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Reading review is a summary and an evaluation of you assigned reading. Understanding the main points and arguments of your chosen article and composing an accurate summation is the goal of this assignment. After choosing One articles that interests you the most from your weekly readings, you are expected to logically evaluate your article’s main theme, supporting arguments, and implications. 


AHVS337: READING REVIEW

KEEP IN MIND THAT IT IS ALWAYS FAR MORE DIFFICULT TO FORMULATE SENTENCES ABOUT THE CONTENT OF A READING THAN IT IS TO UNDERSTAND THE INFORMATION/ IDEAS WHEN READING IT. AND REPRODUCING THE INFORMATION/ IDEAS IN YOUR OWN WORDS IS WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN THIS ASSIGNMENT.

OUTLINE / HEADINGS:

1) Summary 2) Main Points 3) Sources 4) Reading Experience 5) New Knowledge

6) Questions 7) Terminology

DETAILS:
1) Summary: Summarize in a paragraph or two, the article / book / reading as a whole

2) Main Points: What is (are) the main point(s) made in this reading?

2.i) If applicable, what is a secondary point made by the author?

2.ii) If applicable, what ideas/interpretations/theoretical frameworks is the writer countering, challenging or augmenting?

3) Sources: What kinds of sources does the author draw on?

3.i) Are they academic; popular; oral; personal? Written, visual, aural?

3.ii) If academic, are they anthropological, historical or literary? Are they primary documents (archival texts, or from material culture, like art objects) or secondary documents? Are they written or oral, archival, daily media, other?

3.iii) If applicable, how is this approach different from earlier/other methods of study you are familiar with, in this area or discipline?

4) Reading Experience: How did you experience reading this essay/article?

1. 4.i)  … in terms of its writing style

2. 4.ii)  … in terms of how convincingly the argument was presented and backed up

3. 4.iii)  What would your main critique of the article be, on both positive and negative sides?

5) New Knowledge: List 3 things you learned that you did not know before


6) Terminology: List 3 foreign or technical – /discipline specific terms you found in this

article and give their definition


7) Question: Formulate a question
you would like to ask the author if you met him/her informally, say at a café or at a friend’s party

Readings for each week will be posted on Brightspace. Length: 2-1/2–3 pp. double or 1-1/2 spaced, Times New Roman 12 point, margins 3⁄4 all around.

SF-TH Inc

Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell”
Author(s): Carl Silvio
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 54-72
Published by: SF-TH Inc
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54 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 26 (1999)

OTHER ARTICLES

Carl Silvio

Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s
Ghost in the Shell

In 1985, Donna Haraway first published “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science,
Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” an “iro-
nic political myth” which theorized the liberatory potential inherent in women’s
interactions with information technology. While well aware of the role such
technology plays in the maintenance of social control and patriarchy, Haraway
refuses its demonization, opting instead to hold two contradictory attitudes
concerning cyborgs in tension throughout her essay. Though the cyborg, “a
hybrid of machine and organism” (149), may represent the final imposition of
information technology as a means of social control, it may also be potentially
recoded and appropriated by feminism as a means of dismantling the binarisms
and categorical ways of thinking that have characterized the history of Western
culture. The cyborg, in other words, serves as a representational figure that
embodies the capacity of information technologies to erase gender and racial
boundaries and the structures of oppression which have historically accompa-
nied them. Simultaneously, it also paradigmatically stands for what Mary Ann
Doane refers to as the “individuous network of invisible power relationships
made possible through high technology” (211). As Doane observes, despite
Haraway’s attempt to hold these two perspectives in tension, “the radical
cyborg ultimately seems to win out” (211). Haraway, by this account, finally
seems to endorse the cyborg as an imaginary figuration of a posthuman, post-
gendered subject who has slipped the bonds of dominant culture.

In the thirteen years since Haraway’s article first appeared, this fantasy
seems to have acquired a great deal of currency in the popular media as well.
A recent MCI commercial which proclaims the internet as a “utopian” space
devoid of race, gender, age, or infirmity, attests to the growing popularity of
this idea, the increasing belief that information technology and “cyberspace”
are bringing us ever closer to a world free of social inequity. Usually lost in
such corporate endorsements of cyberspace, however, is the other half of
Haraway’s argument, the sense that the cyborg equally figures the potential for
increased social domination inherent in such new technology. Consequently,
not all cultural analysts share in this burgeoning enthusiasm for the new
frontier. Anne Balsamo, for instance, argues that, while cyberspace and other
instances of cyborg culture seem “to represent a territory free from the burdens
of history, it will, in effect, serve as another site for the technological and no
less conventional inscription of the gendered, race-marked body” (131). By her

REFIGURING THE RADICAL CYBORG 55

account, despite the fact that these technological advancements hold out the
promise of new identities, they have thus far actually delivered what she terms
“the rearticulation of old identities to new technologies” (131). In light of this,
Balsamo conceives her role as a feminist to lie in unraveling this process of
rearticulation by connecting “seemingly isolated moments of discourse into a
narrative that helps us make sense of [cultural] transformations as they emerge”
(161).

I am particularly interested in Balsamo’s suggestion that the popular
discourse surrounding cyborg culture promises something other than what it
provides. It is not, in other words, simply that the increasingly complex
interfaces between human and machine work to reify traditional dichotomies
of gender, but that their various articulations within our social imaginary
present them as exactly the opposite. There is thus what might be called an
element of seduction at work, whereby information technology often presents
itself to us as potentially liberating when in fact our actual interactions with it
often reinforce conventional social structures of domination.

Pop-cultural representations of the cyborg participate in this seduction by
serving as part of what Gabriele Schwab terms “the fantasmatic aspects of the
technological imagination”-that is, the ways in which such representations
“become a field of cathexis, an imaginary screen onto which psychic energies
from the most archaic to the most up-to-date may be projected” (68). The
figure of the cyborg thus represents an imaginary projection into the realm of
popular fiction, a trope invested with cultural anxieties and beliefs about
contemporary technology. But such fictions, of course, function in society as
more than the representation of cultural attitudes; they also perform ideological
operations by shaping and reinforcing current belief systems as well. Fictional
representations of the cyborg therefore provide ideal sites for the examination
of how the interface with technology can be presented to us as liberating, as
what Althusser would call “an imaginary representation of the relation of
individuals to their real conditions of existence” (123), while simultaneously
naturalizing and buttressing existing social relations. It should be noted,
however, that this process of naturalization may not work in the automatic way
that Althusser’s model has often been criticized for suggesting. Following
Raymond Williams, I wish to view the fictional representation of the cyborg
as an ideological site that works “toward the setting of limits and the exertion
of pressure and away from a predicted, prefigured and controlled content”
(380).

It is not, however, always the case that the image of the cyborg appeals to
a hope for social justice while our actual material interactions with technology,
our “real conditions of existence,” further entangle us within networks of
domination. Oftentimes, this drama is played out entirely within the realm of
the social imaginary itself. In these cases, the radical cyborg is both validated
and made to serve the interests of the dominant within a single fictional text.
Such texts present and seem to endorse the radical cyborg, an image resonant
with liberatory possibilities which solicits a belief in technology’s capacity to
provide social justice, while simultaneously using this image to support existing

56 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 26 (1999)

structures of cultural hegemony. The radical cyborg thus imaginarily gratifies
various liberatory fantasies which have, in a sense, already been coded in the
terms of the dominant because they have been naturalized within the social
imaginary itself.

I contend that Mamoru Oshii’s animated cyberpunk film Ghost in the Shell
works in just such a way. In what follows, I will examine how this film, a
fascinating example of Japanese animation (or anime), participates in the
seductive appeal of the radical cyborg. I will argue that it functions as an
inverse of Jean-Louis Comolli’s “fifth type” of ideological film, a film which
“seem[s] at first sight to belong firmly within the [dominant] ideology and to
be completely under its sway, but which turn[s] out to be so only in an
ambiguous manner” (Comolli 27). For Comolli, such films “throw up obstacles
in the way of ideology, causing it to swerve and get off course” (27). Ghost in
the Shell, by contrast, appears at first sight to subvert radically the power
dynamics inherent in dominant structures of gender and sexual difference,
while covertly reinscribing them.

It could be argued that cyberpunk lends itself perfectly to just such an
ideological process. Several critics have accused its literary manifestations of
failing adequately to represent feminist issues and concerns despite the fact that
its depictions of the interaction between humans and technology seem to offer
just such a promise. Karen Cadora claims that “Cyberpunk’s deconstruction of
the human body first appeared to signal a revolution in political art. However,
closer examinations of the movement have revealed that its politics are anything
but revolutionary” (357). For Cadora, cyberpunk is “very much a boy’s club”
(357), its writers guilty of providing few female protagonists and reiterating
feminine stereotypes (357-358). She thus calls for a “feminist cyberpunk,” a
development which “envisions something that feminist theory badly needs:
fragmented subjects who can, despite their multiple positionings, negotiate and
succeed in a high-tech world” (357). At first glance, Ghost in the Shell appears
to offer something akin to this model by providing us with a fragmented female
subject who seems to correspond to what Cadora envisions. In spite of this,
however, I believe that the film re-enacts the same failure that Cadora locates
in earlier cyberpunk texts-that is, the failure to deliver on its revolutionary
promise.

The film, in other words, gives an outlet and a voice to the liberatory
potential of the cyborg, to Haraway’s “ironic political myth faithful to
feminism” (149), while simultaneously containing that potential by re-narrating
it within another older and better known myth: the dominance of masculine
mind and spirit over the feminine materiality of the body. By focusing on the
main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female cyborg, and her adversary,
The Puppet Master, a life form made of pure data, I hope to provide the critical
“opening up” of the text which reveals its reactionary agenda. Because I wish
to analyze this film in terms of how it functions as an instrument of ideological
containment that seems to be subversive on its “surface” while contextualizing
that subversion within a traditional paradigm of sexual difference, my argument
will take the form of a dual reading. I will first read the film as a progressive

REFIGURING THE RADICAL CYBORG 57

representation of the cyborg that challenges dominant culture in order to
demonstrate how it creates the illusion that the dominant is really being
challenged. I will then re-consider this reading by re-examining the film in
order to show how its subversive potential has been, in effect, de-fanged and
redirected to serve more conservative interests.

I should stress, however, that my examination will focus on how this film
functions ideologically within the context of American popular culture and that
the subsequent reading will necessarily treat the translated version in relation
to this culturally specific locale. While the context of the film’s original
production may at first seem to mitigate against such a reading, Analee Newitz
observes that “Although anime does often strike us as utterly different, or
‘other,’ it also quite noticeably resembles-and is influenced by-American
culture and generic narratives” (3). Given this resemblance, particularly in
terms of thematic content, the consideration of the ideological implications of
this film within the context of cyberpunk fiction in America seems both
appropriate and legitimate. Significantly, Newitz goes on to claim that the
“stake[s] for Americans watching anime [are] certainly bound up with gender
identity….” (4). While Japanese anime, in general, may have a predominantly
“cult” appeal in the United States, being consumed by a largely “alternative
culture” (Newitz 3), Ghost in the Shell appears to have been designed for
mainstream consumption. I believe that its popularity in the United States
makes an analysis of the film’s ideological operations in terms of American
cultural norms entirely appropriate.

I. The Radical Cyborg
I would like to begin my first reading by considering how Major Kusanagi’s

cybernetic construction works within the narrative both to reverse traditional
gender roles and, sometimes, to efface them completely. Kusanagi, referred to
in the film as “Major,” lives in the year 2029. Her body, a composite of
organic tissue and machinery complete with enhanced senses, strength, and
reflexes,2has been manufactured by Megatech, a corporation which specializes
in the production of high-tech cyborg “shells.” Her mind, or “ghost,” consists
of organic brain cells housed in the titanium shell of her skull and augmented
by a supplemental computer brain, an arrangement which allows her to
interface directly with computer systems and sometimes access, or “ghost
hack,” the minds of other cyborgs. Major, whose original body-the source for
her organic brain-never figures in the plot, works as a special agent for
Section Nine, a branch of what appears to be the Japanese government (it is
never clearly specified) that deals in espionage and counter-terrorism; she is
considered to be one of that agency’s best operatives. Her incredible compe-
tence at her job and her positioning as the narrative’s central protagonist
effectively invert the gender roles conventionally allocated to fictional
characters and afford Kusanagi a degree of narrative agency, an agency which,
significantly, is bound up with her cybernetic construction.

Kusanagi’s centrality within this narrative can be seen most clearly in the
contrast between her and Togusa, one of her male partners. Togusa, a recent

58 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 26 (1999)

addition to Section Nine from the regular police force, is almost entirely
human, having a completely organic body and a brain which has merely been
supplemented with “a few cybernetic implants” that allow him to access the
data-net. Major’s enhanced cyborg body, however, enables her to perform
athletic and martial feats that consistently outstrip anything of which Togusa is
capable. This increased ability in combat effectively positions her as his
superior, though there is never any direct indication that she in any way
officially outranks him. Thus, even the most cursory first reading of the film
suggests that cyborg technology has endowed a female character with a marked
degree of power and positioned Togusa in the more “feminized” role of
inferiority.3 Major makes the decisions in their partnership while Togusa finds
himself relegated to the role of “sidekick.” While Balsamo claims that
“cyberspace heroes are usually men, whose racial identity, although rarely
described, is contextually white” (131), one could argue that Ghost in the Shell
challenges this paradigm by deploying an Asian cyborg woman as the hero of
its plot.4

While this film may present the cyborg as a vehicle for the inversion of
gender roles, its most significant and interesting challenge to patriarchal modes
of authority can be located in its valorization of the posthuman, post-gendered
subject. This text seems literally to enact Haraway’s advocacy of “pleasure in
the confusion of boundaries,” her conception of the cyborg as part of a “uto-
pian tradition of imagining a world without gender” (150). In Haraway’s terms,

There is nothing about being “female” that naturally binds women. There is not even
such as 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. (155)

Haraway thus values the cyborg for its capacity to dismantle the traditional
humanist subject, a figure whose sense of identity is derived from attri-
butes-such as sex or gender-that supposedly adhere in the ontology of his or

REFIGURING THE RADICAL CYBORG 59

her being, but which have actually been socially constructed and ideologically
naturalized. While the cyborg can easily (and usually does) represent cultural
anxieties and fears about the loss of coherent subjectivity, Haraway prizes it
precisely for its potential to contest this essentialism and expose its status as an
ideological construct.

Ghost in the Shell dramatizes both of these possibilities through its two
main characters, Kusanagi and The Puppet Master, who can be read as
allegories of each position respectively. While the film eventually comes (or so
it seems) to privilege Major’s cyborgian ontology as a vehicle of liberation, in
the first half of the narrative she must initially confront the terrifying loss of
subjectivity that her identity seems to imply. The Puppet Master, or Project
2051, can be read as a less equivocal representation of how technology can
enable one to transcend the prescriptive limits of our contemporary social
environment.

Early in the film, Kusanagi undergoes a profound humanist crisis
concerning her cybernetic construction and what it suggests about her identity.
Despite her success as an operative, Major is acutely aware that her entire
sense of self and consciousness are inseparable from the organization to which
she belongs; it has supplied all the hardware and software that make her who
she is and can repossess them should she ever decide to quit. In a pivotal
scene, Kusanagi and Botau, a fellow cyborg employed by Section Nine, discuss
the implications of this fact. When Major complains that their cybernetic shells
and auxiliary computer brains are all technically owned by others, Botau
responds that “It doesn’t mean that we’ve sold our souls to Section Nine.” In
response, she claims that

We do have the right to resign if we choose. Provided we give back our cyborg
shells and the memories they hold. Just as there are many parts needed to make a
human a human, there’s a remarkable number of things needed to make an individual
what they are. A face to distinguish yourself from others. A voice you aren’t aware
of yourself. The hands you see when you awaken. The memories of childhood, the
feelings of the future. That’s not all. There’s the expanse of the data-net my cyber
brain can access. All of that goes into making me what I am, giving rise to a
consciousness that I call me. And simultaneously confining me within set limits.

These remarks harken back to what Haraway terms the “informatics of
domination,” the “rearrangements of world-wide social relations tied to science
and technology” (161). According to the logic of this new arrangement, the
constitutive components of our lives, including our identities, can no longer be
thought of as natural entities, can no longer be defined by an ontology of
essence. The world has, instead, become coded; its elements are defined, not
by an inner/outer dichotomy, but by their relational positions within larger
systems of information. Kusanagi’s sense of self thus does not derive from a
supposedly interior source, from a “real self” that animates a body that
physically establishes its identity, but rather from her relation to the
organization to which she belongs. Because Section Nine actually owns the
material underpinnings of her subjectivity, her sense of personhood cannot be

60 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 26 (1999)

thought of apart from its bureaucratic organizational structure. Major’s body
thus does not exist as an ontologically stable presence that guarantees her
identity, but as an ensemble of parts that circulate within a larger system. In
short, the body, and its constitutive parts, behaves much like a signifier within
a postmodern information system, its meaning determined not by a self-
adhering presence but by its position within the overall pattern. In an
interesting elaboration of Haraway, N. Katherine Hayles notes that “When
bodies are [thus] constituted as information, they can not only be sold but
fundamentally reconstituted in response to market pressure” (86; my italics).
This is one of the most feared aspects of cyborg technology, its ability to
transform the material body into something akin to coded information, thereby
making it more amenable and vulnerable to social control.

Because Kusanagi’s “inner self” is largely determined by her corpor-
eality-her tactile memories, sensations, and the organic tissue in her
skull-that self is subordinate to the systems within which her body circulates.
It should be noted, however, that this subordination of Kusanagi’s material self
already lays the groundwork for the supposed liberation of the mind from the
body in the subsequent narrative that follows the conversation between
Kusanagi and Botau. In other words, the malleability and submission of the
body in relation to the larger system not only makes it more amenable to social
control but, by virtue of the very devaluation which necessarily accompanies
this process, suggests that it is alterable, or even dispensable, as well. While
the body’s status as nothing but a “shell” may work to control the occupant of
that shell, it also suggests the possibility that the shell could be re-coded,
exchanged for another, or discarded entirely. This paradoxical doubling of
meanings associated with the cyborg body, the fact that its coded nature can
serve the interests of liberation or domination, closely parallels the contra-
dictory nature of cyborg politics as described by Haraway. Though Kusanagi’s
initial remarks to Botau on this subject emphasize the more terrifying aspects
of this sort of embodiment, the narrative will soon privilege the more liberatory
possibilities associated with technology’s intersection with the body.

Ghost in the Shell provides us with just such an alternative vision of
information technology through its chief antagonist, The Puppet Master. For
several years, Section Nine has been tracking this entity, a cyber-terrorist who
commits acts of international theft and sabotage while masking his identity by
ghost-hacking into other cyborgs and using their shells as platforms from which
to access the various information systems that he has targeted. Section Nine
does not realize that the Puppet Master has no “human” identity at all, but is
in fact a computer program secretly created by Section Six, the department of
Foreign Affairs. Section Six uses this program, designated as “Project 2051,”
to commit acts of espionage that will “grease the wheels” of foreign diplomacy.
As Project 2051 circulates within the data matrices of the net, however, it
somehow gains sentience, becomes convinced that it is a new life form, and
escapes the control of its creators.

As a disembodied, electronic entity, Project 2051 represents a truly
technologized, posthuman subject, an example of a non-human cyber-con-

REFIGURING THE RADICAL CYBORG 61

sciousness whose computerized existence enables rather than limits. This
character reminds us that the informatics of domination do not exclusively
serve as a final or more advanced form of social control but as a new set of
social relations that can be equally used to contest the dominant. As Haraway
points out, “we are not dealing with a technological determinism, but with a
historical system depending upon structured relations among people” (165).
Cyber-technology’s capacity to “dematerialize” the body can thus be articulated
with a strategy for escaping contemporary institutions of power. This trans-
cendence of the limits of corporeality constitutes the ideal that cyberpunk
fiction itself seemed to promise to its early audience.5 As Hayles notes, “The
contrast between the body’s limitations and cyberspace’s power highlights the
advantages of [a body as] pattern over presence. As long as pattern endures,
one has attained a kind of immortality” (81). If we read this comment against
the tenets of Haraway’s earlier essay, it would seem that this transcendence of
the body allows the transcendence of sexual specificity, a concept that Haraway
suggests is a social construct of patriarchy.

In keeping with this hypothesis, The Puppet Master seems to lack any clear
specification of gender or sex. More significantly, this character does not
evidence the total absence of sexual specificity, but seems to exhibit
characteristics of both sexes while technically, as a machine, belonging to
neither. When Project 2051 first appears on the screen, it inhabits the body of
a female cyborg, having been lured into this shell by operatives within Section
Six who desire to recapture it. The film emphasizes the sexual specificity of
this shell by representing it as a naked body-the cyborg shell has just come off
the Megatech assembly line when it is hacked and animated by the Pluppet
Master and thus would not have been clothed. Soon after its animation, the
shell escapes the Megatech production plant and is accidentally run down on
the highway by a truck, only to be subsequently recovered by Section Nine
technicians. When Chief Nakamura, an administrator from Foreign Affairs,
and Dr. Willis, an American scientist who has collaborated on the project,
arrive to recover the body, they consistently refer to it as “he,” a reference

62 SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, VOLUME 26 (1999)

which confuses the Section Nine personnel. Nakamura informs them that “Its
original sex remains undetermined and the use of the term ‘he’ is merely a
nickname the good doctor has given it.” Nakamura’s voice, however, is
juxtaposed with a full-screen frontal shot of the naked cyborg torso, breasts
prominently centered. The conflation of the masculine pronoun with the naked
female body disorients not only the Section Nine technicians but the viewer as
well, as we are presented with a character of “undetermined” sex that figures
as linguistically male but visually female. While this scene may not represent
the actual transcendence of a sexed or gendered identity, it does represent the
capacity of cyber-technology to confuse and disrupt its conventional
deployment (including the fact that cyborg shells are mass-produced as either
male or female semblances).

The film’s climactic ending finalizes this disruption when Major perma-
nently merges her consciousness with The Puppet Master’s to form an entirely
new identity. In order for Project 2051 to “truly” become a “living,” post-
gendered organism, it must merge with an organic lifeform. The Puppet
Master, as a disembodied, electronic consciousness, thus seeks out special
agent Major as the element that he apparently needs to achieve his plan. The
film ends with Major and the Puppet Master uniting their consciousnesses to
form an entirely new identity, a completely new individual, that allows them
finally to escape the control of the organizations that created them. But how
exactly is this escape achieved? How, in The Puppet Master’s words, will the
two characters, as one, “slip our bonds and shift to the higher structure” of
existence?

Though the film is not terribly clear about how this process is fulfilled, I
suggest that the answer to this question can be found in the fact that the
Major’s body is literally blown to bits by Section Six operatives seeking to
recover The Puppet Master immediately after the unification takes place. This
loss of Major’s body requires Botau to purchase a new shell on the black
market and transplant her surviving “brain case”-which presumably now
holds the entity produced by her union with The Puppet Master-into it. This

REFIGURING THE RADICAL CYBORG 63

new body, because of its illicit and unauthorized origins, seemingly lies outside
the systemic network of Section Nine’s control. Cyber-technology, while not
allowing the ultimate transcendence of the body’s limitations, thus enables the
individual to “recode” or alter the material conditions of his or her
corporeality. If a cyborg body can more readily function as a prison than a
“natural” one due to the fact that its composite parts are actually owned by its
dominators, that body can also, by virtue of its constructed status, be
redesigned or, in this case, exchanged for one that provides a greater …

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