Science Fiction Studies
#81 = Volume 27, Part 2 = July 2000
The Fetishization of Masculinity in Science Fiction: The Cyborg and the Console Cowboy
One significant aspect of contemporary technofetishism is the intensification of our cultural lust for new technologies. We see such "technolust" celebrated in Wired magazine’s regular "Fetish" spot; this covers a range of new products from technical gadgets such as the MindDrive—a sensor sleeve that slips onto the index finger for those game players who tire of holding a joystick—to new and more manly ways of consuming ginseng. As Tim Barkow writes, "Brewing up tea as a boon to your manhood just too femme? At last there’s a means of getting your daily dose of ginseng that’s as butch as the root’s reputation...." (65).
Wired’s ginseng fetish is revealing, for what is at stake here is not simply a form of commodity fetishism. Wired’s ad evokes a psychoanalytic framework in which the fetish wards off the threat of feminization. In orthodox psychoanalytic readings, it is always the woman who is fetishized; the fetish masks her horrifying lack of sexual difference, the sight of which can be a source of castration anxiety for the male subject. In this reading, the fetish stands in for the woman’s missing phallus and facilitates the disavowal of her "castration," protecting the male subject from the thought of his own possible "feminization." In similar fashion, Wired promotes the new form of ginseng as a phallic fetish. Faced by the castrating prospect of brewing tea, the male subject is saved by the new, technologically-advanced, and appropriately butch ginseng, which functions as a phallic fetish by shoring up the masculinity of the implied reader of Wired magazine. He, presumably, is the new technoman in technolust with his various fetishes or technoprosthetics, which are desirable because they help to reestablish his masculinity in a continually fragmenting, decentered, and chaotic world.
In popular culture the technoman’s home is in science fiction. And it is sf that provides us with the most fascinating fantasies in which technology operates as fetish and prop for an imagined masculinity in a postmodern and posthuman context. In this paper I will argue that sf offers two main models whereby masculinity is fetishized, and that, despite their apparent differences, the hypermasculine cyborg and the console cowboy are, in fact, both creations of fetishistic fantasies. I will also suggest that the fetish need not always be phallic and that cyberpunk’s celebration of technology as a sexual and commodity fetish suggests, at times, a postmodern aesthetics of hybridity. Unlike the phallic fetish that sets up a conservative paradigm of imaginary sexual sameness within a sexual economy of wholeness and lack (phallic and castrated), postmodern fetishism can produce and proliferate non-normative differences, especially at the interface of the technological and the corporeal. This is especially evident in its representations of the "new technoflesh" that makes redundant any single story about the meaning of the fetish, as well as any attempts to fix absolute definitions of sexual difference.
In Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age, Claudia Springer argues that while some popular culture texts reproduce old technoerotic conventions based on their equation of technology with phallic power, electronic digital technology (fluid, quick, and small, with mysteriously concealed internal workings) has feminized the technoerotic imagery of other texts (8-10). Springer’s argument can be extended to a consideration of the technofetish that may be phallic, resulting in hyper-inflated representations of masculinity (the Terminator and Robocop, for example), or feminized (the matrix into which William Gibson’s cyberpunk technocowboys penetrate).
A novel by Gibson has obvious differences of medium, audience, and context from a film like Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). However, both are, as Springer points out, part of the popular culture arena, where debates and anxieties about gender and sexuality are expressed through technoerotic metaphors and imagery. So rather than institute a binary between "high" literary sf such as Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and a "low" mass-culture film such as Terminator 2, this paper is instead concerned with the fantasies of techno-masculinity as they are constructed in these texts. It should be emphasized that these fantasies are not confined to the texts I discuss here; they circulate as endless quotations throughout popular culture. Despite their differences, I have selected for discussion both Neuromancer and Terminator 2 because of the high intertextual resonance of their technoerotic imagery. The Terminator has become a cultural icon of male cyborgification, his hyper-muscular image endlessly recycled in cultural products from films to toys to advertising; analogously, Gibson’s imagery of the womb-like computer spaces within which his cyberjockeys thrive continues to circulate in such recent films as The Matrix (1999).
Both of these fantasized and fetishized technomasculinities are in excess of their gender norms: the male cyborg exhibits a hypermasculinity and the console cowboy is feminized through his relationship to technology. Either way, in contrast to orthodox psychoanalytic readings that dictate that women are fetishized while men fetishize, in these sf examples it is primarily men who are refitted and fetishized, and who exhibit an array of technoparts in order to define a new technomasculinity. Like the fantasy of the fetishized woman, the fantasy of the technoman also disavows lack, although male rather than female lack is disavowed by these technoprosthetic fetishes.
One response to this psychoanalytic rereading is to object that since these postmodern narratives are all surface, to read into them a masking of male lack requires a psychological model of analysis that is not appropriate because it posits different layers of subjective depth (for example, conscious and unconscious). I would argue, however, that these narratives do not always present a postmodern construction of identity according to which the subject is fragmented, partial, and decentered.1 There is a tension in these narratives between representations of postmodern subjectivity and depictions of an old-fashioned and traditional action-hero masculinity that has not yet accepted its decentering. This is a masculinity that the technofetish is able to keep in play, even if at times somewhat ironically.
The Hypermasculine Cyborg
In popular culture there exists a kind of technofetishism that appears primarily concerned with masking male lack with phallic prosthetics. Since The Terminator (1984), the familiar image of the pumped-up hypermasculine cyborg has appeared in countless sf films, including The Vindicator (1985), Rotor (1987), Robocop (1987), Robot Jox (1989), Prototype (1992),and American Cyborg Steel Warrior (1992), to name just a few. When in Terminator 2 the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives stark naked from the future and enters a tough saloon, the crowd stares. The patrons are both shocked and amused; we hear gasps and chuckles. Despite the Terminator’s perfect physique, it is painfully obvious that he lacks the phallus. His naked body signifies vulnerability. This vulnerability is confirmed by the laughter that meets him and the fact that the bikers refuse to take him seriously until he has demonstrated his extraordinary capacity for violence, made possible, of course, by his technoparts. It is not until the Terminator has brutally dealt with the bar clientele, dressed himself in biker clothes, and—brandishing two guns and a cool pair of shades—drives off on a Harley Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle that he can embody a successful phallic masculinity. Only then is he taken seriously, transformed into someone who is visibly "Bad to the Bone"2—at least metaphorically, for his body is literally boneless, being, as he says, a layer of "living tissue over a metal endoskeleton." Within the film’s diegesis, phallic power is located in and constituted by technological metaphors rather than anatomical signifiers, and rapidly proliferating technoprops seem necessary for the performance of a phallic masculinity.
In classical psychoanalysis the fetish functions to fix "woman’s lack," to mask her "wound," and to disavow the castration anxiety it causes. As Freud writes:
Freud, taking "the little boy" as the norm, theorizes that this boy, when confronted with the fact that his mother does not have a penis, fantasizes that the powerful father has castrated her. The little boy fears his own castration and death, for to take away his narcissistically invested organ would amount to both. He fantasizes that the father may take revenge upon him for his patricidal oedipal fantasies, fantasies in which he imagines that he has exclusive access to the mother. In normal development, according to Freud, this castration threat prompts the boy to turn away from the "castrated" mother and to identify with the father, taking up in the process a heterosexual subject position.
The fetishist instead disavows sexual difference through a fetish object that is a substitute for the mother’s imaginary phallus. The fetish is often an inanimate object—a leather boot, a stiletto heel, a PVC corset. According to Freud, the fetish "remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it" (154). The fetish object serves to repair the imagined mutilations of the mother; it masks lack, and thus protects the fetishist from his fears of castration. In the Freudian interpretation, when the woman wears the fetish she becomes the "phallic woman" in the fetishist’s imagination. The fetish provides a magical protection from the horror of castration signified by female genitalia and thus enables the fetishist to maintain a heterosexual orientation that would otherwise be too frightening to contemplate.
In Terminator 2, by comparison, masculinity that is without cyborgification "lacks." The members of the macho biker gang at The Corral are left wounded, bleeding, and completely humiliated after the Terminator’s visit. Neither are the well-armed police any match for the firepower of the Terminator, who sends them scuttling for cover during the confrontation at Cyberdyne Systems.
The start of Terminator 2 reinforces a narrative in which ordinary masculinity is seen as lacking. The film begins in 2029 AD in Los Angeles, where the survivors of the nuclear fire are engaged in a war against the machines. A mechanical foot tramples a human skull. We see men being wounded and killed by giant hovering technobirds. The leader of the human resistance, John Connor, gazes upon the devastation. His face is heavily scarred on one side. In this posthuman conception of the future, straight white masculinity is no longer at the center of things, but is instead on the margins, fighting back.3
Ordinary masculinity lacks, and the technological Terminator represents a fetishized, idealized masculinity that is a desirable alternative. In Terminator 2, the Terminator represents an idealized phallic masculinity heavily dependent upon technofetishes to ward off the anxieties of the male spectator faced with the prospect of a future vision of castrated masculinity. Although he learns to make jokes, the Terminator admits he could never cry. He becomes more human in every way except those that display weakness or vulnerability. It is perhaps for these reasons that Sarah Connor decides that, in an insane world, he will make the best possible father for her son John.
As well as representing a version of an ideal fetishized masculinity, the Terminator himself plays the role of phallic technological fetish for the vulnerable John Connor, functioning as a kind of technoprosthesis by obeying the latter’s every command. The Terminator protects John both from death and from the lack of ordinary masculinity, enabling him to assert his masculinity over those twice his size. This occurs, for instance, in the scene where the Terminator terrorizes a man who has insulted John, and John exclaims: "Now who’s the dipshit?" In this scene John is learning to use the Terminator as his very own technofetish—as an exciting, sexy, powerful, ideal prosthetic that allows him to disavow his own lack. The technofetish goes one better than regular prostheses that artificially make up for bodily deficiencies, because the technofetish makes good the lack associated, not just with the body’s problems, but with the body itself.
Despite the fantasy of fetishization, however, the fear of lack and castration anxiety always remains. For Freud argues that "the horror of castration has set up a memorial to itself" (154) in the creation of a fetish that is at once a representation of castration and a disavowal of castration. This ambiguity is evident in the fetishized figure of the male cyborg. The reappearing image of gleaming mechanics beneath the Terminator’s ripped flesh both acknowledges and disavows male lack, suggesting in the same frame both wounded masculinity and invincible phallic power. In this image, the technological fetish also sets up a "memorial to the horror of castration" or male lack: the technological inner workings, signifying phallic power, are displayed only when the cyborg body is cut or wounded. If on one level the cyborg is a valorization of an old traditional model of muscular masculinity, it also strikingly realizes the destabilization of this ideal masculinity. Despite initial appearances, the pumped-up cyborg does not embody a stable and monolithic masculinity. For one thing, its corporeal envelope is hardly unimpaired, unified, or whole; it is constantly being wounded, shedding parts of itself, and revealing the workings of metal beneath torn flesh.
In the film’s final scenes, the Terminator is almost destroyed; he has lost an arm and one side of his face is a mess of blood and metal, with a red light shining from his empty eye socket. Despite signifying phallic power, the inner technoparts that make up the Terminator and his clones are also highly suggestive of a non-identity or of identity-as-lack. In Freud’s phrase, they set up "a memorial" to lack, revealing that masculinity does not come naturally to the cyborg. The cyborg’s masculinity is artifice all the way down, and all the phallic technofetishes conceal nothing but non-identity.
Encased in shiny black leather, the Terminator might have stepped out of a fetish-fashion catalogue. He is a man of artifice rather than of nature. His attention to stylistic detail is clearly illustrated when, at the beginning of Terminator 2, he decides to take a man’s shades rather than kill him. At these moments, the film seems deliberately to undermine culturally hegemonic definitions of masculinity. The Terminator’s performance of masculinity resists and destabilizes a dominant patriarchal and heterosexist positioning that would claim masculinity as self-evident and natural; hence this phallic fetishization of masculinity can have a critical edge. The very hyperbolic and spectacular quality of the Terminator’s technomasculinity, defined through multiplying phallic parts, suggests instead that masculinity is artificial and constructed—a performance that always depends on props.
The excessive nature of this performance has an ironic quality that at moments borders on camp excess, and opens up an array of meanings for the viewer. The male spectator, of course, is not limited to a narcissistic identification with the spectacle of fetishized masculinity represented by the Terminator. The Terminator may instead be taken as an object of erotic contemplation, a possibility made more likely by the fact that both the Terminator (himself a leatherman) and gay culture are attuned to the performative requirements intrinsic to being a "real man." For the gay viewer, the more props the Terminator acquires, the more camp he appears. The Terminator’s performative hypermasculinity cannot be contained by the domain of normative masculinity, for the startling array of phallic fetishes signifies its crossover into gay style. The traditional function of the classical psychoanalytic fetish as propping up heterosexual masculinity is completely subverted by the camp spectacle of the pumped-up cyborg with his rapidly proliferating phallic technoprops.
As well as lending itself to a gay reading, the very excess of the filmic cyborg’s masculinity also suggests a fetishistic fantasy in which the technoparts acknowledge the very lack they also mask. More suggests less, the piling up of phallic technofetishes implies that a male anxiety is being masked. This anxiety arises from the partial nature of real bodies, the incomplete, lacking, and arbitrary nature of the flesh, the accident of being one gender and not the other, with no hope of ever returning to the wholeness of pre-individuation. In a sense, then, the cyborg’s technomasculinity is a deconstruction of "normal" masculinity. "Normal" masculinity is inclined to promote itself as the universal standard and to project its lack onto Woman or the category of the Other, disavowing it there by fetishizing the Other. In contrast to "normal" masculinity, the male cyborg displays his own lack, a lack upon which all subjectivity is based. The male cyborg is himself the site of fetishization, where male lack is disavowed through the magic of the technopart.
The spectacle of hyper-phallic cyborg masculinity, a fetishized masculinity constituted through a collection of technological parts, also challenges what were, until recently, some of the most keenly held assumptions of film theory. One of its most widely argued premises has been that the representational system and pleasures offered by Hollywood cinema manufacture a masculinized spectator and a cinematic hero who are both unified, singular, and secure within the scopic economy of voyeurism and fetishism. This paradigm owes much to Laura Mulvey’s influential 1975 essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," which argues, in accordance with classic feminist ideology, that the fetishistic and patriarchal male gaze governs the representational system of classic Hollywood cinema. Mulvey argues that this kind of cinema dramatizes the original threat to male visual pleasure, for the sight of the female body "displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men ... always threatens to evoke the anxiety it originally signified" (21). For Mulvey, Hollywood cinema offers an avenue of escape from this castration anxiety by disavowing woman’s lack of the phallus through the "substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into a fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous (hence overvaluation, the cult of the female star)" (21). Within this economy, women masquerade as the phallus and are fetishized in order to ward off the castration anxieties of the male spectator. As Linda Williams writes, "a significant aspect of cinema’s development as a narrative form accepts and even cultivates, in the ‘masquerade of femininity,’ a range of fetish substitutes for the visible truth of women’s sexual difference...." (49).
With respect to Terminator 2, this kind of reading would focus on the hard, weapon-bearing, phallicized body of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as the site of fetishization that wards off the castration anxieties of the male spectator confronted by the sight of a more fleshy feminine body. Mark Dery operates within the parameters of this type of reading when he writes that "the movie industry’s exploitation of the Freudian subtext in the image of a sweaty woman squirting hot lead from a throbbing rod could hardly be called empowering" (269). Claudia Springer rightly expands on Dery’s reading of Sarah Connor, arguing that such phallic women do not exist solely as objects of the male gaze, but can also provide attractive fantasy figures for "angry women" (138).
A number of recent critical studies have begun to question the theoretical framework of fetishization, either by focusing on the female gaze as does Springer, or by turning to the problematic position of masculinity within the theory, as does this paper. In Screening the Male, Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark take Mulvey’s essay as a point of departure. They write:
This positioning of masculinity within traditional film theory is at odds with the posthuman cinema of cyborgs, where the male subject is often not so much the fetishist as the primary site of fetishization. The phallic props are the male cyborg’s fetishes, the equivalent of the Hollywood female star’s accouterments—highly stylized and flawless makeup, feathers, stockings, and so on. Just as the woman on the screen, thanks to her fetishized and artificial appearance, achieves a "spectacular intensity" that, according to Mulvey, halts the narrative flow (Fetishism and Curiosity 13), so the male cyborg’s technobody is the point at which the narrative starts to freeze and is overtaken by the spectacle of a masculinity propped up by technoparts.
This cinema of the hypermasculine cyborg voices phallic anxieties about castration, but they are played out in a cultural and historical context different from the classic Hollywood cinema analyzed by Mulvey; hence they stand outside this model of how fetishism works in the cinematic apparatus. If the presence of the hypermasculine cyborg can be explained in terms of the fetishization of masculinity, and as performing the phallus with the aid of technofetishes, what then might be the culturally specific cause of the masculine castration anxiety masked by these technoparts?
Postmodernism and Masculinity
In Masculinities and Identities, David Buchbinder writes that "masculinity has traditionally been seen as self-evident, natural, universal; above all as unitary and whole, not multiple and divided" (1). Kaja Silverman makes the same point in psychoanalytic terms: "The normative male ego is necessarily fortified against any knowledge of the void upon which it rests, and—as its insistence upon an unimpaired bodily ‘envelope’ would suggest—fiercely protective of its coherence" (61). Silverman argues that traditional male subjectivity "rests upon the negation of the negativity at the heart of all subjectivity—a negation of the lack installed by language, and compounded in all sorts of ways by sexuality, class, race, and history" (136).
Postmodernity has, however, introduced a whole complex of destabilizations that, Thomas B. Byers argues,
Within the cultural context of postmodernity, masculinity has been, to an extent, denaturalized and decentered, and the abyss at the heart of subjectivity concealed in the traditional coherent male ego has been exposed.4 Whereas fetishization of women’s bodies in classical narrative cinema may have solved the problem of sexual difference for the male spectator, lack is not so easily projected onto an Other in posthuman cyborg films. Here the technofetish simultaneously masks and testifies to contemporary male lack. It facilitates the disavowal of anxiety arising from the potential and partially realized destabilization of white, heterosexual masculinity as the central and standard identity in a rapidly changing postmodern Western culture. This male lack comes about as the result of cultural changes, including challenges to a humanism that placed the white heterosexual man at the center from feminist, post-colonial, and queer discursive quarters. In this cultural context, the male subject fears that traditional male subjectivity will be thoroughly dismantled and that he will no longer appear to have the phallus in the future. The male spectator of such movies as Terminator 2 can, however, through a narcissistic identification with on-screen hypermasculinity, rest assured that anxieties raised by postmodern future worlds can be disavowed. This disavowal is facilitated by the fetishized spectacle of the white male cyborg protected by his hard technoparts, still, thankfully, at the center of the narrative, representing an invincible, idealized, traditional action-hero masculinity. This fetishization of masculinity thus works to conceal the male subject’s actual and imagined feminized position in a postmodern world.
It is clear that the fetishized masculinity represented by Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 is iconoclastic, shattering psychoanalytic and film theory orthodoxies in interesting ways that reveal the gender biases of these theoretical paradigms. I would argue, however, that for all his subversive potential, this fetishized technoman is still complicit in a recuperation of hegemonic power structures. Despite highlighting masculinity as a performance, equally as unreal as femininity, and despite the gay resonance of this performance, the spectacle of a fetishized hyper-phallic technomasculinity is limited in its deconstructive potential; ultimately, perhaps, it only serves to confirm the category of heteromasculinity that it exceeds.
In Terminator 2, Schwarzenegger embodies a masculinity desperately trying to fight off the threat posed by the postmodern, gender-bending, shape-changing T-1000. While Jonathan Goldberg—in line with Donna Haraway’s "Manifesto for Cyborgs"—reads the T-101 in The Terminator as a "leatherman" who embodies "the relentless refusal of heterosexual imperatives" (189), Byers argues that "Terminator 2 goes to extremes to undo Schwarzenegger’s implication in such disruptions." He argues that in Terminator 2 the T-101 is aligned with "hypermasculinity, patriarchy, and the recuperation and preservation of the family, over and against all the threats posed by Haraway’s ‘new people’" (17).
The liquid metal T-1000 embodies the postmodern threat to a traditional stable phallic masculinity. Its fluidity of form, combined with its technologically advanced status, recalls Springer’s argument (111) about how high technologies are often figured in terms of feminized technoerotic conventions in popular culture, in contrast to the phallic metaphors used to depict older mechanical technologies. The quick, fluid, boundless T-1000 evokes this feminization of technology: to partake in the pleasures it promises would be to be seduced by the feminized technofetish at the expense of traditional masculinity. For the feminized T-1000 represents a threat to traditional masculinity, highlighting its instability in a postmodern world where identity is contingent and continually in flux. The feminine fluidity of the T-1000 makes the non-morphing, highly phallicized, and rigid body of the Terminator look, in comparison, like an anxious and reactionary construction of masculinity. Faced with the threat of a postmodern and feminized high-tech world, it seems that normative masculinity has undergone a technological overhaul in the fetishized construction of an excessively phallic masculinity, a techno-masculinity in the form of the Terminator, so that it may, perhaps, have a chance to hold on to old certainties in the face of new and rapid changes.
The hypermasculine cyborg, like Laura Mulvey’s fetishized screen star, performs his gender to excess. Masculinity is here constituted through phallic fetishes, technoprosthetics that mask and disavow the feminized position of the postmodern male subject even as they set up a memorial to his lack. This is one way in which masculinity is fetishized in technoculture.
Before turning to the figure of the cyberpunk hacker as another example of fetishized masculinity in science fiction, I wish to discuss briefly the "armored soldier" described by Klaus Theweleit in Male Fantasies,5 for this figure lies somewhere between the cyborg and the cyberpunk. For Theweleit, the armored male soldier, like the hypermasculine cyborg in Terminator 2, is threatened by a feminine liquidity. The feminine is figured over and over in these soldiers’ writings as a dangerous and overwhelming flow that threatens to flood the boundaries of the male self; the fear of dissolution suggests the lack of a secure sense of external boundaries. These boundaries must be propped up by various prosthetics,6 just as the phallic masculinity of the male cyborg must be propped up by technoparts in an attempt to resist changes brought about by the new postmodern social order.
For the soldiers Theweleit discusses, the main conflict lies between the desire for fusion and the threat of annihilation suggested by any notion of merger. Theweleit argues that the anxieties and fantasies that revolve around issues of fusion and fragmentation belong to the pre-oedipal realm and represent a failure to individuate. Theweleit calls these soldiers the "not-fully-born" (213) and by this he means that they lack a Freudian ego.7 Whereas the main dynamic of the technofetish fantasy in Terminator 2 seems to revolve around the classic psychoanalytic one of trying to mitigate "castration fears" through phallic fetishes, it is significant that pre-oedipal fears of bodily dissolution are also evident. This is especially so in the final scenes, where the Terminator starts to fall apart before dissolving into a vat of molten metal.
Just as "castration fears" can, given a broader cultural context, be interpreted as being concerned with the loss of masculine power and privilege in a postmodern world, pre-oedipal anxieties might also be exacerbated by this particular cultural moment. Faced with the postmodern cry that the body is under erasure, it is not surprising that contemporary fears of bodily dissolution and fragmentation will arise. It is even likely that in the postmodern condition pre-oedipal anxieties about fragmentation and dissolution, along with the correlative desire to merge with the greater whole, will be heightened, especially for the male subject, whose sense of wholeness and experience of being "at the center of things" is rapidly collapsing.
Theweleit’s soldiers’ desires for fusion with a greater whole are not directed toward the mother, whose warmth and sensuality are repudiated, but toward his military brothers and toward the machine with which he merges. According to Theweleit, the soldier "fantasiz[es] himself as a figure of steel" (162). Theweleit also refers to the soldier as "the body-machine" (159), "the mechanized body" (162), and "the body made machine in its totality" (162), all of which evoke images of a flesh-metal hybrid. This indicates, I would argue, that a technofetish fantasy of transformation, whereby individuation anxieties are eased by merging with the machine, may be at work for these men. Just as many post-Freudian psychoanalytic theorists have moved to include pre-oedipal as well as phallic fetishes in individual psychology, technofetishes may be used to lessen individuation or castration anxieties, as feelings of dissolution as well as "loss of the phallus" can become widespread in a culture at a time of rapid change. The next section of this discussion will focus on how the technofetish functions in pre-oedipal fantasies of fusion in the context of William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer.
The Cyberspace Fetish and the Ecstasies of the Console Cowboy
There is another way in which sf fetishizes technomasculinity and this also mirrors the fetishization of femininity. The fetishized woman evokes two models of femininity: she is either the hyperfeminine icon of perfection and beauty, whose very flawlessness masks her castrated state, or she is the fantasized phallic woman of the pre-oedipal, the femme fatale holding the gun or the dominatrix with the whip. Both fetishized women are in excess of their gender norms. If the male cyborg performs an exaggeration of his gender that resembles the excess of the hyperfeminine woman, is there, in science fiction, a male counterpart to the image of the phallic woman: a man who is feminized by his prosthetics?
Claudia Springer points out that "Electronic technology no longer evokes the metaphor of externally visible musculature; instead, its bodily equivalents are the concealed and fluid internal systems. Moreover, in their interaction with humans, computers offer a radically new relationship, one that no longer fortifies physical prowess" (111). Cyberpunk8 would appear to be a prime example of this contemporary feminization of technology in popular culture. The fiction of cyberpunk deals with digital electronic worlds generated by the interaction between flesh and computer, and it is generally populated by cyberpunk heroes who are considerably less physically impressive than Schwarzenegger.9 Unlike the stereotypical figure of the male cyborg, these console cowboys are feminized by the technoprosthetics that enable them to enter cyberspace, also referred to, of course, as the matrix.
The word "matrix" originates in the Latin mater, meaning both "mother" and "womb." This in itself suggests that cyberspace is a feminized space. Nicola Nixon points out that Gibson’s mysterious, ghostly women, such as 3Jane, Angie Mitchell, Slide, and Mamman Brigitte, dwell in cyberspace, thereby further feminizing this technological space (227).
The feminized technospace of the matrix is sexualized in cyberpunk, but it is also feared. In fact, Nixon argues that it takes on the characteristics of a particular type of fetishized femininity, namely, the phallic mother. Nixon writes of Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988): "Gibson has indeed constructed the soft world of fantasy as a type of phallic mother: erotic, feminine, and potentially lethal. If the cowboy heroes fail to perform brilliantly, they will be ‘flatlined’ or have their jacks melted off, whichever is worse" (228). Operating within the terms of a conventional psychoanalytic reading, Nixon focuses on fetishized femininity, in particular the figure of the phallic mother and the vision of castrated femininity that stands behind her while leaving masculinity unquestioned. As we shall see, however, cyberpunk is another postmodern discourse that primarily constructs a fetishized model of masculinity in which the technoman is complete and the unwired man lacks. In contrast to traditional fetishism that revolves around masking Woman’s lack with prosthetics, the male body is most in need of supplementation in Neuromancer’s narrative of posthuman masculinity.
Despite the feminine fleshiness evoked by the word "matrix," in Neuromancer the cyberpunk fantasy is no celebration of the body. The cyberpunk fantasy of transcending the body has been read as the postmodern celebration of the death of the psychoanalytic subject and the birth of the posthuman subject who is without interiority or fixed subject position.10 In Neuromancer, Gibson writes of Case: "In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat" (§1:12).
Ironically, in cyberpunk fiction the fantasy of abandoning the body is often the one in which sensations of pleasure are most heightened. The eroticization of the technological and the very sexual enjoyment evident at the male-computer interface belies the body’s construction as "meat" to be transcended in the all-mind realm of cyberspace, and testifies to a mode of embodiment in the matrix that is typically white, masculine, and heterosexual. To experience the ecstasies of cyberspace, Case "jacks in" to his deck. The term "jacked in" is used to describe the pleasure of the male-computer interface, and suggests a male masturbatory fantasy of heterosexual union with a feminized technology. The eroticization of technology in much cyberpunk serves to bring the body back, even as technocowboys strive for transcendence of the flesh.
In Neuromancer Case is only whole in cyberspace. As a genre, cyberpunk celebrates technofetishism: those bodies not "jacked in" or in some other way wired are incomplete. Technology is the fetish of cyberpunk; desire is translocated from the heterosexual norm onto the technology itself and onto the heavily fantasized cyberspace that it generates. In Neuromancer, sexual pleasure is sought through technology-as-fetish, and interacting with technology sets the standard for erotic satisfaction. For Case, sex with Molly is almost as good as cyberspace.
As has often been noted, Case compares the orgasm he has with Molly to the ecstasy provided by the matrix: "She rode him that way, impaling herself, slipping down on him again and again, until they both had come, his orgasm flaring blue in timeless space, a vastness like the matrix, where the faces were shredded and blown away down hurricane corridors, and her inner thighs were strong and wet against his hips" (§2:45). Molly recognizes the masturbatory fetishistic relationship Case has with his deck, an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7. She tells him, "I saw you stroking that Sendai; man, it was pornographic" (§3:62).
As well as conceiving of technofetishism as a sexualized fixation on technology, it can also be understood as a mode of subject-object relations whereby identities are constructed. The feminization of the technology fetish in cyberpunk does not necessarily make for a less masculinist or more feminist male protagonist. It is not news that the typical cyberpunk text recycles the cowboy myth of the Wild West; its technocowboys, equipped with their prosthetics, are romanticized as lone, tough risk-takers, guns for hire, riding out into the new digital frontier that is cyberspace.
Although the actual readership of cyberpunk, and of Gibson’s Neuromancer in particular, is quite diverse, the reader of cyberpunk fiction is stereotypically conceived of as young, white, male, and technophilic, a description that used to be unequivocally summed up in the term "nerd." Much cyberpunk fiction constructs a reading subject who appreciates the fantasy that technoprosthetics can supplement male lack and can fix a deficient masculinity. It is not surprising that this fantasy has enormous appeal for at least some readers, especially those whom Steven Levy describes as "those weird high school kids with owl-like glasses and underdeveloped pectorals who dazzled math teachers and flunked PE, who dreamed not of scoring on prom night, but of getting to the finals of the General Electric Science Fair competition" (4).
The cultural mythologizing of high-tech culture has resulted in an image upgrade that owes much to William Gibson. Traditionally, before Gibson dressed them in black leather, computer hackers were nerds. Now the category of the nerd has been transformed by the mythology of the hacker. As Vivian Sobchack puts it: "The Revenge of the Nerds is that they have found ways to figure themselves to the rest of us (particularly those of us intrigued by, but generally ignorant of, electronics) as sexy, hip, and heroic, as New Age Mutant Ninja Hackers" ("New Age Mutant" 574). In an article for Wired, Erik Davis describes the technopagan Mark Pesce: "Intensely animated and severely caffeinated, with a shaved scalp and thick black glasses, he looks every bit the hip Bay Area technonerd." In the rhetoric of Wired, "hip technonerd," unlike "hip nerd," is not an oxymoron. The techno- prefix or prosthetic makes a nerd something else. For the awkward young man with a penchant for the technological, painfully aware of his body’s inadequacies and his lack of social skills, cyberpunk itself is a welcome fetish. Like the fetish of cyberspace that supplements the sorry flesh of the console cowboy, the discourse of cyberpunk starts with the inept figure of the nerd and transforms and empowers him. It fantasizes a technomasculinity associated with hackers and cyberpunks that disavows the male lack so flagrantly displayed by the nerd’s deficient body and goofy sense of style, through the magical fetish of technoprosthetics. The empowerment felt by the hacker is also a product of the control over the social and political body which the hacker fantasizes about and which, to a certain extent, he may in fact experience; this control cannot be extended to his own troubling body, which he tries to disavow with the aid of the technofetish.
Interestingly, cyberpunk sheds new light on the nature of the fetish and the relation between fetishization and masculinity. This is because Gibson’s ironic use of the technofetish also subverts expected masculinist representations. Cyberpunk’s fetishization of technology in the postindustrial age unsettles the orthodox reading of the fetish as standing in for the imaginary phallus, because the fetish itself is feminized. Gibson’s Case does not quite fit the phallic stereotype of the hotshot cowboy because of the nature of his relationship with his technofetish. Gibson’s console cowboy represents a model of masculinity that is very different from the hypermasculine cyborg, as it engages with a feminized rather than phallic technology fetish.
The feminized fetish can challenge the phallus as the monolithic signifier of desire; it can also challenge the monopoly on sexual subjectivity for which the phallus stands.11 In popular culture cyberspace is often figured as a feminized space. As discussed earlier, Nicola Nixon points out that Gibson’s cyberspace is feminized by the ghostly feminine figures who haunt it—Lady3Jane in Mona Lisa Overdrive, for example—and by the direct mental access Angie Mitchell has to it. In the film Lawnmower Man (1992), the cyberspace where Jobe and his girlfriend have virtual sex in their shiny, metallic-looking virtual bodies is visualized as a warmly-colored space with a dark red orifice or tunnel at its center.12 Similar imagery is used in The Matrix. In this film, people live their lives deluded by an artificial reality that they take to be contemporary America, while in fact they are being kept alive only to be used as batteries inside a giant computer-womb figured through technoerotic imagery ripped straight out of a Gibsonian world.
Cyberspace is feminized, but it is also a technofetish. As a seductive technofetish, cyberspace promises the fantasy of a feminized subjectivity, typically understood to be less dependent on oedipal individuation, and more fluid, than masculine subjectivity. Allucquère Rosanne Stone writes that "to put on the seductive and dangerous cybernetic space like a garment, is to put on the female" ("Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?" 109). Springer supports this point: "With its invitation to relinquish boundaries and join the masquerade," she writes, "VR asks everyone to experience the fluidity of feminized subjectivity" (94).
Whereas the image of the Terminator wards off the feminization of the postmodern male subject through a fetishized hypermasculine display, the technocowboy embodies this feminization through his physical relations with technology. In Neuromancer the term "jacked in" is used to describe the male-computer interface. It is, however, a misleading term in that it suggests a union between man and machine in which the console cowboy is the "active" penetrating agent and the feminized computer is in the "passive" receiving position. In fact, in the terminology of the electronics industry, Case is the "feminine" connector and the computer that electronically penetrates his skull for a direct cortical connection is the "masculine" connector. It is Case who is a sensitive surface, a vulnerable receiver into which information is deposited, who frequently surrenders himself completely, and who flatlines, dying momentarily while in cyberspace.13
Simstim technology gives Case a one-way cerebral connection to Molly and he is thus penetrated by her embodied experiences. He can do nothing but wait while she infiltrates the Tessier-Ashpool complex. Ironically, this passivity that Case finds so frustrating is repeated when he flips back to his own appointed task. Surprisingly for the hotshot cowboy, breaking through the ice involves little more than waiting about. While the virus does its work, Case chats to the construct Wintermute, who appears virtually as the Finn and who gives him a guided tour on fast forward around Straylight. Even the virus that "penetrates" the ice is feminized: "The Chinese virus was unfolding around them. Polychrome shadow, countless translucent layers shifting and recombining. Protean, enormous, it towered above them, blotting out the void. ‘Big Mother,’ the Flatline said" (§14:200). The construct tells Case: "This ain’t bore and inject, it’s more like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn’t feel it. The face of the Kuang logics kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric" (§14:201-202).
Despite the threats to a stable masculinity represented by cyberspace, it is also the only place where masculinity seems to be complete. The cybercowboys enjoy a pleasurable fusion with the matrix/Mother, and the fantasy suggests a return to the pre-oedipal imaginary, where desires for coherence and illusory unity are satisfied. In this fantasized, psychically-earlier phase, separation between the world and the subject is not well defined and ego boundaries collapse in the psychological union of the inanimate and the animate, masculine and feminine. In cyberspace there is no differentiation, just a consensual hallucination where the data that is the self can easily merge with other data. This pre-oedipal technofetish fantasy of fusion tends toward an obliteration of subjectivity in the matrix—hence the flatlining—and a desire to fuse with the technological object, a desire to be the fetish.
It should be emphasized that my argument is not that the relationship between the console cowboy and the matrix is pre-oedipal in that it replicates the pre-oedipal child’s relationship with its mother. For this would assume that two vastly different psychic relations are the same. Rather, I would argue that due to the lack of a narrative14 through which to describe masculinity in a new postmodern and posthuman high-tech, near-future world, certain familiar and well-established narratives are drawn upon and put into play. The return to a sexualized pre-oedipal space is a narrative that is evoked and deployed by cyberpunk in order both to acknowledge and to disavow anxieties that are typical of some versions of contemporary masculinity as it imagines the future.
Like the fantasies played out in contemporary discourses about the internet and virtual reality, Gibson’s cyberspace allows for the disavowal of bodily differences in a fantasy that privileges the white male body. The democratizing rhetoric that surrounds the new technology of the internet tells us that gender and race are not fixed in this space, and argues that what is transcended in the technology-human relation are prejudices associated with the body. But just because bodily markers are indeterminate in cyberspace or on the internet does not mean that hierarchies and established patterns of oppression pertaining to bodily differences are about to disappear. The notion that online personas transcend social and cultural hierarchies remains a utopian myth.15 This conservative dynamic is, to some extent, repeated within the fetishistic fantasy of Gibson’s cyberpunk. Although masculinity is highlighted as lacking, the space of the matrix promises the disavowal of this lack and of embodied differences; in this space, the white male heterosexual body, surrounded by imploding differences and full of self-loathing, is nevertheless still privileged and still very much at the center of the action. The fantasized free-floating subjectivity is able to reclaim the universal gaze of traditional masculinity by disavowing bodily differences—indeed, the body itself—within the matrix.
However, in Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive Gibson also sets up a memorial to corporeal differences: the matrix is haunted by Haitian voodoo spirits known as loa.16 In Count Zero, Bobby speculates about the mysterious entities in the matrix: "‘I knew this Tibetan guy did hardware mod for jockeys, he said they were tulpas.’ Bobby blinked, ‘A tulpa’s a thought-form kind of. Superstition. Really heavy people can split off a kind of ghost, made of negative energy’" (§22:235).
Through the matrix the technocowboys attempt to escape embodiment in the postmodern world. This world is conveyed in cyberpunk through a radical implosion between races and cultures that extrapolates from the current actual breakdown of boundaries between America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.17 The mastery of the technocowboys is constantly jeopardized, however, by a multifaceted, mystical, feminized matrix full of voodoo, loa, and mambos. The fantasy of cyberspace as fetish both disavows and acknowledges the anxiety caused by racial and gender differences to the postmodern male subject.
Despite being hailed as the apotheosis of postmodernism, cyberpunk uses the familiar Freudian narrative of a return to the wholeness of the pre-oedipal to discuss the crisis of contemporary masculinity. In cyberpunk, fears about the intrusive potential of technology are displaced anxieties about changes in the social order both now and in future worlds—changes that have already begun to threaten a stable, unified masculine identity that presents itself as the universal subject.
I would suggest, however, that although this is a dominant mode of technofetishism within cyberpunk, it is by no means the only available mode. The decadent postmodern condition, depicted in cyberpunk by the profusion of new cyborgified subjectivities and composite languages, can be celebrated rather than feared. Other kinds of technofetishism also exist that perhaps offer more promise in terms of their ability to overturn traditional cultural hierarchies, some of which I will now briefly turn to.
In cyberpunk, technology is of course the commodity fetish par excellence. Neuromancer, for instance, is littered with the brand names of high-tech gadgetry, some real, some fictional, all signifying corporate power—Hosaka, Sony, Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7. But in Neuromancer, as in much cyberpunk, the commodity fetish is continually being appropriated by technologically-savvy and often criminal subcultures, such as those in Night City, and invested with new meanings. Here one thinks of Gibson’s often-quoted maxim from "Burning Chrome": "The street finds its own uses for things" (186). This subcultural fetishization not only of the commodity but also of corporate technological waste leads to an aesthetics of recycling and a breaking down of corporate hegemonies.
At the intersection of commodity and sexual fetishism, the sometimes unintentionally perverse appropriation of new technologies results in radical reconfigurations of subjectivity. For instance, when Case uses the simstim and has access to Molly’s physical sensations, he becomes temporarily in some sense a woman. Molly takes pleasure in teasing him. "She slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling a nipple under warm silk. The sensation made him catch his breath. She laughed. But the link was one-way. He had no way to reply" (§4:72).
In cyberpunk the technofetish can be perverse, proliferating sexual differences and erotic possibilities. In the above passage from Neuromancer, Case is a man feeling like a woman touching herself, thanks to the magic of his technoprosthetic. Hence, the fetish need not always buttress a white, bourgeois masculinity. This fantasized technology seems more suggestive of subversive possibilities than does contemporary play with gender, race, and age on the internet, because of the way it opens up possibilities for experiencing the feelings, sensations, and desires of another.
The "New Technoflesh" sported by Neuromancer’s protagonists often suggests a hybridity of subjectivity that offers a vision of progressive human-technological synthesis, one that may challenge contemporary hierarchized categories of identity. The urban tribes and subcultures of Night City, such as the Panther Moderns, whom Gibson describes as "nihilistic technofetishists" (§4:75), might also be termed "technoprimitives." For they are, perhaps, descendants of the modern primitives18 of contemporary fetish cultures who mesh flesh and metal—preparing the body for potential future cyborgifications as they challenge mainstream conventions of gender and sexuality. Like modern primitives, the technofetishists in Gibson’s cyberpunk redefine the body by dismantling a conventional subject-object duality, while also offering a postmodern fetish aesthetic for the New Technoflesh.
Despite living in an age of affordable beauty, Neuromancer’s protagonists are not all cut to the same aesthetic. There is a playfulness about technoprosthetic body modifications that is illustrative of what I will term postmodern fetishism. Here the contemporary concept of the "perfect body," crafted from cosmetic surgery according to a single aesthetic standard, is made redundant and replaced by a proliferation of differences among cybernetically-reconstructed technobodies. These differences also work to challenge any attempt to lock down absolute definitions of gender or sexual difference. In Neuromancer, for instance, some teen boys sport spikes of "microsoft" from carbon sockets behind their ears, signifying their easy penetrability (§4:73); office technicians wear "idealized holographic vaginas on their wrists, wet pink glittering under the harsh lighting" (§5:97); and Molly is equipped with phallic yet castrating fingerblades.
Rather than maintaining the old cultural hierarchies that presently inscribe the body, the postmodern technofetish can, perhaps, provide new opportunities for mutating normative subjectivities, that is, of course, if the multiple possibilities and transformative potential of technofetishism is embraced. Postmodern technofetishism might open up possibilities for the construction of new subjectivities and relations, for while fantasies of universality and wholeness tend to prop up old hierarchies of power, the pleasures of postmodern fetishism lie in play, poaching, and partiality, terms associated with the breaking down of such hierarchies.
While this playful postmodern technofetishism operates at one level, however, cyberpunk texts such as Neuromancer also clearly illustrate a tension between postmodern future worlds and an older kind of action-hero masculinity. For the most part, the technological fetish of the matrix disavows the changes to masculinity brought about by this new social order, and sets up a memorial to a social contradiction: the persistence of old-style masculinist narratives and fantasies in supposedly fragmented schizophrenic postmodern spaces. While appearing to facilitate the emergence of a new technoman, this technological fetish masks a reluctance to let go of a masculinity that seeks wholeness, completion, and universality in the face of a postmodernism that celebrates fragmentation and the emergence of new identity types.19
The feminized technological fetish of the matrix fixes an ailing masculinity through a fetishistic fantasy of disavowing not only the body’s lack, but also the body itself. This body is then re-inscribed at the center of the narrative through a sexualized merging with the technofetish of the matrix,20 so that the technoman need not take on board a self-definition that is relative, partial, or lacking.
In sf’s depictions of postmodern technomasculinities, fetishism becomes a much more polyvalent concept than its conception in classical psychoanalysis might suggest. These sf narratives indicate that masculinity can also be understood as the site of fetishization, rather than simply the site of the gaze that looks upon the fetishized other. They also suggest that the fetish need not always be phallic.
To the extent that the hypermasculine cyborg deconstructs traditional masculinity through performative excess and the console cowboy is feminized by his technoprosthetics, these fetishized masculinities may have a critical edge in terms of gender politics. Despite this, however, and despite the fact that the fetishization of masculinity in science fiction breaks with psychoanalytic and film theory orthodoxy, this transgressive quality fails to carry over into the cultural arena. In fact, I would argue that these phallic and pre-oedipal fetish fantasies do the opposite, ultimately confirming hegemonic power structures in the cultural context of postmodernism, where they are otherwise breaking down. These models of cyber-masculinity suggest a technofetishization of the white heterosexual male body and a disavowal of its lack, in a discourse of postmodernism where the privilege of that identity is purportedly under siege, as it experiences itself as relative rather than universal, partial rather than complete. The fetishized masculinities of the hypermasculine cyborg and the console cowboy represent different fantasy responses to the rapid changes of our present cultural moment.
In these millennial times it should be expected that fetishistic cultural fantasies are likely to emerge in response to the feelings of "lack" and "fragmentation" arising out of apocalyptic notions of cultural endings. This is especially so for the masculine subject, for his troubles are compounded by postmodern decenterings and subsequent losses of power and privilege. One way to fill that lack is to try to prop up the old order in the face of change, to maintain old certainties and traditional subject positions. This is the way of classical fetishism as illustrated by the figure of the hypermasculine cyborg. Another way to escape uncertainty and lack is through fantasies of merging with a greater whole as illustrated by the (pre-oedipal) fetishism of the console cowboy.
Cultural instability, however, need not be seen in terms of lack, loss, and decline. These changes may instead be viewed as heralding an array of new identities, some fantasized into being through various play with new technologies, a play of postmodern technofetishism that unleashes non-orthodox desires from non-normative technologically-enhanced embodiments. This resulting hybrid cyborg species does not disavow the subject’s perceived lack of the phallus or the lacking body itself, but the cultural lack of the marginal many, as defined by traditional hierarchies of difference. This fetishistic disavowal of cultural lack thus carries the subversive potential to destabilize those hierarchies. Overall, the postmodern fetishistic fantasy of the "New Technoflesh" seems an altogether more progressive and saner response to cultural changes than are the fantasies of classical fetishism and pre-oedipal fetishism represented by the contemporary sf figures of the hypermasculine cyborg and the console cowboy.
1. Fredric Jameson argues that "the shift in the dynamics of culture pathology" from modernism to postmodernism "can be characterized as one in which the alienation of the subject is displaced by the fragmentation of the subject." Jameson also notes that "the decentering of that formerly centered subject or psyche" is part of the postmodern condition (71-72).
2. George Thorogood’s "Bad to the Bone" plays in this scene as the Terminator exits The Corral. It could be argued that in this scene the Terminator is unselfconscious about his nakedness and that this is a sign that he does not lack. I would suggest, however, that, although the Terminator is aware of the inner technoprosthetics that allow him to occupy a phallic position, he must externalize these technofetishes in order to be read by others as signifying a hyperphallic masculinity.
3. In this scene, John Connor, a white man, stands in for the whole of humanity as its last hope against the machines. The very fact that his whiteness is not foregrounded, and that this scene would appear to have little to do with race, typifies how part of the power of the cultural category of whiteness lies in its ability to function as an invisible yet universal standard.
4. Kaja Silverman argues that historical trauma is "a force capable of unbinding the coherence of the male ego, and exposing the abyss that it conceals" (121). I would contend that postmodernism is another cultural force that exposes the abyss concealed by traditional masculinity.
5. In his two-volume work, Theweleit analyzes the writings of the German Freikorps which, as Jessica Benjamin and Anson Rabinbach inform us in their Foreword to the second volume, was integrated into the Nazi State in 1933 and became a source of members of the Nazi elite (xv).
6. Theweleit writes: "The soldier carries a boundary with him, in the shape of the uniform, and the belt and crossbelt in particular. His body experiences the constant sensation of something ‘holding it together’" (223). The soldier holds it together against the potential chaos of the body as a jumble of disorganized flesh and feelings. It is the soft, fluid, internal feminine Other within the hard phallic machine-body of the soldier that must be expurgated. This, of course, has already taken place in the fantasy body of the male cyborg, whose internal machine construction disavows any such lack.
7. Theweleit suggests that this "psychotic" psychic type may have been far more common in Germany at this time than Oedipus (213). By this he means that many of these soldiers had not yet passed through the Oedipal complex, which psychoanalysis maintains is necessary for individuation and formation of the ego. Instead Theweleit proposes that these soldiers exhibit a pre-oedipal psyche and that they lack a properly formed ego. He argues that the soldier’s ego is not a psychic agency but a social one represented by external armor and "muscle-physique" (223). Theweleit writes that the social ego is "incapable of escaping the danger of immediate fragmentation on contact with living life, unless it is inserted into some larger social formation that guarantees and maintains its boundaries" (222): for example, the army or the family. For Theweleit the soldier’s ego functions are "performed in part by the mechanical machineries to which the men ‘bind’ themselves—by guns, for example, in military action" (223).
8. Although my analysis of cyberpunk focuses specifically on Neuromancer, it also applies to other cyberpunk texts that use similar technoerotic imagery. In Walter Jon Williams’s novel Hardwired (1986), for instance, the cyberpunk cowboys are feminized by technology that jacks directly into the sockets in their heads, enabling them to experience the disembodiment of cyberspace. In the comic book Cyberpunk, as Claudia Springer points out, Topo leaves his meat behind to enter the Playing Field, a dangerous feminine space similar to Gibson’s matrix (Springer 64). While such feminist sf writers as Lisa Mason and Marge Piercy offer alternate imagery in their representation of cyberspace, their work is beyond the scope of this present discussion.
9. Andrew Ross contrasts the "inflated physiques of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone" with representations of masculinity in cyberpunk. He writes that "Cyberpunk male bodies, by contrast, held no such guarantee of lasting invulnerability, at least not without prosthetic help: theirs are spare, lean, and temporary bodies whose social functionality could only be maintained through the reconstructive aid of a whole range of genetic overhauls and cybernetic enhancements—boosterware, biochip wetware, cyberoptics, bioplastic circuitry, designer drugs, nerve amplifiers, prosthetic limbs and organs, memoryware, neural interface plugs and the like" (152-53).
10. Jean Baudrillard, for instance, has argued that the model of psychological depth used by Freud to analyze his subjects almost a century ago is no longer relevant to late-twentieth-century human beings. According to Baudrillard, these postmodern humans experience life as a depthless surface phenomenon, as if it were occurring on a computer or TV screen (7). Vivian Sobchack has suggested in Screening Space that "only superficial beings without ‘psyche,’ without depth" can manoeuver in these electronic spaces (257), and Scott Bukatman has termed this posthuman state of existence "terminal identity."
11. Emily Apter makes this argument using Joan Riviere’s theory of femininity as masquerade and Joan Copjec’s notion of the sartorial superego (81). Apter argues for a feminine form of fetishism in fashion, positing the sartorial superego as a way of feminizing the fetish and challenging the assertion that the libido is masculine.
12. This image is depicted on the cover of Claudia Springer’s Electronic Eros.
13. David Cronenberg’s recent film eXistenZ (1999) is also filled with sexualized images of human bodies jacking in to a virtual-reality gameworld.
14. For this point I am indebted to a conversation with Ann McClintock at New York University, November 1997.
15. See Allucquère Rosanne Stone’s work on the Japanese virtual-world Habitat. Stone sees Habitat as reaffirming the "mainstream Japanese heterosexual norm" rather than providing a space for alternative sex practices to develop (Desire and Technology, 121).
16. In Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, the matrix is home to a pantheon of voodoo deities that may have evolved from complex artificial-intelligence programs or AIs. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, an AI talks about the matrix and "When it Changed," commenting that "In all the signs your kind have stored against the night, in that situation the paradigms of voudou proved most appropriate" (§36:264).
17. Douglas Kellner makes this point (319).
18. See Vale and Juno.
19. For a critique of cyberpunk along similar lines, see Sponsler.
20. This sexualized relation of the cyberpunk with the matrix, I argue, brings the body back, even while the body is also disavowed in this technofetish fantasy of bodily transcendence.
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