In recent years much critical attention has been focused on the figure of the cyborg or cybernetic organism: a hybrid being that evolves where the boundaries between human and machine are open to transgression.
(1) Yet despite its implicit promise of an "enhanced" physique and superior reasoning abilities, to what extent can (or should) we consider this figure as radical, subversive and innovative?
From the anxieties about mechanised men and women in Massimo Bontempelli's Minnie la candida (1927), to Primo Levi's probing of the golem myth in "Il servo," twentieth-century Italian literature offers a rich, if underexplored, array of cyborg characters which both echo those to be found in Anglophone texts and can be been seen to embody and exemplify concerns emanating from a specifically Italian cultural context.
Focusing on cyborg figures in three texts--Dino Buzzati's Il grande ritratto (1960), Roberto Vacca's II robot e il computer (1963), and Niccolo Ammaniti's short story "Ferro" (1996)--this article identifies and analyses approaches to a series of sex/gender issues and attempts to trace the positions assumed by the authors in question back to earlier influential works.
For example, besides bombastically celebrating the "bellezza nuova" and speed of motor vehicles, Marinetti describes the loving care with which a train driver washes "il gran corpo possente della sua locomotiva" with "le tenerezze minuziose e sapienti di un amante che accarezzi la sua donna adorata." (3) Arnaldo Ginna similarly confuses the anthropomorphization of the car as a phallic extension of its male driver with the sexualization of the car as a female vessel.
In the same paragraph he writes that the car has become the necessary prolongation of the worker's sensations, but that the car may soon be the only lover we desire (qtd. As I argue with regard to the texts analysed, this collapsing of boundaries between phallic self-extension and the feminized other allows the development and satisfaction of auto-erotic fantasies through a form of secondary narcissism.
This subsequently allows the fusion of consciousness with an electronic network in a "cosmic orgasm which generates the meltdown of the boundary between self and the technological other." Not only are modern, portable technologies absorbed into the body, but there is also a desire for the body to be absorbed by technology.
Donna Haraway, historian of science, and author of the hugely influential "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" (1985), is careful to mark the distinction between cyborgs as "ether, quintessence," and humans that are "nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque" (153).
As regards cyborg identity, the texts analysed in this article--whether deliberately or otherwise--display an investment in sexed bodies and gender roles, and the ways in which both physical sexual characteristics and socially inscribed masculine and feminine behaviours are imposed onto cyborg figures in a form of essentialist normalisation.
(7) Significantly, despite frequent overt attempts to reinforce gender binaries as an inevitable, "natural" principle of human identity (and thus by extension cyborg identity), the sexing and gendering of cyborgs also serves to underscore the constructed and arbitrary nature of gender roles, sexual orientation and sex.
In contrast to primary narcissism, "the love of self which precedes loving others," secondary narcissism is that "love of self which results from introjecting and identifying with an object" (Rycroft 107).
Returning more specifically to the cyborg, the philosopher Rosi Braidotti observes that anthropomorphic machines are "eroticized as objects of imaginary projection and desire [which] titillate our sexual curiosity and trigger off all kinds of questions about sexuality and procreation." (4) She argues that in replacing industrial machinery as a metaphor for libidinous desire (epitomised by Freud's example of the steam engine), the circuitry of electronic machines exerts an alternative form of sexual attraction.
In an Italian context, researchers such as Antonio Caronia have theorised posthuman or cyborg phenomena for an Italophone readership, chronicling their development across the centuries and mapping their multifaceted morphologies as central figures of science fiction.