Contemporary discussions about gender in cyberspace often rely on assumptions about the immanently liberatory potential of technology. Undoubtedly much of this enthusiasm for technology has been generated by Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” the foundational essay on cyborg subjectivity. Haraway embraces technology’s disruption of such previously stable borders as that between the organism and the machine. She is making “an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries... an effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the tradition of imagining a world without gender” (Haraway 150). But amid all the enthusiasm for a postgender cyberspace, it is important to remember that Haraway is not the first to imagine a world without gender in the coupling of humans and machines. The writers of the Futurist movement of the early twentieth century precede her vision, but to achieve it they called for the elimination of the feminine.
In an essay entitled “War, Sole Hygiene of the World,” the premiere theorist of the Italian Futurist movement, F. T. Marinetti, “specifies that the ideal universe remains devoid of women, consisting only of men and machines” (Orban 56). The passage creates a troubling obstacle for theories of the cyborg which attempt to establish a connection between the disappearance of the techno/organic boundary and the disappearance of gender. Perhaps for that reason, the Futurist roots of the cyborg have been largely ignored in the hope that the technological advances which have made the cyborg “our ontology” (Haraway 150) have eliminated Marinetti’s misogyny.
Instead of ignoring the Futurist roots of the cyborg, I have chosen to explore alternatives to the misogyny inherent in Marinetti’s writings on Futurism. The Russian Futurists, for example, though their platform was very similar to the Italians’ in their hatred of bourgeois conventions, differed remarkably in two areas which the Italians saw as fundamental for escaping those conventions: the glorification of war and the demonization of women. Particularly in the work of Dziga Vertov, filmmaker and theorist of the early Soviet era, the anti-feminist stance of the Italian Futurists is rejected in favor of a representational strategy that privileges women as filmic subjects without reinforcing patterns of visual pleasure that support bourgeois patriarchal ideology. In what follows I will examine the traces of Futurism that inform Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929) and discuss the way that Vertov’s cyborg construction, the Kino Eye, destabilizes the gender hierarchy that underlies bourgeois capitalism without eliminating women from the world of the text. By foregrounding its own process of production, and displaying both men and women involved in creating the film, Man With a Movie Camera radically departs from the bourgeois conventions which all Futurists despised; but it does so without scapegoating women.
Man With a Movie Camera is the result of Vertov’s ten-year effort to work out a theory of technologically-assisted vision. “Kino-Eye” is the name he gave to his the ory, and it involves not only a disappearance of the border between the camera and the eye but a dissolution in the stages separating the process of film production as well. Vertov’s cameraman and brother, Mikhail Kaufman, appears in the film as often as Vertov’s editor and wife, Elizaveta Svilova. As a historical representation of the cyborg that promotes strategies for minimizing the hierarchical stratification of gender, the film serves as a model for contemporary discussions of postgender cyberspace . Rather than eliminating one or both genders in a human/machine merger, Vertov balances the masculine and feminine contributions to the production of meaning in what may be the first revolutionary cybertext, Man With a Movie Camera, with th e first revolutionary cyborg, the Kino-Eye.
The Futurist Roots of the Cyborg
After being conquered by Futurist eyes our multiplied sensibilities will at last hear with Futurist ears. In this way the motors and machines of our industrial cities will one day be consciously attuned, so that every factory will be transformed into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.—Luigi Russolo
Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” outlines a number of boundaries that have been broken...