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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cyborgs and Prosthetics

Medieval scholars, engineers and artists may not have conceived of the word "cyborg," but they were certainly thinking about how technology and the body related to one another, how the body could be changed, enhanced, and reconceptualized with technology. We are no less concerned with these issues in today's digital age and we continue to challenge traditional notions of the limits of the body and the meaning of words such as "disabled," "whole," or "beauty." Aimee Mullins gives an excellent lecture about adversity and how we define disability on TED, and January's issue of National Geographic featured an article on bionics that completely challenges the way our culture thinks about disability and prosthetics.

Shakespeare too was interested in this definition when he wrote "Richard III" about a man whose physical deformity is never stable, neither historically or in the play, and is constantly performed and manipulated by Richard to achieve diabolical ends and other characters to villanize him. In our version of the play, Queen Margaret is also going to become a female cyborg, finding new limitations and as well as agency through her physical handicap and use of technology to compensate for it.

Here are a few of my favorite cyborg images:

16th century gadget people.

Prosthetics meets weaponry.

Tammy Duckworth is a veteran of the Iraq War who lost both of her legs in combat. Today, she is Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

A robotic prosthetic arm.

Duckworth and President Barack Obama.

Aimee Mullins and one of her many pairs of (gorgeous) legs. Although aimee was told that she would never walk due to her missing fibulae in both legs, she has become a celebrated athlete, model, actress and role model for people with disabilities and women.

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