A Review of Prefiguring Cyberspace: An Intellectual History
* Prefiguring Cyberculture has been reviewed in the American Communications Journal as well.
Prefiguring Cyberspace is an eclectic collection of scholarly and artistic explorations portraying the intellectual and fictional roots and possibilities of modern technological culture. Located solidly within a Western intellectual framework, the contributors to this book (primarily Australian and North American) consider cyberculture (the process “of becoming through technological means”) within its historical context. As Katherine Hayles explains in the “Foreword,” “[T]he child is born not into a vacuum but a social and cultural matrix whose lines of force stretch back to Plato and Descartes, arc forward through Frankenstein and Erewhon, and connect with such breathtakingly different 20th century visionaries as Alan Turing, Alvin Toffler, Donna Haraway and Venor Vinge” (xii). While resisting any impulse toward presenting a teleology of technical change, the essays in this book operate from the common position that there is “a constancy in human thinking on matters of technology” which involves “an ongoing inclination to change” and mutability (“Introduction” 2).
- O que leva de novo ao tema do meu ensaio As Orelhas de Heráclito, onde se explora o Paradoxo de Bizâncio: a cultura da mutabilidade ao cada vez acelerar mais a efemeridade acaba por destruí-la.
One of the changes has been the growing intimacy of machines and humans, resulting by the end of the twentieth century in a “redefined” ontology of human life related to the following terms: posthuman, cyborg, informatic.
- o Que já tem dado asas especulativas a várias construções da Quarta Dimensão.
In “prefiguring” cyberculture (that is, exploring its roots and history as well as imagining its potential futures)
- excelente ideia: a abertura de futuros, não de um só futuro. Futuros que podem ser simultâneos, interactivos ou mutuamente exclusivos ou inclusivos.
the scholars and artists in this collection respond to the common theme of “becoming posthuman” in varied and often surprising ways.
- este becoming posthuman tem um leque de possibilidades vasto. Um posthuman pode ser muito mais human, e atingir um grau superior de conhecimento-consciência.
The text is divided into one section of artists’ responses to the social, cultural, and technological implications of mutability, and three sections of essays that circulate around discrete themes (subjectivity, spatiality, and temporality). Each of these essays draws on a framing text (scientific, philosophical, or science fiction), and in turn each section is framed by an introductory essay that introduces the specific theme of each section, suggesting how each essay circulates within these thematic networks.
- a recirculação do ensaio, outra boa ideia.
Section I: I, Robot : AI, Alife, and Cyborgs
In thinking through the guiding question of this section, “What does it mean to be[come] human,” the essays revisit “the continued relevance of dualistic or binary thinking for conceptualizing the posthuman” (8), as well as interrogating the fashionable postcolonial and postmodern reconfiguring of this dichotomy – hybridity. Erik Davis’ “Synthetic Mediation: Cogito in the Matrix” for example, reasserts Cartesian thinking into his reading of postmodern cultural production, The Matrix. “Cassandra Among the Cyborgs” also uses a Cartesian underpinning, as well as a deliberate “misreading” of
Phillip K. Dick’s “Man, Android and Machine” in its provocative yet troubling exploration of autism and the scientific mind.
|[T]here is “a constancy in human thinking on matters of technology” which involves “an ongoing inclination to change” and mutability (“Introduction” 2).|
- caminhamos para uma reavialação do atuismo, em vez de o cojecturar como um beco sem saída, ou como uma patologia a curar.
Shifting from binary to hybrid, Catherine Waldby’s discussion of Frankenstein, so often used to illustrate science gone mad, is here used as a way to explore “the ethics of machinic life” (36) and the subjectivity of this monstrous (or hybrid) technogenic creation. Especially useful to her discussion, and central to Zoe Soufoulis’ somewhat reverential “Cyberquake” is Donna Haraway’s “Manifesto for Cyborgs” – now a foundational text in the field of “cyberstudies.” Shifting into historical considerations, Elizabeth A. Wilson challenges the narrow ways in which Alan Turing’s contributions to 20th century computational science typically have been understood. By inserting the concept of “childishness” into her reading of Turing, she refutes his traditional legacy of “disembodied” adult minds (the binary approach), and reminds us of the heterogeneous (or hybrid) trajectory taken by other researchers into artificial intelligence since his time. Evelyn Fox Keller also challenges dialectical readings of history (in her case the linear narrative of biological history), proposing instead to decenter this hegemonic narrative by shifting the starting point to earlier notions of organization and self-organization, “that had been formulated [...] to counter both [the] mechanistic and design accounts of life…built into the very definition of biology” (53). This allows us to escape from the “invisible guide” model (and its command/control systems), creating chaos and new possibilities for understanding and imagining life.
Section II: Virtuality: Webworlds and Cyberspaces
As the title of the second section suggests, the focus here is on the concepts of space and virtuality, which Tofts defines as, “the paradigm of experience” that combines the virtual with the real; “a semantic fusion that enacts the dissolution of difference between the world and its representations” (106). The reader embarks on a journey that begins in Plato’s Cave and leads to both Borges’ cellar as well as Gibson’s cyberspace, allowing the traveler to question notions of the real and the virtual as states of be(com)ing. One way in which reality is represented and reproduced is through language and memory, explored in John Sutton’s “Porous Memory and the Cognitive Life of Things” (which also revisits Cartesian philosophy) and Donald F. Theall’s “Becoming Immedia: The Involution of Digital Convergence” (which explores Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake). Gregory L. Ulmer’s “Reality Tables: Virtual Furniture” also engages linguistic issues in its exploration of virtuality and space, suggesting that as the heirs of the legacy of literacy, we must move beyond condemning this legacy as merely “logocentric” by envisioning today’s interface design as belonging to a continuum that includes oral tradition and dialogue. What emerges is a kind of truthful “electrate creole” that flows through a decentered network, allowing for “an online polylogue in cyberpidgin” (129).
- a abertura de neuro-narrativas pelo polylogue in progress.
The final two essays of this section locate their discussions in what have become canonical science fiction texts: Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. McKenzie Wark’s “Too Real” a compelling close reading of Bradbury’s short story, begins with the question “[I]f virtual reality is mimesis, then mimesis of what?” (154).
- pergunta socrática e kantiana.
What stands out in this article is the way it brings the cultural and political significance to the forefront, reminding the reader that while the binary opposition of real and representation may no longer be available as a means of orientation, it is still possible to orient oneself in the matrix.
Rather than seeing the end of “hierarchy of orders” and “homogeneity of planes” as a loss, he pictures the new “geometries of heterogeneous vectors” (of the real and its representations) as “geometries of potential relation” (163).
- e em vez da velha noção de colectivo, que pressupõe uma uniformidade de interesses e de intenções que se esgotaram nas práticas simplistas de One Word, One View camimnhamos para sociedades da heterogeneidade e da heterogeneridade.
McQuire’s “Space for Rent in the Last Suburb” is also concerned with ethical matters, or what he calls the “social implications of the investments” supported by “Gibsonian cyberspace” (168). Piloting readers through the legacy of “city as commodified spectacle” in Gibson’s cyberpunk classic, McQuire reminds us of the Internet’s increasing domination “ by the values of commerce rather than communality”
- mas que são counteracted pelos values de homo ludens que dispõe de novos jogos cognitivos.
and warns us not to ignore the significance of the way in which this “technological transformation
has altered the social parameters in which individual identity is embedded” (177).
- sem dúvida uma sociedade desparametrizada, agora encontrou outras âncoras de identidade.
Section III: Visible Unrealities: Artists’ Statements
Section Three both interrupts and reiterates in a visual format many of the themes explored in the book’s essays, such as subjectivity, virtuality and embodiment. Coupled with the visual representations are statements about the work, allowing the artists to offer “both striking theoretical insights and compelling praxes” of the volume’s “foundational themes” (182). Several of the works engage quite directly with Cartesian philosophy, such as Stephen Jones’ Neural, Simon Penny’s Traces and Stelarc’s Split Body, probing the dualities of human/machine as well as mind/body.
- vários probe- sattelites como blogs em polylogue estão a fazer experiê de hibridização de semânticas, pelo menos nós cá no Sísifo!
Other works move beyond the individual embodiments of technology into territory of the political and social explored by Wark and McQuire. For example, VNA Matrix’s DNA Sluts reworks Haraway into their Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, bringing to the surface gendered readings only hinted at in other pieces. Patricia Piccinini’s startling Protein Lattice visually blurs the boundaries between the real and the virtual, yet thematically focuses on a very concrete political issue – “the commodification of life that is implicit in biotechnology” (202).
- e a tramsmigration of brain areas que está implícita na mesma.
In juxtaposing a beautiful model with a mouse with a human ear, she explains that she is personally struck not by the “technological leap it represents” but rather by the empathy she felt toward the mouse, and the great similarity between the mouse and the model, “both beautiful and empty, valued only for the intellectual property that they represent” (202-23).
- isto levar-nos-ia ao prajna paramita sutra do mouse :-) The mouse is emptiness, emptiness is the mouse...
Section IV: Futuropolis: Postmillennial Speculations
Focusing on temporality, section four explores the ways in which the technological future has been prefigured or imagined.
- um desporto favorito para autistas e visionários, as u e as heter topias. Mas de grande proveito desde antes de Candide, para refinar deslocalizações e a deriva das deslocalizações.
The guiding premise in this section is the utopic/dystopic tension that dominates so much of today’s discussion of cyberspace.
- e outra categoria o stopic sindroma representado pelos hackers e em parasítica medida pelos blogs karaoke.
Yet probing foundational texts such as More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis and Butler’s Erewhon, as well as more modern formulations (Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, Toffler’s Future Shock), helps to explain the continued appeal of this binary. In Margaret Wertheim’s “Internet Dreaming: A Utopia for All Seasons” the historical evolution in utopian dreaming from More to Butler is paralleled in the shift in Internet dreaming over the last two decades, which has gone from More’s Catholic Communism to today’s “convergence of Internet technology and big business” (225).
- a fé nas realizações comunais-comunitárias está a dissolver-se, precisamente com a emergência das sociedades heterogéneas.
For John Potts utopian desire is stronger now than ever, “because postindustrial technology has opened up a new dreaming-space” – cyberspace (241). Richard A. Slaughter’s “From Future Shock to Social Foresight: Re-Contextualizing Cyberculture” explores how rapid change in the early twentieth century resulted in the disruption in what was “normal” and led to the shift from utopic to dystopic imaginings of the future.
- e heterotopic redifinings do mesmo
By considering this shift within the intellectual domain of future studies, the article exposes the Western bias of over-identifying technology with the future, and cautions against cyberculture’s proclivity for both “technological narcissism” and “nihilism” (275).
- e autismo
Damien Broderick’s “Racing Toward the Spike” explores the theory of “technological singularity” delineated by the mathematician Vernon Vinge which is based on the relentless, unpredictable change which produces the future.
- a impossibilidade de computação do change, em suma, a impossibilidade de nomeação do heraclitiano inquantificável e nómada que escapa aos constraints actuais de predictability...
By following threads into and beyond the coming technological singularity, Broderick is able to conclude that something or its opposite will happen, “[O]r something else, something far weirder…unimaginable” (290), bringing us back full-circle to the technophobia of dystopia, as well as the concept of nowhere embedded within the celebrations of utopia
- brilhante aviso.
Section V: Memories of the Future: Excavating the Jet Age at the TWA Terminal
The long journey through this book is well-rewarded by Mark Dery’s “Memories of the Future: Excavating the Jet Age at the TWA Terminal.” Separate from the rest of the text, yet a commentary on the whole, this “Coda” tellingly recounts Dery’s excavation of “things to come that never came” (213).
- a metanarrativa devorando o ideologema inicial
The terminal, as both a temporal and spatial symbol, returns the reader to themes explored earlier in the volume, yet renders the future obsolete before it arrives.
- o que está a acontecer nas cidades portuguesas construídas com um perspectiva colectivista e modernisto-católica do futuro
It also reminds us of the dangers of divorcing the human from the machine (or in this case the pilot from the plane), which can result in a catastrophic journey into the future on auto-pilot. Perhaps what needs to be remembered in our prefigurings and imaginings of cyberspace and posthumanity, is their hybrid or cyborg subjectivities, as well as their heterotropic rather than dystopic or utopic spatialities.
 As defined on the book jacket.
 Harold Bloom as quoted in Tofts, et al. (82).
 Italics in text.
 A musical term, meaning either “the closing section of a musical composition” (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913) or “a few measures added beyond the natural termination of a composition” (WordNet [r] 2.0) – both of which apply to this essay (The DICT Development Group).
 Per Foucault.