Science Fiction Studies

#55 = Volume 18, Part 3 = November 1991


Jean Baudrillard

Ballard's Crash

Abstract.--Ballard's Crash inverts the traditional view of technology as a functional extension of the body. The body and technology mingle (both literally and metaphorically) in a generalized psychology-free symbolization of violence and erotic mutilation exemplified by the auto (auto-) accident. Organic and inorganic vehicles interpenetrate, creating a locus of initiatory power and a path of ritualization for mass-mediated objects. Crash thus represents SF as virtual hyperreality where the dynamics of implosion replace those of extrapolation. 

Jean Baudrillard

Simulations and Science Fiction

Abstract.--In the hyperreal order of simulations, which is governed by informatic and cybernetic control systems, reality is increasingly determined by models (rather than the reverse). The distance deparating the real (fact) and the imaginary (fiction) collapses, and with it the discursive space traditionally used by utopias and classical SF. SF can no longer supply an imaginary model of the real because the latter, itself, is the product of models. SF is now called upon to portray this breakdown of the distance between fiction and fact.

Scott Bukatman

Postcards from the Posthuman Solar System

Abstract.--At the intersection of cybernetics and phenomenology, the body already operates as an interface between mind and experience, but in contemporary science fiction and horror, the body is also narrated as a site of exploration and transfiguration through which an interface with an electronically-based postmodern experience is inscribed. The obsessive restaging of the refiguration of the body posits a constant redefinition of the subject through the multiple superimposition of bio-technological apparatuses. In this epoch of human obsolescence, however, a remarkably consistent imaging/imagining of both body and subject ultimately emerges. The essay examines the refiguration of the body in the performance art of Stelarc and in three novels: Bernard Wolfe's Limbo (1953), J.G. Ballard's Crash (1973), and Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix (1985). The examination of Schismatrix suggests that cyberpunk constitutes a discourse within which many concerns and techniques of surrealism again become relevant--a techno-surrealist production of a new flesh: a terminal flesh. The cyberpunk narrations indeed speak with the voices of repressed desire and repressed anxiety about terminal culture. Cyberpunk negotiates a complex and delicate trajectory between the forces of instrumental reason and the abandon of a sacrificial excess. The essay concludes by considering what Gilles Deleuze and FÈlix Guattari call "The Body Without Organs'': a philosophy of bodily transgression. In the fantasy of the Body without Organs, the body resists the finality of the organism, of the subject. Deleuze and Guattari are cyberpunks, too, constructing fictions of terminal identity in the nearly familiar language of a techno-surrealism.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway

Abstract.--With the expansion of the technological construction of social life in the postmodern period, SF ceases to be a genre of art and becomes instead a mode of quotidian awareness. At the heart of this mode are two hesitations: a) about whether scientific-technological transformations are merely conceivable or actually realizable, and b) about the possible implications of their realization. As previously barely imaginable social conditions emerge through the effects of technology--particularly informatic technology--the objects of cultural theory become concrete, and theoretical reflection about their future becomes indistinguishable from SF. Jean Baudrillard and Donna Haraway are two of the most acute theorists in the SF mode. Baudrillard argues that in the age of hyperreality, no distance remains between reality and the imaginary models used to conceive it. Science fiction, the type of imaginary model appropriate for the bourgeois-productionist phase of history, ceases to exist when reality surpasses it. Haraway proposes the notion of the cyborg as a revolutionary being, simultaneously defined by technology and by emancipatory aspiration. Both theorists elaborate SF topoi, while writing theory that is poised between fiction and rational explanation--just like SF.  

Roger Luckhurst

Border Policing: Postmodernism and SF

Abstract.--A central tenet of definitions of postmodernism is the erasure of the border between so-called "high'' and "low'' culture. There is now, it is claimed, an intermixing and blurring of previously autonomous and differentiated forms, a distinction associated with a superseded modernism. Such claims would appear to present SF critics with the potential to escape the constrictions of arguing in terms of the "mainstream'' and the "ghetto,'' or equivalent terms. Looking in detail at a number of postmodernist critics who explicitly deal with SF reveals, however, that whilst there are overt claims of erasure, there is always an ultimate reinscription of the border. It is not a question of erasing borders, but of a constant vigilance and self-awareness as to how borders operate in the production of value, and whether it is possible to separate this process from that of the necessity of borders in producing meaningful statements about the genre of SF. 

Christopher Palmer

Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick's Valis

Abstract.--P.K. Dick's work is marked by a strong desire to vindicate liberal individualism, and an apprehension of the threat to liberal individualism posed by non-human beings such as androids and deities. But, in contrast, non-human beings are also portrayed as valuable. The result in the SF of Dick's middle period is a complex dialectic and a startling revision of liberal individualism. In his later works, this dialectic becomes more tense and difficult; the appeal of belief in a deity or preternatural being as an alternative to prevailing social reality strengthens, but individuality, and difference itself, are jeopardized. The result, in Valis, is best described as a retreat into textuality; this retreat endangers difference, since the variety of texts resorted to is reduced to one (if shifting) meaning. Yet the most striking formal innovation of Valis is its treatment of the relations between author and reader. This is described here as a rebirth of the author. Difference is reasserted because the meaning of the experiences which Valis treats is tied to Dick and Orange County, and cannot be detached from them. But this reassertion is at a severe cost, since meaning that cannot be detached by the reader is hardly meaning at all. 

David Porush

Prigogine, Chaos, and Contemporary Science Fiction

Abstract.--The new scientific paradigm of deterministic chaos, which explains how complex, apparently chaotic systems leap into new orders of complexity, has an especially intriguing relationship with SF. The chaos model of Ilya Prigogine, called dissipative structures, explains how an open system under certain physical conditions will spontaneously organize itself at a higher level of complexity; it thus resolves apparently fundamental contradictions between evolution and entropy, and between the impulses to simplicity and complexity in scientific descriptions of reality. A group of postmodern American SF writers use Prigogine's theories both as explicit subjects, and as a new discourse that raises the standards of SF as an art form. In his Radix (1981), A.A. Attanasio applies Prigoginian ideas to depict the auto-evolution of a machine intelligence. Lewis Shiner, in his Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988), constructs his novel as a depiction of the complex destabilizations of historical time and space implied in Chaos Theory. Bruce Sterling, in his Mech-and-Shaper fictions--The Cicada Queen and Schismatrix--constructs ever more complicated feedback loops between technology and human culture create unpredictable new conditions. In The Difference Engine (1990), Sterling and William Gibson apply chaotic systems theory to the alternate history mode of SF.

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