, and by acknowledging the observa-
tions of many critics,3 including anti-racist theorists, who impel her to rethink
her arguments. Reintegrating the cyborg into a larger family of figurations is
one of the ways she has found to respond to claims of appropriation. Chela
Sandoval indicates that Haraway is now ‘‘ ‘much more careful about describing
who counts as ‘we’ in the statement ‘we are all cyborgs’’’ (Sandoval 1999, 381),
and it is in response to this criticism that Haraway suggests instead the notion
of ‘‘‘a family of displaced figures’ who would populate our imaginations . . . that
would not be quite as imperializing in terms of a single figuration of identity’’
(Sandoval 1999 381).4
However, I pause over Haraway’s notable comment in ‘‘Birth of the Kennel’’
where she describes the cyborg as having had ‘‘a distressing half-life’’ (Haraway
2000, n.p.). This curious description registers her frustrations with the inter-
pretations that surround the cyborg, the need to abandon it as a problematic
figure, as well as the intimation that it has more life to live, if given the right life
support system. Despite Haraway’s and others’ ambivalence about the figure,
and despite what seems to be the inherent difficulty of extricating a reading
from its many criticisms, I argue that the cyborg needs to be reassessed and
given an opportunity for a continued life. By no means is this an argument to
Margaret E. Toye 185

ignore the valid criticisms raised by Sandoval and others about the problems
surrounding the universalizing of the figure or around issues of appropriation.
Nor is it an argument for ignoring the wonderful menagerie of figurations Har-
away has produced since the cyborg. However, to look at only the problems
inherent in an admittedly semiotically complicated and explosive figure is to
ignore all of the ways in which the cyborg, unlike any other figure, gets
at a crucial aspect of what many believe continues to be a central aspect of
their lived lives in our contemporary information age. I am encouraged by
Haraway’s words that she has sometimes offered about the need to continue to
develop the figure: ‘‘I think the cyborg still has so much potential. Part of how I
work is not to walk away when a term gets dirty . . . ‘Cyborg’ is a way to get at all
the multiple layers of life and liveliness as well as deathliness within which we
live each day. So instead of giving up because it has become too famous
let’s keep pushing it and filling it’’ (Haraway 1998, 36). At another point, she
Precisely because of the kind of tightening of the Internet
around us all; precisely because we are now in the matrix in
such a relentlessly literal way that there is some really new tropic
work that has to be done in this figure . . . I think cyborg figu-
rations can continue to do critical work. (Haraway 2003b, 52)
I will focus on two small ways in which the figure could be reassessed. First,
while the cyborg has been used to discuss issues that intertwine ontology, epis-
temology, aesthetics, and politics, there is much to be gleaned from considering
it instead via ethics.5 While I am not alone in this assessment, most references
to the cyborg’s relationship to ethics appear at the level of a description, with
no sustained analysis of what kind of ethics the cyborg embodies. I believe that
by resituating the cyborg, perhaps surprisingly, within a genealogy of Irigarian
ethics, we can arrive at an understanding of this figure that can help us to the-
orize a feminist ethics of embodiment in our contemporary world, especially in
terms of conceiving ‘‘the cyborg’’ as an ethical figure in terms of Irigaray’s eth-
ical concept of the ‘‘interval between.’’6 In bringing Haraway’s work in this way
to ‘‘touch up/on’’7 Irigaray’s in a ‘‘close encounter,’’ it is my hope that, rather
than reducing their work to sameness, their differences will be maintained, and
that through this ethical relation of proximity between (the) two, new under-
standings of each of their works will emerge. Second, I foreground this
emphasis as not merely focused on developing an ethics but what I call a poeth-
ics. I will examine how Haraway’s cyborg writing could be understood as an
embodied ethical writing, or as a contemporary écriture feminine. I suggest how
this form of ‘‘writing the body,’’ which I am calling a ‘‘poethics,’’ could offer us a
way of both creating and understanding texts that think through ethics, bodies,
aesthetics, and politics together as part of a vital and relevant contemporary
186 Hypatia

feminist ethics of embodiment that foregrounds the materiality of the language

we use to mediate our relations.


Irigaray’s contributions to an ethics of embodiment need to be understood in

terms of her revolutionary concept of ethics, which includes taking into ac-
count her unique methodology, or what Gail Schwab refers to as ‘‘the most
thrilling aspect,’’ namely, ‘‘her style—in particular that infamous ‘transforma-
tive mimesis’’’ (Schwab 2007, 28). Irigaray proceeds through deconstructive
readings of a range of central Western philosophical texts. She inhabits the
philosophical texts, and through this process, described by some as ‘‘mimesis’’
and by others as ‘‘mimicry,’’ reveals the problems and gaps in the concepts,
draws out new understandings of others, and thus produces her own creative
feminist philosophy.8
Much of Irigaray’s work passes under the radar as ethics because her ap-
proach is foreign to those who understand ethics more traditionally as a focus
on issues of ‘‘choice,’’ ‘‘individual will,’’ or ‘‘the good life.’’ Even within more
contemporary ethical discussions, it can be difficult to place her work, since the
ethical turn that started in Anglo-American theory in the late 1980s includes
very different discourses under the umbrella term ‘‘ethics.’’ In order to make
sense of these very different ethical discourses, I have mapped out how post-
structuralist ethics has a seeming dual focus in terms of an ethics of the rela-
tionship the self has with itself, and an ethics of the relationship the self has
with the Other (Toye 1999). Irigaray’s ethics plays an important role in decon-
structing this seeming binary opposition, helping to reveal that poststructuralist
ethics is actually about both. Irigaray’s ethics foregrounds an ethics of ‘‘rela-
tionality’’ between multiple selves and others.
In her explicit ethical tome, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Irigaray cites He-
idegger, claiming that ‘‘each age has one issue to think through, and one only’’
(Irigaray 1993, 5). She names ‘‘sexual difference’’ as ‘‘probably the issue in our
time which could be our ‘salvation’ if we thought it through’’ (5), arguing that
we need a revolution in both thought and ethics, and that this revolution
would involve rethinking space, time, and what she calls the ‘‘interval between’’
(7). While most critics focus on the specific naming of ‘‘sexual difference’’ as
her most important concept, this element should be placed within a more gen-
eral appeal for a ‘‘revolution in thought and ethics’’ to take place. It is through
the specific rethinking of space, time, and the ‘‘interval between’’ that this rev-
olution in thought and ethics will occur.9 Irigaray explains the implications of
such a call, not only in terms of the rethinking of subjectivities but also with
regard to relations between all selves and others: ‘‘We need to reinterpret ev-
erything concerning relations between the subject and discourse, the subject
Margaret E. Toye 187

and the cosmic, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic’’ (8). She sketches a list
of subjects and ethical relations that need to be rethought in her declaration
that ‘‘A new age signifies a different relation between:

- man and god(s),

- man and man,
- man and world,
- man and woman’’ (9).

It is the emphasis on rethinking this intertwined tripartite of space, time,

and the ‘‘interval between’’ that makes Irigaray’s ethics an ethics of embodi-
ment. Since male and female subjects have such different relationships to their
bodies because of the opposing spatio-temporal relationships they have been
accorded, a revolution in ethics must elaborate not one but two (or what Eliz-
abeth Grosz constantly describes as ‘‘at least two’’) embodied ethics, based in
these different bodies. A crucial and significant component of her work is her
emphasis on both men and women needing to rethink their relationships both
to their bodies and to transcendence; her concept of ‘‘the sensible transcen-
dental’’ helps to reconceptualize both sides for both sexes.
A conceptual revolution in space-time and its relationship to an embodied
ethics is a large and broad endeavor; I noted in the introduction my desire to
focus on the third item that Irigaray lists, that of the ‘‘interval between.’’ Iriga-
ray’s ethics is based on what she has termed ‘‘between two,’’ which is a
subjectivity that is not about being but about becoming, and which is always
becoming in relation. It is the ‘‘interval between’’ that mediates and determines
the possibilities for an ethical relationship between these two subjects. As such,
it gives us not just a relational ethics but also an ethics of mediation. As Mar-
garet Whitford points out, ‘‘The between is a way of rethinking this space-time
organization which detaches it from the spatio-temporality of the phallus’’
(Whitford 1991, 163). Irigaray underlines that within a phallocentric econ-
omy, this interval is embodied by the male morphological figure of the phallus,
and therefore all relations between subjects are determined by the mediating
economy determined by this reigning figure. Irigaray has provided multiple al-
ternatives for thinking about this interval, and many of these figures are based
instead in the female body, such as the two lips, placenta, and mucous. But she
also has investigated other concepts such as the angel, wonder, love, and most
recently yoga and the breath. This part of her philosophy can be difficult to
negotiate because part of Irigaray’s critique of phallogocentrism involves a de-
sire not to repeat its way of thinking. Merely replacing the phallus with one of
these other figures would be to participate in the phallogocentric economy
of sameness and substitution. Instead, as Whitford has concisely described
(Whitford 1991, 179), Irigaray thinks along the lines of metonymy, a trope that
188 Hypatia

emphasizes difference, association, and contiguity, unlike its cousin, metaphor,

a trope that emphasizes sameness, substitution, and similarity. Irigaray’s revo-
lution in ethics is therefore not only rooted in rethinking embodiment, but is
also intimately tied to a revolution in aesthetics in terms of demanding a chal-
lenging shift in understanding the world through an alternative economy of
representation. That Irigaray’s work is also fundamentally rooted in a feminist
politics renders her revolution in ethics as one that includes a revolution that
rethinks ethics, bodies, aesthetics, and politics together, or what I will discuss as
Irigaray also argues that we do not just need to generate alternate mediating
figures to occupy the interval, but that the interval itself needs to be reconcep-
tualized. This space of ethical mediation between subjects of the ‘‘interval
between’’ has to be rethought along different spatio-temporal lines. Krzysztof
Ziarek explains that the new economy Irigaray proposes is a radical economy of
proximity: ‘‘a non-metaphysical economy of relating, predicated on the ethico-
discursive notions of proximity and nearness’’ (Irigaray 2000, 151). The inter-
val between the two subjects becomes both a space and not a space, in that to
be in an ethical relationship is not to be in a one-plus-one relation, but instead,
it is to enter into a whole other ontology, one of ‘‘between two.’’ This concept,
like so much of Irigaray’s work, is a challenging one. Sometimes Irigaray stresses
the space of distance that the ‘‘interval between’’ provides, which allows each
entity, on either side of the relationship, to be a subject, with a space between
them that prevents the reduction to the other’s projections. At other times,
Irigaray emphasizes the nearness in the concept. Critics struggle to make sense
of this duality. Deutscher suggests that generally, the first stage of Irigaray’s ca-
reer is considered to be focused on ‘‘an ideal of being submerged in the other in
a loss of boundaries between us’’ (Deutscher 2002, 81), whereas the second
stage on the ethics of mediation stresses distance. However, Deutscher points
out that a careful reading of Irigaray’s earlier work reveals the presence of this
‘‘politics of mediation’’ as well, especially in terms of the mother/daughter re-
lationship. Krzysztof Ziarek similarly argues: ‘‘proximity, mediation, and the
interval is enacted as the trajectory of almost all of Irigaray’s books and essays’’
(Ziarek 2000, 145). He suggests that instead of continuing to read Irigaray as a
philosopher of difference, that we consider how much this concept provides us
with ‘‘a new mode of thinking relation: one that would be attuned to nearness
rather than difference, to the interval rather than opposites, and to the trans-
formative opening rather than negation’’ (Ziarek 2000, 134).


In the introduction, I indicated that situating the cyborg within Irigaray’s eth-
ics might help us to theorize a particular feminist ethics of embodiment where
Margaret E. Toye 189

the cyborg could be considered to be a crucial contemporary ethical figure that

occupies what Irigaray describes as the ‘‘interval between’’ in our contemporary
information age. As such, the cyborg is the figure that best describes what me-
diates our relations to each other, to ourselves, and to our world in this context.
I propose that we consider that the ethical subjectivity of the cyborg is this
concept of the ‘‘between two’’ of the interval. In the ‘‘Cyborg Manifesto,’’ Har-
away indicates that the cyborg deconstructs troubling dualisms of self/other,
mind/body, culture/nature, and so on, which are governed by the notion of a
‘‘One’’ that is autonomous, powerful, and godlike, but which is actually based
in an illusion. Instead, she suggests a notion of subjectivity founded in other-
ness, which is ‘‘to be multiple, without clear boundary, frayed, insubstantial’’
(Haraway 1991a, 177). She then introduces a compelling phrase to describe
cyborg subjectivity: ‘‘One is too few, but two are too many’’ (177)—a phrase
that recalls Irigaray’s notion of female sexuality as both multiple and as that
which is not yet represented in the title of her collection This Sex Which Is Not
One (1985). I propose that we take this notion of a cyborgian subjectivity,
where one is too few and two are too many, and transfer it over to Irigaray’s
discussion of ethics. Irigaray’s ethics is based in a Levinasian notion of ethics as
first philosophy, where before ‘‘being,’’ there is the Other. There is never a solo
subject, and therefore, one is too few, because subjectivity is created in rela-
tionship—we cannot be without the other. For the same reason, there can
never two completely individual self-contained subjects. Although Irigaray ar-
gues that women as well as men need to establish their own subjectivities, she
also stresses how they are nevertheless connected by the ‘‘interval between’’ as
a conjoined entity, and therefore the concept of two completely self-contained
subjects is ‘‘too many.’’ A cyborgian ethics would explain the interconnected-
ness, not only between other humans, but also between animals, the
environment, and the tools that mediate our existence and relations with one
another. Undoing the opposition between nature and culture, Haraway’s
cyborg stresses that we do not conceive of these tools as wholly other, but as a
part of ourselves, and that we relate to them in terms of ‘‘proximity.’’ We need
to hold our tools close to us, but we also have to consider them from an appro-
priate distance in order to see them for what they are. Our technologies have
not appeared independently and out of nothing. We have always been in re-
lationship to our tools, but this relationship has not always been foregrounded
as such, nor has it always been conceived as a relationship ‘‘between two.’’
In my discussion of the concept of ‘‘between two,’’ I have stressed its spatial
components. However, Irigaray’s revolution in ethics is a temporal one as well.
Ewa Ziarek explains that Irigaray deconstructs Hegel to create a disruptive
temporality that is linked with the Imaginary, and this ‘‘inaugural temporality
has to be linked with the becoming of the body’’ (Ziarek 1998, 61). For Ewa
Ziarek, Irigaray’s tropes that invoke the imaginary such as touch and the two
190 Hypatia

lips ‘‘do not merely indicate the constitution of the female body beyond the
scopic economy of the image . . . but, precisely, link embodiment with tempor-
ality.’’ Ewa Ziarek indicates that what is read as the ‘‘porosity and fluidity of
female embodiment,’’ in terms of an ‘‘attribute of the sexed body,’’ could be
considered ‘‘as an effect of the temporal structure of becoming’’ (61).11


In poststructuralism, issues of political and aesthetic representation are inter-

twined. Many theorists emphasize the links between experimental writing and
revolutionary politics, and the connection between the ideas and the forms in
which they are embodied. The binary opposition between philosophy/litera-
ture is deconstructed, and different ‘‘styles of thought’’ are explored. Irigaray,
her early Anglo-American critics have argued, has taken these ideas a step fur-
ther through the concept of écriture feminine (feminine writing), that is, the
practice of ‘‘writing the body.’’ Writing philosophy thus becomes a truly em-
bodied practice, where the writing is inextricable from the bodies that produce
the thought. For Irigaray, a revolution in ethics would also involve a revolution
in aesthetics: ‘‘the production of a new age of thought, art, poetry, and
language: the creation of a new poetics’’ (Irigaray 1993, 5). By indicating that
a new ethics requires the creation of a new poetics, rather than merely a
new ‘‘thought,’’ thus adding ‘‘art, poetry, and language’’ to the list, Irigaray
stresses the aesthetic component of creating new theories, where the forms and
genres also need to be rethought, foregrounding elements in which thought is
Some theorists have started to use the term ‘‘poethics’’ rather than just
‘‘poetics.’’ The inclusion of the ‘‘h’’ stresses the ethical aspect involved in
approaches that combine ethics and aesthetics. Elsewhere, I argue that feminist
theory needs a concept of ‘‘poethics’’ that goes beyond this ethical-aesthetic
combination to include a concept of embodiment in writing (Toye 2010);
moreover, if it is to be a feminist practice, this concept of poethics must include
a political aspect. Using Irigaray’s work as inspiration, I propose that poethics
needs to be conceived as a complex theory/methodology that joins together
aesthetic, ethical, and political concerns, together with issues of the body and
embodiment. I believe Haraway’s work could be considered to be engaged in
‘‘poethics’’ in a parallel, though not identical, way to this approach to Irigaray’s
work; therefore I want to investigate whether there is evidence in Haraway’s
writing for what we might want to call a ‘‘cyborg poethics.’’
In ‘‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’’ Haraway claims ‘‘writing’’ as a cyborg tool:
‘‘Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs, etched surfaces of the late
twentieth century’’ (Haraway 1991a, 176). This cyborg writing is an inherently
political concept: ‘‘Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the
Margaret E. Toye 191

basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the
world that marked them as other’’ (175). She highlights the political nature of
cyborg writing by pointing out how ‘‘[w]riting has a special significance for all
colonized groups’’ (174). But she also emphasizes that cyborg politics implies a
certain cyborg aesthetics—one that is aligned with both a poetics and a her-
meneutics that questions the transparency of meaning: ‘‘Cyborg politics is a
struggle for language and the struggle against communication, against the one
code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentr-
ism’’ (176). Rather than associating this kind of writing with the experimental
poets or poetic philosophers, Haraway lists a series of science fiction writers
whom she claims are ‘‘our story-tellers exploring what it means to be embodied
in high-tech worlds. They are theorists for cyborgs’’ (173). Her move is a sig-
nificant one: first, she names fiction writers as theorists; second, she names
science fiction writers in particular as theorists for cyborgs, destabilizing hierar-
chies between high and low culture as well as what counts as theory and
thought; third, it is not just any kind of science fiction writer to whom she
accords this power—all of the writers she lists are significant for the ways they
help us to rethink embodiment, that is, they help us to achieve ‘‘consciousness
about how fundamental body imagery is to world view’’ (173); furthermore,
the bodies she investigates are engendered in significantly different ways. One
of the most important functions of cyborg writing for Haraway is in terms of
how it is able to ‘‘reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of natural-
ized identities . . . in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to our-
selves’’ (175, 181). Central to this project is the ‘‘retelling’’ of ‘‘origin stories,’’
through which ‘‘cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of Western
culture’’ (175).
But Haraway’s concept of ‘‘cyborg writing’’ does not end there. For her, the
cyborg is ‘‘a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction’’ (Haraway
1991a, 149). Haraway’s discussion moves from the fictional writing of science
fiction writers to the writing practices of ‘‘real-life cyborgs’’ (177), of ‘‘people
who refused to disappear on cue’’ (177). She uses the example of ‘‘Southeast
Asian village women workers in Japanese and US electronics firms’’ who are
‘‘actively rewriting the texts of their bodies and societies’’ (177). This passage,
together with references throughout the manifesto to ‘‘women of colour’’ as a
cyborg identity (174), ‘‘US black women,’’ (174), and the importance of race
analysis suggest that, for Haraway, cyborg writing is tied to particular gendered
and raced bodies and practices of writing. In fact, the employment of the term
‘‘cyborg,’’ which involves the extrication of these particular bodies, has been
criticized by Sandoval. Her essay acknowledges Haraway’s sensitive scholarship
for the ways in which Haraway’s cyborg is rooted in an oppositional conscious-
ness connected to the politics of racial and U.S. third-world feminism readings,
but claims that as this metaphor ‘‘travels through the academy’’ it ‘‘has been
192 Hypatia

utilized and appropriated in a fashion that ironically represses the very work
that it fundamentally relies upon’’ (Sandoval 1999, 249). Furthermore, Har-
away challenges us to rethink what counts as ‘‘writing.’’ She deconstructs this
concept at the site of a group that is usually coded as the most victimized of the
victimized: third-world female sweatshop workers. Always blurring the lines
between ‘‘social reality and fiction,’’ she recodes them as creative writers, where
their subjectivity is rethought in terms of agency and their labor as creative.
The lived lives of people in their particular embodied locations also becomes
‘‘cyborg writing.’’
Cyborg writing is therefore not only a poethics that names a creative writing
practice, but also a living practice, where living involves practices of reading
texts (literary texts as well as people, things, events). This question of the par-
ticularity of the figure and how much it can be extricated from Haraway’s work
and applied to other situations raises the larger issue of whether the poethics of
cyborg writing is also a poethics (or hermeneutics) of cyborg reading. This
matter becomes complicated when Haraway’s concept itself involves an appro-
priation of previous concepts. Whereas Haraway’s radical interventions are
often related to how she brings the discourses of biology into discussions in the
humanities and social sciences, it is not often foregrounded how important it is
that she brings her literary background into the way she does science, or if
it is, it is merely dismissed as a postmodern interest in language. Yet she herself
is constantly describing the importance of understanding her writing and
reading practices, and I firmly believe that many misunderstandings in reading
her work can be located here in theories of reading.
Haraway emphasizes that she appropriates the figure of the cyborg for so-
cialist feminism through the trope of irony. She stresses that such a gesture
engages in ‘‘blasphemy,’’ but it turns out that this blasphemy is a preventative
against fundamentalism, which is a hermeneutic that reduces everything to
one. Invoking the Cyclops, she writes that ‘‘[s]ingle vision produces worse il-
lusions than double visions’’ (Haraway 1991a, 154) as she argues ‘‘[a]gainst the
one code that translates all meaning perfectly.’’ Instead, irony as a hermeneutic
tool foregrounds what it is ‘‘to see from both perspectives,’’ and explodes read-
ings into multiplicities. Irony as a reading position is ‘‘not afraid of permanently
partial identities and contradictory standpoints’’ (154). She stresses the politics
of this figure: ‘‘The political struggle is to see from both perspectives at once
because each reveals both dominations and possibilities unimaginable from the
other vantage point’’ (154). Her contentious appropriation of the figure is very
much conscious of its dubious origins: ‘‘The main trouble with cyborgs, of
course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal
capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often
exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential’’
(51). Like many postmodern writers, Haraway questions the search for origins
Margaret E. Toye 193

and originary meaning, and yet her ironic reading is effective because of the
problematic genealogy she constantly evokes.
My critical move follows Haraway’s own in the sense that I am extricating
her ‘‘feminist’’ cyborg figure from the particular contexts of her work and sug-
gesting its possibilities in a new ‘‘body,’’ or context, that of ‘‘poethics.’’ Anne
Balsamo writes that ‘‘Haraway’s choice of images is that she fails to consider
how the cyborg already has been fashioned in our cultural imagination. . . . Fo-
cusing on the cyborg image in hopes of unearthing an icon of utopian thought
does a great disservice to feminism. Feminism doesn’t need another utopian
vision’’ (Balsamo 1999, 153). I argue that to the contrary, Balsamo’s and many
other critics’ clearly literal readings of the cyborg do a great disservice to both
Haraway and to feminism. Haraway is abundantly clear that she knows how the
cyborg already has been fashioned in our cultural imagination: that is the point
of the technique of ‘‘appropriation.’’ If it did not already have strong cultural
capital, her intervention would not constitute an intervention. Throughout
her work, Haraway plays with the irony of this situation, on the one hand,
foregrounding its specific genealogy as a child of militarism, violence, and cap-
italism, and on the other hand, suggesting ways of changing its iconography
through a new feminist tradition. The accusation that utopian visions are not
needed by feminism is a problematic one, as countless feminists have turned to
the strategic use of utopias as a way of orienting themselves toward the future at
a formal level, if not at a level of content. As Frances Bartkowski indicates,
‘‘Feminist fiction and feminist theory are fundamentally utopian in that they
declare that which is not-yet as the basis for a feminist practice, textual, polit-
ical, or otherwise’’ (Bartkowski 1989, 12), and that the ‘‘desire to speculate on
and for the future and how it might be shaped we can read as a feminist eros,
speaking the language of female desires’’ (9).
Furthermore, it is not only a matter of reading according to the twofold
reading strategy of irony in which two contradictory readings can be engaged at
the same time, but a question of multiple readings according to what she herself
invokes as a biblical fourfold allegorical method, as I will describe. Earlier, I
mentioned Haraway’s use of a series of figures as a structuring device. In Mod-
est_Witness, she explains that figuration ‘‘is a complex practice with deep roots
in the semiotics of Western Christian realism’’ (Haraway 1997, 9). Her citation
of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis stresses the allegorical nature of figuration, which
‘‘establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the
first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or
fulfills the first. . . . They are both contained in the flowing stream which is
historical life’’ (10). For Haraway, figures

do not have to be representation or mimetic, but they do have

to be tropic; that is, they cannot be literal and self-identical.
194 Hypatia

Figures must involve at least some kind of displacement that can

trouble identifications and certainties. Figurations are perfor-
mative images that can be inhabited. Verbal or visual,
figurations can be condensed maps of contestable worlds. (11)

Braidotti explains that figuration ‘‘refers to a style of thought that evokes or

expresses ways out of the phallocentric vision of the subject. A figuration is a
politically informed account of an alternative subjectivity’’ (Braidotti 1994, 1).
Braidotti also places Haraway’s use of the figure of the ‘‘cyborg’’ in a genealogy
that includes the work of Irigaray and her figure of the ‘‘two lips,’’ arguing that
both figures engage in ‘‘subverting conventional views and representations of
human and especially of female subjectivity’’ (3). These ‘‘alternative figura-
tions,’’ she argues, are a ‘‘way out of the old schemes of thought’’ (3). Rather
than a utopian concept of subjectivity, Braidotti emphasizes the materialist and
embodied usefulness of these figures: ‘‘The starting point for most feminist
redefinitions of subjects is a new form of materialism, one that develops
the notion of corporeal materiality by emphasizing the embodied and there-
fore sexually differentiated structure of the speaking subject’’ (3). In fact,
Haraway states: ‘‘The first thing I’d say is that words are intensely physical
for me. I find words and language more closely related to flesh than to ideas’’
(Haraway 1998, 85).
In Modest_Witness, Haraway summarizes her work along similar lines, em-
phasizing that her aesthetic emphasis on figuration is a material and embodied
practice, and one that is intimately connected to both politics and ethics: ‘‘I am
consumed by the project of materialized refiguration; I think that is what’s
happening in the worldly projects of technoscience and feminism. A figure
collects up the people; a figure embodies shared meanings in stories that inhabit
their audiences’’ (Haraway 1997, 23). She opens When Species Meet by rooting
the term ‘‘figuration’’ in an eighteenth-century source, meaning ‘‘chimerical
vision,’’ and explains, ‘‘Figures help me to grapple inside the flesh of mortal
world-making entanglements that I call contact zones’’ (Haraway 2008, 4). She
describes ‘‘their invitation to inhabit the corporeal story told in their linea-
ments’’ (2008, 4). They are not ‘‘representations or didactic illustrations,’’ she
stresses, ‘‘but rather material-semiotic nodes or knots in which diverse bodies
and meanings coshape one another’’ (2008, 4). Haraway stresses repeatedly
that ‘‘figures have always been where the biological and literary or artistic come
together with all the force of lived reality. My body itself is just such a figure,
literally’’ (2008, 4). She emphasizes the materiality of language: ‘‘An implosion
of sign and substance is part of living with a sacramental consciousness, the
literalness of metaphor, the materiality of trope, the tropic quality of materi-
ality, the implosion of semi-auticity and materiality always seemed the case
about the world. As opposed to a particularly fancy theoretical insight or mis-
Margaret E. Toye 195

take, it simply seemed the air we breathe’’ (Haraway 2000, n.p.). She fore-
grounds this focus as both a theory of writing and reading: ‘‘For many years, I
have written from the belly of powerful figures such as cyborgs, monkeys and
apes, oncomice, and more recently, dogs. In each case, the figures are at the
same time creatures of imagined possibility and creatures of fierce ordinary re-
ality; the dimensions tangle and require response’’ (2008, 4). As such, she
foregrounds her poetics and hermeneutics as approaches to writing and reading
that combine ethics, politics, aesthetics, and a focus on embodiment together
into what I have been considering along the lines of a ‘‘cyborg poethics.’’
Therefore, there are components in their methodologies that create the
conditions for this suggested meeting place between Haraway and Irigaray.12
Their respective generation of a series of connected figurations have provided
an important place of connection. By allowing Haraway’s work merely to
‘‘touch up/on’’ Irigaray’s ethics, specifically in terms of the concept of the ‘‘in-
terval between,’’ and not to engage in the reduction or colonization of one
theorist’s work to another’s, it is my hope that creative readings and under-
standings of both theorists can begin to emerge, and that these small places of
conjunction might prove to be a productive ones. Certainly, their respective
attitudes to subsequent theorists who have given their work welcome new life
suggest an openness to the development of their thoughts (Whitford 1991, 6;
Miller and Cimitile 2007, 4; Haraway 2003b, 51). By placing the cyborg in the
ethical space-time that Irigaray describes as the ‘‘interval between,’’ and by
suggesting similarities in their methodologies that I name as ‘‘poethics,’’ I have
attempted to respond to some of the challenges that Haraway has offered
through her imaginative figuring of the cyborg. I hope that as a result, I have
helped to provide Haraway’s cyborg with a context that will contribute to its
further life. Likewise, by suggesting that Haraway might touch up/on Irigaray’s
ethical project in her own hybridized way, Irigaray’s ethics may perhaps, in
turn, be touched, and find continued life, including in unexpected ways.

The author would like to thank all of the editors at Hypatia and the anonymous
reviewers of the manuscript for their invaluable suggestions and encouragement, as well
as the many readers of the manuscript in its various forms for their time, support and
comments, and finally, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada for financial support during the initial stages of research.
1. While Haraway uses the term ‘‘post-gender’’ in ‘‘A Cyborg Manifesto,’’
elsewhere she indicates she has ‘‘never liked it’’ (2003b, 53) and has not used it since.
2. The figure of ‘‘the dog’’ (as the ‘‘new cyborg’’) is a member of the more over-
arching term ‘‘companion species’’ (Haraway 2003a), which Haraway indicates is the
key to understanding how to read her oeuvre.
196 Hypatia

3. The cyborg’s historical specificity drives many of Haraway’s and her critics’ ar-
guments to move away from the figure. For example, Chris Gray suggests taking into
account the ‘‘nano’’ level (Gray 1997), while N. Katherine Hayles suggests that ‘‘the
cognisphere takes up where the cyborg left off ’’ (Hayles 2006, 165).
4. I am troubled that many of Haraway’s recent critics fail to value the figurative,
the literary, and the fictional. For example, Kathy Davis (2007), Jessie Daniels (2009),
Sharon Betcher (2001), and Malini Johar Schueller (2005) provide important analyses,
but they make no room for the imaginary; further, the posit binary oppositions, ranging
from those of humor/seriousness to language/the real, that do not do justice to Haraway’s
deconstructions of the same. When scholars understand ‘‘materialist analyses’’ merely as
narrated accounts of ‘‘real people’s lives,’’ and assume the narration and the language
used are transparent and unproblematized, they ignore a crucial element of Haraway’s
5. Shaw and Rob Shields announce a pairing of the cyborg and ethics (Shaw 2003;
Shields 2006), while Gray declares his joining together of ethics and embodiment (Gray
1997), but there is a lack of actual discussion and engagement with these questions.
6. Irigaray’s concept of ‘‘the interval between’’ is sometimes refered to just as ‘‘be-
tween’’ by some critics (for example, Whitford 1991, 163), while others render it merely
as ‘‘the interval’’ (for example, Penelope Deutscher, cites Pheng Cheah, Judith Butler,
Drucilla Cornell, and Dorothea Olkowski as theorists who engage in the latter practice
(Deutscher 2002, 74, 177, 120)).
7. The expression ‘‘touching up/on’’ is evocative on a number of levels. ‘‘Touch’’ is
an important part of both theorists’ works; ‘‘touching on,’’ as in covering a topic but not
completely, suggests that Haraway might address some but not all aspects of Irigaray; and
‘‘touching up,’’ where something is taken and then changed slightly, is also evoked, in
the sense that this encounter, like all encounters, implies an inevitable change for both
subjects. For instance, one aspect that most troubles critics about Irigaray is that despite
recent attempts, she fails to address adequately issues of race and cultural difference
(Deutscher 2002) while Haraway’s work has always been embedded in anti-racist and
postcolonial discourses.
8. An Ethics of Sexual Difference is the key to reading Irigaray’s oeuvre, and most of
her critics concur, although they differ in terms of how it functions. Gail Schwab indi-
cates (Schwab 2007, 30-31) that she (Schwab 1991), Judith Butler, and Drucilla
Cornell (Cheah and Grosz 1998) and Carolyn Burke (Burke 1994) all situate the break
in the direction of Irigaray’s work at the moment when the Ethics was published in 1993
Elaine Miller and Maria Cimitile see it more as a turning point, or ‘‘bridge’’ (Miller
and Cimitile 2007, 2) between two parts of her work, whereas Morny Joy (2006) and
Deutscher (Deutscher 2002, 74), who references Irigaray’s interview with Elizabeth
Hirsh and Gary Olson (1995), both claim that while Irigaray indicates there is no break
between the earlier and later texts, her work could be divided into three phases, the
third of which begins with Ethics. My argument supports considering the Ethics in terms
of a ‘‘bridge.’’
9. In fact, in ‘‘The Future of Sexual Difference’’ (2002), Penelope Deutscher cites
Cheung’s argument that after Ethics, ‘‘Irigaray’s idea of sexual difference changes dra-
Margaret E. Toye 197

matically, and it is formulated as a generative interval that exists between the two sexes’’
(Deutscher 2002, 74), such that ‘‘sexual difference’’ becomes one more figure to repre-
sent the ‘‘interval between.’’
10. Haraway, an American, a pragmatist, a biologist, and an historian of science
would appear not to have much in common with Irigaray, a Belgian trained in Conti-
nental philosophy, including phenomenology, and a historian of philosophy. Their
approaches to psychoanalysis, and to science and technology, would seem to be in rad-
ical opposition. Yet a closer examination reveals many affinities, including some
surprising ones. Both come from layered, complex, and interdisciplinary backgrounds:
Haraway has undergraduate degrees in literature, philosophy, and zoology, and a PhD in
biology, while Irigaray has doctorates in both linguistics and philosophy and is a prac-
ticing psychoanalyst. Both have drawn on Marxist thinking, while Haraway’s
Foucauldian approach to history and stated influences of Whitehead and Heidegger
make phenomenological thinking not entirely foreign to her thought. Schwab has in-
dicated that it is often ‘‘forgotten—or ignored—that Irigaray is a trained social scientist
who began her professional career as a psychologist and psycho-linguist . . . [and] has
extensive empirical research behind her’’ (Schwab 2007, 31). Signficantly, their work is
often grouped together regarding their similar use of irony, the creation of multiple lay-
ers of meaning, the rereading and remaking of myth, and engagement with utopic
Both thinkers engage in a critique of mainstream scientific practices and ideologies.
When Irigaray indicates that the subject of scientific inquiry is not a neutral one, but
rather a male one that erases males’ position of embodiment, her analysis is not that far
away from Haraway’s concept of ‘‘situated knowledges,’’ which argues ‘‘for politics and
epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating . . . [in which] the view from a
body, always . . . complex, contradictory’’ (Haraway 1991a, 195). Similarly, while Har-
away seems to diversify her focus on others to include an array of non-human others, in
the Ethics, Irigaray indicates that we need rethink the relationship between non-human
others including between the human and the divine and the human and the world.
Indeed, Schwab argues that Irigaray’s To Be Two (2000) is ‘‘a book about relation-
ships—and not exclusively about relationships between human beings, since the poetic
hymns of the prologue and the epilogue also celebrate relationships to the elements—
earth, air, water, and sun—and to the trees, flowers, and birds that live with and depend
on them’’ (Schwab 2007, 39). Krzysztof Ziarek argues that in To Be Two Irigaray suggests
the others could include ‘‘both non-human other (‘‘earth,’’ ‘‘nature’’) and human, sexed
others’’ (Ziarek 2000, 151).
Irigaray’s deconstructions of language are placed within linguistic, Derridean and La-
canian traditions, whereas Haraway denies alignment with Jacques Derrida and all
poststructuralists, except she displays an affinity for Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. She
names Charles Sanders Peirce as most influential and ‘‘semiotics’’ as her tradition.
She also continually cites her upbringing as a Catholic as shaping her approach to
questions of the body, language, and embodiment: ‘‘I experience language as an
intensely physical process, I cannot not think through metaphor . . . My deep formation
in Catholic symbolism and sacramentalism—doctrines of incarnation and transubstan-
tiation—were all intensely physical’’ (Haraway 1998, 86).
198 Hypatia

11. Aligning Haraway with ‘‘culture and technology’’ and Irigaray with opposing
‘‘nature’’ is to read them reductively. Both theorists engage in complex analyses of na-
ture/culture and investigate how ‘‘nature’’ is produced according to complicated
agendas. Alison Stone, for example, rereads Irigaray’s theories of nature in terms of
their roots in a philosophy of nature that sees nature as a process of growth (Stone 2006,
11). Helen Fielding encourages us to reconsider Irigaray’s relationship to Heidegger’s
warnings about technology and its attitude as standing reserve (where nature and
women are considered there, to be used). Instead of reading Irigaray’s approach as a mere
repetition of Heidegger, Fielding argues that Irigaray deconstructs Heidegger’s concept
of nature on which he founds his definition of technology (Fielding 2003). For
Heidegger, nature is prior to technology, and nature as physis is being. But Irigaray
demonstrates that because he does not recognize the sexual difference in nature, ‘‘his
concept of physis becomes yet another techne’’ (Fielding 2003, 15). The danger for Iriga-
ray, Fielding notes, would not seem to lie ‘‘in human obliviousness to the essence of
technology, but rather in our oblivion to nature and its sexual difference. For, in our
relation to nature lies the danger that we will destroy ourselves—but also, in our at-
tending to it, our potential salvation’’ (Fielding 2003, 15). In contrast, Haraway rejects
Heidegger’s texts for their narrowness in terms of their understanding of technology,
that is, for Fielding, Heidegger considers technology only as instrumentality, and does
not concede the creativity involved in scientific discovery. Instead, as Barbara Bolt
shows us, Haraway effectively refigures the techne/poiesis opposition, rendering techne
as poiesis (Bolt 2007). Haraway’s development of her concept of the ‘‘material-semiotic
actor’’ in ‘‘Situated Knowledges’’ criticizes the tendency to examine objects of knowl-
edge as inert and reconceives agency within epistemology. Haraway discusses the
‘‘‘activation’ of the previously passive categories of objects of knowledge. . . . The body,
the object of biological discourse, itself becomes a most engaging being’’ (Haraway
1991b, 199). Haraway effectively rereads techne as poiesis, where the interaction be-
tween humans and the non-human world can be read as a co-creation. Similarly, K.
Ziarek emphasizes the creativity of Irigaray’s development of a new economy of energy
that also moves beyond the nature/culture opposition and that ‘‘can be understood as an
alternative to the informational and technological culture of today’’ (Ziarek 2007, 70).
12. Haraway’s cyborg shares similarities with Irigaray’s figure of the ‘‘interval be-
tween’’ (which at one point Irigaray designates as an ‘‘angel.’’) Both the angel and the
cyborg have connections to the categories of the non-human and temporality.

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