Haraway and the Cyborgs of ‘Big Wheel’

In the chapter of Global Frequency entitled ‘Big Wheel’, the reader is introduced to two cyborgs.  The first cyborg that the reader is introduced to is Agent 436, a former CIA operative with cybernetic enhancements, such as an enhanced arm.  The second cyborg is Quinn, a full-bodied cyborg who has compromised the facility by essentially running rampant, which leads Miranda Zero and her team to infiltrate the facility in the first place, with the goal of killing Quinn.

In A Manifesto for Cyborgs, Haraway argues “There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices. Gender, race, or class-consciousness is an achievement forced on us by the terrible historical experience of the contradictory social realities of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism (154).”  In simpler words, Haraway is arguing that gender is a social construct, an idea or concept, more so than anything biological.  Yes, there are inherent biological differences in the sexes, but sex is different than gender.  With this in mind, the introduction of Agent 436 is particularly interesting as she is wearing a jacket that covers both her arm and her breasts.  The reader learns from Miranda Zero that 436 is female, but if the reader hadn’t been given that text, her gender at this point would be completely ambiguous.  436’s appearance diverges from the societal norm of what is ‘female’; 436 has a short hair cut, broad shoulders and large muscles, all traits that society has traditionally given to males.

When 436 removes her jacket and reveals her arm, the arm is rough and jagged with metal jutting out.  Notably, the two females in the team look on in serious fashion, not displaying very much emotion.  However, the two males on the team are visibly uncomfortable by the sight of 436’s arm.  Furthermore, 436 is positioned in the foreground as a divide between the two males and two females, differentiating her from both genders.  While the male’s reaction can be attributed to the gruesome appearance of her arm, it is important that the men are uncomfortable and the women are not.  Perhaps this is because 436’s enhancements challenge the patriarchy Haraway discusses.  With her bodily enhancements and superhuman strength, 436 is challenging the patriarchy because through her enhancements she is directly challenging the concept of ‘female’.

While 436 still appears human, Quinn on the other hand, does not.  He is entirely gruesome, his appearance resembling flesh soldered to metal, almost none of his appearance resembling a human.  The reader is given slight glimpses of Quinn’s form along with details of his functions until he is fully unveiled over an entire page that contains no dialogue.  The reader is supposed to linger on this page to fully take in his appearance.  Unlike so many contemporary depictions of cyborgs that are clean and sterile, Quinn is monstrous.  When Miranda Zero attempts to reason with Quinn, he responds, “I can’t even goddamn talk like a normal man–let me out of here I need to take a plane, a plane–need to stop this happening again god I can feel metal scraping inside me.”  It’s notable that Quinn doesn’t say ‘like a normal person’, he explicitly says man.  He later states, “They took my genitals away.  Can you make that better?  There’s a wire in my brain that simulates sexual pleasure when I kill people.  That’s all I have now.”  In this moment, Quinn can be seen as a stand in for the patriarchy Haraway criticizes.  A large part of what Quinn’s concept of what a ‘man’ is seems to be based on his genitals, or there lack of.  Quinn considers gender to be inexplicably related to biology, which as earlier discussed, Haraway rejects.  In this moment, Ellis questions the reader about whether or not Quinn can even be considered as a ‘male’ and more importantly, human.

So, it is all the more interesting that of all of the members of the team, 436 is the only member that is able to understand why Quinn went on his rampage, stating, “You’re a multiple amputee who’s been flayed alive.  You can’t feel your own heartbeat.  You can’t feel yourself breathe.  You can feel metal rubbing against your muscles and organs.  And you don’t recognize the man in the mirror.”  436 is female, but is able to emphasize with Quinn’s situation because she herself is a cyborg; the males on the team cannot understand Quinn because they lack the shared experience of 436 and Quinn.  In this sense, the reason 436 is able to emphasize with Quinn isn’t because of gender, it is because of something entirely different, the state of the cyborg.

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2 Responses to Haraway and the Cyborgs of ‘Big Wheel’

  1. specifictortoise says:

    With this issue, I can’t help but think that both Quinn’s personality and the specific modifications they give him were part of what (conveniently for the story) made him into a monster. Quinn’s main motivation being that he’s not (what he considers) a man anymore makes me think he had a vain personality and/or a life that he’s angry he can’t go back to, and that his obsession with his male/human identity might be what Ellis is pinning as a vice. Add to that the fact that his cyborg form is unnecessarily inhuman/monstrous (leaving the deformed face and skin exposed seems both impractical and unnecessarily cruel) and it seems like a lot of poor choices were made at Big Wheel.

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  2. danwillisdan says:

    In recent years, sex (not just gender) has been increasingly observed as socially constructed. A more visible spokesperson for this belief is Alice Dreger. Here’s a TED talk of hers on the subject:

    With that in mind, it might not be that 436 is redefining her sex, but casting aside that definition entirely. Her sex-neutral name, the fact that her sex/gender is never addressed, as well as the fact that her status as a cyborg supersedes her status as a woman make her seem less like an atypical woman and more like a character who exists outside of constrictive definitions like ‘female’.

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