Domain Errors!

By Josephine Berry, 12 January 2004

Josephine Berry reviews Domain Errors!This collection of essays, whose editors worked in collaboration with the cyberfeminist group of activists and theorists, subRosa, is largely a work of redress. Begun in ’99, its intention has been to ‘initiate a feminist and postcolonial critique of embodiment, difference, and racial prejudice within cyberspace, biotechnologies and cyberfeminism.’ This easy to read paperback is without doubt a useful vehicle for the popularisation of such a critical project. What is disappointing, though, is that its writers so often cast the technological spectrum and associated conditions as a force to be combatted, an assault to be parried. Despite the writers’ refreshing reminders of older techniques such as self-help and consciousness raising groups, spiritually oriented therapies (Reiki), and refusal per se, their severance from all but the communicative possibilities digital technologies offer amounts to a failure of vision. One is left wondering where the ‘cyber’ – a prefix that still retains some vestige of its original futurity – meets the feminism. Or more accurately how refusal could be joined to any progressive idea of how these technologies might be deployed. A key text which seems to highlight the reactionary streak running through the book is subRosa’s ‘Stolen Rhetoric: the Appropriation of Choice by ART [Assisted Reproductive Technologies] Industries’. This concerns the hijack of 1970s feminist struggles for control over reproduction and sexuality by the biotech industry, which transforms the unrealised dream of freedom from biological destiny into the profitability of ‘reproductive liberalism’ encapsulated by the mantra: ‘A woman’s right to choose’. In their zeal to expose the cynical logic of the industry, subRosa end up advancing a hopelessly vague programme premised on the defence of ‘women’s bodily sovereignty’. SubRosa proposes the sharing of knowledge about ‘sexual and reproductive options’ using information networks and performative practices. This is a far cry from the audacity of radical feminists such as Shulamith Firestone who, in the mid-’60s, envisaged a dismantling of patriarchal capitalism premised on the total biotechnological control over reproduction that was doubtless in the offing. A vision that subRosa dismisses as ‘too compromised to be useful to feminists any longer.’

But in a curious way, both positions are comparably absolutist: Firestone’s evangelism of the technological fix is inversely mirrored by subRosa’s rejection of any technological invasion of ‘bodily sovereignty’. In both cases, the female embodied subject is understood as (at least potentially) in full possession of herself. This possessive individualism belies appeals made by both to the integrative powers of connection, collectivities and networks of solidarity. But where Firestone prophesised a cyborgian and cooperative assemblage of technology, flesh and society, the cyberfeminists in this book appear to restrict the progressive functioning of digital technologies to the realm of communication alone. The highly complex moment at which the communication of bodies, (digitally encoded) information, and matter (organic and inorganic) meet is never sufficiently tackled. Given the research being done into the non-linear and nonteleological character of reproduction and evolution (see Luciana Parisi’s ‘Abstract Sex’ in this issue, p. 42) the diversion of cyberfeminist energies into a defence of a notionally natural bodily sovereignty seems misguided. But even a more tangible discussion of how the networked capacity of computing power (databasing, sequencing, compiling) and science might, through social ownership, be brought to bear on ecological problems or the control of diseases etc., would have been welcome.

If Domain Errors! fails to offer a diversity of analysis, it certainly offers a diversity of styles and concerns: Lucia Sommer on the commodification of children, Irina Aristarkhova’s psychogram of Moscow, Rhadika Gajjala & Annapurna Mamidipudi’s exchange about Indian communities of production, and Faith Wilding’s hilarious ‘Rant of the Menopausal Cyborg’ are just some of them.

Josephine Berry Slater

Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices // eds. Maria Fernandez, Faith Wilding and Michelle M. Wright // Autonomedia // 2002 //ISBN: 1-57027-141-0

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