Popular culture has created many fictional forms of the cyborg, from Rachel in Ripley Scott's Blade Runner to The Terminator. But for some, the cyborg is not simply a fictional myth. Foremost cyborg theorist Donna Haraway in her Cyborg Manifesto has defined it as a cybernetic creature of both lived society and fiction. Since there are no indicated boundaries between the two, there is a struggle to define and control the cyborg properly, this "border war" being fought vie an "optical illusion" (149). Modern Medicine, Haraway continues, is already full of cyborgs. Indeed the possibility of a complete scanning of the human body in order to replicate a digitized 3-D figure for digital slicing, an effort known as VHP (Visible Human Project), will be made common medical practice in the near future (for more see Hayles). The cyborg, also, is not defined by gender; "it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis [...] or other seductions to organic wholeness [constituted by] all the powers of the parts into a higher unity" (150). For some who are anxious of those who, like Haraway expresses in her Informatics of Domination, embrace genetic engineering, such as R. Klein who Nadia Mahjouri in her paper on Techno-Maternity quotes as saying "[g]enetic and reproductive engineering is another attempt to end self-determination over our own bodies" (para. 4) Haraway is keen to show that techno-science has already begun the process of such engineering, and the feeling of being mediated by it already exists.
The cyborg also designates new and legitimate forms of sexual enjoyment. In much the same way that a cyborg is a cybernetic organism receiving and transmitting information in a control loop, eroticism is, in Lacan’s terminology, the aim, or the directing of oneself in a pleasurable act. The pleasure is pleasure experienced within oneself, and so therefore ones aim is returned. As Elizabeth Grosz terms it "[a] reintegration into the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism" (77). The cyborg as hybrid of machine and organism takes on the circuitry of both, the control system of the former, and the auto-eroticism of the latter. In terms of sexuality, the cyborg is perfectly created for self-satisfaction. For example, cybersex is an encounter which takes place with an assumed reciprocate. The enjoyment of the incoming messages from the communication technology is self-enclosed, it is not an enjoyment which is obligated simultaneously to satisfy a phallic signifier, a point I will expand upon later.
Similarly, Slavoj Zizek, in an interview with Flash Art in 1992 talks about the 'minitel' in France, a once fashionable mini-computer, which was the preferred medium of instant-messaging sex. Not one to miss a Lacanian reading, Zizek informs that the point of the message exchange is not that it will lead to meeting up, swapping addresses, but rather the "entire satisfaction, the jouissance is that you do not know and will never know who the other is" (para. 18). The satisfaction gained is, as he describes it, wound up in the "purely symbolic exchange."
Cybersex even has its laws and taboos. A unique case occurred May 16, 2008 when a Texas Minister of a Dallas Megachurch was charged with online solicitation of a minor, the first time a sexual legal case has taken place where the victim and culprit were not in the same room at the scene of the crime.
So since sex mediated by machines has its principles, and these principles can be exceeded (as the above example demonstrates) cyborgs can experience the form of excess, otherwise known as jouissance.
The aim of this article is to marry the cyborg as Donna Haraway theorized it with Lacan's notion of jouissance in order to get some sense of the future of (sexual) enjoyment in an age of combined bio- and communication-technologies, that is to say, humanity mediated in the domain of science and technology. To do this, I will firstly bring together both Haraway's and Lacan's accounts of feminine ontology, then go into a more detailed definition of the cyborg, and round it up by seeing where jouissance fits into the cyborg ontology. With this I will use an example of a chat-room user who engages in the activity I have come to term as cyborg enjoyment.
The Construction site of Woman
In a seminar called God and the jouissance of Woman (Barred out) which is published in his influential set of seminars Encore! Jacques Lacan explained of feminine enjoyment that since it requires more than just the phallus - the image definition of the symbolic order - it must exceed being. This excess of being, Lacan designates as on par with God. Whereas God is the 'other' of being (the supreme being) Woman, as positioned in the (paternalized) symbolic order, is the 'other' of Man's being.
In light of this, how do we interpret Haraway's comments at the end of her manifesto 'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess'?
As both Haraway and Lacan would testify Woman is a socially constructed category. For Lacan, male sexual desire is not fulfilled in Woman, but rather she is his objet petit a (cause of his desire), or object a(-utre) - the 'other' of Man's being which, in the dominating world of the visual (which assumes the dominance of the phallus over the so-called 'lack' of the female genitals), organizes Man's fantasy. Further, as Teresa Brennan in her book Lacan After History posits "the idealized woman is the anchor of man's identity and the guarantee of his 'Truth' " (26). Brennan points out in a footnote that Lacan's complex position of "idealization" is that it "makes the 'lady' into something considerably less than a subject" (26, fn. 1). For Lacan, the idealization and denigration of women, as Brennan puts it, is a transhistorical inevitability; the symbolic order is necessary for sanity though at the same time it gives rise to the world of the visual, in which the phallus dominates. Brennan quite pessimistically expresses that the idealization, that is the psychical fantasy of Woman, of her as, not subject but simply objet petit a, is forever more, or at least for as long as we are sane.
For a contemporary Lacanian insight on gender, Slavoj Zizek in his book The Parallax View concludes that "there is only One, the gap is inherent to the One itself" (36). So in Lacan’s terminology, feminine ontology functions as pastoute (not-all) "as a part which has to be integrated into the whole" (Benvenuto and Kennedy 1986, 186). For this reason, and again to qualify the Lacanese, 'there is no sexual relationship' (il n'y a pas de rapport sexuel) - there is only one identity; whole and partial. Donna Haraway recognizes this and in suit asks "[w]hat kind of politics could embrace partial, contradictory, permanently unclosed constructions of personal and collective selves and still be faithful, effective - and, ironically, socialist-feminist?" (157) The answer becomes clear.
"There is not even such a state as 'being' female" Haraway claims, "itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices" (155). On this point Haraway criticizes much of the US feminism movement for its second-rate response to domination with identity, and not, preferable to her 'affinity'. Moreover, since, by Haraways's own admission, 'there is nothing about being "female" that naturally binds women', feminism might be best embracing partial identities. This branch of feminism Haraway goes on to call cyborg feminism, partly against Marxian and socialist-feminism which "totalizes" Woman.
The wider world in which the cyborg feminist must struggle to achieve, according to Haraway, "might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints" (154). For a feminism which accepts the social construction thesis of Lacan - "nature's discursive constitution" as Haraway specifies in her essay The Promise of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others (para. 4) - that Woman can never fully be a subject due to the visual nature of the symbolic order, and since sanity rests on their being a symbolic order so it remains, the cyborg theory of Donna Haraway issues a new emancipation in partiality, not wholeness. Where the gendered world configures the sense of sight solely for the phallocrats, the cyborg world marks masculinity as partial, also.
To answer my question on how to interpret Haraway's comments, though goddesses are superior beings, they are still mediated through masculinity, they are still so to speak of-god. The cyborg is a superior being mediated, not through the (ph)allacy of gender, but by the totality of its environs.
A cyborg body is not innocent... The Cyborg Beginnings and Phases
..."it was not born in a garden". Alluding to Eden, Haraway tells us the cyborg does not have the same gendered, male doministic origins as the human (man, and of-man-by-rib). Its roots are (perhaps worse) in "militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism" (151). Since the cyborg "doesn't depend on human reproduction for its existence" (151) and is above gender, it poses limits on Freudian analysis. Evoking images of Plato's Symposium the cyborg doesn't seek completeness in sexual union or desire a nuclear family unit. Its essence is to be found in its environs as much as its self, perpetuated by biotechnology and communication control loop systems. For her justification, Haraway looks to biology and evolutionary theory, which has reduced the border between humans and animals. No matter where one places the mark of functioning humanism (if its even possible to do so), be it in an industrial age where humans use their arms and hands as naturally made tools, or thought without thought-simulation aids such as calculators or computers, or be it an age closer to Rousseau's dream of humans being at one with their surrounding natures, by comparison the human being functions in a different manner, the human being has been manipulated by a new technological terrain.
In a lecture by the name of Birth of the Kennel given at the European Graduate School Haraway characterizes humans as in a space of 'artifactuality' that is, humans as 'objects of knowledge' are both prone to learning and being shaped by companion species - humans are artifacts! Her lecture title appears to come as an ironic critique of the essential hubris of the ego, caging dogs as mutts, denying ourselves a teacher of self-knowledge. Haraway aims to dignify learning from companion species against the overbearing pride of the human, content in the lie of completion. The image of the dog is one of tameness due to domesticity, of being a product not just of its evolution, but by its surroundings. Can we not recall ever hearing the (Rousseau for dogs?) argument that it is not fair that dogs should be domesticated but rather should be allowed to run wild and feral? It seems that this is not what Haraway is arguing at all, because she embraces the human-dog companionship. In this sense, evolution has erased the line between human and animal, but humans are also a product of their techno-scientific surroundings. As a means of learning to know ourselves, humans need to embrace this partial ontology. Haraway's appeal seems to be more directed at the notion that for Woman, in order to escape the reality of an of-man existence, organisms and machines need to share companionship.
What, however, of techno-scientific responsibility? An infamous picture details Donna Haraway on the steps of her home cuddling her dog Cayenne (see endnote), they both look at each other, she smiling, the dog appearing to flap its ears in glee. This is the imagery of companionship which Haraway aims to construct between organism and machine. She explains "cyborg imagery can help express [...] taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology [...] reconstructing the boundaries of daily life [...] in communication with all our parts" (181). At once this polemic is for responsibility in positive cyborg imagery, standing opposite of Blade Runner's Rachel who Haraway describes as "the image of a cyborg culture's fear, love, and confusion" (177-78) which seems not be a reflective picture. Her explanation of a cyborg imagery also expresses the responsibility involved in reorganizing places in everyday life once prohibited, forward into one biotic component (a living organism which exists in a [perhaps communications] system).
These prohibitions apply particularly to females, I will quote at large Haraway as saying "[u]p till now (once upon a time), female embodiment seemed to be given, organic, necessary [...] Only by being out of place could we take intense pleasure in machines, and then with excuses that this was organic activity after all, appropriate to females." Also with regards to the economy (although Haraway is keen to show that she is aware that this is not necessarily a progressive statement and can be accommodated for in the White Patriarchal Capitalist circuitry) the 'homework' economy - a term borrowed from Richard Gordon who uses it to describe work in electronic assemblage, mainly done by women overseas, and the feminizing of labor in general - has already shaped, to a certain extent, the female cyborg self. For women, Haraway argues, technological advancements were boundaries of daily life, and a given 'female nature' had been wrongly ascribed. She calls for this to be a thing of the (Edenic) past.
Indeed, for the future of a cyborg world "what counts as nature - a source of insight and promise of innocence - is undermined, probably fatally"(152-53). To be sure, Haraway does not shy away from exposing the anxieties of some toward a future that embraces the obsoleteness of 'humanism'.
One key question to this essay is, and indeed is a regular proposal to many written pieces on Haraway's cyborg theory; if Donna Haraway is so anxious to remind us that a cyborg's beginnings are far different from a humans, can the cyborg be said to have any Freudian basis at all? Where some might be keen to answer in the negative, I do see an element of Freudian basis to the new cyborg selves. I will stress that a cyborg Freudianism is not inasmuch as a human baby's drives and desires may be derived from the oral or anal phase. That is to say, when one thinks of Freud, one may be reminded of the baby who as s/he is being breast fed enters into the oral phase, that when being fed, gains an amount of pleasure which emanates from the mouth. When that baby reaches an age where s/he could be fed properly, s/he, even more than before, desires the absent breast - the object of oral pleasure. Or one may be reminded of the baby who is allowed to micturate whenever s/he feels like it, or defecate and enjoy it immensely - a stage known as the anal stage - but as the diaper is replaced for underwear such enjoyable activity must be regulated. As the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham remarked, "instincts, which are allowed free expression in early childhood, are subjected to a considerable measure of repression and sublimation later on" (Abraham 281). The Freudianism applicable to a species which is half organism, half machine will not specifically look like the above description, in short, The American School, or ego psychology. The Freudianism applicable is from the Lacanian School.
Jacques Lacan resumed Freud to the letter, adding a knowledge of semiotics to the mix which Freud himself did not live to see popularize. One of the more important elements to Lacan's Freudian lectures was his rejuvenation of the commonly misused death drive. For Freud, the death drive was, not some elementary striving for suicide, but, an act which aimed to go beyond the reality principle. The reality principle is based upon the constitution of society and gender; in the first it is in-keeping with societal expectations, to repress those things which are given free expression in early childhood like living only for bodily satisfaction; in the second it is in-keeping with what is expected of one as a gendered person, for example, since Man carries the phallic signifier of the symbolic order, he dominates over Woman's so-called 'lack'. Heterosexual union, necessary to the upkeep of the symbolic order, decrees female pleasure to be at the beck-and-call of male intercourse - this being a component of female ontology. The death drive for Woman, however, is a deviation from her ontological constitution, where her sexual enjoyment is organized in a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism. Lacan has a term for this - jouissance.
The contrast between the pleasure principle and the death drive in Freudian psychoanalysis is formally the same as the contrast between plasir and jouissance - the former can be accommodated within the reality principle, the reality principle allows for a minimum of (phallic) pleasure, but the latter works exactly like a cybernetic machine, as we have mentioned, self-enclosed, along with no consideration of societal expectations or ontological constitution. In other words it is in excess of reality. The reality principle imposes limits on the pleasure principle, whereas the 'Real' of jouissance is consequently beyond the pleasure principle. In short, the cyborg is a species of jouissance.
The cyborg may well have bypassed any Oedipallic constitution, but it is still subject to the same principles concerning sexual enjoyment. As I have already mentioned, its cybernetic basis makes it perfectly adaptable to Lacan's understanding of jouissance. At this stage, I will further explain how.
The Body - A Private Satisfaction Machine
Sally Hacker in her 1989 paper The Eye of the Beholder: An Essay on Technology and Eroticism suggests the term 'pornotechnics' as a reference to perverse power relations in the artefactual body, as Donna Haraway notes in her The Promise of Monsters (fn. 2), at "the heart of pornotechnics is the military as an institution, with deep roots and wide reach into science, technology, and erotica." A product of militarism, the cyborg, as Haraway points out, has an oppositional root and is imbued with the drive to deviate from its ontological foundations. As it is suggested in the cyborg manifesto the cyborg "is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries" to say that there is a satisfaction to be gained by de-ontologicizing. Is this not the very foundations of jouissance - the satisfaction or drive to enter out of the vicious realm decreed by the pleasure principle, or rather by phallocratic reality. To be sure the cyborg is founded on a level of erotica.
The notion of the struggle to define a cyborg amounting to a border war here needs its full ontological weight. At an elementary level we may understand this to mean the fragmentation of where organism ends and machine begins. But further to this, on advent of the cyborg, our ontologies are not limited to our bodily capacities, our ontologies can be driven further, qualifying Lacan's own admission Encore!
To further my point I will use a filmic example; Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher: Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert is a piano teacher who becomes rather obsessed with a student of hers Walter (Benoît Magimel). Aside from her very astute professional manner, Erika participates in a whole manner of sexual plights which include sadomasochism, micturition, and the use of pornography booths. She goes to some lengths to keep her Mother innocent from her various exploits. A relationship is forged between her and Walter, during which a written document is produced by Erika detailing her innermost desires. Walter finds himself unable to satisfy Erika's wildest fantasies which only serves to alienate Erika herself. At the end of the film this estrangement reaches such a stage that Erika stabs herself in the shoulder out of frustration. The importance of the character Erika is that it portrays the possibility of there being at the surface of every person - even one as conformist, middle-class, and stiff, one who appears to take heed of societal expectations of a "lady" - a deep longing for the underbelly of sexual activity, the need to get off, so to speak. Furthermore, Erika finds sexual activity with Walter ineffective, he cannot make her lose herself, or de-ontologicize, that is to say, experience jouissance. Erika realises enjoyment of this kind as self-enclosed, as those things which deviate from the "normal" phallocentric heterosexual union. Things such as slicing her own genitals (perceived perhaps as actually manipulating her own visual signification), orgasmic urination at an open-top cinema, and smelling used tissues whilst watching pornography.
On the one hand Erika is shown not to be comfortable with herself when she is as she is expected to be, given her professional capacity and ontological constitution. On the other hand she is shown to be properly excited and blissful when engaging in activities which drive beyond these principles, when she is experiencing jouissance. Is this not the reality of the cyborg, not being ontologically defined by its visual signification and experiencing bliss as a by-product of this. Erika here is precisely a cyborg - positively because she is subverting the harsh guidelines by which the symbolic order is a by-product of (a curtailing of Woman's blissful experience), and negatively because, as Robert W. Anderson puts it in his Butler-esque titled Body Parts that Matter: Frankenstein, or The Modern Cyborg, the cyborg is the place "on to which the anxieties of the "normal" are displaced." (para. 42)
As The Piano Teacher aims to highlight it is not 'normal' in our harsh reality for Woman's body to be a private satisfaction machine like Erika's is. Donna Haraway herself expresses concern with the current sexual climate when saying
"the close ties of sexuality and instrumentality, of views of the body as a
kind of private satisfaction - and utility-maximizing machine, are described
nicely in sociobiological origin stories that stress a calculus and explain the
inevitable dialectic of domination of male and female gender roles" (169).
The sociobiological accounts appear at first glance to be positive but insightful of the inevitable domination - we may view the symbolic order as such, as a guarantee of sanity but the key to the inevitability of inequality. The Piano Teacher summarizes Haraway's own anxiety that Erika is able to experience satisfaction in the style of a cybernetic machine (the circuit of a perfectly self-enclosed auto-eroticism) but that it eventually leads to dissatisfaction in the (hetero-)sexual domain that is not devious and thus explains the inevitable dialectic of (Man's) domination.
This does remain a problematic of cyborg theory; that how do "normal" heterosexual unions exist alongside forms of cyborg enjoyment? Haraway has only described the post-genderedness of the cyborg, and not the transition from a gendered to a post-gendered world. The cyborg manifesto is a guideline for socialist-feminists to embrace an affinity and partial identity due to constant mediation, but at this stage the cyborg is still observed by the laws that pre-date it.
Another example of someone who drives for what I call cyborg enjoyment is a girl called Rebecca as described by Robin B. Hamman in his amusingly named M.A. thesis Cyborgasms: Cybersex Amongst Multiple-Selves and Cyborgs in the Narrow-Bandwidth Space of America Online Chat Rooms. Firstly I will describe Rebecca then I will offer comment after. Rebecca is a third year student and someone who enjoys cybersex, her preferred site for this activity is an AOL chat room. She does not feel that casual sex in the real world is morally appropriate, but presumably, not wanting to deny herself satisfaction she engages in sex online. Rebecca rarely has cybersex with men after she has had phone sex with them. To quote Hamman "she is more self-conscious on the telephone than she is online and feels that cybersex is more pleasurable because she has fewer inhibitions there" (para 58). Rebecca admits that she achieves orgasm faster during cybersex than if she were to engage in solitary masturbation and that she was once pursued by a man who "cyberstalked" her and obtained her phone number.
It is interesting that Rebecca should rarely have cybersex with men after she has had phone sex with them, and that she feels more self-conscious on the telephone. This is where I feel the Multiple-Selves part of Hamman's title is important, Rebecca is able to hide behind a screen during cybersex and that on the phone the voice attached to her real self is given. What is more, fewer inhibitions during cybersex lead to a more pleasurable experience. What I have mentioned about the deontologicizing aspect of jouissance may apply here to Rebecca. Bearing in mind Rebecca has not admitted to being scared of physical sex, indeed it seems she does partake in it, only it goes against her morals to engage in it casually, but what appeals her to cybersex is that there is little she feels she cannot do, that there are no limits. Indeed when one is multiple-selved as one is online (behind the screen) there are no limits, unlike when there is one self involved, as she feels phone sex is more likely to reveal. If this is the case with phone sex, physical sex must impose these same limits. As I have mentioned before of Erika, she feels she isn't satisfied when she has inhibitions, when we are given a glimpse of what Erika does do for satisfaction, we only then realize the full weight of those inhibitions. Since there is an element of satisfaction for Rebecca revealed only during cybersex which is prohibited during other forms of sex, we have realized an example of what cyborg enjoyment could be. One who engages in cybersex, it seems, avoids prohibitions encountered elsewhere. Could experiences like this be the future of enjoyment? The only thing obstructing this, perhaps, is the real-world reality principle, characterized in Rebecca's experience as the 'cyberstalker' who obtained her phone number.
In a few years time cybersex will seem like a most outdated form of cyborg enjoyment. On the market there are more gadgets promising pure pleasure than there are promising to simulate the (hetero-)sexual activity in its totality. More electronic products are available that stimulate the body rather than simulate the physical engagement; strange that the market accommodates for those who seek jouissance over plasir substitutes.
But I will avoid being misunderstood as pursuing the argument that cyborg enjoyment is simply a new era of virtual sex toys - this is not my focus at all. My nexus is this: jouissance as the deontological self-enclosed experience, perfectly encapsulates Haraway's notion of the cyborg as partial rather than whole (or, not-all, pastoute). Jouissance is itself a 'border war' - at once driven to exceed the pleasure principle as defined by the symbolic order, but also that jouissance requires more (Encore!) than the phallus, that it requires Woman to be more than she is ontologically constituted to be. Indeed the cyborg is the only theory which promises partiality of masculinity, thus an injunction into the symbolic order, which can maintain the guarantee of sanity - the positive element of the symbolic order. Moreover, the cyborg theory is the premise that humans are already bound in their techno-scientific environs, the excess of life that is jouissance is also mediated by these same environs.
To recap, for Woman, the death drive can be the drive towards deviating a given ontological constitution, but is hindered by the reality principle. Since for the cyborg there is no gender the cyborg world will not be constituted upon phallocentrism - the Haraway-Lacanian cyborg might be what feminist sexual politics has been searching for. The problem concerning real-world reality principles may be temporary according to cyborg theorists, but nonetheless it remains a problem. Though, on the plus side, the cyborg does provide another shift for the Lacanian-Feminists.
The infamous picture of Donna Haraway and her dog can be found at this web address
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