Heidegger and 436’s Actually Kind of Icky Cyborg Arm

My moment comes from the second issue, when Global Frequency assembles to handle Richard Quinn, the rampaging cyborg tearing through Big Wheel.  Miranda Zero tells the newly-arrived agents they’ll be following 436’s lead.  The specific moment is when 436 reveals herself to be a cyborg, too, on the fourth and fifth pages.  “Bioelectric enhancements are cranky,” she says.  “It’s not a case of just sticking an artificial arm on.”  I want to talk about this moment in relation to Heidegger’s idea of modern technology “challenging nature.”  With his idea of standing reserve, he argues that modern technology fundamentally changes nature, using the specific example of a hydroelectric plant on the Rhine as enframing nature to be used as a resource.  He also warns against enframing humanity.

436 has been enframed with her bionic arm.  Miranda tells the other GF agents that 436 is “recently ex-CIA.”  From this, we can infer that her bionic arm was meant to turn her into a more effective agent, a better resource for the CIA to use.  By enframing 436, the CIA challenged nature in both a larger sense and in a narrower, specific sense.  Improving the human body in the first place is to say that nature didn’t make humanity good enough, and that we’ve gotten to the point where we can facilitate our own evolution, outpacing and outdoing nature.  436 talks about the more specific sense: giving her a cyborg arm puts strain on, challenges, the rest of her body.  She needed enhancements to her bones, muscles, skin, spine, and brain, and those only account for what she specifically mentions, with the implication that there’s even more to it.  The comic’s art allows us to see that the arm is actually kind of disgusting, a reaction evident in the other GF agents’ faces when she first takes off her jacket to reveal it.  The plates patchwork, there are gaps between the combination of metal, bone, and sinew, and what skin is there is desiccated and inflamed.  We see it mostly stretched out from two angles as 436 flexes it.  Miranda Zero remains collected as ever, but the other agents are at the very least uncomfortable looking at it.  436 makes the foreshadowing explicit: if her single arm is that gross and disturbing, and required that much stress on the body, Quinn’s appearance is even more revolting because his entire body is enhanced.

I think this moment is important because we’re not used to cyborg enhancements in fiction being so drastically deforming.  Usually these enhancements are pretty clean, maybe with some scarring where a more obvious arm or leg is attached at a joint.  But Ellis has thought it through a bit more according to the limits of the human body and the capabilities of early 21st century technology.  The science is rational; the human body is only designed to withstand so much, and any cyborg prosthesis would put stresses on the rest of the body, would have to be integrated into the nervous system with invasive brain surgery, etc.  Though I talked about this moment in the context of Heidegger, it also reminds me of Haraway’s notion that achieving the cyborg is not inherently utopian.  436’s arm is unsettling, but Quinn is downright monstrous.  Ellis subverts the traditional “being a cyborg is awesome and creating them isn’t that hard” line of thought.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call Quinn a cautionary tale, but I think his fate is a reminder that there’s more to think about in these matters than we might believe at first.

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4 Responses to Heidegger and 436’s Actually Kind of Icky Cyborg Arm

  1. djs125 says:

    You bring up some very interesting points here that I didn’t think of when I was reading this issue. I never thought about what we usually consider a cyborg to look like and when we look at 436, she isn’t what we pictured and then when we see Quinn, he really isn’t what we imagined. After I read you post, I couldn’t stop thinking about Terminator and how that’s what we picture cyborgs to look like, not putting any stress on the body but only enhancing and making it better. But your outlook and Ellis’ outlook on what a cyborg would look like and how it would perform is very different and almost more realistic because of what you said, the body can only handle so much. You insights to Ellis’ comic and Heidegger’s piece are very different from mine but nevertheless they are good and I now have more to see when I read them and think about them for later use in my own work.

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  2. tspace22 says:

    I really enjoyed your post and wrote about similar themes in my own. One aspect of this chapter I found to be notable that could be of interest to you was the aspect of gender. In the panel where 436 reveals her arm to the team, Zero and the other woman both seem to be unemotional, whereas the other two mean are extremely uncomfortable by the sight of 436’s cyborg arm. If 436’s body was enframed by the CIA perhaps that could be a consideration in analyzing why the men reacted this way. Yes, the arm is gruesome and hard to look at, but you can also look at it as 436 challenging the notion of a ‘woman’, therefore directly challenging the patriarchal power. I read this chapter with Haraway in mind so my close reading took a feminist turn for obvious reasons, but when you argue that the CIA challenged nature by granting 436 a cyborg arm, I would consider gender to be an aspect of nature.

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  3. shhairah says:

    I enjoyed what you had to say in this, specifically through the idea that we are in a way speeding up evolution and human nature. In reading this I moved past the idea that it brought about so much pain and strain on the humans themselves and as such needed additional enhancements to even handle these cyborg components. I also really appreciate these ideas of technology and the gender experience that tspace22 brought up, because in reading this post and comments it highlighted this fact that the cyborgs are becoming something else entirely and as such do not conform to the traditional gender views or human existence. It’s almost as if they are not only transforming humans but transcending them as well.

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  4. danwillisdan says:

    One of Harraway’s main projects with her Manifesto for Cyborgs was, in a sort of proto-queer methodology, the destruction of identity binaries like man/woman and nature/technology. It’s interesting, then, that you note Big Wheel’s rejection of the classical cyborg and its ‘clean’ distinctions. By emphasizing the ways that bionic additions can necessitate the modification of flesh and vice versa, the book really suggests that the process becoming a cyborg isn’t simply about tacking machines on to flesh, but is a mutually transformative collaboration that complicates a lot of sacred distinctions.

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