Note — Nov 24, 2019

Cyberpunk Is Dead

I really enjoyed this piece by John Semley for the Baffler until just about the last …150 words. Cyberpunk is dead because it has become a parody of itself, focusing on the same foundational vision of “the future,” having not really re-invented itself. Semley does a great recap of the genre’s authors and key titles, showing us how it infused its mythology in the tech created in the last few decades until now, when “cyberpunks have become the corporate overlords, making the transition from the Lo-Teks to Pharmakom, from Kuato to Cohaagen. In the process, the genre and all its aspirations have been reduced to so much dead meat.” The author believes (and I agree) that there needs to be a reinvention of the genre but that’s where the last 150 words come in; his “solution” is underwhelming. Still, if you ever loved this genre, it’s worth a read.

Gibson’s intense, earthy descriptions of these body modifications cue the reader into the fundamental appeal of Neuromancer’s matrix, in which the body itself becomes utterly immaterial. Authors from Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) to Ernest Cline (Ready Player One, which is like a dorkier Snow Crash, if such a thing is conceivable), further developed this idea of what theorist Fredric Jameson called “a whole parallel universe of the nonmaterial.” […]

The idea of the cybernetic body as a metaphor for the politicized human body was theorized in 1985, cyberpunk’s early days, by philosopher and biologist Donna Haraway. Dense and wildly eclectic, by turns exciting and exasperating, Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” is situated as an ironic myth, designed to smash existing oppositions between science and nature, mind and body. […]

Cyborgs and cyberpunk are connected in their resistance to an old order, be it political and economic (as in Neuromancer, Johnny Mnemonic, etc.) or metaphysical (as in Haraway). The cyborg and the cyberpunk both dream of new futures, new social relationships, new bodies, and whole new categories of conceptions and ways of being. […]

[T]he realization of many technologies envisioned by cyberpunk—including the whole concept of the internet, which now operates not as an escapist complement to reality, but an essential part of its fabric, like water or heat—has occurred not because of scrappy misfits and high-tech lowlifes tinkering in dingy basements, but because of gargantuan corporate entities. […]

[A] present where the liberating possibilities of technology have been turned inside-out; where hackers become CEOs whose platforms bespoil democracy; where automation offers not the promise of increased wealth and leisure time, but joblessness, desperation, and the wholesale redundancy of the human species; where the shared hallucination of the virtual feels less than consensual.