"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

Vintage advertisement comparing female typists to robots.

Note her feminine robot eyebrows. | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

According to Friedrich Kittler, typists may as well have been robots:

The discourse network of 1900 rescinds the freedom of the writing imagination. No one who picks up a pen, from a child in school to a writer, is better positioned than the professional typist who with each “hand movement…follow the instructions literally, that is, do nothing more than what they stipulate.” There is a method to exercises in writing and transcribing. The age of engineers demands technically exact reproduction of technical processes. (Discourse Networks, 327)

Elsewhere in the text, Kittler positions Mina Harker and her typewriter in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the “central relay in an immense information network” (354). His positioning of Mina is a bit more active than the previous quote would seem to allow, arguing that the information she curates and organizes allows Van Helsing to eventually track down the Count. However, Kittler argues that Mina’s emulation of “lady journalists” removes her from the sphere of the family and motherhood, to which she can never return.

I would add to this, however, that Mina is more than just a relay switch – she is an embodied processor of information. It is only once the men in her life relegate her to a passive role, that of the jewel to be protected, marginalized from the hunt, locked up alone, that she becomes vulnerable to attack. Once the Count has fed on her, this establishes a relationship between his and her mind, a blood network of sorts. Anguished over Mina’s attack, the team then has no choice but to allow her back into the process if they want to exploit the network. Though Mina seems a passive conduit when she undergoes hypnosis, she is also the one who once again collates and processes all of the relevant information and provides the theory that leads the team to the Count. Neither her role as information processor, nor her contact with the Count, prevents her from returning to the maternal sphere. The novel’s epilogue, seven years after the adventure, reveals that Mina not only continues to occupy the domestic sphere as Mrs. Harker, but that she has also borne a son. The documentary evidence of the adventure remains stored in the Harker family safe, thereby preserving Mina’s work as information processor, encapsulated within the domestic sphere. Mina Harker is most definitely a cyborg.

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Comments on: "If Typists Were Robots…Typists, Robots, and Mina Harker" (3)

  1. […] April updates 01Apr11 My dear friend Kim Knight, professor of Emerging Media at UT Dallas, has just started a new blog on gender and technology, and it’s already looking great: The Spiral Dance […]

  2. Reminds me of the “Ion” dialogue, or should I say rant, where Socrates dismisses the art of recitation. Socrates takes for granted the perfection, presence, and skill of the performer in the same way Kittler disregards the perfection, presence, and skill of the professional typist.

    • Nice connection. Many of Plato’s works can be connected to digital media / technology topics. One of my favorites is The Phaedrus dialogue where just a small section of it addresses the effects of the development of writing on memory and intellect.

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