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Introduction to the Special Issue
Digital Eves: Transgression/Transcendence in Cyberspace
Jill LeRoy-Frazier and David Frazier

January 2007

Cyberspace, in both its real and imagined forms, often functions as a means of engaging age-old questions in new ways—sometimes as exploratory space for solutions to “real world” problems through computer modeling for outcomes testing applied, for example, to flight simulation or pharmacological experimentation, but often more abstractly, as a background against which to consider the status of philosophical explorations of human consciousness or the mind/body split. More figuratively, even, it could be considered a contemporary arena for originary human sin: a transgressive space in which, like the biblical Eve, individuals for varying reasons seek to transcend their ontological limits, be they physical, temporal, intellectual, or creative.

Much contemporary feminist criticism and women's writing has engaged the implications of a world of experience independent of the gendered body, or, alternatively, of a body transmuted by technology beyond distinctions of the sociobiological. Often, it has explored the possibilities for a committed feminist politics founded upon, as Donna Haraway puts it, embracing the cyborg's “postgender world” (192) of “partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves” (199) and discovering power in the erasure of “natural” boundaries between Self and Other. Cyberspace, in particular, often provides the imaginative ground for this sort of identity transformation and consequent release into “a world without genesis, but maybe also a world without end” (Haraway 192), peopled by those who arguably exist “outside salvation history” (Haraway 192).

Digital Eves includes scholarly essays and works of poetry, hypertext, and visual art that engage the central question, “In what ways does or can cyberspace function as an imaginative space in which beings attempt to repeat Eve's original 'encounter with the apple,' perhaps in the hope that computer technology will help afford a success that biblical mythology and tradition has not accorded her?” The issue explores how these instances of striving for transcendence through cyberspace mirror and extend earlier human attempts to reach out at the divine through the construction of transgressive spaces, and considers how they constitute conscious physical, social, and psychological trangression, of what sorts, and with what perceived benefits and consequences.

Digital Eves' contributors approach these concerns from a variety of directions. The issue opens with a modern Hebrew rendering of Genesis 3:13: “Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this that you have done? ' The woman said, 'The serpent beguiled me and I ate'" (RSV) , juxtaposed to Ann Wood Fuller's “Adam and Eve in Florida,” whose lush imagery places the archetypal couple in a contemporary landscape and forms part of a frontispiece that entices readers to free Eve from her hermeneutic sentence and return to a reconfigured Garden. Mary Catherine Harper's poetic cycle Embroidered Bodies then refigures the desire for “a garden free of apples, fig leaves, and original sin” (“Miriam, Bitter Sea”) as the possibility of cyberspace.

Anastasia Salter's Avatara posits the contemporary woman as spiritual avatar, “free from the laws of matter, time and space . . . the power within” cyberspace, where visionaries insist we someday will “live entire virtual lives, create alternate identities, explore impossible possibilities . . . shaping the code of the environment to [our] liking just as the self is shaped .” Salter's analysis extends the figure of Eve both backward, toward ancient, alternative non-Western mythologies, and into the future, toward the promise of technology's deliverance.

Maria Wahlstrom Backe's “'Freedom for Just One Night:' The Promise and Threat of Information and Communication Technologies" engages the structure of cyberspace and its possibilities for female users, particularly in terms of the ideological liberation possible in a space unregulated (both imaginatively and physically) in contrast to the “real world.” Caroline Godart's “Rape Culture: Renegotiating Sexual Subjectivity on Porn Sites for Women" problematizes the implied freedom in cyberspace to perform one's identity outside physical and social constraints in her examination of online pornography designed for women, and the deceptive power dynamics underlying Internet erotica.

Eric Elshtain and Jon Trowbridge focus their claims for the promise of liberation through cyberspace on issues of authorship in their presentation of Gnoetry 0.2, a poetic collaboration between human, extant text, and machine that explores the possibilities for “transcending the human poetic” by means of an author “that is truly and fantastically free within its constraints”--that is, those of machine-language only, rather than of gendered, historicized, and hierarchized context. Poet-professors Edison Jennings and Tracy Mishkin respond.

Gulnara Karimova's poem “Clown” provides an interface for readers' return to the “real world” from the performative carnival of cyberspace, while Jason Payton's review of reload: rethinking women + cyberculture closes the issue. Woven throughout is the artwork of Mindy Herrin and Keith Herrin, who engage technology, the body, and digital reconfiguration on various levels.

 


Work Cited

 

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Feminism/Postmodernism. Ed. Linda J. Nicholson. London: Routledge, 1990. 190-233.

 


 

 

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