Interview: ii Host Jay Colbert on Cyborgs and Assemblage Theory

Interview: ii Host Jay Colbert on Cyborgs and Assemblage Theory

Jay Colbert, ii Host, librarian, and self-proclaimed “cyborg nerd,” shares how his love of finding connections led him to host his upcoming ii Salon, “More Human Than Human: An Exploration of Cyborgs and Assemblages.”

“I have always been an interconnected type of person.”

We are all familiar with cyborgs in SciFi movies and medicine, but how about cyborgs in philosophy?

In an interview with Jay Colbert on his upcoming ii Salon, “More Human Than Human: An Exploration of Cyborgs and Assemblages,” we talk about how cyborgs and assemblage theory can be used to talk about connection and re-examine the assumptions built into the societal stories we tell. We touch on Jay’s background as a librarian, the relationship between cyborgs and assemblages, and explore the grey area between Science Fiction and Science Fact.

On Finding Library Sciences

Joined by his ii Cat, King Arthur, Jay shares his personal journey into the world of library sciences. In High School, Jay relates how he would frequently dive-deep into whatever art he was consuming, describing that whenever he read a book that referenced another book, piece of music, work of art, etc., he would inevitably follow the trail, “on to the next thing, and the next, and the next.” Later on, when Jay was in the process of earning his undergraduate degree in English, he found himself having difficulty deciding on what exactly he wanted to do next, especially given his wide-spanning interests. He was also working as a music librarian, having found himself in the role because of his musical upbringing (Jay himself has played music his whole life, and his dad is a country musician).

Eventually, immersed in his work as a music librarian, he realized what he wanted to do was right in front of him—continuing his life-long desire of making connections, and helping others to do the same. He went on to earn his MS in Library Studies, with special training as a metadata librarian.

When asked to talk about a day in the life of a librarian, Jay explains one common misconception. He relates that many people expect librarians to know everything, but Jay states it’s more important that “we know how to find things.”

“Being a librarian isn’t necessarily about knowing everything. It’s about being good at connecting.” Consequently, its Jay’s desire for interconnection that eventually led him to delve into cyborgs and assemblages, whose essence is all about the intersection of independence and connectivity.

On Cyborgs and Assemblages

As someone who is brand-new to the term “assemblage” (and has not yet read the 600+ page work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari) I had to ask Jay to help me out with a quick-n-dirty definition.

“Assemblages are not only how things connect within a system,” Jay explains, “but the arrangement of the connections.” Jay further explains that, not unlike in the human body, every part of the “assemblage is still autonomous, has its own meaning, but then it is also part of this larger [assemblage].” So an assemblage, then, is the “philosophical twin” to the cyborg, mapping on to a whole matter of ideas and constructs.

Jay’s first meaningful encounter in bridging the gap between cyborgs and philosophy was in a class during his undergraduate on “Anime and Society.” This is where Jay first watched the anime film Ghost in the Shell. Curiosity sparked as Jay observed the cyborgs and depictions of gender in the film, and this led him to his next connection, Donna Haraway’s The Cyborg Manifesto.

Jay first connected the terms cyborg and assemblage while taking a Feminist Theory course, and reading another book by Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. In the book, Haraway espouses the idea of “making kin” between disparate things rather than completely resolving complications (a central theme being the kin-making between Nature and Technology). She describes the possibilities of systematizing things in conflict in a way that maintains individuality, expressing that the tension between the things also creates meaning. It is in this work, as well as Haraway’s feminist-leaning A Cyborg Manifesto, that Jay became fascinated with the idea of putting things together without the need of erasing the boundaries.

“The cyborg is about affinity rather than identity,” Jay says.

On Science Fact vs. Science Fiction

Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto also has themes surrounding science and the stories we tell about science. Jay emphasizes that conversations around story-telling in science is not to say “science isn’t real,” but rather to suggest “the way we interpret it, and reify it, and repeat it as a culture or society. That is a story that we tell. Gender [for example] is a story that we tell. All of these things are different stories that we tell.”

Jay and I discuss how it is so easy to all be story-tellers with the innumerable forms of media and information-sharing, and we talk about what this might mean as far as responsibility and ownership. Jay expresses that he feels there is a certain amount of responsibility on either side, suggesting that we need to be intentional about how we are being informed when we tell our stories. “When you tell a story, you’re the one telling it,” he says, but then goes on to affirm the responsibility on the other side, stating, “when you come across a story, it is your responsibility whether you question it.”

Relating responsibility in story telling to the discussions of cyborgs and assemblages, we find that the two marry well. Jay expresses, “there is the personal—micro—responsibility, and then there is the societal—macro—responsibility,” ultimately concluding that it is our responsibility as a society, a societal assemblage, to look closely at the stories we all tell.

As Haraway says, “it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with.”

As an aside, Jay also mentions the book Prejudices and Antipathies by radical librarian Sanford (Sandy) Berman who fights to point out long-standing biases in library science, how these biases effect our cataloging and meta-data, and ultimately how this impacts what stories get told and what stories do not.

On His Upcoming ii Salon

When asked what he is looking forward to most in his upcoming ii Salon on September 10th, Jay says that he is interested to see: “What is our cyborg? What is our assemblage going to look like as a group, together? With all of our different experiences, knowledge, interests, and ideas that we have—what happens when we bring that all together in the session? What’s going to come out of it?”

Thank you to Jay Colbert for hosting such a thought-provoking Salon! Looking forward to analyzing how cyborgs and assemblages manifest in our daily lives, and to how our Salon discussion evolves into its very own thought-based, meta-cyborg.

Hope to see you there!

P.S. Check out Jay’s ii podcast interview with ii Podcast Host Linus to hear even more about cyborgs and assemblages!