Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fernando Broncano's The Melancholia of the Cyborg

Fernando Broncano Rodríguez (b. 1954) is a Spanish philosopher who was born in Linares de Riofrío, Salamanca, Spain. He received his doctoral degree from the Universidad de Salamanca in 1981, and did postdoctoral studies at Brown University. He was titular professor of logic and the philosophy of science at the Universidad de Salamanca from 1977 until 2000, and has been full professor (catedrático) of the philosophy of science at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid since 2001. His research interests include epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of technology. His writings include Nuevas meditaciones sobre la técnica (1995), Mundos Artificiales: Filosofía del cambio technológico (2000), Saber en condiciones: Epistemología para escépticos y materialistas (2003), Jardines de la memoria y el olvido (2004), Entre ingenieros y ciudadanos: Filosofía de la técnica para días de democracia (2006), La melancholía del ciborg (2009), La estrategía del simbionte: Cultura material para nuevas humanidades (2012), and Sujetos en la niebla: Narrativas sobre la identidad (2013). He has a blog entitled El laberinto de la identidad at
      La melancholia del ciborg (The Melancholia of the Cyborg) is divided into seven chapters and an epilogue: "1. Cyborgs among other frontier beings,” "2. Material cultures and artefacts,” "3. Imaginary artefacts,” "4. The invention of the subjunctive,” "5. Not being able (to come) to be: Agency in times and places of obscurity,” "6. More faces of power,” "7. Pathologies of the imagination and of power,” and "Epilogue. Spaces of possibility.” As of 2017, it has not yet been published in English.
      Broncano explains at the outset that his examination of the kind of hybrid being that belongs to cyborgs is inspired by the writings of such philosophers as Donna Haraway (Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 1991), María Lugones (Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions, 2003), Rosi Braidotti (Nomadic Subjects, 1994), and Andy Clark (Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, 2003).  He says that we are all, in some sense, like Galatea, the statue brought to life by its sculptor, Pygmalion, in ancient Greek mythology. We are all hybrids of the organic and the artisanal (or artefactual). Our experience of the world occurs on the frontier between representation and reality.
       We are also cyborgs insofar as we depend on artificial parts or mechanical devices for our being or functioning. The artificial devices on which we depend in order to carry out our daily activities function as prostheses for us; they occupy an increasing proportion of our attention and become indispensable to us, insofar as they not only remedy impaired organic functions (as with the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, orthopedic prostheses, and pacemakers), but also create new possibilities of being.
      The whole array of social and cultural tools or instruments we employ, including oral and written languages, social institutions, codes and norms, religions and rituals, music and art, function as social and cultural prostheses for us, and thus transform our social and cultural possibilities.
      But cyborgs also suffer a melancholia that is the fruit of an uprooting, because the use of artificial parts or devices constitutes a kind of exile from the natural world. Cyborgs live on the frontier between the natural and artificial worlds, and thus they experience a sense of nostalgia for the natural world from which they've been exiled. Melancholia is therefore a characteristic state of cultural modernity.1
       Broncano explains that the categorization of phenomena as natural or artificial may have important moral, social, and political consequences, as, for example, when the origins of global warming are attributed to natural causes or to human activity, and when such social categories as gender, race, and ethnicity are attributed to natural or to socially constructed factors. The concept of a “natural” origin of a particular moral or religious mission may be a source of radical fundamentalism. On the other hand, the theory that all human categories are socially constructed may lead to radical skepticism or relativism.2
      One objection to the concept that we are all cyborgs is that cyborgs may be viewed as mere products of capitalism, as things that are designed or destined to become obsolete, like computers or electronic mobile devices. But Broncano argues that cyborgs are actually condemned not to obsolescence, but to loss of access to various cultural spaces, depending on how long their prostheses continue to allow them access to those cultural spaces.3
      Cyborgs belong to a class of beings that attempt to reconcile the antagonism between the natural and the artificial. In the 1980’s, they became part of the popular iconography of Hollywood, extraordinary beings composed of natural and artificial parts, in such films as Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator (1984) and RoboCop (1987).
      Donna Haraway, in her essay “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” (1991) describes cyborgs as cybernetic organisms, hybrids of organic and inorganic parts. They are beings in whom nature and culture have been reworked, so that nature is no longer the resource for appropriation or incorporation by culture.4 They are also beings in whom not only the boundary between human and animal, but also the boundary between organism and machine has been breached.5
      Broncano says that Haraway describes cyborgs as symbols of the multifold and diverse identities of women, and as having many different social roles. He also says that Haraway seeks to reclaim for women what had previously been stigmatized: the natural in the feminine, the corporeal, the emotional, the maternal, closeness to the world, and the care of things.6
      Broncano concludes that melancholia is not a state of disenchantment, but a state of knowledge or wisdom. Modern melancholia is the melancholia of unrealized possibilities. It is therefore not a kind of infirmity or malady, but the very nature of frontier beings.7


1Fernando Broncano, La melancholia del ciborg (Barcelona: Herder Editorial, 2009), pp. 24-25.
2Ibid., p. 29.
3Ibid., p. 42.
4Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 151.
5Ibid., p. 151.
6Broncano, La melancholia del ciborg, p. 43.
7Ibid., 277

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