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Genealogy of the Cyborg: Katsumi Hara's "Body Part Complement Plan -- We Will Become Complete Cyborgs"

Yuki Shimada
Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Culture, Media and Society)

Having your body connected to a machine - if this is called a "cyborg," whether it is for pleasure or not, we have no choice but live on the basis of the image of a cyborg body. That can be clearly seen in works such as "Ghost in the Shell" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion" being the huge hit, and in everyday life when we are "connected" to machines such as pacemakers, artificial limbs, Wii and iPhone etc.

So, when did we become conscious that organic bodies and lifeless machines, that originally had reciprocal existences, could coexist? Donna Haraway, well known for "A Cyborg Manifesto," says that the existence of humans as "a hybrid of machine and organism" appeared in the latter half of the 20th century. But, according to Hara, the foundations of that body image plan (program) had already begun in the first half of the century. If cyborg creation were to occur through "boundary violations" of machine and body, the "numerical labeling" of body form and inner functions by measuring instruments, "reducing of inorganic and organic matter to a common denominator" by "high frequency electric currents," and the "enabling of part exchanges" of the body would have to be present in the prior process.

The characteristic points of this book don't stop there. With deep knowledge of media theory, popular science magazines are being analyzed as the supply source of the cyborg image. By conveying the vanguard of science objectively, the image of the body that people through the eras vaguely embraced can be reconciled in academic results. This is the role that popular magazines have been burdened with. Because of that, Hara doesn't forget to take into account the photos accompanying the articles. A cockroach hooked up to a heartbeat measuring device to measure the effects of insecticide, radio broadcasts of a human heartbeat, experiments involving keeping the freshly severed head of a dog alive by connecting it to an artificial heart, telepathic transmission experiments using high frequency electric currents, etc. This book uses many such photos reporting on these, and gives a thorough analysis. The experiments themselves, we may, today, laugh off as trials conducted by mad scientists, but the scenes in the photos would have the impact of making people of that time aware, visually, of "boundary violations" of the body and machines.

However, these types of experiments leave us with a certain bad taste in our mouths. In regards to the title of this book which reminds us of "The Human Complement Plan" in "Neon Genesis Evangelion," the author wrote this in the postscript. In aiming for "completeness," whether one decides to "complement" the body or not is up to the individual, but "when other people, for whatever reason, designate a specific condition we must be extremely careful in acknowledging it as incomplete."

After following the genealogy of cyborgs, how will we now view desire of continuing to strive for "completeness," and the media which presents them?

Katsumi Hara "Body Part Complement Plan - We Will Become Complete Cyborgs" Seidosha 2010

Yuki Shimada
Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Culture, Media and Society)

Graduated from German Literature Department of Faculty of Humanities, Ibaraki University, and entered current post after time in Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. Majors in body image and media theory. Published titles include "Dressing Up" (coauthored, Suiseisha), "Master German Grammar in 30 Days" (coauthored, Natsumesha), and published articles, "Symbolization and Dotting of Condoms - <Bio-politics> in Aids Prevention Campaigns Since 1987" (in "Waseda Blätter")etc.