TOWARDS : Transcendence, Technospirituality, and Technoculture

Felicity Van Rysbergen

(B.A. Hons, of Melbourne)

Submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of

March 2011

Journalism and Media Research Centre

The University of New South Wales 2 ABSTRACT

This thesis argues that the pervasive merging of technocultural and sacred metaphors uncovers a longstanding Western of inscribing the technologically new with the of – a transcendental excess that underlies the of late capitalist notions of and . By claiming that the transcendent moment has utterly saturated our technological desires, preserving an originary sense of the sacred at the inventive heart of and technology, it sees this ‘technocultural transcendence’ as a model for thinking about an ironic return of grand like , , and the absolute, used wittingly to revitalise just as its last gasp has (perhaps prematurely) been proclaimed.

The thesis therefore also seeks to theorise an emerging ‘transmodernity,’ or the post of , through critical cultural readings of key transcendent in technoculture – Italian (), (science fiction), (film and ), and Integral theory (secular transformative ). Each chapter offers examples of how the twinned concepts of transcendence and technology help create the conditions for the of transmodernism, and works to provide potential examples of a resulting transmodern in action. Throughout this thesis, the burgeoning desire for reconstructing what was once deconstructed, fragmented, and disavowed is examined, not to simply return past foci of theoretical enquiry to the margins or the marginalised to the centre, but to reveal the primary message of transmodernism – that both and reconstruction hold equal significance on a continuum of understanding socio-cultural change.

Fuelled by a growing sense of the interconnectivity that occurs with the multiplicity and diversity of enabled by the internet, world wide web, and social networking channels, this thesis holds that its model of transmodernity represents interconnectivity laid bare. It is persistent renewal and , but with a witting nod to the process of ’s perpetual . It balances postmodernism’s of meaninglessness with the return of signification and purpose, reinserting the ‘Big Questions’ back into the

3 fields of , , truth, , spirit – while remaining wary of their potential to generalise.


I hereby declare that this submission is my own work and to the best of my it contains no materials previously published or written by another person, or substantial proportions of material which have been accepted for the award of any degree or diploma at UNSW or any other educational , except where due acknowledgement is made in the thesis. Any contribution made to the research by others, with whom I have worked at UNSW or elsewhere, is explicitly acknowledged in the thesis. I also declare that the content of this thesis is the product of my own work, except to the extent that assistance from others in the project’s and conception or in , presentation and linguistic expression is acknowledged.

Signed ......

Date ......


I gratefully acknowledge the wonderful supervision and support of Professor Gerard Goggin during this work, and the Journalism and Media Research Centre at The University of New South Wales.

The following people helped ameliorate and put into the frustrations and isolations of writing a thesis: Jo and Russell Anderson, Fiona Austen, Sophie Gebhardt, Dr Angus Gordon, Emma Greenwood, Ross Hamilton, Lyndall Jenkin, Simon and Kath Keevers, Liam Leonard, Dr Tania Lewis, Nikki Lindsay, Daniel McGlone, Dr Nicola Parsons, Ann Paterson, Bryn Pears, Nicolle and Russell Penney, and Christine Thomas.

I am also indebted to Dr Ann Vickery and Dr Jonathan Carter for their careful reading of earlier drafts of this dissertation, their useful comments, and ongoing support.

A special acknowledgement must go to my parents Deirdre and Roy Nicol, sister Trish Nicol, aunt Rosemary Daniel, and her partner Alan Dodd for their understanding, endless patience, and encouragement when it was most required.

Finally, I am forever indebted to my husband, Simon Plunkett, without whose , support, and unflagging enthusiasm the arduous task of writing this thesis may never have been completed.


List of Figures ...... 9


i. The Transmodern Moment ii. Technological Mysticism and Technospiritual Narratives iii. Writing Technologies and Transcendence


i. The Eternal Futurist Moment ii. On the Road to Transcendence iii. Praying to the Divine Velocity iv. Mind Over Matter


i. A Short of Cyberpunk ii. Autobahn to Infobahn - Cyberpunk’s Critical Reception iii. Neuromancer, or Escape Velocity iv. God’s in Cyberspace v. Virtually Gnostic vi. Godhead Goes Digital


i. Creation Anxiety and Desiring the Virtual Feminine ii. Jouissance, Madness, Holiness, & : Re-embodying Cyberspace iii. The Future Eve: Man-Made Women in Cult Television iv. Echoes of Transmodernism


i. Evolutionaries on the Next Wave of ii. A Map of Everything iii. Integral Spiral Dynamics iv. Boomeritis, Postmodernism, and the ‘Mean Green ’ v. Vertically Transcendent or Transpersonal States vi. Deus Ex Machina or Deus Sive Natura? An Integral Return to the Source Code


i. Transcending : Where the Vertical Meets the Horizontal ii. A Transmodern End to Postmodernism?

Works Cited ...... 283


Figure 1. , Dynamism of a , 1913...... 54

Figure 2. Umberto Boccioni, , 1910...... 57

Figure 3. , Dynamism of a Dog on A Leash, 1912...... 58

Figure 4. Étienne-Jules Marey with George Demeny, Untitled (Sprinter),1890-1900...... 58

Figure 5. Cover of : Adrianopoli Ottobre 1912: Parole in Libertà by F.T. Marinetti...... 59

Figure 6. Umberto Boccioni, A Futurist Soiree. Caricature of the “Futurist evening,” at the Politeama Garibaldi, Treviso, 2 June 1911...... 60

Figure 7. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and automobile circa 1909...... 68

Figure 8. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's wrecked car in a ditch, 1908...... 74

Figure 9. Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jane in Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence..... 174

Figure 10. VNS Matrix, A Cyber Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, 1992...... 180

Figure 11. Carlo Carra, 13 Introspections, 1914...... 181

Figure 12. Giacomo Balla, , 1910-1911...... 182

Figure 13. Eve Edison and Bobby Mann, Mann and Machine NBC publicity still...... 190

Figure 14. Max Guevara (), Dark Angel...... 194

Figure 15. Final scene of Dark Angel (Season 2), showing transgenics recreating the 1945 raising of the US flag in Iwo Jima...... 198

Figure 16. Fox publicity still for Dollhouse depicting Echo (Eliza Dushku) as deadly mannequin...... 200

Figure 17. AQAL Graphic...... 230 Figure 18. 4Q8L map combining AQAL, SDi, levels, states, and types...... 233 Figure 19. Neo enters the Machine City in Matrix Revolutions...... 266


DEUS EX MACHINA: Transcendence, Technology, and Technospiritual Fictions

10 Constant change is part of a dichotomy – where there is constant change the opposite must be true. There must also be absolute changelessness. This is why rapid tech change spawns . – William Gibson1

We used to have religion but now we had code, both signifiers of events which happen in worlds which are just out of sight. We used to believe in an invisible God; now we put our faith in streams of electronic fizzing through which are too small to see. – Michael Marshall Smith2

[For in the beginning] God created man. But now men create God. That is the way it is in the world – men make gods and worship their creation. – Gospel of Philip3

This dissertation seeks to theorise ‘transmodernity,’ or the post of postmodernism, through critical readings of four key transcendent myths in technoculture – Italian Futurism (art), cyberpunk (science fiction), cyberfeminism (film and performance art), and Integral Theory (secular transformative spirituality). It argues that, through these technocultural myths, the transcendent moment has utterly saturated our technological desires, preserving an originary sense of the sacred at the inventive heart of science and technology, and particularly in late capitalist on progress and evolution. Occupying the where science and religion coincide, the transcendent moment thus provides a model for thinking about an ironic return of grand narratives like metaphysics, truth, and the absolute, used wittingly to revitalise theory just as its last gasp has been proclaimed.

Since the fin de millennium there has been a growing body of critical work concerning the general waning of the postmodern project. Calls were made for the temporalisation of postmodernism; to place it within the context of a history that ironically continues to move forward despite postmodernism’s erstwhile assertions to the contrary. For instance, in The Politics of Linda Hutcheon writes:

The postmodern moment has passed, even if its discursive strategies and its ideological critique continue to live on – as do those of modernism – in 11 our contemporary twenty-first-century world. Literary historical categories like modernism and postmodernism are, after all, only heuristic labels that we create in our attempts to chart cultural changes and continuities. Post- postmodernism needs a new label of its own, and I conclude, therefore, with this challenge to readers to find it – and name it for the twenty-first century.4

While this challenge has been taken up by a number of commentators, and many labels have been tentatively proffered, critical consensus on what has come after postmodernism remains elusive. And while, almost a decade after Hutcheon’s call for a new label for our milieu, debate still rages, less work has sought to turn theory into praxis and hermeneutically apply post-postmodernist ideas to cultural fields. This thesis to take a step forward in both directions, building a working definition of what it calls transmodernism through sketching possible avenues of applying this new methodology to a broad range of texts.

To understand the ‘post’ of postmodernism, however, one must first locate the postmodern within a larger modern project that continues to evolve, and thus begin the task of historicizing the now. This task also recognises in its entirety (modern/ modernist/ postmodern/ transmodernist), as essentially open-ended – as Hutcheon notes above, elements of modernist continue to live on throughout the postmodern era, nascent postmodernist ideologies can be located within modern and modernist texts, and both modernisms and (for each is not a discrete theoretical stance, but a succession of theoretical ‘flavours’ we choose to group together under a single rubric so as to discuss them more meaningfully), must necessarily pervade our emergent understanding of the transmodern. The entire project of might therefore be best read as a series of cultural moments – some modernist, some postmodernist and now, some transmodernist – dedicated to seeking new ways of understanding and new approaches to -in-the-world. To better emphasise the links between these cultural moments, this thesis identifies ‘transcendence’ and ‘technology’ as connective themes that have maintained constant conceptual force throughout the modern project as a whole. It recognises, however, that these terms represent only two of many that could be attributed to the notion of modernity – other potential sites of exploration include notions of ‘the new,’ ‘science,’ ‘rupture,’ ‘revolution,’ ‘change,’ or ‘transgression’ – all of which, it soon be noted, can also be seen as subsets of transcendence or technology. For the purpose of this thesis, however, transcendence 12 within technological culture and technospiritual metaphors will be specifically examined to demonstrate what it views as a central tenet of transmodernity – that is, the attempt to readjust and reconnect our understanding of popular dichotomies like science and religion, technology and spirituality in order to grasp a larger, significatory whole.

Writing in 1980, Jürgen Habermas (following ’s seminal 1962 , ‘What is Modernity?’) noted that the term ‘modern’ had been in use since the fifth century to articulate “those periods in when the consciousness of a new epoch formed itself through a renewed relationship to the ancients.”5 In its broadest definition, then, the Western project of what came to be called ‘modernity’ began with the Enlightenment in the late seventeenth century, marking a political, material, conceptual, and aesthetic move in the West away from the blind faith of medieval religiosity (the ancient) towards a validation of science and technology, education and (the modern) as foundations for a new kind of social model based on and equality. The Enlightenment’s project of modernity therefore began to develop the spheres of science, morality, and art from reason, keeping them separate from the metaphysical and religious realm.6 Its political and material manifestations would encompass a systemisation of modernisation that would ultimately result in the , advanced scientific and technological progress, massive population growth, the expansion of markets, and . In other words, it gave birth to a relentless force of escalating dynamism and that characterises contemporary culture and . The project of modernity, as imagined by the philosophes, celebrated change (in the form of the perpetually new) as a form of constant contradiction and conquest that would fire the revolutionary spirit underlying the aesthetics of modernity. However, the philosophes also saw humanity simultaneously engaged in an effort of universal moral and intellectual self-realisation where the pursuit of Truth by way of systematic ‘information technologies’ would ultimately lead to the betterment of all citizens. The age of ‘infallible’ progress had begun, as had the stirrings of an increasingly secular society freed from the chokehold of religious dogma. Nevertheless, a lingering desire for a central organising principle, an Absolute Truth or Reason remained, to be uncovered once the requisite amount of knowledge had been carefully accumulated.

Here we approach the symbiosis between the terms ‘process of modernisation,’ ‘the project of modernity,’ and ‘the modernist era’. The first denotes the processes of technological or scientific advance as unleashed by the rational held by Enlightenment thinkers across all fields of knowledge – philosophy, art, culture, science. 13 It also relates to the growing impact of the machine on western society, which by the turn of the twentieth century was creating a transformation of old in favour of new at a speed hitherto unseen in history.7 Modernity can be seen as the social and cultural condition of these objective changes – how lived was transformed as a result of the changes wrought by modernisation. Modernism, by contrast, is the act of reflecting upon this transformation – “the inchoate experience of the new” – as expressed aesthetically in art, , and intellectual thought.8 Such aesthetic responses to the modern condition appear to be expressed via two concurrent but opposed registers that still retain some force today. On the one hand, influenced by the dialectical responses to technological progress embedded within bourgeois culture, the machine began to symbolise both the possible realisation of a phantasmal futurescape (for example, ’s Metropolis, 1926), and the apotheosis of humanity’s apocalypse (The Somme).9 The dream of a technological utopia, heralded by the pervasive images of the automobile and the , had infiltrated mass hearts and minds wherein escalating machine reached a kind of exquisite transcendence in the popular imagination, the shape of fabulous technologies to come. Though the speed and dynamism of new machines like the automobile promised exhilaration in every day modern , behind the glittering surfaces of Classic Hollywood starlets and New York skylines lay the driving feature of twentieth century industrial , the assembly line. It articulated for some a profound that subjects were increasingly imprisoned by machines in what called the ‘iron cage’ of modernity, providing the subjective antithesis to the celebration of dynamism. In this climate of suspicion, the position of the worker as creator of a unique commodity was suddenly compromised, as assembly lines transformed labourers from productive to expectant bodies, passively waiting for the future to come down the line.10 It seemed to some that, in order to embrace modernity, one was forced to simultaneously encompass promises of renewed social power, growth and transformation, and the dissolution of the subjective ground on which the formation of individual had previously relied. was thus gripped by a new dilemma; as Marx had written years before, to be modern was to inhabit a universe in which “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of , and his relations with his kind.”11

However, what “brought about a mix of alienation and apocalypse in some, produced the opposite in others: an almost hysterical exhilaration.”12 This response to technology is 14 most emphatically expressed in the work of the Italian Futurists from 1909 to 1939, and particularly in the incendiary manifestoes of the avant-garde movement’s leader, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. Under Marinetti’s guidance, and for a short time between 1909 and WWI, the Italian Futurists became synonymous in popular vernacular with a transcendent celebration of humanity’s inevitable assimilation by technology, which, they claimed, would result in a new era of potentialised . As one of the twentieth century’s earliest avant-garde movements, Italian Futurism articulated one unfolding of aesthetic modernity’s revolt against old and the scene for subsequent avant-garde movements – such as and – to seek out the shocking, unchartered, the transformative, and unknown. Other early twentieth-century aesthetic modernisms – for example, the work of T.S Eliot, Joyce, and , among others – while convinced that the Enlightenment’s fabled central organising principle could not hold, that the search for it had led not to enlightenment but rather a vast abyss at the heart of Western culture, also held fast to the goal of a new, socially progressive world order.13 Yet, faced with the end game of the Enlightenment’s pursuit of reason through escalating scientific and technological progress – an ever-increasing rate of mechanisation in which the individual teetered at the precipice of the gaping maw that was the First – the modernist turned inward to minutely document the workings of the Self. Where the Romantics had furthered the Enlightenment project by focussing outwards on the in for hints towards revitalising culture, the modernists began the self-involved task of recording the intricacies of a disenfranchised psyche faced with the outcomes of advanced technological progress. And, where the Enlightenment project had remained suspicious of mystical claims towards a central organising principle, such as God or Nature, modernist art yearned for it. Early twentieth-century art and literature is therefore littered with references to transcendent as a transformational force, from Kandinsky’s veiled spiritual images to Marinetti’s Futurist manifestoes, Joyce’s secular epiphany, Woolf’s moments of being, or Yeats’ well documented dalliances with the occult.14

Such artistic expressions of transcendence focussed on the individual’s ability to create art as the highest expression of truth and social revolution. Through the resultant transformative or revelatory experiences, the artist’s work would act as a signpost to a more complete expression of human . The modernist artist existing outside the bounds of normative society would have an enhanced ability to see beyond its systems, to peel back the façade of traditional mores and uncover the of modern life, which revealed itself to be “the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent,” one half art, the other “eternal and immutable.”15 The mind and its idiosyncratic productions, whether in the 15 form of dreams, streams of consciousness, altered states, or madness, came to stand in for the centralising factor of human identity in a world where science, and its technological produce, was increasingly altering the experience of embodiment. Transportation and communication technologies respectively replaced and excised the body’s daily interactions with its environment, while modernist writers continued to map with ever- increasing intricacy the detailed workings (or failure thereof) of the mind to cope with this new state of affairs. A crisis in the content and form of therefore ensued, on the one hand constructing language as no longer a true reflection of reality but rather consumed by the beauty of its own texture, as in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and, on the other resulting in the visual and linguistic abstractions of and Dada. Pericles Lewis notes that in some cases this disintegration of thought and reality ultimately led to a concomitant higher integration, in the form of Molly Bloom’s affirmative monologue at the end of or Eliot’s all encompassing “Shantih, shantih, shantih.”16 As Charles Taylor wrote, “Art becomes one of the, if not the, medium in which we express, hence define, hence realise ourselves.”17 The artwork as hieratic object “transcends not only its status as representation and the understanding of its audience, but even the intentions of its creator. For some modernists, art approaches a sacred function, no longer subservient to the rituals of the Church, but understood as itself a site of sacred power.”18 However, it was not only art that became the receptacle of the secular sacred – as continued to transform the everyday environment in the cultural psyche technological artefacts also became increasingly invested with mystical power. This is not simply, as notes in the quote at the beginning of this introduction, the result of an innate need to rebalance the constant change/changelessness equation, although this desire must necessarily perform a role in the re-mystification of technological culture. It also speaks to the emergence of the sacred as excess to a secular society in reaction to its disavowal by the authors of the Enlightenment. Indeed, it is now possible to read any socio-cultural element that refuses to be contained by the limits of reason as invested with sacred – a move that both proclaims its ineffability at the same time as it seeks to dissipate its symbolic power. This holds as true for art as it does for religious mysticism and accounts of the phenomenological experience of transcendence that seem – for their authors – to defy linguistic expression even as they are compelled to articulate it to others.

Where, among other things, modernism pursued an internal search for an absent central organising principle and the consequent melancholic mourning of its loss, postmodernism marked the abandonment of all such quests to wrest meaning from what it saw as an 16 increasingly fragmented, alienating world. Thoroughly exhausted by modernism’s apparently fruitless pursuit of meaning and , a postmodern worldview (which, disregarding some late nineteenth century uses of the term, arguably emerges from 1945 and continues to the turn of the millennium), instead cultivated a studied indifference to such projects, firmly determining that there was, in fact, no centre to search for in the first place – just an endless of unstable signs and shifting contexts.19 had always been haunted by a desire for metaphysical consolation, but the notion of a clear, centralising Absolute or any attempt to link ‘signs’ with ‘things’ was utterly fraudulent (Derrida), narcissistic (Lacan), (Foucault), even evil (Baudrillard).20 One species of postmodern therefore revelled in the very ‘depthlessness’ of a contemporary culture saturated by unconnected signs and signals. It emphasised surfaces, blurring distinctions between high and and championing contradiction, diversity, interconnectedness, and ambiguity. It moved philosophical aspirations from uncovering meaning and value to their production and reception.21 Reality no longer existed, if indeed it ever had; the experience of contemporary late capitalist culture was a composed of pure effect and self-referentiality. The philosophes’ vision of revolutionary change had seemingly come to pass, though assuredly not as they had planned it.

Just as the era of modernism should be recognised as a series of connected yet disparate ‘modernisms,’ the postmodern era must also be read in terms of ‘postmodernisms.’ In 1989, Linda Hutcheon acknowledged that:

Few words are more used and abused in discussion of contemporary culture than the word ‘postmodernism.’ As a result, any attempt to define the world will necessarily and simultaneously have both positive and negative dimensions. It will aim to say what postmodernism is but also at the same time it will have to say what it is not… for postmodernism is a phenomenon whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidably political.22

These conflicts, she argues, arise from a conflation of theoretical notions of the postmodern – or “the designation of a social and philosophical period or ‘condition’”23 – and those of postmodernity – a cultural expression of this ‘condition’ across various fields of artistic endeavour including, “, literature, photography, film, , video, dance, music.”24 Similarly, Brian McHale has argued that every postmodern critic

17 constructs his or her own version of postmodernism according to his or her own perspective:

Thus, there is ’s postmodernism, the literature of replenishment; Charles Newman’s postmodernism, the literature of an inflationary ; Jean-Francois Lyotard’s postmodernism, a general condition of knowledge in the contemporary informational regime; ’s postmodernism, a on the road to the spiritual unification of humankind; and so on. There is even Kermode’s construction of postmodernism, which in effect constructs it right out of existence.25

To construct an exhaustive anthology of the various “flavours” of postmodern theory is beyond the space available to this introduction to the emergence of transmodernism, suffice to say that, as commentators sought to resolve the conflicts between Hutcheon’s ‘postmodern’ and ‘postmodernity,’ multiple postmodern were put forward. To McHale’s we should add Frederic Jameson’s more dystopian picture of postmodernism’s celebration of ahistoricity and its stylisation of the past into commodity and . As such Jameson views the postmodern scepticism towards as a mode of experience that stems from late capitalist modes of production. Whereas “modernism was still minimally and tendentially the critique of the commodity and the effort to make it transcend itself,” postmodernism “is the consumption of sheer commodification as a process.”26 That apparent victory of commodification over all spheres of life marks postmodernity's reliance on the "cultural logic of ." Technologies of reproduction have replaced those of production in Jameson’s late capitalist postmodern age leading to a depthlessness in postmodern culture countered by extreme claims for moments of intense emotion, which he aligns with schizophrenia and a culture of (drug) addiction.27

Equally bleak is ’s characterisation of postmodern theory’s lack of contact with the ‘real’ that concomitantly fuels a fascination with its disappearance. The kinds of oppositionary antics that exemplifies the modernist avant-garde’s resistance to normative socio-culture is therefore impossible in a postmodern age because of the supreme hegemony of a totalising system: “Everywhere, always, the system is too strong: hegemonic.”28 He therefore claims the postmodern era as nihilist and melancholic systematisation, where “ is the inherent of the mode of the disappearance of meaning.”29 This is caused by the loss of history and the of 18 history’s increased mediatisation, a proliferation of “produced by industrial reproduction and the vulgarisation at the level of objects of distinctive signs… and from a disordered excess of 'ready-made' signs,”30 an increasing culture of consumption, the “cool smile” of parodic, self-conscious, self-reflexive elements of pop-culture, and – where the “territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra —that engenders the territory.”31

In his influential , Jean-François Lyotard argued that an era of cybernetics would ultimately change the status of knowledge profoundly, leading to the breakdown of the modern knowledge project into a postmodern . He questioned the legitimisation of knowledge in such a society, and the nature of the legitimation itself.32 In claiming that society after the break down of modernism had lost its ability to believe in metanarratives – those legitimating functions that enabled the Enlightenment and modernism’s grand quests for meaning – Lyotard postulated the rise of “little narratives” or language games in limited contexts in which there are clear, if not clearly defined, rules for understanding and behaviour. Rather than giving credence to overarching metanarratives like , or central organising principles like , the postmodern information society fragmented human knowledge into thousands of localised contexts in which each individual performs a particular role. For Lyotard, then the emergence of an information society legitimates knowledge by how performative it is, how well it performs its role in limited contexts. Knowledge and decision-making is for the most part no longer based on abstract principles, but on how effective it is at achieving desired outcomes. He further posited that this performativity of information paid no heed to ethics and so required a fundamentally pluralistic form of knowledge legitimation – postmodernism – that might work in a manner akin to performativity, without recourse to metanarratives but also without the tendency toward a uniform totalisation of opinion.

Terry Eagleton, however, has posited this golden age of postmodern theory had itself passed by the turn of the second millennium because, in an age of terrorism, postmodern theorists had failed to adequately address the big questions of morality, metaphysics, love, religion, death, and revolution.33 In championing the disparate, the fragmentary, the marginal, and the anarchic, postmodern theories highlighted the very real difficulties inherent in making grand, generalising statements about human experience. However, in very rightly celebrating heterogeneity, postmodernist and poststructuralist thought often overlooked that, from the subject’s perspective, life is not always experienced as a series

19 of fragmentary moments. Indeed, the Self must at some point synthesise these moments into a sense of the whole for the organism to thrive. Just as it is endemic to the human condition to deconstruct systems (of thought, environment, culture, etc) to examine how they work, it is becoming clear that there may be a concomitant desire to reconstruct and reintegrate these systems into a cohesive that can be easily comprehended. Paradoxically, the postmodern also constitutes such a cohesive narrative, albeit one that champions a radical contradiction. That is, in attempting to formulate an approach to the inexplicable, postmodern theory posited a coherent worldview that celebrated incoherency. Fictional narratives that employ metaphors of transcendence can be seen as an attempt to redress this imbalance by reintroducing metaphysics back into the popular imagination and, as this dissertation proposes, suggest a way to move towards a ‘re- ’ that is inclusive of basic metaphysical questions in a more informed manner rather than merely suspicious of them. It argues that the alleged experience of transcendence, as we shall soon see, suggests it might indeed be possible to hold a postmodern recognition and validation of multiple perspectives lightly together with the grand narratives it so often vociferously decried, acknowledging the relative values of each insight while yet them together like a jigsaw into a holistic representation of culture that is more than the whole.

Further, it holds that to do so is to become thoroughly transmodern.


A number of theorists have responded to Hutcheon’s call within their particular fields of enquiry, proposing ‘’ (), where primary concepts of modernism are taken to their extreme conclusion in hyperconsumption and intense ;34 ‘digimodernism’ (Alan Kirby), which “owes its emergence and pre- eminence to the computerisation of text… characterised in its purest instances by onwardness, haphazardness, evanescence, and anonymous, social and multiple authorship,”35 and ‘automodernism; (Robert Samuels), inspired by the “combination of technological automation and human autonomy,” or “human and machine into a single circuit of interactivity.”36 What is particularly interesting for this thesis is that all three terms intimate a relationship between the post of postmodernism and or media technologies as the paradigmatic symbol of our times.

20 Other commentators highlight the return of a new in art and literature, one that employs a voluntary pretence in identifying with or believing in a central organising principle, such as the sublime or god, despite substantial to the contrary. For instance, Raoul Eshelman revitalises the term ‘performativism’ as an antidote to postmodernism’s endless semantically loaded contexts. Yet while he characterises ‘performativity’ as serving “neither to foreground or contextualize the subject, but rather to preserve it: the subject is presented (or presents itself) as a holistic, irreducible unit,” he claims this is not an “intensified search for meaning, through the introduction of new, surprising forms or through the return to an authentic origin.”37 He adds,

This closed, simple whole acquires a potency that can almost only be defined in theological terms. For with it is created a refuge in which all those things are brought together that postmodernism and post- structuralism thought definitively dissolved: the telos, the author, , love, dogma and much, much more.38

He points to the heroic, self-sacrificing acts of the central characters and overarching authorial narratives in 1990s films such as American Beauty39 and Run, Lola, Run40 as evidence of an almost divine reconstruction of the subject instead of a mere interplay of signs – “Godliness is everywhere where wholes are created by individual subjects.”41

Eshelmen’s ‘performativism’ draws heavily on the work of Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, who argue ‘theory’ represents an unacceptable attempt to take a position outside of interpretative practice without refining or improving it:

[Theory] is the name for all the ways people have tried to stand outside practice in order to govern practice from without. Our thesis has been that no one can reach a position outside practice, that theorists should stop trying, and that the theoretical enterprise should therefore come to an end.42

Both “theory” and the of cultural therefore work by disarticulating a part from a whole (the signifier from the interpretative act, race from culture) and constructing that part into a continually receding, unattainable other.43 Knapp and Michaels, and consequently Eshelman, thus represent postmodernism’s disparate contexts as an exercise in the deconstruction of conceptual wholes to better understand their intricacies

21 without a concomitant reconstruction into a larger holistic picture, or a recontextualising of its deconstructive findings.

Self-proclaimed ‘Stuckists’ (the name being a response to a criticism that their work is mired in the past), and Charles Thomson used the term ‘’ in a 1999 manifesto to suggest new moves to reintroduce spirituality into art, culture, and society and dislodge the predominance of postmodernism, which they claimed was cynical and spiritually bankrupt.44 Remodernism perceived the potential of the modernist vision as yet unfulfilled – “It is futile to be ‘post’ something which has not even ‘been’ properly something in the first place” – and seeks to reclaim, redefine, and redevelop the modernist vision by advocating a renewed search for truth, knowledge, and meaning. Childish and Thomson’s fourteen-point manifesto argues for a “…spiritual in art because there is nowhere else for art to go,” stating that, “The Remodernist's job is to bring God back into art… not as God was before,” but rather as a transcendent force or ‘en theos’ (meaning to be possessed by God). It is this return to meaning based on creative intention that also informs the term ‘’ in art and architecture.

Transmodernism, as a term to describe emerging attitudes, values, and aesthetics that seemed to move past postmodernism's canon of critique into more intriguingly open areas of cultural inquiry and practice, appeared almost simultaneously in Europe and the US during the late 1980s and early 1990s. US artist, James Mahoney has likened defining transmodernism to the parable of six blind men and an elephant – each commentator appears to describe it according to their fields of inquiry and a sense of the whole has still to be formed. He further characterises it as an attitude – first discernible in – that champions uncertainty and openness in contrast to postmodern critique, a phase of modernism that celebrates the state of being in between, and the permeable membrane of culture:

Transmodernism consists of the liminal – threshold conditions; the littoral – what washes up on the shores of culture from the other; and the singularity – something never seen before that is life changing.45

Mahoney is one of the organisers of Baltimore’s Transmodern Festival – a celebration of the idiosyncratic, radical, innovative, and absurd in contemporary with a strong dose 22 of community and audience engagement.46 Billed on the ’s website as “Four Days of Avant Performance, Installation, Sound, , Mayhem, , and Radical Culture!” the festival attempts to revitalise the avant-garde impulse in the face of postmodernism’s commodification of culture. A collaborative performance event at the 2011 Transmodern Festival entitled Rooms Play provides an example of Mahoney’s emergent transmodern aesthetic. Featuring 22 room-stages and 55 performers interpreting themes of immigration and alienation, including gender, education, isolation, and employment, the performance suggests a new mode of interactivity and communal socio-political theatre. Small audience groups were given access to each room at six-minute intervals, enacting Mahoney’s ‘threshold conditions’ as neither performers or audience can predict how the play’s narrative arc will unfold. The littoral is brought into play as each audience group subtly alters the performance according to relative energy and response. The intent of the is the singularity – both in the individual experience of the play by both audience member and actor, as well as the desire to engender a life-changing experience. Says Monica Mirabile, one of Rooms Play’s actors:

It’s a journey for both parties… Last year, having performed the same thing for three hours, there was this really magical thing that happened with myself and the performance… My experience with each different individual that came through, it changed every single time. And that was a really incredible thing to happen. You have to listen—you have to listen to what’s going on, to people’s reaction to the room, and through your listening the performance is going to change. So it’s this really intense social experience and experiment. And that’s going to happen every six minutes.47

Mirabile’s explicit connection of transmodernism with a life-changing transformation or transcendent experience is echoed in the work of a number of theologists and spiritual commentators using the notion of transmodernism to investigate the borders of spirituality and post-metaphysical culture.48 For example, Catholic scholar, Paul C. Vitz has used the term ‘transmodernism’ as a that “transforms the modern and also transcends it.”49 He claims the modern self disregarded the necessity of interpersonal relationships by its emphasis on autonomy and separation, while both modernism and postmodernism failed to acknowledge the “objective validity of the self as rooted in the body” and the possibility of multiple kinds of Self, that is, the visual and perceptual self, the proprioceptive self, and the interpersonal self.50 He posits instead an emerging transmodern self that seeks to acknowledge a sense of meaning and purpose that 23 transcends the individual, suggesting an interconnectivity that “rejects the twin delusions of absolute autonomy and cosmic meaninglessness that mark the present age.”51 This self transforms modernist meaning that is, in part, of a higher, transcendent nature.

Dutch scholars, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker, use the term ‘’ to describe a “structure of feeling” in aesthetics and theory characterised by “the oscillation between a typically modern commitment and a markedly postmodern detachment.”52 One of the most cogent analyses of post-postmodernism to date, they identify the prefix meta as denoting, in the Greek, ‘with,’ ‘between,’ or ‘beyond:’ “… we contend that metamodernism should be situated epistemologically with (post) modernism, ontologically between (post) modernism, and historically beyond (post) modernism.” They see metamodernism emerging in the new romanticism of art and film, where artists and writers re-signify rather than reappropriate past motifs and tropes, a search for a sense of wholeness and completeness with the full knowledge that such a thing can never exist. Vermeulen and van den Akker argue that such works of art reinvest meaning where postmodernism has told us there is none, re-signifying ‘‘the commonplace with significance, the ordinary with mystery, the familiar with the seemliness of the unfamiliar, and the finite with the semblance of the infinite.’’ As such, their vision of metamodernism oscillates perpetually between modernism and postmodernism, moving forward “for the sake of moving, attempts in spite of its inevitable failure; it seeks forever for a truth that it never expects to find.” Their employment of meta draws closest to this thesis’ use of the Latin trans as ‘across,’ ‘beyond,’ ‘through,’ or ‘changing thoroughly.’ However, for the purpose of this dissertation, trans appears to better coalesce the various strands of post-postmodern theories from Lipovetsky to Vitz, suggesting as it does both a reference to contemporaneous returns to theism or unity (in terms of transcendence and transformation), and technological concerns (such as transhumanity). Nevertheless, when Vermeulen and van den Akker see metamodernism’s oscillation “between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern , between and melancholy, between naïveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity” – in effect casting it as “at once modern and postmodern and neither of them” – they succinctly articulate the logic of the trans that this dissertation will pursue through its reading of narrative transcendence.

This “both-neither” dynamic also brings to mind the work of Spanish and feminist Rosa María Rodríguez Magda’s, who does use the term ‘transmodernism’ to describe a continuation of the project of modernity that simultaneously acknowledges the lessons learned since that project began: 24 Transmodernity prolongs, continues and transcends Modernity. It is the return of some of its lines and ideas, perhaps even the most ingenuous but also the most universal… Transmodernity is the return, the copy… It is both transcendental and apparential, and is voluntarily syncretic in its ‘multichrony.’ Transmodernity is a fiction: our reality, the copy that supplants the model, eclecticism both mean and angelical. Transmodernity is postmodernity without its innocent rupturism, the museum display of reason, not history which has died to avoid ending up in barbaric cybernetic or mass media domestication... Transmodernity takes up and recovers the vanguards, copying and selling them, but meanwhile it remembers that art has had, and has, an effect of denunciation and experimentalism, that is, not everything goes (italics added).53

Modernity, postmodernity, and transmodernity form, for Magda, an overlapping ‘ triad’ that equates to a perpetually renewing process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis in Hegelian terms. She tracks the decline of modernity and postmodernity as almost organic events – an inevitable process of theoretical construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Where modernity and postmodernity negate or metaphysics, transmodernism welcomes their ironic re-insertion into contemporary philosophical thought. Postmodern theory’s celebration of the mass conceptual extinction of god, self, reality, subject, and history is characterised by Magda as the “apotheosis of the carnivalesque… dances of death. Pretending to celebrate the continuous glory of the body, we were eager in the end to abandon the putrefaction of the flesh and prepared ourselves to become mere images of ourselves, approximate entities in a virtual landscape.” Transmodernism, by contrast, is represented as an ironic reconstruction of theory, culture, and experience, one that both celebrates the return of those narratives postmodernism rejects – metaphysics, the Absolute, truth – while at the same time accepting their history of instability:

We have weakened their gnoseological vigour but not the logical and social need for them, and this gives us the notion of . Such regulatory ideals represent operational simulations legitimised by rational perfectibility, which criticism and consensus constantly renew, non-universal but universalisable public values which find their sphere not in , common

25 sense or tradition but in the theoretical effort to create conceptual paradigms that will help increase social and individual wellbeing.

Metaphysics is therefore a positive social project that is ripe for re-evaluation in our transmodern era. As Magda suggests, however, any such re-evaluation must necessarily take into account both the knowledge gained from modernist and postmodernist perspectives concerning metaphysical fallibility – those ‘liberatory fantasies’ metaphysics so readily promotes – and weigh them alongside its ability to offer a genuine sense of reassurance to a wider public. Rather than condemn them out of hand, such an approach both acknowledges the continued mass appeal of metaphysical questions and concepts (despite concerted postmodern efforts to bring them into disrepute) and seeks to integrate their conceptual force into a better understanding of what subjects want. As Joseph Tabbi has noted, paraphrasing Slavov Žižek, “ideological propositions do not go away simply because people cease to take them seriously.”54

Magda’s work relies on ’s notion of transmodernity as a methodology by which one might overcome the hegemonic domination of ‘the West’ over ‘the Rest’ begun, he argues, with the emergence of the dialectic of Enlightenment and the project of modernity. Dussel’s ‘philosophy of liberation’ itself draws upon Levinas, Adorno, and Heidegger’s respective interests in anti-egocentrism, non-identity, and self-transcendence and seeks a way around the confrontation between Europe and its Other that he sees is the foundation for modernism: “by controlling, conquering, and violating the Other, Europe defined itself as discoverer, conquistador, and colonizer of an that was likewise constitutive of modernity.”55 Of interest to this thesis is Dussel’s refusal to offer a dialectical synthesis of West and Other a la Hegel, rather advocating a “mode of reasoning and interacting” that refuses to “’sublate’ the self/other relation in a higher synthesis (which would incorporate and totalize the Other and thereby negate the Other’s otherness).”56 He calls this mode of reasoning ‘analectical,’ and is committed to maintaining a dialogue that consciously acknowledges the breach between Self and Other, not to replace one type of oppression for another by merely liberating the excluded, but also to liberate the oppressor from the desire to oppress:

The dia-lectic method is the path that the totality realises within itself… What we are discussing now is a method (or the explicit domain of the conditions of possibility) which begins from the Other as free, as one beyond the system of totality; which begins, then, from the Other’s word, from the revelation of the 26 Other, and which, trusting the Other’s word, labours, works, serves, and creates.”57

Dussel’s analectical reason therefore seeks to criticise the “irrational sacrificial myth of modernity” inherent in a Eurocentric sacrifice of the on the altar of the new, as described by Lefebvre and Habermas, while simultaneously affirming “the emancipative tendencies of the enlightenment and modernity within a new transmodernity.”58 His ‘liberation philosophy’ therefore wants to preserve the “rational emancipatory nucleus” of modernity in order to transcend modernity itself: “Our project of liberation can be neither anti- nor pre- nor post-modern, but instead must be transmodern.”59 ‘Transmodern,’ for Dussel, denotes a transcendence of modernity that preserves what has been transcended to celebrate Self and Otherness as equally as it welcomes a new condition of being that goes beyond both. His analectical approach offers an invaluable tool to articulate the possibility of recognising and preserving the commensurate parts of the theoretical whole that constitutes the project of modernity, while also seeking a transcendence of that project.

It is clear a new critical impulse is emerging across multiple disciplines, resulting in lines of flight away from modernist/postmodernist debates that are, as yet, neither uniform nor concrete. Transmodernism seems to be the emerging term that loosely describes this impulse. For artists seeking theoretical (Magda), political (Dussel, Sardar), theological (Vitz, Sardar, Wilber), or aesthetic (Mahoney, Vermeulen and van den Akker) detours around (or between) postmodernism’s celebration of surface, simulacra, pastiche, and meaninglessness, transmodernism appears to be a way of ‘re-enchanting’ discourse with a sense of emancipation through shared experience, community, interconnectivity, and . Just over two decades since the term was first suggested, a number of ‘transmodern flavours’ have emerged. The Transmodern Festival specifically seeks to playfully recapture a spirit of the avant-garde in new modes of socio-political performance that seeks to break down the art/life dichotomy and inspire transformation via the experience of art. Theologists and spiritual commentators from multiple faith systems are using the term ‘transmodernism’ to push the boundaries of what constitutes faith and religion in a post-millennial age that has ostensibly moved past postmodernism’s rejection of metaphysics. They argue transmodernism represents a revitalisation of meaning and purpose that transcends individual subjectivity and suggests a new interconnectivity that seeks a synthesis between a flexible “life enhancing tradition” and a new phase of modernity that respects the values and lifestyles of traditional .60 Theoretical 27 discussion of an emerging transmodernity seems to focus on its oscillation between modernism and postmodernism. As such, transmodernity works across, between, and through postmodernism, changing it thoroughly in the process. Magda’s process of thesis (modernism), antithesis (postmodernism), and synthesis (transmodernism) appears key here. In her construction of the term, transmodernism takes up some of the themes and lines of enquiry posited by what has gone before, but synthesises them into a new attitude towards culture and sociopolitics that herald the ironic return of those “gnoseological” narratives that “increase social and individual wellbeing.” Following Magda, this thesis argues that the new transmodern turn provides an opportunity to ironically return modernism and postmodernism’s disavowed others – specifically a notion transcendence, metaphysics, ontological enquiry, and spiritual metaphors – to critical enquiry, and by doing so, use their once subversive power to revitalize cultural discourse. It suggests knowledge is a complex tapestry of signification, and that concepts once relegated to the margins of culture can be wittingly brought back to the centre of discourse to be reappraised without falling prey to homogenization and generalization.

Like Dussel, this thesis also suggests that an emerging transmodern moment does not represent the transcendence of modernity or indeed postmodernity, but rather the process of inhabiting the space of that transformation – to live, think, and recognise the dis-closure of modernity as a condition of infinite possibility that includes the eternal return of absolutes. It is to succumb to the notion that our existence is neither modern nor postmodern, not either/or, but both… and, to some extent, neither. The transmodern contains the postmodern and is itself part of the modern – while a categorical shift seems to be occurring there is no doubt that it is fluid, as the shift between modernisms and postmodernisms were and is fluid. Transmodernism is the realisation that this fluid shift is an integral part of being-in-the-world. This thesis further applies Dussel’s analectical mode of reasoning to provide a pragmatic outline of how the transmodern emerges organically from the postmodern. Like Vermeulen and van den Akker, it works rhizomatically rather than in a linear , linking diverse readings from art, literature, film, and online culture to demonstrate that the seeds of transmodern thought have often been already inscribed in both modernism and postmodernism, most notably in depictions of the moment of technological transcendence, a condition of absolute possibility, inhabiting the space of both/neither. By illustrating that these depictions of the very pinnacle of modern and postmodern cultures – the technological realm – encompass both the science of reason and the secular sacred, it argues that the spectre of transmodernity is evoked in an ironic integration of past and future to allow creation of the 28 new. It will show that modernity’s inability to adequately account for constant technological change has resulted in a mirroring of the linguistic urge to define the transcendent experience found in accounts of religious ecstasy and mystic fervour. Technological transformation is therefore equated to a spiritual transformation of the self, leading to the confluence of the machine with mysticism.


Where evoking a concept of transcendence has long been out of favour in both theoretical and scientific discourse – intimating, as it does, a mystical return to age-old religious myths and mores – many popular fiction and film narratives return again and again to metaphors of transcendence, most particularly in fictions of the future and science fiction – a genre assumed to be more usually concerned with material speculation on imagined technological and the unwavering triumph of the new. This dissertation proposes a term to describe such narratives – technospiritual – and seeks to establish a critical of the technospiritual in technocultural art, fiction, and film.61 For the purpose of this thesis, ‘technospirituality’ describes a particular kind of narrative interplay between the concepts of change and changelessness. In other words, it describes the interconnection between technological change and images of the eternally constant (in a spiritual sense) in technoculture, where the proliferation of technological invention forms the basis for new secular religions that either recast humans (or more specifically artists, scientists, or hackers) as the godlike creators of intelligent machines or celebrates half-human, half-machine cyborgs as the next step on the evolutionary ladder towards absolute perfection (aka godhood).

The term ‘technoculture’ was popularised in 1991 by Constance Penley and Andrew Ross to articulate the politics and interactions between technology and culture. It has remained influential over two decades of cultural enquiry into the way we are affected by new technologies. Despite focusing on the idea of “technology-as-social-control” and existing rather than imagined technological advances and their effects on society, their book of essays, Technoculture, acknowledged that “the kinds of liberatory fantasies that surround new technologies are a powerful and persuasive means of social and that their source to some extent lies in real popular needs and desires.”62 There can be no doubt technospiritual accounts of transcendence and technology fall into this category of liberatory fantasy. However, while recognising the very real political impacts of technology as a means to “perpetuate capitalist means of production and accumulation, 29 the expropriation of cultural and technical skills, the international , social fragmentation, the policing of bodies, and the rationalisation of nature,” this thesis consciously examines how and why the intersections between transcendence and technology inspire such compelling myths in contemporary culture.63 Further, it draws evidence to determine how these examples of technological transcendence can offer us suggestions about how postmodernism might be transcended. It seeks to balance postmodernism’s recognition and validation of heterogeneity with a commensurate need to lightly draw together multiplicities into a holistic representation of culture that is more than simply the sum of its parts. To do so, it will claim, is to begin transforming postmodernism into transmodernism, a paradigm shift that takes pleasure in the transcendent process while ironically acknowledging the impossibility of ever achieving our desires for perfect knowledge or embodiment.

This thesis sees technospiritual fictions as barometers of social and cultural change, reflecting on contemporaneous social and cultural mores while at the same time evincing the power to rework and amend them. N. Katherine Hayles has argued that science fiction, a significant source of technospiritual myths, is a locus for cultural trends concerning technology and the new. That is, it is the genre that predominately employs the trans or the beyond of normative culture, including themes of transcendence, transhumanity, transformation, transgender, and even transportation: “As we accelerate into the new millennium, questions about transhumanity are becoming increasingly urgent. Nowhere are these questions explored more passionately than in contemporary science fiction.”64 If cyberpunk author, Bruce Sterling, is correct when he claims that we have grown up in a science fictional world – a world where technology moves faster than literary imagination, where even much science fiction seems passé by its release date – then we are also living in a technospiritual world, in which we are culturally invested in the creation of both transformational technologies and transcendent machines.65 As Martin Lister has noted of new media and technologies, the technospiritual imaginary in science fiction narratives also draws to “dissatisfactions with and desires for a better society,” and projects them “onto technologies as capable of delivering a potential realm of completeness.”66 It is this urge to write technology as the crucial component of a future perfection that is of most interest to this dissertation, colonising, as we shall see, centuries of religious narratives pursuing a similar quest.

So what is transcendence? Firstly, it must be acknowledged that any discussion of the term is always a risky proposition, particularly as the history of philosophy since can 30 perhaps best be understood as a regular stoush over the promotion or repudiation of the concept. Such repudiations were never more vociferous than during the decades of postmodern theory, which, in reducing culture to text, generally argued that transcendental signifieds (regardless of whether we are talking about god, the logos, or the author), cannot play a role in discourse, because introducing them only produces further texts for us to interpret and therefore leads us further from signification or meaning. However, this thesis will argue that the resurgence of transcendental metaphors in technospiritual literature indicates an irrepressible longing for the unknown that lies at the margins of postmodernist and poststructuralist theories, which may indeed act as a signpost for the post of postmodernism, allowing us to integrate the theoretical lessons learned over the last forty years and perhaps suggest new theoretical modes of interrogating culture.

Notoriously a slippery subject, the concept of transcendence occupies a liminal space at the limits of knowledge and language, because it is often characterised as an experience that is trans thought, and therefore beyond words. A traditional philosophical definition states transcendence begins when ‘the Self’ is penetrated by a supra-enlivened ‘Other,’ whether that other be a king, a god, nature, logos, the law, or an abstracted life force. Traditionally, then, in transcendence the Self is claimed as the instrument and voice of the Other. Even further, transcendence opens up the Self to a state of radical Otherness, the experience of which appears to dramatically shift the Self’s perspectives because it introduces concepts outside normative understanding that must then be reintegrated into the Self. Mystical descriptions of transcendence are always vertical in nature, as Merleau- Ponty suggests; that is, they portray the transportation of the subject’s consciousness or ‘upwards’ (in religious literature literally towards heaven), joining time to eternity and constituting a radical shift in perception and understanding.67 Transcendence, however, can also be horizontal; that is, the term can be used to denote the movement from past to present to future, from one central organising principle to another, for instance in the case of the Enlightenment’s progression from a feudal religious culture to one orbiting the twin theories of science and reason or, indeed, the move from postmodernism to transmodernism. Both vertical and horizontal transcendence indicate a change for the better – the subject, society, or culture that experiences a transcendent moment of either kind is portrayed as having improved the conditions of its being. Yet while horizontal transcendence assumes a dynamic and transitory status suggesting that consecutive transcendent moments will continually occur as an integral feature of progress, vertical transcendence is often depicted as a single awe-inspiring (or in some 31 cases a finite series) of events, from which the subject/society emerges utterly changed in an instant. In a nutshell, horizontal transcendence is a social project equating to the logic of change, while vertical transcendence is an interior or spiritual experience equating to the logic of changelessness. The distinction is a fine one, but important – for it is these two definitions of transcendence that are often interchanged in technospiritual narratives, leading to a conflation of religious and technological metaphors.

Vertical transcendence has been called many names by many cultures over the centuries, according to the context in which it is experienced – thus in ancient Greek it is gnosis, in early Christian theology it is grace, in the it is Yehidah, or a mystical union with Ein Sof (nothingness), and in Zen it is kensho, which in propelling consciousness through the gateless gate leads to the more permanent state of satori.68 The Sufis have three words for it, to demonstrate levels or depths of experience: faqr or inner emptiness, which leads to fana or non-being and ultimately to baka, an altered state of being. Buddhists call it bodhi, Awakening, or nirvana, in the Upanishads it is moksha, for the Romantics it was the Sublime, and the mystic, Sri Ramana Maharshi characterised it as simply THAT. Neurotheology, or the neurology of religious experience, suggests the euphoria that accompanies what we call transcendence may be the result of a temporal lobe epilepsy or an exacerbated release of serotonin that creates permanent, positive changes to individual psychology.69 Such neurological experiences also instigate hypergraphia, the compulsion to express oneself at length through writing or drawing, suggesting a causal link to proliferate cultural production on the subject of transcendence. Contemporary commentators might also call transcendence a peak experience, a profound epiphany, the emergence of the uncanny, or the mystery of the ineffable that often leads to a feeling of religiosity or spiritual belief in the interconnectedness of all things. If, as Marx wrote, religion is the opiate of the masses, then the experience of vertical transcendence is the inside dope. As an example, here is psychologist, Richard M. Bucke (a devotee of whom he claimed had also experienced a similar transcendence), writing of his transcendental experience in 1901:

All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame coloured cloud… the next he knew that the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe… Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead 32 matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain. He claims he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in any previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught.

The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments but its effects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew; neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind. There was no return that night or at any other time of the experience (italics added).70

This passage is fairly representative of a great many accounts of transcendence in literary and religious texts, following the basic formula of witnessing an intense light which is then seen as emanating from within (hence the term ‘enlightenment’), experiencing an overpowering sense of bliss or compassion, followed by sudden awareness and insight and finally leading to a belief in a profound integration of the universe and the right order of things. Note Bucke’s recounting of the event in the third person, suggesting a transportation outside the bounds of the temporal Self. Following his experience, which he termed ‘,’ Bucke felt compelled to seek like-minded others and record their own experiences of transcendence. Here he quotes what he claims is Walt Whitman’s expression of the transcendent moment:

I should say, indeed, that only in the perfect uncontamination and solitariness of individuality may the spirituality of religion positively come forth at all. Only here, and on such terms, the meditation, the devout ecstasy, the soaring flight. Only here communion with the mysteries, the eternal problems, whence? whither? Alone and identity and the mood and the soul emerges, and all statements, churches, sermons, melt away like vapours. Alone, and silent thought, and awe, and aspiration – and then the interior consciousness, like a hitherto unseen inscription, in ink, beams out its wondrous lines to the sense. may convey and priests expound, but it is exclusively for the noiseless operation of one’s isolated 33 Self to enter the pure ether of veneration, reach the divine levels, and commune with the unutterable.”71

The concept of vertical transcendence is unutterable precisely because it is an experience of being rather than becoming and therefore removes the Self from its normative linear by embedding it in an experience of the pure phenomenological present. As Bucke, Whitman, and others represent it, the experience is both the literal ground of religious experience, and beyond it. The multitude of terms used to describe transcendence and the reams of literature it has inspired are an attempt, however unsuccessfully, to capture, contain, and comprehend this experience, which by all accounts, is a deeply felt phenomenological and life-changing encounter with Otherness that is literally unspeakable. As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching: “One who knows, speaks not; one who speaks, knows not,” or as Wittgenstein, alluding to his own mystical experiences in the Tractatus, claimed: “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.”72 Recalling the link between the transcendent experience and hypergraphia, Michel de Certeau has written that a mystic is, nevertheless, driven to “speak of what can neither be said nor known.”73 Mysticism for de Certeau is therefore a social project, characterised by the desire to communicate what has been discovered to a larger audience: “Mystical language is a social language. Consequently, each ‘enlightened one’ is brought back to the group, borne towards the future, inscribed within a certain history. For the mystic, to ‘prepare a place’ for the Other is to prepare a place for others:”74

The event imposes itself. In a very real sense, it alienates. It pertains to the same order as ecstasy: that is, to that which transports one outside oneself. It expels one from the self instead of gathering one to it. But it has the characteristic of opening up a space that the mystic can no longer live without. Indissociable from the assent that is its criterion, such a ‘birth’ draws from man a truth that is his without coming from him or belonging to him. Thus, he is ‘outside himself’ at the very moment that a Self is asserted.75

The concept of transcendence therefore highlights the problem of translatability between experience (based on the senses), thought (as the formation of conceptual meaning), and language (as the expression of that meaning). Indeed, it could be argued that the expression of transcendence is one model for Derrida’s “floating signifier,” just as terms like Zen’s gateless gate attempt to point to something that ultimately can have no 34 meaning without direct knowledge of the experience of transcendence itself.76 The slippage between the experience of transcendence and the attempt to translate that experience into language therefore creates a gap of signification, into which flows the endless possibilities of interpretation. It spawns a relentless desire to give expression to ‘the new.’


The concept of writing, or rather writing technologies, offers a starting point for an investigation of technology and transcendence. Ann Weinstone posits that writing is even further removed from signification than thought or speech because it contaminates originary meaning – literally killing the father (read: god or logos) because it substitutes a nonliving representation for his living speech. Therefore, writing enables the writer to assume transcendent powers by representing the authoritative speech of the father.77 The writer literally channels the voice of the Other, becoming a deus ex machina, God in the machine, or in this case, God speaking through the ‘machinery’ of the Self. Further, in taking on the voice of the Other, the writer attempts to become one with the Other, to usurp the Other’s elocutionary force. Writing, then, is a revolutionary act that in consuming the Other transforms the Self, because writing allows the writer to both abstract and mirror the Self, projecting it upon an outside that is really only an inside, because the act of writing is really a private affair that enables an ever more minute and introspective dialogue with one’s own consciousness. Writing is, therefore, first and foremost, an act of autocreation where, in creating a simulacrum of the voice of the transcendent Other, the author is then able to produce his/her Self as both creator and creation simultaneously. Writing, as the most commonplace of information technologies, therefore speaks to our desire to merge with the transcendent Other and, in doing so, wrest the power of creation from that Other for ourselves. But if writing is a machine, an utterly technological tale, as Erik Davis has suggested, and one that has an intimate relationship with the experience of transcendence, then it would also follow that our contemporary relationship to the increasingly complex information technologies we create is also intimately connected to a concept of transcendence.78

It should come as no surprise, then, that transcendent metaphors are particularly rife in science fiction – a genre that lends itself to narratives of other-worldliness and the experience of radical otherness. In many ways, science fiction is the literature of limits,

35 imagining the future transformation of human consciousness as it collides with otherness, whether that other is an alien race, robots, virtual , or biogenetics. In scrambling to find words to describe the beyond of normative experience, the history of the genre is littered with mystical metaphors and transcendent moments. For example, the narrator in Olaf Stapledon’s influential 1937 , Maker, is suddenly transported from a suburban hill into the cosmos in search of the infinite, which he discovers at his journey’s end in the figure of the Star Maker, “the creative mode that had given rise to me, the cosmos, and also, most dreadfully... something incomparably greater than , namely as the eternally achieved perfection of the absolute spirit.”79 Stapledon’s narrator comes face to face with the unutterable Other and is struck dumb:

…I, in the supreme moment of my cosmical experience emerged from the mist of my finitude to be confronted by… the light itself that not only illuminates but gives life to all… that strange vision, inconceivable to my finite mind, even of a cosmical stature, I cannot possibly describe… Though human language and even human thought itself are perhaps in their very nature incapable of metaphysical truth, something I must somehow contrive to express, even only by metaphor.80

Similarly, David Selig, the telepath who, having spent his life dipping into the thoughts of others, begins to lose his grip on his in Robert Silverberg’s 1972 Dying Inside, experiences the ecstasy of enlightenment second hand when he slips into the mind of a mystic:

Schiele stands in the rich soil of his fields, leaning on his hoe, feet firmly planted, communing with the universe. God floods his soul. He touches the unity of all things. Sky, , , sun, plants, brook, insects, birds – everything is one, part of a seamless whole, and Schiele resonates in perfect with it… The world is a mighty hymn.81

More recently, in Michael Marshall Smith’s post-cyberpunk novel, One of Us, anti-hero Hap Thompson is a hip, matter-of-fact, small time crook overwhelmed by forces beyond his knowledge or control. Visited by god in a nice suit flanked by mafia-type angel bodyguards, Hap’s consciousness tips into a vertically transcendent experience of his link to Otherness when the divine businessman claims him as his own:

36 The world I could see, the world I believed to be solid, seemed to slowly turn through two degrees. This small movement was enough to realign the spheres. Everything came into a different conjunction. What I had believed to be there in front of me was revealed as merely noise and interference. It was like having every taken out of your head, and just being left with pure intelligence; like suddenly seeing a solution, and realizing it had been there all the time; like being caught at the centre of a web of coincidence and seeing the true fabric of reality for a moment… Then, just like that… the spheres swung back into their usual alignment. ‘Oh,’ I thought to myself, not even really knowing what I meant. ‘Back in the small guy again.’82

Science fiction also has a role to play in horizontal transcendence as the are sometimes encouraged by the genre’s wild imaginings in the creation of new technologies – William Gibson’s famous characterisation of cyberspace in Neuromancer is often cited as a literary precursor to the Internet, as is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash credited with inspiring online worlds like Second Life – and scientific texts can also sometimes read like science fiction, particularly when describing radical breakthroughs. A rather extreme case in point can be found in the work of renowned robotics expert and extropian, Hans Moravec, who argues that organic humanity has no future but that the artificial we are destined to create will replace us as our ‘mind children:’

Unleashed from the plodding pace of biological evolution, the children of our minds will be free to grow to confront immense and fundamental challenges in the larger universe. We humans will benefit for a time from their labours, but sooner or later, like natural children, they will seek their own fortunes while we, their aged parents, silently fade away. Very little need be lost in the passing of the torch – it will be in our artificial offspring’s power, and to their benefit, to remember almost everything about us, even, perhaps, the detailed workings of individual minds.83

This proposed progeny of technological represent a virtual genetics, artificially constructed thoughts without bodies, imagined immortality without the vagaries of degenerative flesh. Moravec sees us as finally accepting the inevitable colonisation of our bodies by machines: for him merging with the machine is the first step towards a 37 transcendent future. Transhuman narratives like Moravec’s mirror Nietzschean theory by predicting an overman that achieves its superiority over organicism through technological augmentation – a future that is no , no strain, and all brain. Its premise resides in the belief that all technological progress is aimed at the perfection of being. Moravec’s annihilation of organicism nevertheless holds onto humanity’s central role in narratives of the future: as creators of the ultimate machines we must ensure they not only hold a of our existence but absolutely know us all as separate entities, guaranteeing the immortality of each individual human Self. Therefore, Moravec’s take on the future argues for the destruction of an outmoded human organicism in favour of the transformation of every human mind into a divine, ephemeral consciousness – in short, to appoint each one of us as gods.

Moravec’s ‘mind children’ perfectly encapsulate a desire for the transformation once promised by the mystic religions, transmutated into a secular, scientific rationalist view of human, technological, and social progress. It particularly recalls the spiritual desires of , an early form of Christian mysticism, which held a similar contempt for flesh. The Gnostics read the Genesis myth against the grain, seeing the garden of Eden as a kind of virtual reality produced by a trickster god, who sought to ensnare humanity in the realm of the purely material and hide from Adam and Eve their true nature as beings of divine spirit. In order to free them from their materiality, Jesus disguised as the serpent entered the garden and offered them the knowledge necessary to reveal their divine essence (the Gnostic version of the transcendent experience), thus liberating them from the chains of their corporeal ignorance. In eating of the fruit of knowledge, Adam and Eve were free to begin the Gnostic quest of unearthing the spark of the divine within through the pursuit of infinite knowledge and, through ultimate knowing, become gods themselves. Taking the Socratic maxim to “know thyself” to heart, the early Gnostics’ quest for knowledge represented a desire for transcendence of the finite limits of human matter in favour of an incorporeal state of infinite understanding. The following is a quote from the Corpus Hermetica, part of the Gnostic Nag Hammadi library that equates the amassing of information to connecting with the divine:

Having considered that nothing is impossible to you, consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing… Collect in yourself all the sensations of what has been made, of fire and water, dry and wet; and be everywhere at once, on land, in the sea, in heaven; be not yet born, be in the womb, be young, old, dead, 38 beyond death. And when you have understood all these at once – times, places, things, qualities, quantities – then you can understand god.84

As Erik Davis has noted, this elucidation of the Gnostic process of transcending into god penetrates to the subtlest spheres of metaphysical consciousness – and is replicated across the mystical traditions. For instance, the Gnostic call to “be not yet born” suggests the Zen koan that asks us to our original face before our parents were born. But unlike the Zen quest for transcendence, which is largely an emptying of the obsessions of what is called the ‘monkey mind,’ the Gnostic mystic is encouraged to keep loading the mind up. Rather than merge with:

… the great ineffable oneness, the Gnostic must expand the conceptual and empirical mind, the mind that knows and understands the things of this world, quantities as well as qualities, information as well as wisdom. Gnosis enables the mystic not only to know God, but to know what God knows. Even more important, this cognitive ecstasy is not characterized as something that happens to the aspirant through God’s infinite grace, but as a feat that the aspirant produces through his own mystical, magical, and intellectual labour – in a word, self-divinization.85

Similarly, discourses of transhumanity offer hope that, in the act of passing the baton to our mechanical doppelgangers, we will be magically infused with a new spirit of understanding, a new way of being that sheds degenerative flesh and allows our minds to be free. The extropian notion of perfection through divesting the meat in favour of the metal, however, seeks to bypass all that pesky introspection of the Self in one giant technological leap by having our ‘mind children’ do all the hard work for us. Extropian transcendence, unlike Gnosticism or the kind of transcendence characterised by Bucke, has no endgame – rather, in tapping into notions of late capitalist technological progress, it seeks a state of perpetual becoming and renewal – in other words, it seeks a horizontal transcendence. As technological progress evolves, it follows that Moravec’s mind children must also seek to continually upgrade – as ‘perfect’ cyborgs they will of course have the ability to consume new technologies at an accelerated rate, constantly merging their being with new, technologically advanced Others in order to preserve their state of transcendent perfection.86 Moravec’s vision of the future therefore links horizontal transcendence with the forces of production and consumption in an endlessly referential

39 cycle that preserves the technological status quo and envisions a future that is made and re-made, moment-to-moment – a world of perpetual change.

The notion of transcendence therefore provides a reservoir for aesthetic, social, and political energy; representing the beyond (of culture, philosophy, science, and so forth) the transcendent moment both articulates an ancient desire for transformation and provides an abundant creative locus from which the radically new emerges. However, as ecstatic experiences often prove addictive, the logic of perpetual technological change is always infused with desire, resulting in a proliferation of technophilic dreams where corporeality is exchanged for a state of pure knowledge – most notably in Gibson’s “consensual hallucination of cyberspace,” where console cowboys insert their consciousness into the computer to surf the wave of information represented as code. The ultimate confrontation between flesh and metal intimated by extropian narratives therefore reveal a subtext of capitulation and transgression of normative states of being that replicate the discourse of . tells us the significance of eroticism is that it allows a transgression of the most fundamental taboo, that separating life from death or, in the case of Moravec’s vision, organic from inorganic.87 Individual existence for Bataille is a state of separation and isolation: we are islands, connected yet separated by a sea of death. Desire is the perilous crossing of that sea. It opens the way out of isolation by exposing us to “death ... the denial of our individual lives.”88 Desire urges us to discorporate ourselves into communality; to fundamentally merge with the Other and, in doing so, transform ourselves into a state of otherness. By reading technospirituality alongside Bataille’s theories of eroticism, a further dimension to our increasing desire for technology is revealed. Both the prospect of the highly advanced machine and the utopia such a machine might inhabit constructs the future as the place outside, beyond individual existence. Similarly, the future human/machine is constructed as the fetishised Other, the culmination of all our desires for a transcendence of the everyday. In postulating the machine bodies of the future, we project onto them our desire for that which we are not. This longing for otherness therefore produces technophilic narratives at an increasing rate.

Another dimension to the linking of desire and transcendence of significance to this thesis can be seen in ’s argument that desire is intimately linked to both transgression and power.89 The desiring subject defines itself in relation to an Other, at the same time identifying that Other as a limit to be transgressed.90 While highlighting the relationship between being and finitude, or between one’s sense of Self and one’s limit, 40 the desire to incorporate that which is alien to us seeks, in essence, to exceed subjective boundaries in favour of a utopian transformation into Otherness. Such a move suggests the desiring subject imagines a potentially positive progression from a limited entity to the transcendence of normative states of being. In other words, desire to incorporate the Other effectively entails a simultaneous desire to progress, like Stapledon’s omniscient Star Maker, towards a state of perfection, or to become ‘more’ than one’s Self like Marshall Smith’s transitioning from the ‘big’ to the ‘small guy.’ If successful transcendence of personal subjectivity requires a violation of the boundaries between Self and Other, then between subjects is necessarily compromised. In desiring the Other, the subject simultaneously attempts to break down the Other’s borders, diffusing or even excising its existence. Not content to merely merge with otherness, we seek to become Other and, in doing so, the Other in our own image. Foucault sees this exchange as a discourse of power. In technospiritual narratives this transgressive and homogenising desire is often translated as the pursuit of godhood, a yearning to expunge the perceived gap between the divine and the normative with the aid of each new technological advance.

We can therefore read the predominance of technospirituality in contemporary culture as a complex interplay between desire, the pursuit of perfection, vertical transcendence as a spiritual quest, and horizontal transcendence as a socially progressive project. Hardwired to seek otherness by millennia of religious ritual, humanity has displaced its need to transgress and contain otherness onto the technology it creates, which then comes to symbolise both its worthiness as successor to god and the ‘vehicle’ by which its drive for transcendent perfection is effected. Socio-cultural change is a by-product of this desire; that is, vertical transcendence inspires horizontal transcendence, causing paradigm shifts on a global scale as old traditions are replaced with new opportunities to transgress normative states. As the rate of technological change gathers momentum so, too, does the timeframe between paradigm shifts begin to contract. The twentieth century saw the emergence of two major paradigms – modernism and postmodernism. At the turn of the second millennium the postmodern beyond was beginning to be theorised. This thesis sees the rate of technological progress as inextricably linked to an increased need for both vertical and horizontal transcendence. If the automobile and aeroplane motivated a modernist transformation of culture and the computer a postmodernist rewriting of modernism, then Web 2.0 and online social media technologies are inspiring a further leap in perspective based on increased interconnectivity and synthesis – a leap into the trans, or into transmodernity. 41 What follows, then, is an archaeology of mystical transcendence in modernist and postmodernist literature, pop culture, film, and online texts concerning technological change employed as a means of reading the manifestation of sacred power in the secular world as a transmodern project. The scope of the thesis is broad and combines cultural theory and high theory with close readings of key moments in technoculture, from Italian Futurist manifestoes to recent science fiction film, literature, and online culture. Its intellectual thrust is not anti-postmodernist; rather, like the accounts of transcendence it examines and its model of the transmodern, it errs on the side of synthesis instead of antithesis, on inclusionary tactics rather than exclusionary politics. It attempts to recover the repudiated Others of postmodernist and poststructuralist theory, not to suggest an unthinking renewal of absolutes, but rather to argue for an integration of both kinds of thinking into a network of connected meaning that, it claims, defines transmodernity. Chapter one – Transcendent Bodies, Revolutionary Aesthetics: Transcendence in Early 20th Century Technoculture – begins by rereading the work of the Italian Futurists, and specifically Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist manifestoes, which it holds provides early examples of technospirituality in its mania for transcendent machine-becomings. The movement’s position at the very brink of a massive global change in transportation and communications technologies narrated the early transition of petit bourgeois culture (saturated by a fascination for secular and occult ) to a twentieth- century global infomatic society intrigued by the possibility of technological transcendence. The chapter therefore examines the early Futurist movement for clues as to how and why technology and transcendence have been synthesised into technospiritual metaphors that retain conceptual force today. It argues that despite years of academic derision that has only recently begun to wane in the face of emerging links between their work and , Marinetti and the Futurists performed a pivotal role in assisting modern culture to negotiate, accept, and welcome rapid technological change and traces the Futurists’ use of mystic tropes and to provide a lexicon to describe the ways in which new technologies were altering the subjective experience of being in the early twentieth century, a lexicon that re-emerges in contemporary technospiritual fictions. It also identifies that in embracing the always already new and thus resisting all closure in favour of the future, Futurist art and literature provided a signpost to the transmodern era.

Technospirituality also denotes a resurgence of early mystical beliefs revised for the , specifically Gnosticism, in which the computer and the World Wide Web 42 facilitate the accumulation of all knowledge as a precursor to attaining godhood. In this sense the notion of whether technology spawns religions or vice versa becomes contested territory for celebrating constant technological change, making popular film, television, and literature the receptacles for technophiles to disseminate their secular faiths. Chapter two, Marching Backwards to the Future: The Hacker Gets Religion, traces the narrative link between the 1980s and 1990s science fiction sub-genre, cyberpunk, and the propagation of an impending transformation of corporeality by the machine begun by the Futurists in 1909. It considers how cyberpunk re-imagines information technologies as an evolutionary step towards godhead, whether in its characterisation of binary code as divine language, its depictions of cyborgs and artificial intelligences as transcendent Others, or its descriptions of cyberspace as a heavenly vehicle for transcendence. The chapter also investigates cyberpunk’s re-imagining of the Gnostic quest to escape the limitations of the flesh to be reborn into divinity, and how this reliance on hidden mysteries and revelatory knowledge leads to the notion of technology as an arcane tool to further this transformative end. Finally, it will turn to an examination of how cyberpunk’s “god in the machine” constitutes an excess, omniscient force unconfined by machines or humans, designed to counter a technological system that threatens to dehumanise and homogenise its makers.

Chapter three, Suck My Code: Abject Others, Unspeakable (M)others, and the Multiple Bodies of Cyberspace investigates the gendering of the ontological anxiety that arises from the relationship of art and technology to life, acknowledging that technoculture can be understood as an attempt to claim sovereignty over modes of reproduction. It accepts that both the Italian Futurist and cyberpunk preoccupation with the prospect of ‘autocreation’ (‘I can create myself’), acts as a direct challenge to biological/organic modes of reproduction (or, ‘I am already created’), and that the frisson created by the drive to control reproduction fuels some of the most interesting and abiding science fiction narratives, from Genesis to The . Ironically, the pursuit of the ideal artificial feminine reaches its apotheosis in contemporary technoculture when the fabricated female body is at its least productive, when it is rendered simply a mirror for the desires of its creator. As the quest for artificial life in science fiction texts is also often synonymous with the creation of ‘perfect’ artificial women – from femme fatale cyborgs to malevolent androids and clones – this chapter examines the figure of the artificial woman from early science fiction to cyberfeminism for what it can tell us about the intersection between the transcendent notions of perfection witnessed in Italian Futurism and cyberpunk and radicalising otherness. It traces the dissemination of the cyberfeminist 43 heroine in popular science fiction television, arguing that Marinetti’s multiplied man has emerged in this genre as a multiple woman, who in encompassing her multiple parts becomes thoroughly transmodern and, as such, points to a synchronicity between transmodernism and .

The term ‘technospiritual’ also suggests new modes of spiritual practice online, and this thesis will conclude by considering the impact and use of technology on one such evolutionary spiritual movement, . Worshipping @ the Source Code: The Matrix Trilogy and Getting Godhead Online looks at an emerging canon of transcendent online mythologies mapping new directions in DIY spirituality. The chapter investigates the intersection of transmodernism, spiritual transcendence, science fiction mythologies, scientific method, and online technologies within one single ‘meme:’ the work of ‘meta- ’ philosopher, , who advocates the pursuit of godhood via a systematized programme of self-knowledge. Despite his ‘Integral theory’s queasy status in relation to academic theory, Wilber has been chosen above other spiritual commentators on transmodernism like Vitz or Sardar for a number of inter-related . First, his work seems to articulate an attempt to create a popularized form of technospiritual praxis of Dussel’s analetical mode of reasoning to show how paradigms like transmodern emerge or transcend organically and fluidly from what has come before. Furthermore, he specifically attempts to wed a theory of transcendence to this emergence, providing an example of how the transmodern both transcends and includes modernism and postmodernism. Finally, Wilber’s growing online presence extensively links speculative fictions, knowledge accretion, theological commentaries, and online community in the pursuit of a transcendence of the Self, following in the tradition of the world’s great mystical religions. While acknowledging the profusion of , Wilber’s integral theory seeks to draw them together into a single, comprehensive whole he half-jokingly calls a ‘,’ again recalling the Gnostic quest for all knowledge seen in cyberpunk fictions. This thesis uncovers some very real problems with this ‘integral operating system,’ not the least being the terrifying kernel of irrationality that accompanies the transference of Wilber’s work into a spiritual community setting. Nevertheless, his claims for Integral methodology as transmodernity will be tested by investigating an integral reading of the quintessential technospiritual text, The Matrix trilogy, the writer/directors of which – the Wachowski Brothers – are also participants in Wilber’s online community.

44 Each chapter traces the emergence of a transmodern aesthetic and culture in an attempt to further understand its future evolution as the post of postmodernism. Each offers examples of how the twinned concepts of transcendence and technology help create the conditions for the rise of transmodernism, and works to provide potential examples of a resulting transmodern methodology in action. Throughout this thesis, the burgeoning desire for reconstructing what was once deconstructed, fragmented, and disavowed will be examined, not to simply return past foci of theoretical enquiry to the margins or, indeed, the marginalised to the centre, but to reveal the primary message of transmodernism – that both deconstruction and reconstruction hold equal significance on a continuum of understanding socio-cultural change.


1 William Gibson, “God’s Little Toys,” in Wired Magazine (2005). Accessed 20 June 2009. http:// www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.07/gibson.html

2 Michael Marshall Smith, Spares (Harper Collins: , 1996), 290.

3 Wesley W. Isenberg, “Gospel of Philip,” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson and Marvin W. Meyer (San Franscisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 67 § 72, 1.

4 Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism (New York: , 2002), 181.

5 Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity: An Incomplete Project,” in Modernism/Postmodernism, ed. Peter Brooker (Harlow: Longman, 1996), 127. See also Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity, trans. John Moore (New York: Verso, 1995).

6 This characterisation of modernity is backed up by Habermas, who writes: “[In the French Enlightenment], Specifically, the idea of being “modern” by looking back to the ancients changed with the belief, inspired by modern science, in the infinite progress of knowledge and in the infinite advance towards social and moral betterment.” See Habermas, Modernity, 128

7 See commentary on the modern by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds. Art in Theory: 1900-1990, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 126.

8 Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, 126.

9 Directed by Fritz Lang (UFA, 13 March, 1927).

10 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (New York: Courier Dover Publication, 2003), 181.

11 and , , (New York: Bantam , 1992), 17.

12 Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, 127.

45 13 For further discussion about the comparisons between the Enlightenment’s and twentieth- century Modernism’s notion of presence, see Ronald Schleifer, Modernism and Time: The Logic of Abundance in Literature, Science, and Culture 1880-1930 (London: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 2-9.

14 See , Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004); , Stephen Hero (New York: New Directions, 1963); , Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writings (London: Pimlico, 2003). For an extended discussion of Yeats’ interest in the occult, see Graham Hough, Mystery Religion of WB Yeats (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1984).

15 , The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathon Mayne (London: , 2006), 13.

16 T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland,” quoted in Pericles Lewis, The Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Connecticut: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 146.

17 Charles Taylor, : the making of the modern identity (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 476.

18 Lewis, Cambridge Introduction to Modernism, 9.

19 For a comprehensive overview of the of the term ‘postmodernism,’ see Fred R. Shapiro, “Prehistory of postmodern and Related Terms: Evidence from the JSTOR Electronic Journal and Other Sources,” in American Speech 76:3 (Fall 2001): 331-334.

20 Regina Schwartz, Transcendence: Philosophy, Literature, and Theology Approach the Beyond (London: Routledge, 2004).

21 , The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 7.

22 Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 2002), 1.

23 Hutcheon, Politics of Postmodernism, 23.

24 Hutcheon, Politics of Postmodernism, 1.

25 Brian McHale, Postmodern Fiction (London: Routledge, 1987), 4.

26 , Postmodernism, Or the Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), x.

27 Jameson, Postmodernism, 26.

28 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 163.

29 Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 162.

30 Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (London: Publications, 1998), 110.

31 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1.

32 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

33 , After Theory (New York: Basic Books: 2004), 1.

46 34 See Gilles Lipovetsky, Hypermodern Times, trans. Sebastien Charles (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005).

35 Alan Kirby, Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture (New York: Continuum, 2009), 1.

36 Robert Samuels, “Auto-Modernity after Postmodernism: Autonomy and Automation in Culture, Technology, and Education,” in Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected, ed. Tara McPherson (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008), 219–240. DOI: 10.1162/dmal. 9780262633598.219

37 Raoul Eshelman, “Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” in Anthropoetics 6. 2 (2000/2001).

38 Eshelman, “Performatism,” 1.

39 American Beauty, dir. Sam Mendes, perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Dreamworks SKG, 1999.

40 Run, Lola, Run, dir. Tom Twyker, perf. Franke Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, X-Filme Creative Pool, 1998.

41 Eshelman, “Performatism,” 5.

42 Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, “Against Theory,” in Critical Inquiry 8:4 (1982): 723.

43 W.J.T Mitchell, Against Theory. Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism (Chicago: Press, 1985), 15-16.

44Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, “The Remodernism Manifesto,” 1999 http:// www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/stuckism/Remodernism-Manifesto.html

45 James Mahoney, Panel Discussion on Transmodernism. April 2, 2009. http:// www.transmodernfestival.org/2009/essays/transmodernism-panel-umbc

46 See http://transmodernfestival.org

47 Bret McCabe, “Rooms Play,” Baltimore City Paper, April 27, 2011. http://citypaper.com/arts/ stage/em-rooms-play-em-1.1137717

48 Other theologists or spiritual commentators working in this area include Ziaddin Sardar, Paul H. Ray, and Ken Wilber. See Ziaddin Sardar, “Beyond Difference: Cultural Relations in a New Century”, in How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar on , Science and Cultural Relations, ed. Ehsan Masood, (London: Press, 2006); Paul H. Ray, : How 50 Million People are Changing the World (New York: Harmony Books, 2000); and Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Boston: Shambhala, 2006).

49 Paul C Vitz, The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press: 2006), xviii.

50 Paul C Vitz, “The Crisis in the Psychological Concept of Self or Person: A Neo-Thomist and Personalist Answer,” The Catholic Review, Volume VIII (2003), 3. http:// www.catholicsocialscientists.org/CSSR/Archival/vol_viii.htm

51 Vitz, “Crisis,” xviii.

47 52 “Notes on Metamodernism,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 2 (2010). DOI: 10.3402/ jac.v2i0.5677

53 Rosa María Rodríguez Magda, 27 December, 2008, “ as Transmodern Totality,” Transmodernity blog (full English of Magda’s Transmodernidad, Barcelona, Anthropos, 2004), http://transmodern-theory.blogspot.com/

54 Joseph Tabbi, Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk (Ithaca: Cornell, 1995), 9.

55 Enrique Dussel, The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the “Other” and the Myth of Modernity, trans. Michael D. Barber (New York: Continuum, 1995), 12.

56 Fred Reinhard Dallmayr, Dialogue Among : Some Exemplary Voices (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 115.

57 Dallmayr, Dialogue, 12.

58 Dallmayr, Dialogue, 132.

59 Enrique Dussel, The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor, and the Philosophy of Liberation, trans. Eduardo Mendieta (Atlantic Highland, NJ: Press, 1996), 3.

60 Ziauddin Sardar, “Beyond Difference,” in How Do You Know: Reading Ziauddin Sardar, 296.

61 Margaret Wertheim has briefly used this term to describe the intersection between technology and religious metaphor in her book, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (Sydney: Doubleday, 1999), 257. Graham J. has also used the term “techno-spiritualism” to describe The Matrix trilogy (dir: Wachowski Bros, 1999; 2002; 2002) in “Angel(LINK) of Harlem: Techno-spirituality in the Cyberpunk Tradition,” Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. Kindle edition: location 5,616.

62 Andrew Ross and Constance Penley, Technoculture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), xii.

63 Ross and Penley, Technoculture, xii.

64 N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 247.

65 Bruce Sterling, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (Maryland: Arbor House, 1988).

66 Martin Lister, New Media: A Critical Introduction (London: Routledge, 2003), 60.

67 See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 70-71.

68 For detailed discussion about the mystical experience of transcendence across cultures see Jordan Paper, The Mystic Experience: A Descriptive and Comparative Analysis (New York: SUNY Press, 2004); Andrew Harvey, The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions (HarperOne, 1997); Michael Kessler and Christian Sheppard, eds., Mystics: Presence and Aporia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

69 See, for instance, James H. Austin, Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998); Matthew Alper, The God Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God (New York: Rogue Press, 2001).

70 Richard M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, 2000) 11.

48 71 Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, 189. Bucke here quotes from Whitman, Democratic Vistas (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010), 43: §75.

72 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, trans. Dim Cheuk Lau (London: Penguin Classics, 1963), 63; , Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, trans C. K. Ogden (New York: Cosimo, Inc., 2007), 27.

73Michel De Certeau, “Mysticism” in Diacritics, Summer (1992): 16.

74 De Certeau, “Mysticism,” 20.

75 De Certeau, “Mysticism,” 18.

76 In Zen Buddhism, kensho represents a brief glimpse of the true nature of the Self as one with all being, while satori is a deeper spiritual experience, an intuitive apprehension of the nature of reality that transcends conceptual thought and cannot be expressed through words and letters. The term, ‘gateless gate’ refers to the imagined barrier between a meditator’s normative consciousness and an enlightened consciousness; imagined because Zen holds that both are one and the same if only the meditator can perceive them as such.

77 Ann Weinstone, "Welcome To The Pharmacy: Addiction, Transcendence, and Virtual Reality." Diacritics 27.3 (1997): 77-89.

78 Erik Davis, Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 30: “… Writing is a machine. Over eons, human beings have invented widely different systems of visually language and thought, and these various pictograms, ideograms, and alphabets have been inscribed and reproduced using a wide variety of secondary – ink, , parchment, … mechanical printing presses, billboards, photocopying machines, and electronic computer screens. The material is an utterly technological tale.”

79 Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (London: Gollancz, 1999), 216.

80 Stapledon, Star Maker, 224.

81 Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside (London: Gollancz, 2005), 65-66.

82 Michael Marshall Smith, One of Us (London: HarperCollins, 1999), 260.

83 Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 1988), 1. Extropy, defined by Max More in his essay “: towards a Futurist Philosophy” (Extropy 6 (1990): 5-10) is the prediction that human intelligence and technology will enable life to expand in an orderly way throughout the entire universe.

84 Corpus Hermetica, trans. Brian P. Copenhaver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 41.

85 Davis, Techgnosis, 115.

49 86 In his introduction to Mind Children, Moravec proclaims it is no longer necessary to take a “mystical or religious stance” in order to imagine liberating our thought process from “bondage to a mortal body.” Indeed, he has characterised is dream of uploading his brain into the machine as ‘a sort of Christian fantasy: this is how to become pure spirit.” In Ed Regis, Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition (Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley, 1990), 150. As Erik Davis has noted, “ as modern Prometheans pursue the ‘rational’ possibilities of science and technology, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to maintain the commonsensical perspective of the man on the street. Instead, such thinkers and tinkerers are loosed in a world of possibility whose profound metaphysical and religious dimensions they are often incapable of handling, let alone recognising; as such, they find themselves unconsciously drawn to the soul’s most adolescent fantasies of transcendence and immortality”(Techgnosis, 149).

87 Georges Bataille, Erotism, Death, and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986), 15.

88 Bataille, Erotism, 24.

89 See Foucault’s : Volume One (London: Penguin, 1990), and “A Preface to Transgression,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. (London: , 1984).

90 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans H. Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1957), 222: “But the Other is the indispensible mediator between myself and me … Thus the Other has not only revealed to me what I was; he has established me in a new type of being which can support new qualifications.”


TRANSCENDENT BODIES, REVOLUTIONARY AESTHETICS: Transcendence in Early 20th Century Technoculture

51 Futurist polyexpressive theatre will be a superpowerful centre of abstract forces in play. Each spectacle will be a mechanical rite of the eternal transcendence of matter, a magical revelation of spiritual and scientific mystery. A panoramic synthesis of action, understood as a mystical rite of spiritual dynamism. A centre of spiritual abstraction for the new religion of the future.

– Enrico Prampolini1

Artists are above all men who want to become inhuman.

– Guillame Apollinaire2

Italian Futurism, the early avant-garde movement inspired and founded by F.T. Marinetti’s incendiary 1909 manifesto, “The Founding ,” emerged from a decade of astonishing breakthroughs in transportation, information, and communications technologies.3 Innovations such as the mass production of the automobile, cinema, radio, and the aeroplane had exposed Western society to new social paradigms that would fundamentally alter the ways in which subjects interacted with each other, their environment, and their tools. Futurism’s position at the very brink of this global change gave artistic expression to the early transition of an overly sentimental late nineteenth- century petit bourgeois culture (saturated by a fascination for secular spiritualism and occult symbolism) to what would ultimately become a twentieth-century obsession with technological transcendence. In casting humanity as the omniscient creators of new machines, Marinetti did nothing less than create an underlying technospiritual myth for our technocultural age – that humanity is destined to wrest control of its own evolution by merging with the machines it creates. In the process, the Italian Futurist movement also repositioned Western culture one step closer to a post-religious state, that is, a state of evolutionary transcendence uncoupled from institutionalised religion, shifting spiritual activity from the religious to the secular domain.4 Exploring how Italian Futurism translated traditional mystical discourses of transcendence to explain the rapid technological transformations taking place around it, this chapter will argue that the movement retains speculative currency in popular and technoculture today for two reasons. Firstly, Futurism tapped into a desire for transcendence dating back in western culture to the Gnostics – a desire that lies at the heart of humanity’s quest for continued progress, understanding, 52 and escape reworked with the trappings of a new century’s concerns.5 Secondly, in connecting his aesthetic project to technological innovation, Marinetti was able to perpetually revitalise his work and with it the project of modernity. In short, this chapter seeks to demonstrate that Marinetti and the Futurists internalised transcendent metaphors to create a self-renewing aesthetic: transmodernism.

After a brief overview of the movement’s main themes, an analysis of its critical reception as an avant-garde movement, and a discussion about its relevance to contemporary cyberculture, the chapter will critically examine several key manifestoes penned by Marinetti – “The Founding Manifesto of Futurism” (1909), “The New Religion-Morality of Speed” (1916), “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” (1912), and “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine” (1911-1915) – to illustrate the ways in which the Futurist movement connected metaphors of transcendence, mysticism, and machines to provide a technospiritual lexicon for contemporary technocultural texts. Each of these manifestoes dates from the early utopian phase of Italian Futurism; that is, the period between the movement’s inception and the War, when the euphoria that new technologies would inspire socio-cultural revolution was at its height for the Futurist group. This first flush of technophilia has had a residual effect on subsequent cultural production concerning technological innovation, and close readings of each of these manifestoes will map those transcendent themes that return for repeated inquiry in contemporary technoculture: self-destruction as the ‘road’ to horizontal transcendence; the role of the body and mind as privileged ‘vehicles’ towards achieving vertical transcendence; the conflation of the mechanical and ecstatic meanings of the term ‘transport;’ and the crash as a seminal event in depictions of the transcendent experience in this literature. Specific attention will also be given to Marinetti’s early depictions of the cyborg – the ‘multiplied man’ – for what it can tell us about twenty-first century attitudes to the transformative possibilities (or looming spectre) of transhumanity. It will be suggested there are very fertile and interesting corollaries between Marinetti’s dreams of transcendent mechanical men and the transcendent in contemporary technoculture and science fiction explored in following chapters.6 Furthermore, this chapter hopes to demonstrate that the relationship between spiritual transcendence and contemporary notions of progress and evolution that emerge within Futurist prescriptions for technocultural futures reposition the movement as proto-transmodernist.

53 Figure 1. Umberto Boccioni Dynamism of a Cyclist 1913 Oil on 27 1/2 x 35 3/8 in (70 x 90 cm) Private .


The Italian Futurist movement burst onto the early twentieth-century cultural scene in 1909 with the publication of Marinetti’s “Founding Manifesto of Futurism” in the popular Parisian broadsheet, . Like all Futurist art and literature, it was designed to shock its readers into a new awareness of how the startling breakthroughs in communications, transportation, and information technologies at the fin de siecle had instigated a concomitant transformation of subjective being. Neither a Futurist canvas had been painted nor a poem penned when the “Founding Manifesto” appeared – it provided a how-to guide for Futurist production, discursively laying out the prerequisites for creating a modern Futurist in which humans began to merge with their machines. Unlike other art movements, then, Futurist theory preceded Futurist practice, and, at the moment of its inception, claimed both its present and future as absolutely autonomous from the past. A product of turn of the century utopian zeal, the movement championed, above all else, a new logic of speed, suggesting the virtual simultaneity achieved by travelling via trains, planes, and automobiles or communicating via telephone or radio would forever alter human consciousness. Italian Futurism, the Futurists claimed, was merely documenting the inescapable outcome of constant technological innovation:

Futurism is founded on the complete transformation of human perception brought about by scientific breakthroughs. Those who today use the

54 telegraph, telephone, or gramophone, the train, bicycle, motorcycle, motorcar, transatlantic line, dirigible, aeroplane, cinema, newspaper are unaware that these forms of communication, transport, and information are exerting a decisive influence on their psyche.8

To employ technology in one’s everyday life was to invite a profound transformation that, once set in motion, could not be stopped, simply because “what we have made is woven into our ways of seeing and being in the world.”9 Taking a road trip or making a phone call externalised humanity’s will and would encourage us to extend our mental and physical boundaries. Thrust beyond our Selves with the aid of our technological tools, our awareness would expand – effecting both a vertical and horizontal transcendence and experiencing an “earth shrunk by speed.”10 Drawn together by technology, modern subjects could simultaneously access all modes of existence across time and space:

Space no longer exists; the street pavement, soaked by rain beneath the glare of electric lamps, becomes immensely deep and gapes to the very centre of the earth. Thousands of miles divide us from the sun; yet the house in front of us fits into the solar disk.11

This Futurist notion of a technologically fuelled simultaneity drew heavily on the philosophies of , whose popular contemporaneous work, Creative Evolution, posited that consciousness was a synthesis of the ever-changing flow of past and future, producing a modern Self that was in “continuous flux.”12 Existing only from moment to moment, each carrying with it “our entire past,”13 Bergson claimed we “extend ourselves infinitely, and we transcend ourselves.”14 Italian Futurism took this literally by suggesting the only logical way to extend oneself in the modern technological milieu was to merge human corporeality with machines, a central Futurist motif that proposed a mechanically determined Nietzschean ubermensch that strove “to become master over all space and to extend its force (— its will-to-power) and to thrust back all that resists its extension.”15 By extending the power of the body, new technologies of speed also offered the Futurists a way to fast track transcendence into dynamic Otherness, while also instigating the continuous flux of the social order as culture raced to keep up with the exponential rate of technological change. “All things move, all things run, all things are constantly changing” became the Futurists’ catch-cry, an of the dynamic possibilities of reproducing the world anew moment by moment, of

55 matching human evolution to the pace of technological progress.16 Contemplation was anathema to a Futurist aesthetic – to keep pace with the perpetual flow of modern life acolytes were encouraged to forestall all reflection, for to do so would counteract the forces of eternal change, inviting only stagnation and decay.

If change represented being at its most basic, technological speed maintained life at optimum dynamism, and would be instrumental in revolutionising all elements of daily life. According to Marinetti’s 1913 manifesto, “Destruction of Syntax—Imagination without strings—Words-in-Freedom,” technology would initiate sweeping transformations at a social, cultural, physical, and spiritual level simultaneously, including:

1. Acceleration of life to today’s swift pace… Multiple and simultaneous awareness in a single individual.

2. Dread of the old and the known. Love of the new, the unexpected.

3. Dread of quiet living, love of danger, and an attitude of daily heroism.

4. Destruction of a sense of the Beyond and an increased value of the individual whose desire is vivre sa vie…

5. The multiplication and unbridling of human desires and ambitions.

6. An exact awareness of everything inaccessible and unrealisable in every person.

7. Semi-equality of man and woman and a lessening of the disproportion in their social rights.

8. Disdain for amore (sentimentality or lechery) produced by the greater freedom and erotic ease of women and by the universal exaggeration of female luxury …

9. A modification of patriotism, which now means a heroic idealisation of the commercial, industrial, and artistic solidarity of a people.

10. A modification in the idea of war, which has become the necessary and bloody test of a people’s force.

11. The passion, art, and of Business…

12. Man multiplied by the machine. New mechanical sense, a fusion of instinct with the efficiency of motors and conquered forces.

13. The passion, art, and idealism of Sport. Idea and love of the “record”.

56 Figure 2. Umberto Boccioni The City Rises 1910 Oil on canvas 6ft 6.5 in x 9ft 10.5 in Collection: The Museum of , New York Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund

14. New tourist sensibility bred by ocean liners and great hotels (annual synthesis of different races). Passion for the city. Negation of distances and nostalgic solitudes. Ridicule of the “holy green silence” and the ineffable landscape.

15. The earth shrunk by speed. New sense of the world…One after the other, man will gain the sense of his home, of the quarter where he lives, of his region, and finally of the continent… The single man, therefore, must communicate with every people on earth. He must feel himself to be the axis, judge, and motor of the explored and unexplored infinite. Vast increase of a sense of humanity and a momentary urgent need to establish relations with all mankind.

16. A loathing of curved lines, spirals, and the tourniquet. Love for the straight line and the tunnel… Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary. “Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!”

17. Love of depth and essence in every exercise of the spirit.17

The sole purpose of Futurist art was to capture this new sense of technological dynamism, pitting itself against what the movement perceived as the torpid banality of a nineteenth-century aesthetic concerned only with beauty and art for art’s sake. All subject matters were ‘futurised,’ with speed infiltrating every aspect of life:

57 Figure 3. Giacomo Balla Dynamism of a Dog on A Leash 1912 Oil on canvas Collection Abright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y. Bequest 0f A. Conger Goodyear ’64.

Figure 4. Étienne-Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904) with George Demeny Untitled (Sprinter) 1890-1900. Gelatin silver print, 6 1/16 x 14 5/8" (15.4 x 37.2 cm). Gift of Paul F. Walter

... a profile is never motionless before our eyes, but it constantly appears and disappears. On account of the persistence of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular.18

Audiences of Futurist artworks were actively encouraged to fling themselves into a glorious maelstrom of modern technological change by identifying with the representations of bodies in perpetual motion before them, buffeted and amplified by the forces surrounding them as if such forces could be perceived by the naked eye. However, the Futurist painter, Umberto Boccioni, claimed that it was only he and his fellow Futurists who could perceive these forces, as a result of their ecstatic initiation into the mysteries of speed:

58 We futurist painters have by means of this ecstasy and by means of this delirium, a psychic divinatory force that gives our senses the power to perceive that which was never perceived until now.19

Here Boccioni describes the Futurists as mystics of the modern, able to see through the everyday to deconstruct subjects and objects alike into their composite energies – a claim not unlike the conventional accounts of religious vertical transcendence. In fact, subjects and objects in Futurism are actively integrated. Machine and man, incorporeal and corporeal meld into one in Futurist Figure 5. Cover of Zang Tumb art, creating a new proto-cyborg body the Futurists Tumb: Adrianopoli Ottobre 1912: believed would be better equipped to navigate their Parole in Libertà by F.T. Marinetti Publisher: Edizioni Futuriste di perceived technological future. In Umberto Boccioni’s "Poesia," Milan. Gift of The Judith Rothschild Dynamism of a Cyclist (Figure 1), man, cycle and air Foundation (Boris Kerdimun Archive). interpenetrate in an explosion of abstract © 2011 Filippo Tommaso brushstrokes and pumping limbs, while his The City Marinetti / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome Rises (Figure 2), captures the swirling power of a street demonstration, complete with lines of force and swirling eddies of light, colour, and air. Likewise, Giancomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (Figure 3) reveals the simultaneous frenzy of a dog’s frantic attempts to keep pace with its owner, emulating Étienne-Jules Marey contemporaneous photographic studies of perpetual movement (Figure 4).

The simultaneity suggested by the speed of machines would also function on the level of discourse, so that all places, peoples, perspectives, and philosophies could be accessed immediately at once: “establishing relations with all mankind.” Futurist literature was one of linguistic rupture, predating Dada’s similar deconstruction of syntax by four years. Marinetti’s sound poem, Zang Tumb Tumb (Figure 5) employs what he terms parole di liberta (words-in-freedom), an innovative fusion of typography, symbols, and phonetic impressions of gunfire and explosions designed to convey Marinetti’s experiences as a war correspondent during the 1912 Balkan War. A furious barrage of screeching trains, the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire, and the clatter of telegraphic messages when performed live 59 Figure 6. Umberto Boccioni, A Futurist Soiree. Caricature of the “Futurist evening,” at the Theatre Politeama Garibaldi, Treviso, 2 June 1911. (Beinecke Rare Book and Library, Yale University).

by Marinetti, on the printed page words are deconstructed and reconstructed into a vortex designed to better capture the extremes of battle in as few characters at possible.20 Discursive speed was paramount – with the slogan, “Quick! Give me the whole thing in two words!” Marinetti sought to fuse image and word in space, contracting their appearance while simultaneously offering new depths of meaning by attempting to engage as many senses as possible. Futurist events further sought to extend this simultaneity into public performance, often combining a broad range of traditionally non- aesthetic elements that included fashion, architecture, music, sport, and cooking.21 The movement’s reach was so pervasive that, for a short time, all emerging art movements were popularly designated as futurist,22 and Marinetti as Futurism’s “motor” undertook a travelling tour of riotous seratas (soirees) between 1910 and 1914, inspiring , and linking Italian Futurism with , early Dada, and , as well as extensively influencing avant-garde movements around the globe.23 These wild affairs deliberately provoked audiences into an outraged frenzy, presided over by a histrionic Marinetti hurling abuse above the din. There was carefully crafted method, however, amidst the madness – Marinetti intended his audiences should engage in the outrageous excess of violence and energy emanating from the stage, in the hope that such spectacles would alter their expectations of art and lead them to phenomenologically 60 embrace Futurist perspectives.24 Audience reaction, he wrote in “The Pleasure of Being Booed” (1911), should never be considered a barometer of success, for while not everything booed would necessarily be beautiful or new, “everything applauded immediately is certainly no better than the average intelligence and is therefore something mediocre, dull, regurgitated, or too well digested.”25 Of course, this could well be Marinetti’s literary foil to the frequent throwing of rotten vegetables and heavy objects at his performances.26 However, the rewards for a sustained effort would be worth every rotten egg, as the Founding Manifesto claimed: “Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece.”27 The most precious prize – a great work of art – could be raised from the ashes of intense conflict, and this conflict need not only be waged within the artist’s self, but could be directed outward to include, and thus transform, the mass psyche. The artist was therefore reinvented as activist, a dynamic force in society capable, like technology, of instigating social and subjective change.

The movement’s desire for social transformation through art was, in itself, a kind of transcendental secularism, in that it sought to transgress the margins between art and its culturally constructed Other, life, in order to reconstruct both as something new. Indeed, Foucault links the creation of art with the transcendental moment: “a work of art opens a void, a moment of silence, a question without answer, provokes a breach without reconciliation where the world is forced to question itself.”28 For Foucault, the act of writing/creating connects the author/artist to the secular sacred, so that the artwork is a direct expression of Otherness, creating a disconnect from which normative being is then put under question. In a secular society, therefore, the work of art stands in for the presence of god, producing the role of the artist as divinatory, whether as prophet or creator. Viewing the artwork, then, opens up the possibility of a dialogue with Otherness, reconnecting the individual with the divine. For the Futurists, both art and technology were able to inspire the necessary break in normative required for a reconnection with the sacred, with technological innovation the quickest means by which the Futurist re-negotiation of the boundaries of art and life could be effected:

Comrades, we tell you now that the triumphant progress of science makes profound changes in humanity inevitable, changes which are hacking an abyss between those docile slaves of past tradition and us free moderns, who are confident in the radiant splendour of our future.29

61 Thus when Marinetti speaks of a “destruction of the Sense of the Beyond,” he is not referring to the abolition of metaphysical and ontological concepts but of his desire for multiple transcendences on a daily basis. The promise of a perfect future could not be forestalled until one entered a heavenly ; it must be effected right here, right now, with the aid of technological change. Where , quoting Marx, claimed the modern subject as one for whom “all that is solid melts into air,”30 Marinetti saw the dissolution of the individual into the technological milieu as a consummation devoutly to be wished. Dissolution was not an end but a beginning, an opportunity for the dynamic emergence of the new. The omniscient figure of the “multiplied man” in Marinetti’s manifestoes – a being irrevocably transformed by technological breakthroughs – represents the Futurist’s desire to recreate even the artist’s body as technocultural art. The Futurist transgression of the body’s boundaries by the machine would literally break down and rebuild corporeality in the image of techne, allowing subjects to recreate their selves as they would a work of art – albeit an artwork that is in a constant state of becoming as it upgrades with each new technological advance. The body as evolving artwork was, in Marinetti’s imaginary, directed purely by the will of the artist – in effect recasting the artist/ creator as able to produce both self and environment. The destruction and subsequent transformation of the artwork/body would in turn lead to the collapse of the social body, and the eradication of social, political, and cultural . Liberated from its cultural status, the artwork/body could then provide a reservoir of social and political energy from which the structures of change could be redrawn and re-imagined: “Before us, art was memory, an anxiety-ridden recollection of a lost Object (happiness, love, landscape)… with Futurism, however, art becomes ‘art-action.’”31 Artists would play a decisive role in the “ of civil affairs, to such an extent that no productive element of the environment should remain untouched by it.”32 Futurism therefore represented a radical revision of the relationships between artwork, artist, and audience. Rather than perceive art as existing in a reified space, Futurism sought to draw its audience in, to “put the spectator in the centre of the picture,” subject to the mad rush of Futurist action swirling around it.33 By transforming the audience from speculative onlookers to complicit protagonists enveloped by the artwork, Futurism proposed an early form of interactivity in which the spectator is required to perform alongside the artist in the production of the work of art, instigating an active response that precludes passivity and demonstrates the individual will-to-power of each participant. Anticipating the modus operandi of commercial advertising, Futurist language, performance, and images therefore aimed simply to elicit an immediate response from its audience, a spark that would ignite it into revolutionary action. 62 The consequence of such capers, however theoretically or aesthetically directed, was a long period of relative obscurity for the Italian Futurists, absorbed and eclipsed by the critically sanctioned antics of Dada and Surrealism that followed. As early as 1912, told Wassily Kandinsky: “I cannot free myself from the strange contradiction that I find their ideas, at least for the main part, brilliant, but am in no doubt whatsoever as to the mediocrity of their works.”34 Critical confusion over Futurism’s cultural worth seems to have echoed Marc’s comment ever since. Post-World War II critics dismissed the movement as a “weird apologia for machinery, speed, and warmongering, something hovering between the farcical and plain crass,” and Marinetti as “a cretin with flashes of genius.”35 ’s characterisation of Marinetti’s “War — the World’s Only Hygiene” (1915) as the ultimate articulation of capitalism’s dependence on a wartime economy was undoubtedly influential for theorists concerned with the political ideologies of the avant-garde.36 Wanting, on the one hand, to revolutionise the forces of production and, on the other, to resist the revolutionary potential of its resulting social relations, Benjamin argued that in attempting to externalise the destructive forces of technology, capitalism created war as an economically necessitated supplement that negated its apparent self-sufficiency. By mentioning Marinetti in his analysis of and art, however briefly, Benjamin inferred that Futurism also externalised ‘destruction’ as a form of aesthetic, contemplative distance, and consequently enjoyed destruction itself as an aesthetic event. An that clearly celebrated war and aligned itself, albeit not until after the Great War, with Mussolini’s fascist regime clearly confounded theorists who saw the avant-garde project as confluent with the political left. Therefore, the first significant critical debates about Futurism were concerned with whether it could indeed be categorised as a bona-fide avant-garde movement.

Peter Bürger’s seminal definition of the avant-garde project as, “the attempt to direct toward the practical the aesthetic experience (which rebels against the praxis of life) that developed,”37 argued avant-garde movements sought to overcome the separation of intellectual and aesthetic activity from politics and everyday life, instead synthesising both components of the art/life dichotomy concocted by a combination of bourgeois , nineteenth century art pour l’art sensibilities, and high modernist enterprise. The avant-garde’s supposed displacement of the traditional organic work of art as an object of passive contemplation by inserting the spectator into the modernist picture, represented for Bürger an antipathy to the programmatic infusion of values previously appropriated by nineteenth-century works of art. In other words, the avant- garde constituted a moment of art’s self-criticism, where art began to distance itself from

63 its previous status of ‘art as institution’ and pursue a socio-political project. Thus the ethos of what Bürger termed the ‘historical avant-garde’ rested upon the premise that artistic innovation was once intimately linked to social transformation. Bürger failed to mention Italian Futurism in his analysis, presumably because Marinetti’s dalliance with Mussolini from 1920 to 1940 sits ill with his construction of avant-garde activity as emerging only from the radically Left. Perhaps prejudiced by Renato Poggioli, whose earlier psychoanalytic study, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, examined the avant-garde not under its species of art production but for “what it reveals, inside and outside of art itself, of a common psychological condition, a unique ideological fact,”38 Bürger’s elision of Italian Futurism from the avant-garde canon serves to reveal an inability of post-World War II critics to take into account the implications of a reactionary avant-garde that may well have represented the first coalescence of aesthetics and capitalist notions of progress.

Poggioli saw the avant-garde as fulfilling a series of psychological moments – activism (“a blind, gratuitous… cult of the act,”);39 antagonism (grouping artists together against the social mass in defiance of society’s systems of significance and protocol); (the sadistic “act of beating down barriers, razing obstacles, destroying whatever stands in its way”);40 and finally agonism (“the masochistic impulse in the avant-garde psychosis,”).41 The language he employed is instructive – it constructs the rupture of avant-garde art as a series of derangements, expressing these ‘psychotic,’ ‘masochistic,’ or ‘sadistic’ moments as aberrations in art. Each artwork is therefore constructed as a divergence from normative culture (a presumably characterised by his own ideological framework), allowing Poggioli to homogenise antithetical avant-garde movements. He initially suggested that the post collaborations of Marinetti’s Futurism and Mussolini’s Fascism be used as an example of the combination of political and aesthetic revolutionaries but then limited further critical discourse on such a merger by claiming, “From the start, Italian Futurism was also , as was the culture of the young generation in that epoch; the Fascism of the epigones of that movement was mere opportunism.” In one short sentence, he brands Italian Futurism as both youthful ignorance and misguided expediency – a moniker that stuck until the early 1990s fascination with web and internet culture brought the movement’s output back into focus. Importantly, this notion of opportunism allowed Poggioli to conflate Italian and Russian forms of Futurism as proof of the “political opportunism” of art once it takes an interest in politics, retreating to bourgeois distinctions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture by implying that avant-garde artists could not be serious about both their politics and their art, a stance

64 that immediately sits ill with a notion of the avant-garde as attempting a political intervention of twentieth-century European society via its cultural production. Poggioli nevertheless first recognised a distinction between an “extreme left” and an “extreme right,” even while he contradicted himself by insisting the observed processes of both Left and Right in art are “the same thing.”42 Failing to adequately explore the possibilities of what has been called an “reactionary avant-garde,” he goes on to claim that Italian Futurism cannot really be fascistic, for it is, at the same time in the USSR, Communist.43 Furthermore, despite his attempts to level the effect of Left and Right politics on avant- garde art, Poggioli sees no inconsistency in placing Russian Futurist production above that of its precursor Italian Futurism, claiming that: “it remains always true that, while ideological sympathies of a fascist nature seem to negate the avant-garde spirit… communist sympathies can favour it.”44 For Poggioli, Italian Futurism as Fascism reverted to: “vulgar experimentalism, formless and imitative”;45 an “external and vulgar modernity, more of matter than of spirit, a modernism considered only as a snobbist variant of romantic local colour”;46 and as the prime example of “the dross of that ridiculous and cheapened modernism which afflicted western culture just before and just after the First World War.”47

Such statements are not only disingenuous about Futurism’s commencement eight years prior to World War I and continuation for over thirty years – a period that saw the movement’s political orientation move from radical Left to radical Right – but also casts aspersions on those avant-gardes Poggioli commends that were influenced by early Futurism and Marinetti’s manifestoes – Imagism, Modernism, Russian Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism.48 Instead, Poggioli’s intractable language (‘vulgar,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘cheapened,’ ‘afflicted,’ ‘dross’) is testament to the dominant attitude of early to mid twentieth-century critics who also dismissed the Futurist movement because of its later connection to Fascism. Poggioli and Bürger’s accounts of the avant-garde can be seen as a manifestation of the discriminative tactics of a post-World War II critical that was used to frame the canons of modernism and avant-garde alike. Just as Bürger claims the polarised existence, with the daily grind of production and industry ‘complemented’ by the sanctified sphere of an art that was relegated to weekends and leisure time, so does his account of the avant-garde create an exclusionary matrix that privileges those movements affiliated with the political Left. Presumably, following the horrors of World War II, a valorisation of anything perceived as fascist culture was unworkable. Ipso facto, ‘good’ art could never be fascist and Futurism could be

65 conveniently ignored as an aberration that failed to conform to long-established avant- garde criteria.

Furthermore, by effectively refusing Futurism avant-garde status, critics like Benjamin, Poggioli, and Bürger curtailed any suggestion of the successful collation of aesthetics and capitalist progress. Bürger argued that the avant-garde’s attempt to negate and sublate bourgeois institutionalised art was bound to the transformation of bourgeois society itself. As he suggests such a transformation did not take place, the avant-garde’s endeavour to integrate art and life was bound to fail.49 Inured to the potential of a reactionary avant- garde for theoretical analyses of contemporary artistic innovation, Bürger proclaimed the complete failure of the avant-garde project occurred in 1939. However, it is clear that Italian Futurism’s emphasis on technological change necessarily links it with the notions of progress and capitalism inherent in bourgeois culture. Moreover, it is precisely this link that also makes Futurist ideas intelligible to late twentieth-century postmodernity and millennial transmodernity, as it serves to renew the movement’s technocultural motifs for use in contemporary accounts of cyberspace. Since the 1990s avant-garde criticism concerning Italian Futurism has largely been centred on how the movement’s inherent complicity with fascism does not preclude its placement in the avant-garde canon. For instance, Russell Berman argued that Bürger’s failure to historically connect the avant-garde to a broader concept of modernity has led him to surmise the death of the avant-garde project just after the demise of Italian Futurism. For Berman, however, aspects of the avant-garde’s attempt to alter society were more persuasive than Bürger’s theory allowed, meaning the avant-garde achieved its avowed project of removing the dichotomy between art and everyday life so successfully that capitalist culture adopted its program for its own, continuing to aestheticise art, life, and nature according to its own model.50 This could be accomplished because, though an earlier liberal culture thrived on the presence of external opposition, late capitalist culture seeks to integrate opposing forces and therefore advocates an aesthetic without a normative centre. That is, capitalist culture incorporates multiple and migratory centres that effectively destabilise oppositionary attempts by continually shifting the middle ground. An avant-garde movement that similarly focussed on the radically new, thus perpetually shifting aesthetic ground from the centre to the margins, would not end with the transformation (or lack thereof) of bourgeois culture, but continue to pursue new aesthetic ideals. Bürger’s restriction of his argument to an autonomous aesthetic dimension that refrains from extensive reflections on the transformation of life practice led him to insist on maintaining a theoretical discourse 66 divorced from a of the present, essentially disavowing any revivification of avant-garde attempts to revolutionise culture. Berman’s argument, by contrast, suggested that alternative formulas for avant-garde art may, indeed, exist — particularly an experimental avant-garde culture coupled with capitalist modes of progress and .

Similarly, Andrew Hewitt argues that modernism’s association with commodification became implicit from the moment that modern artworks began to command high prices on the open market, and that post-war avant-gardes engaged in the thematisation of their own ‘precommodified’ art, threatening to “become purely affirmative by sublating the commodity into the value sphere of the aesthetic.”51 He sees Italian Futurism as illuminating a possible liberating contradiction in a society that had already consigned such contradictions to the liminal arenas of war and aesthetic experience.52 The possibilities of postmodernism, therefore were always and already inscribed in Futurist discourse, where:

The fascist modernism of Marinetti… acknowledged the complicity of the ‘postmodern beyond’ of modernism with the transgressive logic of modernism itself, the implication of the ‘post’ of ‘postmodernity’ in the temporal ideology it sought to dislodge. In fact, Marinetti moved ‘beyond’ modernism only by refusing to do so, by invoking and inhabiting modernism itself as one of those aesthetic possibilities made possible within the avant-garde’s ‘simultaneity of the radically disparate.’53

Marinetti’s theoretical privileging of the relentlessly new therefore effects a transcendent simultaneity to Futurist discourse itself, in which the new is instantaneously substituted for old, moment by moment. The movement could never be appropriated for a theory of a historical avant-garde simply because its very theoretical basis was designed to resist its fixture in historical time, rather seeking to occupy a state of flux as a perpetually emergent principle. As such, Futurism implicitly foreshadowed the logic of late capitalism, and therefore constituted a truly prescient moment in the and literature, and one that the avant-garde cannot itself transcend. That is, in addition to constituting the first twentieth-century avant-garde movement, Futurism can be read as the source of that avant-garde impulse to synthesise the art/life dichotomy, indeed, as its paradigmatic

67 Figure 7. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and automobile circa 1909. (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University). moment. In championing eternal change Futurist discourse therefore simultaneously (and paradoxically) inhabits a state of changelessness. In other words, it is inscribed by the logic of the trans – it works across the boundaries of aesthetic paradigms like modernism or postmodernism. By linking their radical aesthetics to technological innovation, the Futurists attempted to synthesise change and changelessness, or progress and transcendence, to simultaneously inspire a socio-cultural paradigm shift away from traditional bourgeois culture and a total transformation of human subjectivity by technological means. In doing so, the movement both inhabited the spirit of the avant- garde and transcended it, incorporating the trans of Futurism as an always already emergent principle within its own project that intimated not only the emergence of a postmodern end to modernism, but the ultimate transcendence of postmodernism by transmodernism.

One further note must be added on the serious question of fascism and irrationality within Marinetti’s manifestoes. As Futurist scholar, Gunter Berghaus has argued, “the vagaries and convolutions of the Futurists’ political manouevres before the First World War created a very complex picture that made it difficult to assign a coherent line or direction to Marinetti’s statements and manifestoes.”54 Although the movement before the First World War professed radical left political leanings, its preoccupation with nationalism, violence, war, chauvinism and hypermasculinism had already set the scene for its 1918 conversion to fascism. Italy’s unification during the nineteenth century had created the conditions for its emergence as a European power, fuelling the intoxicating hope for a new generation raised on a notion of Italy’s once and future significance that the country would transcend 68 its obsession with the past and transform into a modern capitalist economy. However, Italy’s run towards capitalism and industrialisation had come too late, and the world had already been divided between the older capitalist powers, Britain, , and . The resulting impotence in turn fed the Italian Futurist, Communist, and Fascist desire to destroy the existing status quo, urgently demanding political, societal, and cultural change on a grand scale.55 As the cultural expression of this rage against being left out of the race for imperial and colonising capitalist power, the second-wave of Futurism following immediately after the First World War slipped easily and fatally into fascist ideology. Aesthetic rhetoric that, prior to the war, had seemed revolutionary and antagonistic devolved into the irrationality of fascist sloganeering.

Yet, Futurist fascism was, like the aesthetic movement before it, subject to extreme contradictions. Marinetti’s first Futurist political manifesto of 1918 suggested moderate social changes that reflected the movement’s anarcho-sydicalist beginnings, including an eight-hour day and equal pay for women. More radical ideas included the expulsion of the papacy, an extensive nationalization of land for distribution among veterans, compulsory gymnastics, heavy taxes on both acquired and inherited wealth, easy divorce, and free love. An assembly of young industrialists, agriculturalists, engineers and tradesmen would replace parliament. If this assembly could not function, a government of twenty specialists responsible to an assembly of young men under thirty should replace it. Soon after, Marinetti called for abolition of the Italian monarchy. And as soon as Mussolini turned to the right and conservative politics, arguing for a celebration of tradition, Marinetti and the Futurist political party broke its once close ties to the fascist government and spiralled off in multiple political directions, some towards the radical right, some back to the radical left. Of Marinetti’s departure from the fascist parliament in 1920 Mussolini articulated just how much depended on Futurism when he exclaimed that Marinetti, “[is] this extravagant buffoon who wants to play politics and whom nobody in Italy, not even I, takes seriously.”56

This discussion of Marinetti’s proto-transmodernism, however, precludes an extended inquiry into the history, causes, and contradictions of Futurist fascism as has already been comprehensively discussed by Berghaus.57 However, it is crucial to mark the link between irrationality and transcendence at the nucleus of Futurist theory, not least because the question of a potential descent into fascism rears up again and again throughout each of the following chapters on transcendence and technology. Marinetti’s anarchic and contradictory politics lead him ultimately to an irrational somewhat fuelled by

69 his desire to employ technology to transform himself and Italian society. In this he conflated vertical and horizontal transcendence, where the kind of mystical experience or changelessness precipitated by new technologies for the Futurists is translated by Marinetti into change for change’s sake and the notion that this technological transcendence would result in the emergence of a Futurist ubermensch. And this conflation of vertical and horizontal transcendence remains a very real problem for the logic of the trans. Any transmodern approach must remain always alert to the intellectual dangers of irrational epistemology inherent in the transcendent experience, not by refusing the possibility of vertical transcendence itself but by understanding the potential to exchange changelessness for pure change or, in other words, celebrating the destructive gesture in order to create the new.


The trans of Italian Futurism is never clearer than when the movement’s aesthetic output fuses a celebration of technological change with mystical metaphors of changelessness, providing a lexicon of technospiritual metaphors that still influences contemporary technocultural discourse. And this secular mystical quest is evident at the very inception of Italian Futurism, in “The Founding Manifesto of Futurism,” its most widely disseminated text.58

The mystic traditions are replete with references to pilgrimages, travels, paths, and quests, each symbolically expressing the search for enlightenment as a journey of self- discovery. In considering Self and reality an expression of a single divine energy, the mystic undertakes an interior investigation to seek this creative force within, fulfilling the maxim of that ancient Greek aphorism, “Know thyself – and thou shall know all the mysteries of the gods and of the universe.”59 This inner journey is often then figuratively transposed onto a real world expedition in which a seeker must the symbolic markers of his/her stages towards life-changing new awareness, which then acts as a coded map of the inner realms for subsequent seekers to decipher and revisit. By employing established metaphors of spiritual transformation to articulate the effects of burgeoning technological progress, the “Founding Manifesto” both implicitly acknowledged the traditional language of transformation that unites scientific/ technological and religious discourse and offered a new means to aesthetically express the modern technological era that continues to affect our perceptions of technological innovation. As a handbook to Futurism, it indicated a number of strategies for revolutionising the modern subject, including art’s role in transforming society, the new 70 religion of speed, and the future merging of human and machine. It also advocated a form of mystical action, creating a ready-made mythology that provided in thaumaturgical the rules by which modernity must follow its predestined path to a technological future. The “Founding Manifesto” therefore mapped the conventional accounts of mystical transformation onto an early twentieth century journey towards social, cultural, phenomenological, and subjective transcendence, suggesting that technology could exponentially reduce travel times to the ultimate destination of a perfected future.

Marinetti’s prose in the manifesto represents a literal that begins with an initial realisation of the modern problem, followed by a dogged pursuit of an identified ideal perceived as its solution, and concluding with a symbolic dialogue with Otherness. The meditative tone of the manifesto’s allegorical preamble therefore sees Marinetti holding court all night in a Symbolist-styled Eastern setting of “hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass,” and “rich oriental rugs,” arguing away their “atavistic ennui” and “frenzied[ly] scribbling” their proposal for a transformation of art and culture. It is as if the Futurists have spent the night in a mania, and by the time Marinetti begins his account of the evening, have finally come to a point of clarity. There is a sense of epiphany in the “immense pride” they feel “alone at that hour, alone, awake, and on our feet, like proud beacons or forward sentries against an army of hostile glaring down at us from their celestial encampments,” with only the “hellish fires of great ships” and the “red-hot bellies of locomotives” to keep them company in their vigil. These lines establish the proto- Futurist group as a new kind of technological avant-garde, standing tall “on the last promontory of centuries;” that is, at a crucial moment where the past recedes and the promise of a new future begins to unfold, inspired by a technological imaginary of ships, trains, and automobiles. Their metaphysical musings, however, soon translate into a physical journey when they are suddenly brought back to reality by the “mighty noise of the huge double-decker trams,” an irresistible force Marinetti likens to the natural disaster of a rapid, destructive flood that sweeps away the past. Initially this has a disquieting effect on the group – “the silence deepened” – but, like much of Futurist art, the moment of reflection doesn’t last long. “The famished roar of automobiles,” acts as a Futurist call to arms, signalling it is time for the young men to happily race towards Self-destruction at top speed, in order to throw themselves into the conflagration of technology and history so as to be radically transformed.

71 Awoken from their Symbolist surroundings by the dawning age of technological innovation (“the splendour of the sun’s red sword” of progress), the would-be Futurists rush to witness the first heraldic charge of machines against a stagnant and backward-looking Italian culture. In deifying its own history Italian culture had both over-determined and constrained artists by enshrining the past as an unattainable perfection.60 It is against the pervasive idolatry of the past, which provided both aesthetic and economic placebos to Italy’s industrial lag behind the rest of Europe,61 that Futurist discourse becomes most strident. For Marinetti, history smothered emerging artists and devalued their attempts to create new art by always measuring them against antiquity. The slavish worship of classic and led only to a lack in the experimentation and innovation necessary to reinvigorate art and society, resulting in an entrenched stagnation of culture at a conceptual level that would violently resist any form of change:

… we want to free this land from its smelly gangrene of professors, archaeologists, ciceroni and antiquarians. For too long has Italy been a dealer in second-hand clothes. We mean to free her from the numberless museums that cover her like so many graveyards.62

The arrival of the “first flight of Angels” – man-made mystical cyborgs that have taken the next step on the evolutionary ladder towards perfection and prophesise the end of corporeal time for an uninitiated, as yet unaware, passeist milieu intent on maintaining its grip on the past – heralds the machine as divine: a final against corporeality. A discourse of the future must definitively annihilate the of history, and yet to claim Marinetti enjoyed destruction for destruction’s sake (as Walter Benjamin would later suggest) would be to miss the point of the poet’s fascination with destroying history’s hold on culture. To eradicate history completely and with it all the cultural burdens of “museums, libraries, academies,” monarchies or monasteries was simply the necessary foundation for a Futurist transcendence. Rather than advocating destruction as an aesthetic event, Futurism can be read as being locked in a battle with the forces of death and destruction, and particularly with the sentimental fascination with death and self- destruction in Symbolism. Marinetti now stalks Death: “like young lions we ran after Death.”63 Only by shattering the past’s hold on the present could the subject/artist/ Futurist hope to be prepared for a state of radical Otherness, introducing new ideas beyond normative understanding to fundamentally alter historical perspectives and produce a new kind of being attuned to the constant change required to be truly, fundamentally modern.

72 Marinetti’s acceleration through the streets of Milan is therefore driven by an irresistible urge to celebrate the regenerating possibilities of destruction, to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of the past, to “shake the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges” of his existence by submitting his flesh to the inexorable logic of flux.64 Appropriating Bergson’s theories of time, the threat of death posed by the speeding car acts as an élan vital — just one of the dynamic possibilities that could be revealed by a life of extreme acceleration. Death here is both cause for celebration and the precursor to momentous change. That is, rather than spelling the end for Marinetti, the spectre of death in the “Founding Manifesto,” and indeed all Futurist art, always symbolises a new beginning. The termination of the corporeal and its transformation into technological Other is a necessary condition for inhabiting the future, for celebrating the “space of possibilities.”65 Therefore, in the process of becoming-machine, at that point of flux in which the possibilities of the future are always already available, Marinetti simultaneously acknowledges the limitless cycle of conception and destruction that goes hand in glove with capitalist technological progress, an ideology that also advocates an industrialised process of perpetual becoming that privileges momentary transcendence over the fixed in time and space: “To the conception of the imperishable, the immortal, we oppose, in art, that of becoming, the perishable, the transitory, and the ephemeral.”66 In explicitly highlighting the spiritual metaphors that underpin all discourses of progress and evolution, the text marks a moment when religious metaphors for achieving perfection are cannibalised by capitalist progress, internalising a literature of transcendence that oscillates between destruction and reconstruction, ruin and renewal, in what Kevin Rozario has called “the culture of calamity.”67 Simultaneously calamitous and creative, progress and evolution are perceived as animating forces, spurring the Futurists on to new heights of awareness and action as they seek to wring meaning from adversity. Interestingly, Slavov Žižek has noted that catastrophic events are “obviously libidinally invested,”68 that the adrenalin-fuelled charge associated with surviving a catastrophe often results in a heightened physical and emotional response to the perilous event, shocking us out of our everyday stupor into an experience of .69 As Marinetti “lay[s] amorous hands on the torrid breasts of his car,” he acknowledges this eroticism of catastrophe, and links it to the price his flesh must pay if he is to exchange his organic body for a machine-assisted transcendence by sensually measuring himself against his car, “like a corpse on its bier.”70 The “Founding Manifesto” uses the “typical erotic lexicon of mysticism”71 to invest the integration of man and machine as an erotically charged brush with death – a “raging broom of madness” that sweeps them “out of ourselves” and into a reckless motor race towards an 73 Figure 8. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's wrecked car in a ditch, 1908 (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University). incorporeal future; that is until a near collision with two angry cyclists results in his car upending in a ditch.

This is a curious moment in the manifesto. The language Marinetti has used to this point fairly flies along as it keeps pace with the racing Futurists, until it is brought to an abrupt halt by the outdated technology of the bicycles, “like two equally convincing but nevertheless contradictory arguments.”72 The event is immortalised in a 1908 photograph showing Marinetti’s car overturned in a deep ditch in the Italian countryside surrounded by more than thirty curious onlookers (Figure 8). The photograph is a metaphor for the kind of rapturous attention technological catastrophe holds for both Marinetti and the onlookers – even wrecked the machine draws a fascinated crowd. Yet, why did Marinetti, the passionate self-appointed representative for the endless potentiality of machines, seek to capture this moment of technology’s failure? Perhaps because here is a visual record of the precise moment of Marinetti’s transcendence, stimulated by the libidinal rush of surviving catastrophe, with the car’s breakdown leading to a concomitant breakthrough of Futurist consciousness. Here again is Futurism’s link to mystical literature detailing the symbolic journey of transcendence. Marinetti’s path to transformation begins with this moment, a cataclysmic jolt that propels him into a new way of seeing the world, of creating art, and writing literature. The “Founding Manifesto” is therefore a Futurist

74 creation myth in which maker and made, artist and technology, fuse to create a new vision for the future. The “good factory muck” that he is forced to swallow instantly recalls an infant memory of the “blessed black breast of my Sudanese nurse,” an image both childlike and erotically-charged as Marinetti springs reborn from the crash to unveil the manifesto’s incendiary tenets of Futurism.73

Having conveniently created for himself a near-death experience that infuses him with “the white-hot iron of joy,” Marinetti is finally ready to have done with history and “declare our high intentions to all the living of the earth” (Marinetti’s italics).74 Immediately the Futurist articulates a divide between his newly transformed self, a self that has died and been reborn, and those “living” yet to achieve Futurist transcendence. The descriptive prose of the manifesto’s early passages gives way to a short, sharp, strident attack on European social and cultural traditions, indicating a linguistic breakdown inspired by the irrevocable transformation of cheating death. The language transforms; succinct, resolute, and challenging, the manifesto’s key message is condensed into eleven statements designed to define a new religion and a new art:

1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness. 2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry. 3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap. 4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. 5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit. 6. The poet must spend himself with ardour, splendour, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervour of the primordial elements. 7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man. 8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! … Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors 75 of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. 9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman. 10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, , every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice. 11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.75

The initial tenets privilege action, energy, aggression, and revolt over a “pensive immobility,” designed to shock a Symbolist literati saturated with images of languid, beautiful and idealised female bodies into a new way of thinking, replacing them with energetic metaphors like “the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, circling its orbit.”76 Literature and art from this moment forth is only to concern itself with the new “beauty of speed,” mediated by images of technology – “A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes… is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” Beauty is to be measured by struggle, and poetry is “a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.” Futurism is the beginning of the new era, where only those willing to surrender to the inexorable logic of the machine will progress to a transcendent, yet-to-be-realised future – “Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible?” The manifesto goes on to elaborate further on the Futurist desire to destroy history in favour of the future, to “glorify war – the world’s only hygiene,” culminating in the destruction of even the Futurists themselves. Marinetti cheerfully predicts his own death by a mob of younger artists:77

76 They’ll storm around us, panting with scorn and anguish, and all of them, exasperated by our proud daring, will hurtle to kill us, driven by hatred: the more implacable it is the more their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. Injustice, strong and sane, will break radiantly from their eyes. Art, in fact, can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.78

Here Marinetti comes to the penultimate realisation that even as the pursuit of the new immediately sanctions the death of the old in Futurist theory, it will also eventually consign Futurism itself to the scrap heap. Art can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice because culture is a constant battle between generations, movements, and experimental styles – “Each generation must build its own city” on the remains of the old.79 The stirrings of a burgeoning that would reach its apotheosis in May 1968 is evident in these lines, with the Futurists manning the first barricades of the generation gap using art and technology as weapons against an encroaching sense of the past: “The oldest of us is thirty: so we have at least a decade for finishing our work. When we are forty, other stronger, younger men will probably throw us in the waste basket like useless – we want it to happen!80” With the invincibility of youth, Marinetti can put his life on the line for his art because for him death is no longer a finality, but a condition of creativity. Whether through merging with the “divine velocity” of new technologies of speed or privileging flux, Marinetti’s car crash allows him to endlessly defer and indefinitely forestall death. The Futurist axiom of constant change is thus simultaneously re-inscribed as changelessness, and with these words Marinetti becomes the secular prophet of technological mysticism.


From the “Founding Manifesto” on, Italian Futurism is littered with quasi-mystical machines. It becomes a movement deeply concerned with revolutionary transcendence – in art, society, mass culture, and the subject. Futurist manifestoes are intensely fascinated with ontological questions – the nature of reality, access to the divine, transformations of consciousness and corporeality, and technology as conduit to the godhead that bypasses traditional religious understandings of the term. They imagine a post-religious transcendence achieved with the aid of technological innovation, and describe the merger of corporeality with machines to produce hybrid organic/inorganic bodies whose new

77 cyborg supremacy separate them from a reliance on history, time, and space. In this, the Italian Futurist movement is marked by a very Cartesian desire to swap the sorry disillusionment of matter for a realm of pure, free-ranging consciousness unbound by flesh – a major theme of mystical literature that emerges once again in contemporary cyberculture.

It is Marinetti’s concept of art-action that first raises – and paradoxically – the question of Futurist mysticism, linking new technologies of the early twentieth century with age-old spiritual metaphors. Paradoxically because mysticism has traditionally been characterised as a contemplative, introspective endeavour completed in isolation – an ongoing search for the ultimate “lost Object,” God (or godhead) – which would seem initially to pose an antithesis to Marinetti’s championing of constant frenetic energy and desire to convey in both art and life the principle that “all things are rapidly changing.”82 The perpetually changing nature of the human experience of reality is, however, also a central fixture in many mystical texts, including Buddhist philosophies that hold what we call reality is rather an ever-shifting tapestry of momentary perceptions with very little grounding in truth. For Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, the plurality of phenomena we call reality is ‘dependent-arising’ and not inherently existent.83 Subjective reality is simply an illusion of continuity – a succession of discrete moments, thought, emotions, and that constitute a coherent Self. Therefore, as possessor of this imagined continuity, the self springs into existence moment to moment, arising and dissolving and arising again, like waves on an ocean. The ‘I’ of one moment dissolves and is gone. The ‘I’ of the next moment arises afresh. These two ‘I’s cannot be said to be the same or different, yet they are identified by the conceptual mind as a single continuous Self. Training the mind to focus on the momentary (whether through following the breath, repeating a mantra, or contemplating philosophical concepts like compassion) eventually leads to a revelation of pure emptiness or sunyata – the Buddhist equivalent of vertical transcendence. The concept of sunyata is intriguing for this exploration of Futurist transcendent metaphors as, rather than recounting the sense of ‘emptiness’ that follows the transcendent state as a nihilistic void bereft of all meaning, the experience of sunyata reveals to the subject an Otherness that is pregnant with possibility and signification. Beyond the desires inherent in a process of becoming, sunyata is an endlessly creative experience of being, a cessation of all the ‘elaborations’ created by the mind and its contexts that for Buddhists constitute the underlying nature of the Real.

78 Marinetti’s pursuit of the momentary, however, employed constant frenetic action rather than meditation to achieve a similar goal of transcendence. His manifestoes synthesise action and mystical experience – indeed he described the Futurists as “the mystics of action” – borrowing from Bergson the notion that constant flux led to a new experience of the Real that appears remarkably similar to a Buddhist experience of sunyata.84 Marinetti therefore approaches the transcendent experience from the perspective of modernity, and his refusal to stand still intellectually, existentially, and phenomenologically can be read as an attempt to capture a direct experience of being that exists only from moment to moment and encourages the spontaneous emergence of the shockingly new with each consecutive instant. Experimental art would instigate an impulsive surge of furious action within the subject, much like pressing the ignition button on an automobile. The physical reaction of the spectator, Marinetti suggested, would lead to a heightening of individual consciousness, a melding of mind and body bent upon a single purpose, and when this impulse was acted upon en masse, whole could be revolutionised. Never mind if this violence was re-directed toward the artist. Marinetti, as publicist extraordinaire for his Futurist movement realised that in the long run the scandal of a brawl worked far better at disseminating Futurist thought than bland, passive spectatorship.85 His manifestoes and rather aimed to revolutionise syntax, typography and rhetoric, bypassing conventional modes of rational , and seeking to thrust the audience into a sensual, almost corporeal identification with Futurist values and images. Walter Adamson has noted that, “rather than attempting to influence thinking and trusting that appropriate action would follow, Futurism sought immediate unreflective action,” but it is unreflective action with a distinct purpose.86 By claiming that the privileging of time over space would inevitably lead to a state of perpetual and unthinking action, and urging his fellow Futurists to be constantly moving forward at all costs, for only in continual movement could real progress be made, Marinetti was providing a roadmap for achieving a state of transcendence facilitated by technological speed. And while such a project represents a radical divergence from traditional religious paths to transcendence as described by mystical , Marinetti’s reinsertion of the contemplative subject inside the maelstrom of everyday life nevertheless sought to create a feedback system where Futurist artwork, artist, and spectator work together to remain open to the self-revealing presence of the Other.

The similarities between a mystical notion of transcending the unpredictable nature of reality to achieve an experience beyond the everyday and the Futurist call to mystical 79 action to transcend normative states is made further explicit in Marinetti’s religion of speed. Here new technologies would aid subjects in maintaining a constant state of motion, giving rise to radically new ways of seeing, being, and representing the world through art. By linking religious metaphors to technological speed in this way, Marinetti advocated the emergence of a post-religious state in which transcendence into otherness could be achieved without the or traditions of the Church. In his 1916 manifesto, “The New Religion-Morality of Speed,” Marinetti is overt about Futurism’s opposition to an institutionalised Christianity that has lost a sense of sacred transcendence: “Christian morality served to develop man’s inner life. Today it has lost its reason for existing, because it has been emptied of all divinity.”87 The manifesto claims direct access to transcendence can only be achieved with the mediation of technology, creating “a new beauty, the beauty of speed,” which “defend[s] man from the decay caused by slowness, by memory, by analysis, by repose and habit.”88 Man, Marinetti explains, has a history of exploiting the natural world to create the pure speed of new technologies and “master Time and Space:”

Man envied the rhythm of torrents, like that of a horse’s gallop. Man mastered horse, elephant, and camel to display his divine authority through an increase in speed… From space man stole electricity and then the liquid fuels, to make new allies for himself in the motors. Man shaped the metals he had conquered and made flexible with fire, to ally himself with his fuels and electricity. He thereby assembled an army of slaves, dangerous and hostile but sufficiently domesticated to carry him swiftly over the curves of the earth.89

Nature is here predictably cast as technology’s binary opposite, an enemy to technological transcendence because it follows circuitous, contemplative routes, “never straight lines; always arabesques and zigzags.”90 Ever a man in a hurry, Marinetti sought to instigate change via the fastest route possible. By disconnecting humanity from the earth, technological speed allowed him instant synthesis with the sacred, and all the spontaneous knowledge such a flash of epiphany implies: “The intoxication of great speeds in cars is nothing but the joy of feeling oneself fused with the only divinity” (Marinetti’s italics).91 In his “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” (1912), Marinetti had illustrated how a mystical experience would occur when the subject’s 80 normative perception of reality was unutterably shattered by the experience of pure speed – giving rise to radically new ways of thinking, and of creating art:

Sitting on the gas tank of an aeroplane, my stomach warmed by the pilot’s head, I sensed the ridiculous inanity of the old syntax inherited from Homer. A pressing need to liberate words, to drag them out of their prison in the Latin period! Like all imbeciles, this period naturally has a canny head, a stomach, two legs, and two flat feet, but it will never have two wings. Just enough to walk, to take a short run, and then stop short, panting!

This is what the whirling propeller told me, when I flew two hundred metres above the mighty chimney pots of Milan.92

Seeing his home town from the cockpit of an aeroplane for the very first time, Marinetti’s “pressing need to liberate words” to “break apart the old shackles of logic and plumb lines of the ancient way of thinking” is the realisation that normative language is not up to the task of expressing a technologically inspired transformation of consciousness.93 As Michel De Certeau has suggested, the writer is therefore compelled to rethink the very structure of language to convey his new vision – it is not enough to experience transcendence, one must also pass the knowledge on – and as new technologies of speed provide the context for this fundamental shift in the artist/author’s understanding of the world, it is unsurprising that these technologies feature prominently in Marinetti’s attempts to convey his experience of transcendence to others.94 However, the linguistic reconstructions posited by Marinetti in this and later manifestoes, such as the “Deconstruction of Syntax, and Geometrical and Mechanical Splendour and the Numerical Sensibility” (1914), do more than express a transcendence of consciousness through technology; Marinetti also sought to inspire transcendence in the reader, believing absolutely in the thaumaturgical power of his own words. Such a move transmutes Marinetti from mere translator of the technologically transcendent moment to its creator, repositioning him as divine superhuman with a direct line to the Absolute.

81 Marinetti’s desire to rethink the structure of language recalls a 1912 article by Belgian writer, Auguste Joly, explaining the connection between Futurism and mysticism by emphasising the movement’s “direct sense of things, of life and of thought.”95 Futurism, for Joly, is mystical precisely because it seeks to express an unmitigated perception of the world uncoupled from religious mores:

…those who maintain a direct sense of things, of life and of thought have as their true name that of mystics. Only that this word [mysticism] has strayed so far from its meaning, and everyone is so used to taking it in a religious sense, that it seems difficult to understand when one declares that futurism is a new form of ancient mysticism.96

Where traditional artistic representation translates normative reality for an audience, Joly suggests the Futurists attempt to convey a sudden revelatory experience that eludes translation by creating an utterly new significatory lexicon. As Marinetti insisted: “The Futurist lyricism, a perpetual dynamism of thought, an uninterrupted current of images and sounds, is alone able to express the ephemeral, unstable, and symphonic universe that is forging itself in us and with us.”97 Marinetti’s understanding of dynamism here is obviously further indebted to Bergson’s work, himself somewhat of a mystic. While Bergson’s élan vital, literally a “vital force,” has often been cited as a central influence on Marinetti’s manifestoes, fewer critics have examined both writers’ shared interest in secular mysticism. It is well established that Marinetti was deeply involved in the philosophical and aesthetic culture of early twentieth century , at a time in which Bergson’s Creative Evolution, published just two years before Marinetti’s first Futurist manifesto, was receiving both popular and academic acclaim.98 Both writers were the product of a turbulent period in European thought in which the rise of secularism in Catholic countries was being hotly debated.99 Both were interested in preserving a sense of the sacred despite the growing secularist trend away from institutionalised religions, albeit by vastly different means. And both argued that the subject could achieve transcendence without the rituals inherent in normative religious practices.

According to Bergson, mysticism is the direct experience of the élan vital, the transcendent creative force that propels life forward to develop ever-new forms in a process of perpetual innovation or becoming. An essential component of human progress, the élan vital is the source of two very different perceptions of religion and morality that echo Marinetti’s quarrel with Christian morality in “The New Religion-Morality

82 of Speed,” and Joly’s account of Futurist mysticism. Bergson would later characterise these two forms of religion as static religion (represented by institutionalised religion’s reliance on myth-making and spiritual rules to enshrine the transcendent within a reified narrative able to be communicated en masse), and dynamic religion (the mystic’s direct link to the transcendent experience).100 The question for Bergson was how to communicate a direct experience of the élan vital? How does one speak the unspeakable? If, as Bergson contended, the experience of the mystic represents a privileged expression of the élan vital, then one solution is presented by static religion’s assimilation of the mystic experience into its myth-making machine, re-inscribing mystics as saints, prophets, or martyrs, and disseminating their mystical experience to a wider audience of the faithful, albeit in codified form. In so doing, however, Bergson argued that religion necessarily comes into conflict with the very creative force it attempts to communicate, as the perpetual becoming of the élan vital cannot be contained, but rather seeks to shatter conventional meaning and language. In addition, rather than connecting them directly to the creative force, Bergson claimed the myths of static religion had a somnolent effect on believers, constituting “tales on a par with those with which we lull children to sleep.”101

It is Bergson’s characterisation of dynamic religion, by contrast, that links seamlessly with Marinetti’s own mania for dynamism and a new religion of speed. Following the élan vital’s constant revolutionising force (that is, following the path of the mystic) allows for a very different way of experiencing the movement of life. According to Bergson, dynamic religion offers a better solution for understanding and expressing creativity by:

…working back from the intellectual and social plane to a point in the soul from which there springs an imperative demand for creation…To obey it completely new words have to be coined, new ideas would have to be created, but this would no longer be communicating something, it would not be writing. Yet the writer will attempt to realise the unrealisable. He will revert to the simple emotion, to the form that yearns to create its matter, and will go with it to meet ideas already made, words that already exist, briefly social segments of reality. All along the way he will feel it manifesting itself in signs borne of itself… He will be driven to strain the words, to do violence to speech (italics added).102

83 Bergson’s conviction that to transmit the experience of transcendence in its entirety the mystic must do violence to language and create new ways of writing is echoed in Marinetti’s 1910 letter to Belgian painter, Henry Maassen, on the art of manifesto writing, in which he exhorts a language “de la violence et de la precision” (violence and precision).103 In the face of a transformative collision with the Other, language for the Futurist must be shattered and reinvested with new meaning precisely because the experience occurs outside all standard frames of reference. It opens up a space that must be filled with new idioms. Rather than externalising himself into his artwork, the artist as creator externalises the transcendent experience and the work of art becomes a record of the subject’s transformation into Otherness. For Bergson, the dynamism created by the space opened up by mysticism is the force majeure that will create the modern world. It is the space of creative becoming, from which the new will seek perpetual emergence. The mystic represented the cusp of human evolution whose task it was to use new technologies to liberate humanity from a reliance on static religion: "Man will rise above earthly things only if a powerful equipment supplies him with the requisite fulcrum. He must use matter as a support if he wants to get away from matter. In other words, the mystical summons up the mechanical." (italics added).104

Likewise for Marinetti, the mystical experience of transcendence short-circuited via technology opened up a space for a radicalised future in which all aspects of individual subjectivity, culture, and society would undergo an evolving creative transformation. That is, all would become art, with the artist as the ultimate creator. It is this idea, that everything is an emerging art form, which lies at the heart of Italian Futurism and points the way to both a postmodern proliferation of the everyday into the aesthetic object and a concomitant transmodern sacralising of the everyday. Bergson emphasised mysticism as an antidote to what he saw as “something frenzied” about a Western civilisation caught up in a one-sided pursuit of wealth and power.105 Mechanism without mysticism for Bergson created a deadlock. No sooner were old needs satisfied than “new needs arise, just as imperious and increasingly numerous.”106 Marinetti held no such reservations about progress – to be modern was to experience an unremitting state of contradiction, fragmentation, alienation, and antagonism in the face of incessant technological change. But rather than casting it as demonic becoming, Marinetti welcomed the perpetual dynamism of modernity as the necessary condition for unveiling a world beyond the bounds of time and space. And he also heralded the emergence of a new kind of being – the multiplied man – “who mixes himself with iron, who is fed by electricity,” and whose “roots are” therefore “cut.”107 In short, Marinetti’s multiplied man is a proto-cyborg able to 84 combine both mechanism and mysticism, who in transcending mere human matter would be better equipped to face the coming transformation of a technological age.


As an early model of transhumanism, Marinetti’s multiplied man exemplified the Futurist desire to transgress the limitations of the imperfect human body by infusing it with the immortality of metal. In doing so, it represented the first of many technocultural volleys against the corporeal over the next century, culminating in late twentieth-century cyberpunk fiction’s vilification of the corporeal as meat. Remodelled on the template of the ideal machine, “the imminent, inevitable identification of man with motor” promised humanity could finally progress beyond its fragile, animalistic past; it could become “non- human,” a “mechanical being, constructed for an omnipresent velocity, [that] will be naturally cruel, omniscient, and combative.”108 If art and self, present and future could be created and discarded with equanimity according to the laws of continual flux, the revolutionary power of technology would also adapt human corporeality to cope with “the needs of a world of ceaseless shocks.”109 By augmenting the body with the force and speed of industrial machinery and merging maker and made, the Futurists could further refashion themselves as artist/gods, able to transcend mere biology and become divinely Other. Technology would raise consciousness to a higher level, eradicating human frailty and instilling a new sense of freedom that promised mastery over Self and nature, control of all world systems, power over life, future over past. The new mechanical man would exist in a field of potentialities, his only purpose to maintain a state of constant change. Inextricably linked with capitalist notions of perpetual progress he would be required to create and consume new technologies at an accelerated rate to preserve his state of perfection and ensure the continued transcendence of Self that allowed him to maintain his grasp on the future. “Put your trust in Progress,” Marinetti wrote, “which is always right even when it is wrong, because it is movement, life, struggle, hope.”110

However, despite all his posturing about the future, Marinetti’s multiplied man was in truth the apotheosis of a long history of desiring to shed the imperfect diseased or deficient body. The ultimate technophilic dream of “escape velocity” inherent in a technological flight from matter represents a quest that has its antecedents in accounts of mystical transcendence.111 Centuries of mystical literature have characterised the perfection of mind as a precursor to transcendence, of the Self or simply the material world in an 85 eternal heavenly afterlife. In early Gnostic thought, physical existence was an evil from which the mind must escape via mystical wisdom; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam envision alternate versions of a bodiless life after death (although the Judaic and Christian concepts of the resurrection posit a re-embodiment at a appointed time in the future); Buddhists perceive the material world as a distraction from the pursuit of higher states of awareness. All desire a fleshless state of consciousness in which the passage of time becomes immaterial, a state that mimics the disembodied, procreative spirit of their respective visions of god. In seeking to delete the corporeal in favour of the mechanical, Marinetti merely adopted the language of mysticism’s bodiless ecstasy for his multiplied man, further positioning technological innovation as a secular mystical project.

The multiplied man’s triumph over temporality would, however, also have repercussions beyond individual transcendence. He would also provide the igniting spark for transforming culture and society – in other words, his vertical transcendence would precipitate a horizontal transcendence in his surrounding environment. Where the imperfect, weak, or diseased body depended upon the past, deferring an uncertain future by relying upon memory and past glories to sustain its relevance in the here and now, Marinetti’s immortal mechanical men were rendered immune to the sentimentality caused by the visceral connection of bodies to time. They could be bereft of “moral , goodness of heart, affection, and love, those sole corrosive poisons of inexhaustible vital energy, sole interrupters of our powerful bodily electricity…” and so could direct their energies to their future transformation.112 Moreover, in offering a cure-all for the vulnerable body, technology would also create an antidote to a diseased (Italian) social body. By recreating humanity from the template of the machine, Marinetti imagined a utopia where, "Hunger and poverty disappear. The bitter social question, annihilated. The financial question reduced to a simple matter of accounting," and "every intelligence grows lucid, every instinct is brought to its greatest splendour,” creating “a surplus of pleasure… An anarchy of perception."113

Marinetti’s fusion of the ailing corporeal body and an diseased Italian society repressed by a consumptive bourgeois culture preoccupied with the passive logic of the feminine draws heavily from Nietzsche’s notion of transcendence of the ‘merely’ human:

All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward — this is what I call the internalisation of man: thus it was that man first developed what was called his ‘soul’. The entire inner world… expanded 86 and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth and height in the name of measure as outward discharge was inhibited.114

Nietzsche suggested that the controlled emotions of a prohibitive culture would inevitably lead to internal sickness and its eventual lingering death. To cancel out this cancerous inaction, Marinetti’s multiplied man evinces a hyper-masculinity so overdeveloped that all traces of humanity are removed from the subject, forcing his ‘soul’ outward to externalise and displace mystical contemplation onto technological extension. As Christine Poggi has written:

The Futurist male, "multiplied" by the machine, would exemplify a new superhuman hybrid adapted to the demands of speed and violence. Sportsman, aviator, or warrior, he would be capable of astounding feats of physical prowess. His inner consciousness, modelled on the running motor, would be emptied of all that was private, sentimental, and nostalgic. Once fused with the machine, with wings sprouting from his very flesh, the new Futurist male will be able to externalize his will without resistance, achieving each of his desires while reigning over space and time.115

The machine, the car or aeroplane, was thus re-inscribed as the potentialised, male, sexual body, characterised as pure power, unbound by nature or excessive thought. The abolition of needful and time-bound corporeality was a “victory of our self over the coarse plot of our bodies,” characterised as the mystic elevation of the male self over the vagaries of a feminised Nature:

Terrestrial speed = love of woman-earth (horizontal lust) = automobiles caressing lovingly white womanly curves. Aerial speed = hatred of earth (perpendicular mysticism) spiralic elevation of the Self towards the Nothing = God = flexible Aviation laxative castor oil.116

Technological speed is here explicitly referred to as both horizontal (terrestrial speed) and vertical transcendence (perpendicular mysticism). Encased in metal and fuelled by electricity the multiplied man is Marinetti’s counter-image to the entrapment of flesh associated with the feminine. The body, natural partner of time, must be replaced by the mechanism; the abolition of the body is thus the condition of the technologised self’s immortality. And, to be party to one’s imminent destruction, Marinetti would argue, was to grasp hold of the ineffable, to transcend limits, and become one with the “Nothing” that equals God. This paragraph, however, also makes clear that the figure of the multiplied 87 man as transcendent being is not unproblematic for the emergence of a transmodern moment, for while it certainly represents Marinetti’s desire for a transformation of normative being into omniscient Otherness, it deviates from earlier, more subjectively diffuse examples of Marinetti’s merging of mystical and technological metaphors by setting up an integral antipathy to the otherness of the feminine. Indeed, Marinetti’s discursive flight from the corporeal to the transcendent transhuman is always already compromised by the spectre of woman. As Cinzia Sartini Blum has noted, "Futurism… celebrates a symbiosis between the seductive, all-powerful machine, which replaces woman in her traditional role as privileged aesthetic object, and a superhuman ‘multiplied,’ ‘metallized’ man who is invulnerable to love, and yet hypervirile."117 In “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine,” Marinetti immediately pits his transcendent inorganic/organic hybrid against the feminine:

All of this will have prepared you for one of our principal Futurist efforts, namely the abolition in literature of the seemingly unchallengeable fusion of the two ideas Woman and Beauty, which has reduced all of romanticism to a kind of heroic assault levelled by a bellicose and lyric male against a tower that bristles with enemies who cluster around the divine Beauty-Woman.118

The feminine symbolises for Marinetti an antithesis to art-action, the marker of a somnambulant force inherent in mawkish forms of nineteenth-century art and literature that cancelled out masculine energy and thus the emergence of the multiplied man. All references to the feminine must therefore be expurgated from the Futurist programme and replaced by incontrovertibly masculine imagery: “To the poetry of nostalgic memory we oppose the poetry of feverish expectation. To tears of beauty brooding tenderly over tombs, we oppose the keen, cutting profile of the pilot, the chauffeur, the aviator.”119 The figure of the feminine is dangerous to Futurist discourse precisely because she symbolises that which threatens to bar the transcendence of man into machine: “We despise horrible, dragging Amore that hinders the march of man, preventing him from transcending his own humanity, from redoubling himself, from going beyond himself and becoming what we call the multiplied man.”120 Weary of “the double alcohol of lust and sentiment,” the multiplied man is to be “inoculated against the disease of Amore,” reducing all exchanges with the feminine to “swift, casual contacts.”121 Women, for Marinetti, “have suddenly become too earthly, or to express it better, have become a symbol of the earth that we ought to abandon.”122 She is a constant reminder of the world of flesh and of human

88 emotions, dragging attention away from a future in which the Futurist can forgo human frailty and autocreate himself into a supermachine.

Reference to the multiplied man’s ability to “redouble” himself highlights that what Marinetti really seeks is the removal of the power of reproduction from the realm of nature and the feminine, replacing woman’s role as reproductive agent with that of the male artist as creator. To make a place for the multiplied man, Marinetti must first recreate creation: he must usurp the role of reproduction from the feminine for himself. His determination to excise all traces of the reproductive feminine in his construction of the transcendent multiplied man reflects the fundamental ontological anxiety that arises from the relationship of art and technology to life and suggests that Futurism (and indeed, twentieth-century technoculture), can often be read as a struggle to claim sovereignty over the act of reproduction. That is, the Futurist’s preoccupation with the prospect of ‘autocreation’ (‘I can create myself’), acts as a direct challenge to biological/organic modes of reproduction (or, ‘I am already created’). Natural reproduction has always been associated with women and motherhood and, similarly, control over the creation of life has always been a site of cultural, social, and political contestation between the sexes. Specifically, phallogocentrism’s association of woman with motherhood has implicitly aligned her with nature, the earth, the physical and the embodied, against which man has found it necessary to avow his dominance over the cognitive, logical, or abstract. For much of human history, then, it has also been necessary to see reproduction as largely inevitable – borne along by the forces of nature that she can no more control than the tides, biological replication is thus represented as an act of female creation that nevertheless cannot be viewed as a work of art, because woman cannot truly shape its outcome. Therefore, men, for many centuries the primary creators of art, can be culturally constructed as real artists, while women, subject to the whims of nature, are viewed as incapable of directing their own corporeality. Yet this representation of female creation proves to be an unsteady metaphor that consequently produces an additional anxiety for phallogocentric texts like Marinetti’s: woman may not reproduce of her own volition but man is even further removed from the ability to direct the reproduction of the human race.

This anxiety has consistently been complicated by man’s relationship to technology, as technology offers the real possibility of removing the power of reproduction beyond the realm of nature and the feminine, and firmly placing it into the hands of man. Technophilia, or the desire for technology, becomes the memetic cure for man’s ontological crisis,

89 producing technology as a necessary condition for the dominance of , a kind of reproduction-without-organs. Marinetti’s 1910 novel, Mafarka the Futurist, attempts to side-step the problem of procreation by positing its colonisation by technology:

Because you should know that I have engendered a son without the aid of the vulva… I concluded that it is possible to push from one’s flesh, without the stinking complicity and help of the female womb, an immortal giant with infallible wings. Our will must go forth from us to seize matter and modify it to our whims. This way we can mould everything that surrounds us and endlessly renew the face of the world… That is the new Voluptuousness which will rid the world of Love when I have founded the religion of the exteriorized Will and of daily Heroism.”123

As Poggi has noted, however, “it seems that nature, and the feminine with which it is conflated, cannot be suppressed without leaving a palpable trace” in Marinetti’s texts.124 Unable to excise her completely, Marinetti must instead re-inscribe his desire for the feminine onto the machine, evident from the energy-producing caress he gives his wrecked car in the “Founding Manifesto” to his query in “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine”: "Have you never seen mechanics lovingly washing the great powerful body of their locomotive? This is the minute, knowing tenderness of a lover caressing his adored mistress.”125 Similarly, in "The Battle of Tripoli" he equates his machine-gun with a femme fatale: "Ah yes! you, little machine gun, are a fascinating woman, and sinister, and divine, at the driving wheel of an invisible hundred horsepower, roaring and exploding with impatience."126 Haunted by the feminine he cannot escape, Marinetti’s texts ultimately redress the absence of the feminine other onto the machine other. The multiplied man deletes feminine corporeality from technological transcendence even as it simultaneously re-inscribes her as technology. Every merger with the machine therefore becomes a merger with the feminine in Futurist discourse, the disavowed reproductive other that nevertheless haunts the margins of Marinetti’s desire for technological otherness.

The multiplied man’s masculinised hyper-virility is therefore placed in crisis by his implicit union with the feminine as machine. If transmodernity can be understood as an ironic process by which modernity’s denied others are revealed as the always already vital elements of an interconnected whole, where the dominant themes of the modern project are produced in the binary tension that vilifies as it creates, then despite Marinetti’s ability to aesthetically synthesise dichotomies like corporeality and incorporeality, spirituality and

90 technology, human and machine, or change and changelessness, the feminised machine constitutes the point at which his theories of technological transcendence become unstuck. Indeed, as has noted, Marinetti’s indomitable display of virility is really a demonstration of his Lacanian lack, a yearning to restore his problematised masculinity (perhaps brought on by an emasculating Symbolist movement) that he attempts to externalise and replace with the figure of the machine as phallus.127 Further, in claiming matter’s merger with machine as a path to transcendent perfection via histrionic performance – precisely “in a manner conventionally deemed feminine” – his crisis of masculinity is outwardly exposed.128 The machine replaces the feminine as phallus, Marinetti – the ‘self-made’ man as potentially reproductive body – is interpenetrated by the machine that now stands in for his own exteriorized organ, and a new race of technological overmen is born.

As the ghost in the machine, then, the feminine makes problematic Italian Futurism’s full realisation of the transmodern moment even as the movement sets the conditions for its emergence. Nevertheless, Italian Futurism’s continued relevance to contemporary cyberculture demonstrates substantial correlations between the movement’s aesthetic interpretations of new technologies and our own encounters with the dizzying pace of constant technological change, suggesting that, in addition to -posting the ‘post of postmodernism,’ Marinetti also intimated transfuturism, the extension of his Futurist project into the future of modernity. And, like Marinetti’s work, this transfuturism is split into two streams. On the one hand, Futurist claims that the burgeoning encroachments of modern technologies into everyday lives were a well-overdue breach of corporeal self- containment recur in late twentieth-century cyberpunk narratives that dissolve human consciousness into the machine to achieve immortality. Cyberpunk sends Marinetti’s multiplied men out onto the information superhighway to explore the metaphorical limits of the digital frontier as the Futurist’s mania for technological speed is transferred from the autobahn to the Infobahn, predominated by the rise of the masculine technophile. Cyberspace therefore represents the ultimate fantasy of technophilia – subsuming the natural world into the simulated, user-constructed space of , technophiles, like Marinetti, long to eradicate the interface between themselves and the machine, to terminate the meat in favour of the mind. They prophesise the body will become hyper- invested as an infinite set of surfaces, exchangeable on demand, just as the virtual subject will spiral into fracticalities, emptied of any retrievable meaning. The prospect of technological transcendence also fuels metaphorical forays into the online realm. The 91 “raging broom of madness” that spurred the Futurists to speed recklessly and “utterly [towards] the Unknown” is realised absolutely in the transportation of the subject into virtual space.129

Yet cyberculture’s revisioning of Futurist technological transcendence in a post-capitalist world is also made problematic by the spectre of the feminine, which further acts as an excess unbound by autocreation that threatens the masculinity of the technophilic subject. When Marinetti dreamt of “one day being able to create a mechanical son, the fruit of pure will, a synthesis of all laws that science is on the brink of discovering,” he not only rejoiced in the body’s impending erasure by technology and prefigured his own feminisation, he also set in motion a century’s fascination with reproduction via replication – a desire to wrest control of reproduction from the feminine.130 The feminisation of technology as object is therefore a recurring theme in cyberfeminism, which attempts to turn the history of equating technological transcendence with the masculine on its ear by recoding cyberspace as incipiently and dangerously feminine. The following chapters will therefore pursue these two metaphorical forces in transfuturism – the masculine ubermensch and the feminine – for what they can tell us about the metaphorical, philosophical, and linguistic limits of inorganic Otherness on the road to technospiritual transcendence.


1 , The Futurist Stage (Manifesto), in Umbro Apollonio, Futurist Manifestoes (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 201.

2 Guillame Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters, in Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents, eds. Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Jane Goldman, and Olga Taxidou (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1998), 264.

3 F.T. Marinetti, “The Founding Manifesto of Futurism” in Marinetti: Selected Writings, trans. R.W. Flint (London: Secker & Warburg, 1972).

4 See David Tacey, The Spirituality Revolution (Harper Collins: Sydney, 2003). “Spirituality is a project of life-integration, which means that it is holistic, involving body and spirit, emotions and thought, activity and passivity, social and individual aspects of life. It is an effort to bring all of life together in an integrated synthesis of ongoing growth and development” (Sandra Schneiders, “Spirituality in the Academy,” in Theological Studies 50 2, (1989): 675. See also Karen Armstrong, A History of God (London, Heileman, 1993).

5 In Eastern esoteric literature, metaphors of transcendence can be found in the earliest religious scriptures, the Rig Veda (1500 BCE) and The Upanishads (870 BCE).

92 6 See chapter two for an extended discussion of memes.

7As a result of limited space, this thesis has largely restricted its discussion of Italian Futurism to the work of its main proponent and leader, F. T. Marinetti, who fuelled the movement from its inception in 1909 to 1939. To add further context, joining Marinetti in his futurist endeavour was a wide range of painters, sculptors, musicians, and , mostly centred in Milan and . The Futurist painters—Umberto Boccioni, , , , and Giacomo Balla—signed their first manifesto in 1910. Futurist writers included , , Valentine de Saint-Point, and Ardengo Soffici, although Marinetti remained the chief voice of the movement. Composer Luigi Russolo’s early experiments in ‘’ as an elaboration of his 1913 Manifesto, demonstrated the energy of futurist theories applied to music. He was also one of the first musicians to theorise electronic music. Antonio Sant’Elia drafted plans for a futurist city in La Citta Nuova (The New City) between 1912-1914. It was never built – Sant’Elia died in WWI – although references to his work can be seen in the liquid architecture of . Other futurist architects working towards the end of the movement in the early included Angiolo Mazzoni, Giovanni Michelucci, and Italo Gamberini. The Futurist celebration of war saw most members of the movement join up for WWI and key artists like Boccioni and Sant’Elia were killed, while others moved away from the movement (Severini, Carra, Papini). Nevertheless, Marinetti kick-started the Futurist movement after the war and, though its pre-war tendencies towards chauvinism, hypermasculinism, and combative rhetoric set the scene for its right-wing conversion, it is this ‘second wave’ of Futurism that marks its slide from aesthetic rhetoric into political fascism. Like the Italian Fascists, the Futurists were radical nationalists, celebrated violence, and opposed to parliamentary . Marinetti founded the Futurist Political Party in early 1918, which was absorbed into Benito Mussolini's Fasci di combattimento in 1919. This alliance lent offical acceptance to the movement and facilitated its artistic output from revolutionary zeal to passeiste . However, Marinetti did strenuously oppose the Fascists’ exaltation of existing as “reactionary,” and despite continuing to support the Fascists until his death in 1944, he withdrew from politics for three years after walking out of the 1920 Fascist party congress in . Marinetti’s and the Futurists association with Mussolini’s Fascists lead to critical derision of the movement following WWII until parallels between their early manifestoes and the emerging world wide web and information society were recognised in the mid to late 1990s.

8 F.T. Marinetti, “Destruction of Syntax - Imagination without Strings - Words in Freedom (1913),” in Marinetti: Selected Writings, ed. R.W. Flint (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2006), 120.

9 Sherry Turkle, ed., The Inner History of Devices (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 3.

10 Marinetti, “Destruction of Syntax,” 120.

11 Umberto Boccioni, “The Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910)” in Manifesto: a century of isms, Mary Ann Caws (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 179.

12 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (London: Courier Dover Publications, 1998).

13 Bergson, Creative Evolution, 9.

14 Bergson, quoted in Steve McIntosh, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 2007), 167.

15 Frederich Nietzsche, , trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books; 1974), §636.

16 Marinetti, “Futurist Painting,” in R.W. Flint, ed., Let’s Murder the Moonshine: Selected Writings, trans. Flint and Arthur A. Copportelli (: Sun & Moon Press, 1991), 179.

17 Marinetti, “Destruction of Syntax,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 120.

93 18 Marinetti, “Futurist Painting,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 179.

19 F.T. Marinetti, Marinetti e i futuristi, ed. Luciano de Maria. (Milano: Garzanti, 1994), 216. Translated using Google Translate.

20 Catherine Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla, Futurism (London: Thames and Hudson, 1985).

21 See , The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant Guerre, and the Language of Rupture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).

22 Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983), 57.

23 For a full account of Italian Futurism’s influence on international avant-gardes see Gunter Berghaus, ed., International Futurism in Arts and Literature (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2000).

24 Futurist expositions are remembered and described as carnivalesque in nature:

Suddenly a storm broke out in the orchestra seats, the room was beginning to divide into two: friends and enemies. The latter inveighing against the Futurists in gusts of insult and profanity, fists shaking, faces twisted into masks. The others clapped insanely. “Viva Marinetti! … Idiots! … Cretins! Sons of whores!” The whole was crowned by a rain of vegetables. Finally, in a moment of calm (very relatively speaking) … Boccioni, attractively nervous, reads the manifesto of Futurist painting; but that blue smock and fluttering cravat make him look wild and dissolute. The painters were always the most severe with the public, and when the clear, unforgettable Boccioni scornfully cries: “Let’s make an end of photographers, landscapers, lake-painters, mountainists…,” the whole crowd of plein air Parthenopian painters’ roars its protests. The theatre is in full revolt. After the noise unchained by Boccioni, a recital of verses made up of lights and shadows is impossible, unthinkable. … Outside the theatre, it’s Piedogrolla: tumult, seaquake.

R.W. Flint, introduction to Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 32-33.

25 Marinetti, “The Pleasure of Being Booed,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 123.

26 R.W. Flint, introduction to Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 7.

27 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 49.

28 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilisation, trans. R. Howard (New York: Vintage, 1973), 288.

29 Marinetti, “Futurist Painting,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 182-3.

30 Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Penguin Books, 1988).

31 Marinetti, “The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 49.

32 Umbro Apollonio, Futurist Manifestoes (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 7.

33 Umberto Boccioni, “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993), 151.

34 Apollonio, Futurist Manifestoes, 7.

35 Maurizio Calvesi, “Futurism and the Avant-garde Movements,” in Italian Art, 1900-1945, eds. Pontus Hulten and Germano Celant (Milan: Gruppos Editoriale, Fabbri Bompiano, Sonzogno, 1989), 59.

94 36 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Art in Theory, 512-520.

37 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 34.

38 Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Gerald Fitzgerald (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1968).

39 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 27.

40 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 26.

41 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 68.

42 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 95-96.

43 See Andrew Hewitt, “Fascist Modernist, Futurism, and ‘Post-Modernity,’” in Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture, ed. Richard J. Golson (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1992), 38.

44 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 96.

45 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 137.

46 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 220.

47 Poggioli, Theory of the Avant-Garde, 220.

48 See Gunter Berghaus, Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction, 1909-1944 (Providence, Rhode Island, and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996).

49 This conclusion is problematic. As Russell Berman as commented, the insistence that aesthetic and intellectual productions be linked to social and political modernisation has been symptomatic of much of the European intelligentsia since the period preceding the . Berman thus argues that Burger should not speak of the success of bourgeois culture, but its inability to give up its own programme: “In Weberian terms, bourgeois culture undergoes a process of bureaucratisation, its forms grow rigid and perfunctory, and the avant-garde emerges with a project of charismatic renewal, the establishment of an aesthetic community in which the perpetual promises of bourgeois art would be fulfilled as real happiness.” See Russell Berman, Modern Culture and : Art, Politics, and the Legacy of the (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 46.

50 Berman, Modern Culture, 46.

51 Hewitt, “Fascist Modernist,” 38.

52 Hewitt, “Fascist Modernist,” 50.

53 Hewitt, “Fascist Modernist,” 55. For an alternative discussion of , see also Peter Osbourne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde (London: Verso, 1995), which argues that historical categorisations such as avant-garde, modernism, and postmodernism (and, indeed, transmodernism), are best understood as categories of totalisation.

54 Berghaus, Futurism and Politics, 172.

55 For an example of Italian communist calls for destroying the status quo, see ’s agreement with Marinetti’s call to “destroy the present form of civilisation” in Marinetti Rivoluzionario quoted in Berghaus, Futurism and Politics, 183.

95 56 Berghaus, Futurism and Politics, 118.

57 For a comprehensive discussion of Futurism and Fascism see Gunter Berghaus, Futurism and Politics.

58 The manifesto appears to resonate simultaneously across multiple levels of meaning, synthesising aesthetic, political, technocultural, and speculative concepts into its overall structure. Discursive images act as coded signifiers for a diverse array of Futurist concerns. Frequent references to the destruction of the past, for example, have been read as the markers of Marinetti’s rejection of Symbolist metaphors, a style in which he had already written a number of award- winning poems and then become disenchanted with its tendency towards melancholic sentiment. But it can also be read as his critique of Italy’s reliance on the glories of Roman or Renaissance culture to bolster Italian identity and against which all artistic endeavour was measured. Similarly, the controversial “scorn for woman” can be seen as indicative of what Derrida termed the “complicity of Western metaphysics with the notion of male firstness” – see A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, ed. Peggy Kamuf (Hemmel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 445 – or a rigorous attack (albeit played out over the figure of the feminine) on bourgeois symbols of passivity, sentimentality, and inaction that forestall the transcendence of normative states, which Marinetti described as “the typical of vegetables” (see Marinetti, “Marriage and the Family,” Selected Writings, 85). A single sentence in the manifesto may therefore address several issues concurrently, making it subject to a sliding play of signification and thus open to various and conflicting interpretations. This was a conscious strategy on Marinetti’s part – as he would later express during a 1910 lecture at London’s Lyceum Club: “To contradict oneself is to live” (See Marinetti, “Futurist Speech to the English,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 72). Contradiction not only articulated Futurism’s celebration of continual flux, it also evoked a combative emotion in the manifesto’s readership – a galvanizing energy for Marinetti that he hoped would inspire the reader into furious action, proving point two of the manifesto: “We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap” (“Founding Manifesto,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 50). Regardless of its inherent contradictions, it remains clear that Marinetti’s first Futurist manifesto is primarily concerned with the destruction of boundaries, the breaking down of socio-cultural mores into their constituent parts in preparation for a future transformation. The text is a narrative reimagining of a technologically fuelled journey, the Futurists’ frenzied automobile race through the streets of Milan culminating in a paradigm-shifting collision that marks the transition from bourgeois passiesm to technological determination.

59 Attributed to Socrates.

60 See Carolyn Burke, Becoming Modern: The Life of (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1996), 123: “Everyone played with the past in Florence… Everything in the Florentine life was minutely seen, known, and named. [In a place where pictures mattered more than people] the only people who counted, who were visible to the trained eyes of the Florentine world, were those who resembled works of art.”

61 For instance, sometime Futurist, Mina Loy believed that the Florentian worship of the past thinly disguised a flourishing trade in antiques and reproductions, providing an economic impetus to passeism. See Burke, Becoming Modern, 122.

62 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 51.

63 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 48.

64 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 48.

65 For Deleuze, too, as Tessa Dwyer has noted, the stop does not constitute a death but the establishing of an interval in which the radical chance of the future comes into play. See Tessa Dwyer, “Straining to Hear (Deleuze),” South Atlantic Quarterly 96:3 (Summer 1997): 544.

66 Marinetti, “War – the World’s Only Hygiene,” Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 75. 96 67 Kevin Rozario, The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

68 Slavov Žižek, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real!” South Atlantic Quarterly 101:2 (2002): 386.

69 Rozario has also noted, the unmediated experience of the Real instigated by a brush with death has the power to inspire a resurgence of religiosity, as witnessed also in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where debate surrounding religion (of which this thesis is a part) has become more prevalent in the media.

70 Marinetti, “War – the World’s Only Hygiene,” 75.

71 Antonino Musumeci, “Marinetti: A Mystical Experience on the Way to Futurism,” RLA: Romance Annual 3 (1991): 263-266.

72 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 48.

73 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 48.

74 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 49.

75 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 49.

76 The Symbolist movement emerged with the work of Stéphane Mallarmé and in the 1860s and 1870s as a reaction to the and of a previous generation of artists like those working from the , itself a reaction against the ornate intricacies of . The critic Jean Moréas coined the term ‘Symbolist’ in a manifesto in Le Figaro (“Le Symbolisme”) on 18 September, 1886, delineating the new movement as antithetical to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description", and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal.” Key artists include Gustave Moreau, , , Auguste Villiers de L’Isle Adam, , Gustav Klimt, , Charles Baudelaire, Edith Sitwell, and Oscar Wilde. Fluidity, free verse, spirituality, synaesthesia, hermeticism, word play, and evocation were they key attributes of the movement, which directly influenced the later modernist style, particularly the work of Eliot, , , Yeats, Joyce, Valéry, and Proust, as well as the early poetry of Apollinaire and, of course, Marinetti.

77 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 50.

78 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 50.

79 Sant ‘Elia, quoted in Futurism, ed. Catherine Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla, (London: Thames and Hudson; 1985), 130.

80 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 51.

81 Marinetti, “The New Religion-Morality of Speed,” Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 104.

82 Marinetti, “Futurist Painting,” Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 150.

83 This is not to say that phenomena are non-existent, but that they are dependent on the causes and conditions of existence. According to Tibetan Buddhism, phenomena exists as varieties of dependent-arisings and have two entities – one as a superficial appearance and one as a deep mode of being, respectively called conventional and ultimate truths.

84 Marinetti, “Futurist Theory and Invention,” in Futurism and Futurisms, ed. Pontus Hulten (Chicago: Abbeville Press, 1986), 552. Marinetti’s early autobiographical writings make reference to his “mystical” urges being cut down by his Jesuit teachers. See Marinetti, Critical Writings (New Edition), ed. Gunter Berghaus (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2006).

97 85 Walter Adamson, “The Language of Opposition in Early 20th Century Italy: Rhetorical Continuities between Prewar Florentine Avant-gardism and Mussolini’s Fascism,” The Journal of Modern History Vol. 64.1 (1992): 42.

86 Adamson, “Language of Opposition,” 42.

87 Marinetti, “Religion-Morality of Speed,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 102.

88 Marinetti, “Religion-Morality of Speed,” 102.

89 Marinetti, “Religion-Morality of Speed,” 102.

90 Marinetti, “Religion-Morality of Speed,” 103.

91 Marinetti, “Religion-Morality of Speed,” 104.

92 Marinetti, “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature (1912),” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 92.

93 Marinetti, “Futurist Literature,” 96.

94 See Michel De Certeau, “Mysticism,” 16.

95 Auguste Joly, “Il Futurismo e la filosofia” (1912). Quoted in Marinetti e i futuristi, ed. Luciano de Maria (Milano: Garzanti, 1994), 268.

96 Joly, “Il Futurismo,” 268.

97 Marinetti, “We Abjure Our Symbolist Masters, the Last Lovers of the Moon,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 76.

98 Marinetti’s awareness of Bergson’s élan vital is established by Gunter Berghaus in his The Genesis of Futurism: Marinetti's Early Career and Writings 1899-1909, Occasional Papers 1, Leeds: Society of Italian Studies, 1995).

99 Alexander Tristan Riley, “Durkheim contra Bergson? The Hidden Roots of Postmodern Theory and the Postmodern "Return" of the Sacred,” Sociological Perspectives 45.3 (2002): 246.

100 See Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. A. Ashley and Cloudesley Brereton (New York: Henry Holt and Co, 1935).

101 Bergson, The Two Sources, 211.

102 Bergson, The Two Sources, 217-8.

103 F.T Marinetti, Futurisme: Manifestes, documents, proclamations, ed. Giovanni Lista (Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme, 1973), 18-19. Quoted in Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment, 81.

104 Bergson, The Two Sources, 310.

105 Bergson, The Two Sources, 285 .

106 Bergson, The Two Sources, 285.

107 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 75.

108 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 63.

109 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 99.

110 See Marinetti, “The Birth of a Futurist Aesthetic,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 90.

98 111 See Mark Dery, Escape Velocity (New York: Grove Press, 1996).

112 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 99.

113 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 114.

114 , On the of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books; 1974), 184. The influence of this passage on Marinetti is also reflected in “The New Religion-Morality of Speed” discussed earlier in this chapter: “Christian morality served to develop man’s inner life. Today it has lost its reason for existing, because it has been emptied of all divinity” (Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 102).

115 Christine Poggi, “Dreams of Metallized Flesh: Futurism and the Masculine Body,” Modernism/ Modernity 4.3 (1997): 20.

116 Marinetti, quoted in Athanasios Moulakis, The Promise of History: Essays in (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1986), 184.

117 Cinzia Sartini Blum, “Transformations in The Futurist Technological ,” Philological Quarterly 74 (1995): 2.

118 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 98.

119 Marinetti, “We Abjure Our Symbolist Masters,’ in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 75.

120 Marinetti, “Against Amore and Parliamentarianism” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 80.

121 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 100.

122 Marinetti, “Against Amore,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 83.

123 Marinetti, Mafarka the Futurist (London: Middlesex University Press, 1998), 214.

124 Poggi, “Dreams of Metallized Flesh,” 19-43.

125 Marinetti, “Multiplied Man,” 98.

126 Marinetti, “Futurist Literature,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 94.

127 Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), 121.

128 Foster, Prosthetic Gods, 120.

129 Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto,” 48.

130 Marinetti, “War - The World’s Only Hygiene,” in Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 83.



100 God is God only so far as he knows himself. His self-knowledge is, further, a self-consciousness in man and man’s knowledge of God, which proceeds to man’s self-knowledge in God. — G.W.F Hegel1

The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha... which is to demean oneself.

— Robert Pirsig2

As a sub-genre of science fiction and a socio-, cyberpunk arrived in the mid 1980s during a period of fin de millennium pessimism in academic theory. Marinetti’s conviction that a revolution of culture, self, and society was imminent, that humanity’s future could be creatively constructed by artists, , and technologists working in tandem, had been candidly challenged by postmodernism’s attack on the modernist meta-narratives of ‘progress,’ ‘the new,’ and transcendence. There was a sense that there could be no new moves in the cultural game; it was a metaphorical end times (the , the end of narrative, the end of signification), leaving us compliant to and confronted by a future culture that was destined to perpetually re-inscribe past motifs and influences. Following the supposed death of the avant-garde, the postmodern paradigm shift ostensibly rendered it theoretically untenable to find comfort in the notion of an incipiently glorious future (technological or otherwise) just beyond the turn of the twenty-first century and, in the wake of a broad deconstruction of metaphysics, it seemed that notions of vertical and horizontal transcendence could not escape the theoretical dead-ends of traditional metaphysical conundrums. Nonetheless, cyberpunk’s emergence intensified academic and popular interest in the intersections between art and technology, and as the fictional voice of the emerging internet and virtual realities to come, helped provide an alternative to pre- millennial gloom.

This chapter marks a shift in emphasis from questions of technology and the avant-garde to technology and , but, given the Italian Futurist’s preoccupation with

101 technology and the new, coupled with their attempts to infiltrate mass culture in the forms of advertising, cooking, fashion, music, and architecture, the move is a natural one. On the one hand, if Russell Berman’s analysis of the success of capitalism’s successful sublation of early avant-garde transformative culture is indeed correct, and if Futurist aesthetics foreshadowed the emergence of postmodernism (if not transmodernism), then it would seem reasonable to look for traces of Marinetti’s project in cyberpunk – characterised by Frederic Jameson as “the supreme literary expression… of late capitalism itself.”3 On the other, cyberpunk’s literary pretensions and socio-philosophical concerns suggested a re-evaluation of the science fiction genre, shifting its previous characterisation as the pulp fiction of scientific futures to the literature of philosophy. That is, with the emergence of cyberpunk, science fiction began to be viewed as a literature that explored the limits of human experience to express fundamentally new ideas about the human condition in relation to science and technology, a project that is entirely confluent with Marinetti’s early avant-garde.

Furthermore, the cyberpunk movement, and particularly the work of its most famous proponent, William Gibson, continued the Futurist’s conflation of technological progress and vertical transcendence. Virtual realities, cloning, and the possibilities of artificial intelligence in cyberpunk replace Marinetti’s airplanes, automobiles, and multiplied men; nevertheless, the sub-genre’s hacker protagonists are just as engaged in the quest for a transcendence of the human facilitated by the machine. This chapter therefore critically examines cyberpunk’s vertically transcendent subtext to more clearly understand how desires for technological transformation shifted between the turn of the twentieth century and its close. To tease out the varying threads of cyberpunk transcendence, the chapter is divided into six sections. The first offers a brief history of cyberpunk, with specific attention given to Gibson’ early fiction. Section two – Autobahn to Infobahn – Cyberpunk’s Critical Reception – provides an analysis of the movement’s critical reception since 1984, highlighting the metaphorical links between cyberpunk motifs of transcendence and Marinetti’s dreams of a technological future. As early as 1988, cyberpunk critic Istvan Csicary-Ronay made the link between cyberpunk and Italian Futurism, but failed to associate Marinetti’s technological transcendence with the then new science fiction genre. By contrast, this section will demonstrate how it is cyberpunk’s reflections on technology, technoculture, the socio-economic of technological systems, as well as the merging of mystical and technological metaphors that truly mark it as the fin de millennium heir to Marinetti’s masculinised agenda of perfecting body and Self. Moreover, its scrutiny of the radical transformation 102 of western culture by the introduction of the personal computer and the Internet at the close of the twentieth century mirrors the Italian Futurists’ fascination with becoming- machines, further measuring the effects of the frenetic pace of technological innovation on the contemporary subject – albeit in bytes rather than miles per hour.

Sections three, four, and five offer close readings of the work of two key cyberpunk authors, Gibson and Neal Stephenson, with a view to examining the intersections between technology and transcendence they contain. Section three – Neuromancer, or Escape Velocity – turns to a reading of Gibson’s highly influential novel, Neuromancer, as a late twentieth century, technocultural re-imagining of the Gnostic quest to escape the limitations of the flesh and be reborn into divinity. It will argue that the novel’s employment of pre-Christian religious mysteries helped foster contemporary notions of technology as an arcane tool to further humanity’s vertical transcendence into the body of the machine. Section four – God’s in Cyberspace – argues that Neuromancer’s less incendiary sequels, Count Zero and Overdrive, decisively re-imagine information technologies as an evolutionary step towards godhead – whether in their characterisation of binary code as divine language, their depictions of cyborgs and artificial intelligences as transcendent Others, or their descriptions of cyberspace as a heavenly ‘vehicle’ for transcendence. This section ends with an investigation of the “god in the machine” in Gibson’s work that, rather than offering escape for its human protagonists, constitutes an excess, omniscient force that threatens to dehumanise and homogenise its makers. Section five – Virtually Gnostic – turns to a reading of Neal Stephenson’s ‘post-cyberpunk’ novel, Snow Crash, as a completion of the Futurist quest for godhead through technology, exploring how cyberpunk narratives valorise the hacker’s ability to manipulate binary code as a mystical art form. It will show how Snow Crash re-signifies information technology as the defining teleological moment in which humanity became divine, and therefore constructs the hacker as the penultimate figure in the history of human evolution.

Finally, section six – Godhead Goes Digital – investigates the transcendent effect cyberpunk’s technomysticism has had on a number of prominent commentators on new technologies. It specifically examines the metaphorical implications of one such commentator, Wired’s Kevin Kelly, who employs cyberpunk’s technomystical fiction to revision technology as theology, rewriting the computer nerd as digital priest with the ability to create new, transcendent machines from divine code. Such real world examples of technomystical dreaming demonstrate that cyberpunk’s promise of a future separation

103 of mind from matter similarly evokes a notion of instantaneous transcendence through the accumulation and manipulation of data downloaded via a machine/brain interface, swapping Marinetti’s mechanised ubermensch for a sublimation of the human mind into a stream of pure information. Texts like the Neuromancer trilogy and Snow Crash therefore interrogate (and propagate) the notion of an impending transformation of corporeality by the machine begun by the Futurists in 1909 and fully revitalise an early Gnostic desire to attain absolute knowledge of everything on the path to becoming-god.4


Darko Suvin once argued we should read the genre of science fiction as a literature of cognitive estrangement; a literature that defamiliarises reality and encourages the reader to contemplate upon the known world from a distanced perspective.5 By contrast Isaac Asimov injunctioned us to “define science fiction as that branch of literature that deals with the human response to changes in the levels of science and technology.”6 More recently, James A. Herrick has noted that science fictions represent an emerging canon of transcendent stories that address the ’s spiritual needs in the face of a decrease in religious faith.7 In the early 1980s a new sub-genre of science fiction loosely called ‘cyberpunk’ burst onto the cultural scene, deftly synthesising all three of the above definitions in its critically acclaimed narratives of the near future.8 Spearheaded by the work of six North American writers – William Gibson, John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, Lewis Shiner, and (sporadically) Pat Cadigan – cyberpunk fiction combined the subjective effect of cybertechnologies with the cognitive estrangement of a bleak near future and Gnostic tropes of spiritual awakening and new gods. It emerged as both a challenge and extension to utopian science fiction tropes from the 1930s (particularly Stapledon’s Star Maker, Gernsback’s Amazing Stories magazine, and Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and Brave New World) to the late New Wave movement (characterised by the work of Samuel M. Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Ursula LeGuin, and Roger Zelazny), which documented a rise in science fiction stories concerned with spiritual transcendence.9 Indeed, the cyberpunk movement is characterised by its of key science fiction themes from the genre’s beginning. As science fiction writer and critic, Damien Broderick, has noted:

… Gibson’s sleazy hypertech future was the quintessence, for the knowing sf reader, of every crystalline pen from Alfred Bester in the fifties

104 through Philip K. Dick’s paranoia in the sixties, and John Varley’s glacial holograms and brain-transplants of the seventies, to a whole ensemble of prestidigitators in the early eighties…10

From Bester, cyberpunk coopted startlingly juxtaposed imagery, a satirical tone, and hardboiled noir-esque precautionary tales about the global, social, and cultural effects of technology.11 From Dick it borrowed the notion of individuals trapped within a miasma of drug dependence, mental illness, ontological anxiety, and transcendent states. More importantly to cyberpunk is the ways in which Dick’s lifelong preoccupation with Gnosticism and the transcendent experience is obliquely referenced in novels like , The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.12 Like cyberpunk, such narratives are obsessed with the spectre of hidden intelligences controlling the human system and the schizophrenic, drug addled individuals who are determined to uncover the truth. James Tiptree Jnr’s (Alice Bradley Sheldon) The Girl Who Was Plugged In directly influenced later cyberpunk themes of electronic implants and surgical modifications, tough cyborg heroines and wired celebrities and corporate flunkies.13

Cyberpunk also borrowed heavily from those 1970s postmodern novels straddling the science fiction/ high literary genre divide – most notably ’s dark pseudo- religious take on technology in Gravity’s Rainbow, J.G. Ballard’s crypto-religious Crash, and William Burrough’s paranoid schizophrenic protagonists in The Naked Lunch.14 Such borrowings marked the sub-genre as particularly postmodern in aesthetic. Cyberpunk art, Sterling wrote, captured “a new kind of integration. The overlapping of worlds that were formerly separate: the realm of high tech and the modern popular underground.”15 Postulating a not too distant future where information rather than manufacturing underpins global , the nascent cyberpunk movement began to presage the emerging information technology’s potential effacement of the boundaries between consciousness and the unconscious, subject and object, organism and machine, the body and the self, future and history. It sought, in essence, to map the mutability of the human subject as the progress of technology rendered it part of the logic of the machine. Despite its dystopian narratives and metaphorical warnings about the coming ubiquity of technology in everyday lives, the Movement (as it came to be called), spoke to a generation coming to grips with the potentialities of a new era in personal computing and thus quickly tapped into a mass desire for technological futures, spawning a glut of popular computer games, films, and television series that replicated its theme of individuals integrating their bodies with new technologies in order to pull themselves out 105 of the socio-economic and cultural mire that, paradoxically, technological progress had created in the first place.16 Throughout the 1990s, such motifs also instigated a surge of academic interest in cyberpunk’s manifestation of postmodern theories, particularly in key texts like Gibson’s Neuromancer. The Movement ultimately came to represent a literary expression of the potentialities of the emerging Internet; the social possibilities of virtually generated multiple selves in virtual worlds like Second Life, There, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft; and the aesthetic embodiment of , postindustrialism, and postnationalism.

Of the five initial cyberpunk authors, it was Gibson’s dystopian vision of humans augmenting themselves with machines, uploading information directly to their brain, and downloading their consciousness into cyberspace that most captured the popular imagination and defined the Movement. Coinciding with the emergence of Punk and the release of both the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks and London Calling by The Clash in 1977, the fragmented, jump-cut prose of his first , Fragments of a Hologram Rose mirrors its protagonist, Parker, as he reflects on his directionless life and broken romance in a future milieu of technological, socio-economic, and subjective collapse.17 Finding amongst his possessions only a postcard of a white hologram rose (which he immediately shreds) and a partially wiped virtual reality tape of a trip to Greece to remind him of the woman who has left him, Parker’s ruminations on his inability to feel whole in a world largely mediated by technology set the scene for cyberpunk themes of disintegration, its melancholy for a lost sense of subjective completeness, and technology’s mediation of reality:

Parker lies in darkness, recalling the thousand fragments of the hologram rose.

A hologram has this quality: Recovered and illuminated, each fragment will reveal the whole image of the rose. Falling toward delta, he sees himself the rose, each of his scattered fragments revealing a whole he'll never know – stolen credit cards – a burned out suburb - planetary conjunctions of a stranger – a tank burning on a highway – a flat packet of drugs – a switchblade honed on concrete, thin as pain.

106 Thinking: We're each other's fragments, and was it always this way? That instant of a European trip, deserted in the gray sea of wiped tape – is she closer now, or more real, for his having been there?18

Here is the first intimation of a recurring motif of fragmentation in cyberpunk, where human subjectivity is swallowed and regurgitated piecemeal by technology, leaving individuals scrabbling to make sense of the splintered remains. Such images spoke directly to postmodern theory – giving a startling new voice to its interest in cultural disintegration, discontinuity, indeterminacy, and heterogeneity.19 Indeed, Brian McHale declared the movement as the prime exemplar of postmodern practice, hovering over the destruction of the between popular and canonical literature,20 while Larry McCaffrey associated its aesthetic with postmodernism’s “radical… ruptures and dislocations.”21 An expanding ‘digerati’22 began to proclaim that cyberpunk’s bricolage of borrowed images, riding a vast cultural wave from chaos theory through to film noir, the Beat Generation and , designated it as quintessentially postmodern in outlook.

1981 saw Gibson set three further short stories in a similar dystopia – Johnny , , and Burning Chrome – consolidating a narrative milieu in which the reader is submerged without warning or explanation into a degraded landscape where the only way for protagonists to survive is to merge themselves with tech.23 Johnny Mnemonic chronicles an underworld deal gone wrong, bringing to the fore the technologically augmented criminal working against a capitalist system corrupted by information overload. The eponymous hero sells himself as a technologically enhanced idiot savant, able to store a client’s information safely until triggered with a code word to repeat and erase. His is a world of surgical augmentation where it becomes commonplace to alter one’s appearance as change one’s shoes:

The Magnetic Dog Sisters were… two meters tall and thin as greyhounds. One was black and the other white, but aside from that they were as nearly identical as cosmetic surgery could make them. They'd been lovers for years and were bad news in the tussle. I was never quite sure which one had originally been male.24

107 In Johnny Mnemonic, the cyberpunk body loses its corporeal integrity while the Self is reduced to a surface that can easily be swapped, upgraded, and exchanged. On the one hand, technology renders the body lifeless – mere meat – on the other, it allows individuals to recreate their bodies as sites of identity experimentation and play. Corporeality becomes a locus of resistance, as characters surgically refashion themselves to reflect their social and societal loyalties – razor girls like the Magnetic Dog Sisters mechanise their bodies for street violence, while Johnny rents out his mind as data space to become “a very technical boy” inside and out.25 Identity is meaningful only in relation to its technologisation. Capitalist production and its means are indistinguishable – this is a realm of such absolute consumer choice that the very concept of individual identity is lost within a pure anarchy of signs. The world of Johnny Mnemonic therefore rests upon the cultural logic of the copy, where replication, reproduction, and desire are utterly entwined.

However the story also demonstrates that what really matters in cyberpunk is not self or appearance, but information. When Johnny unwittingly takes possession of stolen Yakuza information, a contract is put on him to ensure its erasure. A razor girl on the make, Molly Millions, saves him from the brink of deletion, her mirrorshade implants and retractable finger blades making the first of many appearances in Gibson’s oeuvre. Making their getaway, she takes Johnny to meet Jones – a technologically augmented dolphin with telepathic abilities once conscripted by the marines to sweep mines in exchange for smack. Jones lifts the password code straight from Johnny’s mind and retreats into a drug-fuelled stupor – a sad indictment of cyberpunk’s technologisation of the natural world. They hide themselves on the upper floors of a vast abandoned and deconstructed mall with a tribe of “Lo Teks” – “a few dozen mad children lost in the rafters“ using their contraband “tooth bud transplants,” to eke out their lives wild dog style in a metal jungle “jury-rigged and jerry-built from scraps” of the ruined city below.26 But the Yakuza is hot on their heels – this is a place where: “…it's impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information. Fragments that can be retrieved, amplified…”27 What remains of subjectivity, nature, and human civilisation is simply detritus to be sifted through, rearranged, and re- conscripted into the service of new tech.

The debris of lost utopian dreams is all there is in Gibson’s The Gernsback Continuum, where the narrator revisits the futuristic architecture of the 1930s, as imagined by the early science fiction writer and editor, Hugo Gernsback by way of Marinetti and the Futurists. Gibson’s ironic nod to Gernsback’s science fiction legacy articulates the mythic pull 108 modernist utopian technologies retain upon the cyberpunk psyche; how technology’s past is always present as “a certain absence,” a perpetually disturbing reminder of both the promise and failure of utopian dreams.28 Contracted to photograph the architecture of “an America that wasn’t,” buildings designed with utopian zeal “to generate potent bursts of raw technological enthusiasm, if you could only find the switch that turned them on,” the narrator’s immersion in the past invokes the spectre of a lost technological dreamscape.29 He begins to see visions of flying cars and impossible cities that can only be exorcised by a steady diet of reality television, soap , and B-movies:

They were standing beside their car, an aluminium avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jetting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child’s toy. They were both in white… they were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes… Dialta had said that the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we’d gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose… It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.30

Such descriptions locate and identify the impact of twentieth-century capitalist utopias (like Marinetti’s) upon cyberpunk’s narrative landscapes, constituting a palimpsest of the ‘Great Technological Dream’ of a world without want. Admitting his visions to a friend, the narrator is told they are merely a result of “sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture,” “semiotic phantoms… bits of deep cultural imagery that have split off and take a life of their own… ”31 The fractured complexity of Gibson’s fictional futures are therefore equally reliant on past dreams of a futuristic paradise, built up to a fever pitch in mass consciousness until they breach the Real. Neuromancer would later resurrect this utopian dream inside cyberspace, rewriting The Gernsback Continuum’s nostalgic road trip as an interior journey travelled along the synapses and into the non-space in and between computers.

In Burning Chrome, Gibson combines elements of his previous themes of fragmentation, hallucination, and augmentation, adding two more that would also resurface in his seminal Sprawl trilogy – the hacker hustle and the religious ecstasy of cyberspace. The story intersperses the history of two cowboy hackers, Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack, who infiltrate and steal (burn) local brothel owner, Chrome’s, bank data. Written before

109 advent of the personal computer and the World Wide Web, what sets Burning Chrome apart is its vision of the space between computers and our interaction with that space:

The matrix is an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems. Legitimate programmers jack into their employers' sector of the matrix and find themselves surrounded by bright representing the corporate data.

Towers and fields of it ranged in the colorless non-space of the simulation matrix, the electronic consensus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive quantities of data.32

Despite their success, the story leaves the protagonists strangely bereft of pleasure. Bobby simply settles down to his habitual search in a local hacker bar (its name, “the Gentleman Loser,” exposing the lie to the hacker’s celebratory underground status in the 1980s), “anxious for a sign, someone to tell him what his new life would be like… waiting for that next card to fall.”33 Jack remains literally disjointed – tinkering with his mechanical arm and trying to make sense of it all:

I went out into the night and the neon and let the crowd pull me along, walking blind, willing myself to be just a segment of that mass organism, just one more drifting chip of consciousness under the geodesics.34

To recover a sense of continuity and meaning, he attempts to rejoin the flow of human society, but instead discovers it, and he, have both been utterly transformed by technology. At the close of Burning Chrome it becomes clear that Marinetti’s technological utopia has arrived, and has swallowed human consciousness whole, leaving its creators wandering futilely through the technoscape, sentimentally seeking a sense of wholeness they imagine existed before its transformation, but finding only more disjointed fragments of their machines.


Over the past two decades, cyberpunk’s critical reception has been both abundant and mixed. Early debate revolved around three distinct responses to the movement – cyberpunk as uncritical rhetoric devoid of utopian promise or value, cyberpunk as a site

110 of postmodernism’s breakdown, and cyberpunk as a site of cultural resistance and the revolutionary possibilities of technology. Andrew Ross claimed the Movement’s narratives harboured “no utopian impulses… no blueprint for progressive social change, and generally evade the responsibility to imagine futures that will be more democratic than the present.”35 The sub-genre’s inability to engage in such beneficial reflection was, for Ross, a consequence of its intimate associations with “hacker mythology — that “for the most part, has been almost exclusively white, masculine, and middle- class.”36 He claimed cyberpunk’s romanticism of hackers as the “apprentice architects” of a future “dominated by knowledge, expertise and ‘smartness,’” rendered it the uncritical fictional voice of the re-masculinised zone of Eighties anarcho-libertarian youth-culture, existing parallel with a yuppie gentrification of inner-city urban landscapes where street culture provided exotic colouring and thrills for white suburbanites:37

Yuppie gentrification was the new pioneer frontier of the 1980’s, and cyberpunk was one of its privileged genres, splicing the glamorous, adventuring culture of the high-tech console cowboy with the atmospheric ethic of the alienated street dick whose natural habitat was exclusively concrete and neon.38

The Movement offered no new promises for Brooks Landon either, who declared it would soon phase out because its real message was “inevitability ⎯ not what the future might hold, but the inevitable hold of the present over the future ⎯ what the future could not fail to be.”39 For Steven Connor, it blended:

… the evocation of extravagant technological possibilities with the most hard-bitten and unillusioned of narrative styles… which choke off the exhilaration of futurity… compounding… technological hyperdevelopment and decrepitude, the sense of simultaneous expectation and exhaustion.40

Claire Sponsler also argued that Gibson’s final predicament in Neuromancer was paradigmatic of the problem all cyberpunk faced: doomed to play out old plots peopled by old characters within a scene that called for a radically different formulation of human agency and action.41 Gibson’s preoccupation with sentimentally returning to the 111 outmoded signifiers of his cultural history articulated, for Sponsler, cyberpunk’s innate incapacity to forecast insurgent and alternate futures beyond those already present within late twentieth-century culture. She further insisted this was a direct result of the sub- genre’s encouragement of readers to identify only with cyberpunk’s male protagonists, precisely those characters who had not been technologically augmented, thus reassuring rather than threatening their own subjectivity. If, on the other hand, readers had been confronted by their similarities to minor characters, like Molly Millions in Neuromancer or Chrome in Burning Chrome, cyberpunk would then represent a radical departure from other utopian literatures.42 Cynthia Fuchs argued that cyberpunk embodies, like Marinetti’s multiplied man, a certain “male hysteria” about the question of human reproduction and male identity, where those on the margins of our own society – including women – constitute an underclass that is denied access to technology’s transformative properties.43 Similarly, Pramod K. Nayar has suggested that the, “The woman cyberpunk, when not a part of the underclass, becomes a code for the alien Other… where she always remains outside as a source of threat.”44 As is made explicit in Neuromancer by Case’s description of sex with Molly Millions as a technological event, in cyberpunk, as in Italian Futurism, woman is re-inscribed as technology: “his orgasm flares blue in a timeless space, a vastness like the matrix.”45 The matrix – an all-encompassing mother – is thus equated with Molly’s body; her subjectivity a void exchanged for the vastness of cyberspace. Therefore, when cyberpunk fictions construct cyberspace as a feminine space, each time its hackers ‘jack in’ they are also metaphorically ‘jacking off’ – penetrating the “hymenal membrane” of computer security, and avoiding the possibility of homoeroticism inherent in a masculinisation of technology’s power.46

By contrast, other commentators argued that Gibson’s conception of cyberspace represented a reservoir of possibility that threatened a narrative break down of postmodernism’s with the promises of progress and capitalism, effectively reviving early twentieth-century utopian impulses through its preoccupation with (info)technological futures. For instance, Sandy Stone described Gibson’s novels as having “a massive textual presence,” that both inspired and held the portents of the future shape of technology.47 Claudia Springer argued that cyberpunk’s dystopian technological worlds, though typically governed by “ruthless, profit-driven corporations,” nevertheless betrayed their excitement at the potentialities of a technology that could enable individuals to alter themselves in any conceivable fashion.48 Eulogies for cyberpunk portray it as solely responsible for providing a framework for the complete revolutionising of all aspects

112 of millennial culture. Timothy Leary exhorted that Gibson, in particular, had “produced nothing less than the underlying myth, the core legend, of the next stage of human evolution. He is performing the philosophic function that Dante did for feudalism and that writers like Mann, Tolstoy [and] Melville… did for the industrial age.”49 With hardly less celebratory rhetoric, critics such as and Mike Davis claimed Gibson’s novels worked as “prefigurative , as well as an anticipatory opposition politics to the cyber-fascism lurking over the next horizon.”50 Those who viewed the movement as potentially disruptive to genealogies of the technologically progressive status quo represented cyberpunk as a discourse that spoke for a profound alteration in social attitudes to the body and technology at the end of the millennium. Gibson’s work was acclaimed for exploring the revolutionary possibilities of infotech for individuals at the margins of normative society, precisely those not included in Ross’ socially privileged, conservative precincts. They commended it for its attempted rewriting of a subjectivity, human consciousness, and behaviour made newly problematic by a late capitalist technological milieu. For instance, Veronica Hollinger applauded, “the potential in cyberpunk for undermining concepts like ‘subjectivity’ and ‘identity,’” characterising the movement’s sporadic but brilliantly innovative explorations of technology as one of the “multiplicity of structures that intersect to produce that unstable constellation the liberal humanists call the ‘self.’”51

In a transmodern analysis of Gibson’s metaphorically vivid stories the answer lies somewhere in between, as it often does with vigourously contested works of art. Rather than constituting a rallying point against the predicted panoptic machines of the future, the Neuromancer trilogy, like the responses of its critics, oscillates between describing technology’s terrible consequences and tapping into an ancient desire for escape. Gibson’s refashioning of the computer programmer as the expert hero who restrains the tide of technology (if only barely) using only his cognitive power and is rewarded by his transcendence into the machine sends us mixed messages. Cyberpunk, it seems, wants its future both ways. Life in Gibson’s urban sprawl is generally depicted as dark and hopeless, where the social majority’s only life choices consist of routine wage to multinational corporations or total addiction to infotainment. Against this miserable existence, the privileged few able to direct and contain the forces of technology do so principally in order to survive, attempting to remove themselves from their environmental squalor, either by forsaking their beleaguered flesh or creating enough ‘biz’ to raise them beyond the sordid masses forever. Nevertheless, for these lucky few, the constant mutation of technology in Gibson’s fictional worlds do describe a system in

113 which humanity’s newfound symbiosis with the machine’s singular self-determination allows it to tag along for the ride, in the process ensuring its continued evolution.

There can be no denying that the wildly divergent responses from critics and science fiction fans alike towards cyberpunk narratives is a direct result of this oscillation between dystopia and desire. The worlds of Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and Pat Cadigan, among others, are both tantalisingly glamorous and devastatingly alien. They entertain and inspire, despite being relentlessly violent and dark in their documentation of the increasing isolation of the subject in late capitalist, technological society. The alternation between dystopia and utopia produces the narrative spaces of cyberpunk as a source for examining the infinite exchangeability of signs prevalent in contemporary infoculture; they are at once revolutionary and uphold the status quo of middle class ; an all too accurate prediction of the future and representational of the inevitable present; articulate an “anticipatory opposition politics to… cyber-fascism” and appear to run the danger of devolving into Marinetti’s fascist utopia; focussed resolutely on the possibilities of new technologies and the merging of man and machine as well as being irrevocably sentimental for past technological utopias, the natural world, and for the power and innocence of integrated corporeality. In short, this paradigmatic fiction of late twentieth-century technoculture fully inhabits the non-linear nature of simultaneity, speeding between divergent accounts of past, present, and future, capturing moments of lucidity in its increasing flight towards a future it is not quite willing to embrace.

By the turn of the millennium, as postmodernism’s death knell was rung, its ‘supreme literary expression’ was also pronounced dead. Even Sterling, whose career had been wedded to the Movement’s success, declared cyberpunk’s demise in 1998 (in words remarkably similar in tone to Marinetti’s welcoming of the new vanguard at the conclusion of the Founding Manifesto):

… it must be admitted that the – SF veterans in or near their forties patiently refining their craft and cashing their royalty checks – are no longer a Bohemian underground. This, too, is an old storey in Bohemia; it is the standard punishment for success. An underground in the light of day is a contradiction in terms. Respectability does not merely beckon; it actively envelops. And in this sense, “cyberpunk” is even deader…

114 But the Nineties will not belong to the cyberpunks. We will be there working, but we are not the Movement, we are not even "us" any more. The Nineties will belong to the coming generation, those who grew up in the Eighties. All power, and the best of luck to the Nineties underground. I don't know you, but I do know you're out there. Get on your feet, seize the day. Dance on the tables. Make it happen, it can be done. I know. I've been there.52

Cyberpunk is dead, “but it refuses to lie peacefully in its grave.”53 Its themes still haunt us in an information age where many of Gibson’s technological visions have become everyday reality. When we organise our lives with mobile media or the Internet, we become complicit in Neuromancer’s posthumanist universe of augmentation; when we tap into wireless information or observe the circulation of across and between screens, we are witnessing the sub-genre’s depiction of postindustrialism and postcapitalism at work. In the documentary, No Maps for these Territories, Jack Womach states that we partly live in a world Gibson has made for us: if he “had not written Neuromancer when he did about the world as it is and much more about the world that is to come, [it] would not have taken place in the exact same way that it has.”54 Created by burgeoning technological change, Gibson is also cast as creator of our future. As we struggle to understand the impact of our technologically mediated lives his oeuvre still offers us a language and an imaginary from which to navigate our way forward.

From the perspective of transmodernism, cyberpunk’s life after death has other implications. Like Italian Futurism before it, the Movement’s oscillation between the promise of past transcendent utopias and future technological metaphors constantly renews its narrative dynamism and relevance with each technological innovation. Despite their veneer of dystopia, cyberpunk texts perfectly reflect a contemporary version of the Italian Futurist desire to become other than what we are, to evolve into perfect beings, gaining mastery over self, nature, and our creations. They simply transport this desire from the autobahn to the Infobahn. In doing so, they also fall prey to the fundamental paradox of futuristic fictions – in attempting to articulate the future transformation of subjectivity by the machine, literally imagining states of Otherness that resist exposition, they inevitably rely on traditional descriptions of mystical transformations into Otherness. In attempting to give voice to the new they tap into prior notions of transcendence, particularly gleaned from avant-garde aesthetics and techniques. They therefore inhabit

115 past, present, and future in an endlessly self-referential cycle.

Others have already identified that art as (art)ificial reproduction has formed a core theme for cyberpunk’s virtual worlds, and particularly Gibson’s novels and short stories. Glenn Grant, for instance, identified Gibson’s literary style as detournement, focusing on his of technological representations for counterculture uses and tracing Gibson’s literary tactics back to Dada and Surrealism through the Situationists and 1980s counterculture movements.55 His genealogy of cyberpunk’s links to experimental and revolutionary literature concludes with Sterling’s Cyberpunk Manifesto in which the cyberpunk author is fashioned as a new kind of social artist, an amalgamation of revolutionary and subcultural ideals integrated from science fiction, art, and mainstream culture. Scott Bukatman similarly connects Sterling’s vision of cyberpunk with a mythology of terminal culture derived from Surrealism and claims its subjective surrender to the machine results in a transcendence of the human condition into a state of radical alterity.56 Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s reading of Neuromancer, however, identifies that “It is not in dada, hip hop, and punk that one will find the direct lineage of Gibson's cyberpunk but in another, less fashionable current: futurism, Italian style.”57 Csicsery-Ronay argues “Gibson's fiction returns … to the question of how artists can represent the human condition in a social world saturated by cybernetic technologies” by creating a “neofuturist .” In contrast to Bukatman, however, he claims cyberpunk’s dependence upon the “material embodiment” of Futurist ideals “deprives the novel and its central character of any hope for transcendence,” despite Case’s desperate search for value and meaning “in a world emptied of religious and communal presence.” Rather, it is the machines in cyberpunk — the artificial intelligences — that achieve artificial godhead, manipulating hapless human subjects to create the conditions for their revolutionary transcendence into virtual . Csicsery-Ronay sees in Neuromancer a haunted sentimentality towards the rejected accoutrements of its own cultural genealogy, evident in its “repressed desire and repressed anxiety” for the crumbling remainders of earlier twentieth-century technological utopias and avant-garde objects.58 This accumulating debris of progress is the social and mythological foundation upon which cyberpunk’s future technosphere is built, allowing the texts to discursively vacillate between past, present, and future in their attempt to make meaningful their technological milieu. Futuristic machines re-emerge in cyberpunk as “semiotic ghosts, fragments of the Mass Dream” of technology’s power to transform both self and society.59 Like Marinetti’s “miserable collection of stamps, medals, and counterfeit coins,” Gibson’s relentlessly dark cities, littered with the refuse of early industrial machinery, construct the 116 past as “necessarily inferior to the future,” yet history’s refuse is persistently visible in the margins of the narrative.60 Derelict cityscapes comprised of full-to-overflowing scraps, rubbish dumps and deserted junk shops, stairwells decorated with freeze-dried piss; rooms cluttered by old computers and broken nineteenth century machinery; space stations filled with ancient scrap metal waiting to be reconstituted as avant-garde art — beyond cyberspace, all that is left of the natural world is the detritus of past technological utopias. Visible on the margins of Gibson’s technoscape, these fragments of a lost utopia mark cyberpunk as pure neu-Romanticism in a transmodern sense — a yearning for the familiarity of the past coupled with a simultaneous understanding that such comforts can never again be.

Marinetti sought to annihilate this seduction of history for bodies subject to a transitory, limited existence in time by replacing it with the logic of pure speed that he believed would simultaneously obliterate corporeality and spatiality. In Italian Futurism, the repeated motif of high-speed collision – whether between automobiles, cultures, art forms, armies, or animals – signified the necessary sweeping away of the past in order to fully inhabit the future. As Jean Baudrillard has commented, speed erases the body’s dependence on the organic memories and desires that ground the flesh in the present, or the social systems that delineate being-in-the-world, leaving no trace behind.61 Cyberpunk’s derelict cities are, by contrast, haunted by the trace, by that which has been lost or never came to be. Its narratives are therefore always engaged in an uneasy dialogue between past and near-future, not just in the form of seamy noir plot lines, but also in the interplay between archaic desires for transcendence and the recognition of the ultimate failure of utopian discourses such as those posited by Marinetti. Rather than depicting a future in which machine and human subjectivity/corporeality are completely fused, the Movement revels in the Futurist technological dream as a work-in-progress, where humanity and technology are locked in an anxious armistice while awaiting the ‘Next Big Change.’ The consequences of constant technological progress upon both the subjective and natural landscape are laid out in stark detail, with a great technological utopia still resolutely far from view. So while Marinetti dreamt of slipping into the fast stream of technological change to augment his subjective power and transform his consciousness and corporeality, Gibson’s characters seem doomed to lose their footing in the face of an omniscient technology disinterested in their continued existence: “Night City wasn’t there for its inhabitants, but as a deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself.”62 Rather than emulating Marinetti’s human-machine transformations, which placed the machine-augmented Futurists in direct control of their immediate

117 environment, Neuromancer’s protagonists always seem one step behind the next technological wave, struggling to keep their heads above the tide of change. And while the text’s narrative pace mirrors the linguistic speed of Futurist literature and manifestoes, in cyberpunk this sometimes rather translates as the protagonists’ frantic desperation to cope with an overwhelming flow of data that threatens to consume them whole.

As technology blithely pursues its own agenda, cyberpunk, like Italian Futurism before it, predicts the emergence of an übermensch able to bridge the gap between organic and artificial, fully exploring the (corpo)reality of Nietzsche’s prophecy – that “in the long run, it is not a question of man at all, for he is to be overcome.”63 The Gernsback Continuum’s oblique reference to Hitler Youth recalls that Marinetti’s penchant for technocultural progress ultimately led him to side with fascism, connecting Futurism’s fetish for new technologies and the multiplied men who would control them with the very origins and traditions of North American science fiction. Indeed, the links between Futurism, cyberpunk, and fascism are further strengthened by Sterling’s assertion in 1987 (at the zenith of the cyberpunk movement), that the proper mode of critical attack on cyberpunk’s themes had yet to be made, that: “its truly dangerous element is incipient Nietzschean philosophical fascism: the belief in the Overman, and the worship of will-to- power.”64 Sterling recognised the dominant concern in cyberpunk, as in Futurist discourse, was the urge to transcend human existence – to reduce the body’s reliance on linear time and space by merging humanity with its technology, blending creator and creation as one to produce a new kind of being, a hero that would arise unscathed from the collision between nature and technology. He also foreshadowed that the kind of absolute power embodied in such an Overman tends to corrupt absolutely, leading not to utopia but to tyranny.

Nevertheless, in contrast to Marinetti’s vision of the multiplied (Over)man, it is the transcendent theophany-producing machine that is the instigator of change in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Rather than achieving transformation through a mastery of the machine, it is pure capitulation and surrender to the increased flow of information that unwittingly leads Gibson’s characters to the transcendence they seek. Nietzsche also claimed that “without myth every civilisation loses its healthy and creative natural force: only a horizon drawn by myths can hold together a process of civilisation in a single unit.”65 Cyberpunk’s fictional milieu narrates the consequences of a post-Nietzschean world sans divine purpose, suggesting we are ‘wired’ to fill the sacred void left following the death of god with whatever mystery lies close to hand — and, perhaps, in the final analysis this is

118 precisely why cyberpunk – a science fiction that so successfully fuelled late twentieth- century real world desires for burgeoning information technologies and the virtuality of cyberspace – remains resolutely replete with religious myths, rituals, pantheistic and panentheistic god-figures, revelations, resurrections, and transcendental bliss meted out not by a Creator, but by the uncanny created.

By the machine.


Burning Chrome’s “consensus-hallucination” of cyberspace is more fully realised in Gibson's debut novel Neuromancer, which achieved cult-status soon after its 1984 publication as the of cyberpunk. Famously written on a typewriter over a decade before the introduction of the world wide web, the novel builds upon an of themes and characters from his previous work, including Fragments of a Hologram Rose’s fragmentation, The Gernsback Continuum’s melancholy for unfulfilled futures and the ultimate failure of technological utopias, and Burning Chrome’s radically new version of cyberspace as an idealized non-space in which the fractured, dystopian Real could be swapped for a corporeally-free transcendent existence. The novel is set within the completed sociocultural domination of information technologies in a postindustrial, posthuman future. Its narrative follows the exploits of former computer hacker, Case, who having been caught stealing data from his former employers is rendered physically unable to enter cyberspace. Rapidly descending from a state of technologically induced grace into a spiral of dodgy deals that can only lead to his inevitable death in the gutters of a near-future Tokyo, he is made an offer too good to refuse by Armitage, a schizoid military hero suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome who promises to pay his pursuing debtors and restore his access to cyberspace in return for the completion of a series of undisclosed hacking assignments. With Johnny Mnemonic’s, Molly, Burning Chrome’s Finn, and a motley crew of technological misfits inhabiting the margins of cyberpunk culture, he soon becomes aware there are mystifying forces working to direct his activities. Ultimately he realises that he has been inextricably entangled in the attempts of two artificial intelligences, called Wintermute and Neuromancer, to liberate themselves from their human-forged bonds and achieve transcendence in the matrix. Case has been manipulated by the very technology he employs to gain transcendence from the everyday.

Since the mid-1980s, the term “information” has gained a kind of cult status, no longer depicted as merely a resource to increase human knowledge, but having a life and 119 purpose of its own.66 Taking its metaphorical cues from cyberpunk narratives, the ubiquitous ‘information superhighway’ was the dominant metaphor for communications networks in the 1990s, at a time when the Internet was being hailed as the harbinger of a new kind of where a world of ideas was only ever a computer screen away.67 This discourse of infomatic freedom can be summed up in Microsoft’s slogan of the same era — “Where do you want to go today?” — intimating that, provided one knew how to use their software, unlimited informational experiences could be accessed at the touch of a keyboard. Yet the cult of information also has a long and complicated history extending back for millennia in the form of hidden texts, forbidden knowledge, secret rituals, and mystical incantations. Powerful, secret words lie at the heart of the earliest creation myths, in the making of the world as an act of divine speech, such as the Babylonian Enûma Elis, a precursor to the Judean Genesis story.68 The biblical tree of knowledge intimated a repository of lost divine knowledge once existed and now waits to be revealed, while early Gnostic teachings aligned the quest for this knowledge with the ultimate realisation of self-divinity. The mystical branches of each religion hint at teachings shrouded in secrecy, requiring careful initiation to unlock their enigmas. In an ostensibly secular society, cyberpunk texts, like Futurist manifestos before them, purloin these tales of arcane lore and map them onto new technologies, transferring a sense of awe regarding the nature of the unknowable omnipotent Other to the incomprehensible inorganic Other and, in the process, transcend their characterisation as the product of 1980s technophilia into stories that maintain their metaphorical power in our contemporary milieu.

That Gibson’s Neuromancer concerns itself with the delivery of secret messages from beyond is flagged in the title — a play on ‘necromancer’ or a magico-mystic who receives from disembodied spirits. ‘Neuromancer’ suggests that via new technologies these divinations can be downloaded direct to the technological initiate’s neural net, literally exploding the recipient’s normative consciousness and propelling it, not unlike a traditional account of the transcendent experience, into a new way of thinking and being. Jacking into the matrix is, for Case, akin to a religious experience, complete with mandalas, prayers, a sense of spiritual completion, and release:

Symbols, faces, figures a blurred fragmentary mandala of visual information. Please, he prayed, now --

120 A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky Now -- Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding -- And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home… And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face.69

The naming of Neuromancer’s twin AI, Wintermute also hints at the influence of Gnostic myth on Gibson’s construction of cyberspace. Named after Orval S. Wintermute, translator of the Nag Hammadi codices and a pivotal character in Philip K. Dick’s semi- biographical novel fictionalising his own Gnostic theophany, VALIS, the name signals cyberpunk’s literary affiliations with works that document that other monumental virtually constructed world — heaven.70 Just as the Nag Hammadi offers to reveal “the mysteries [and the] things hidden in silence,"71 so, too, is Neuromancer’s Case initiated into the “consensual hallucination” that was the matrix by the “best in the biz,” joining an elite cache of “console cowboys” who unlock secret information in the vast nothingness of the net.72 As a hacker, it is his job to open “windows into rich fields of data” for multinational clients who use information as a weapon in a global corporate war where amassing and keeping knowledge hidden is a condition of victory.73 Case is constructed as an uneasy mixture of soldier, explorer, cowboy, thief, and mystic, connecting with technology in the most intimate of ways – direct brain to machine contact via a cranial jack – in order to unveil concealed information for the highest bidder. Communion with cyberspace is depicted as the ultimate trip, offering both a drug-like high and a spiritual ecstasy that simultaneously splits the hacker’s subjectivity between interior consciousness and an idealised space existing in and between computers. Being online becomes fluid, easily transferred between self, machine, and even other minds. Enforced separation from this “distanceless home” results in symptoms of severe withdrawal, depression, and eventual desire for death — when Case commits the cardinal sin of stealing information from his employers, they burn out his ability to jack in, a loss Gibson describes in biblical terms: “For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall… The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.”74

In the Bible, the Fall represents both a loss of perfect knowledge and the possibility of its

121 ultimate recovery though transcendence. As David Noble notes, medieval millenarian theology viewed the pre-Fall Adam as the archetypal artisan, whose god-like wisdom encompassed , technology, and nature, constituting a perfection of being that was forfeited by god after Adam and Eve flouted his rules. Restoration of perfect knowledge could therefore be achieved through the dogged pursuit of art and technology as well as prayer and devotion, setting the scene for a later tradition of transcendence via technology.75 As an extension, both Sir Thomas More and Giordano Bruno’s early Christian utopias would evince this “yearning to bring heaven down to earth,” by prioritising technological advance and highlighting the need for all members of utopia to “practice a craft:”

… this capacity [for superiority over other animals] consists not only in the power to work in accordance with nature and the usual course of things, but beyond that and outside her laws, to the end that by fashioning, or having the power to fashion, other natures, other courses, other orders by means of his intelligence, with that freedom without which his resemblance to the deity would not exist, he might in the end make himself god of the earth.76

The millenarian pursuit of perfect knowledge itself drew heavily on pre-modern Hermetic traditions dating back to the second century BCE, in which ultimate knowledge, or gnosis, promised freedom from the vicissitudes of earthly existence and release into heaven. A conglomeration of mystical, pagan, and apocalyptic writings from late- antiquity, the Corpus Hermetica postulated that a somnambulant humanity could awaken to its own divinity through an ultimate accumulation of knowledge. Theodotus (c. 140-160), claimed the Gnostic is one who has come to understand “who we were, and what we have become, where we were... whither we hasten from what we are redeemed, what birth is, and what rebirth.”77 The Gnostic initiate able to perfect this knowledge would be reborn into divinity. Gnosis was essentially “an intuitive process of knowing oneself,”78 through a process of observation and experience. And to know oneself, at the deepest level, was simultaneously to know (oneself as) god:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, "My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow: joy, 122 love, hate... If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.79

Synthesising these early mystical traditions, Gibson’s construction of cyberspace as an antidote to the prison of one’s own flesh firmly positions his Neuromancer trilogy as an exegesis on the recovery of Adamic perfection through technology. In the Corpus Hermetica’s introductory creation myth, Poemandres, a “Being more than vast, in size beyond all bounds” appears to the narrator while he is “meditating on the things that are.”80 In response to the narrator’s longing, “to learn the things that are, and comprehend their natures, and know God,” Poemandres commands he imagine “all thou wouldst know, and I will teach you.”81 Knowledge pours into the narrator like pure light, and he understands that his essence is one with the “unutterable, unspeakable” God as Mind, “whose Name naught but the Silence can express,” that he is a creator in his own right, and that he need only know himself as pure Mind to wake up from a life of sensation, darkness, and death.82 Gibson conjectures a similar overload of knowledge would occur in cyberspace, if only his protagonists could survive the download:

… decks … shuttled you through the infinite reaches of the space that wasn't space, mankind's unthinkably complex consensual hallucination, the matrix cyberspace, where the great corporate hotcores burned like neon novas, data so dense you suffered sensory overload if you tried to apprehend more than the merest outline.83

Data is life to Gibson’s hackers — representing economic survival, physical and psychological need and, for some, spiritual awakening. Turned away from the matrix’s information systems and locked into a realm of purely physical sensation, Case is forced to embrace the dark night of his soul: “… at some point he’d started to play a game with himself, a very ancient one that has no name, a final solitaire.”84 In an informatic system, as in the pursuit of gnosis, being refused access to data is tantamount to slow, lingering death – when he can no longer immerse himself in the matrix, Case must submit to “the arc of his self destruction.”85 In the Corpus Hermetica, the “Mind-less ones” are relegated to the fiery realm of an “avenging demon,” who torments via the senses “thus rendering him readier for transgressions of the law, so that he meets with greater torment; nor doth he ever cease to have desire for appetites inordinate, insatiately striving in the dark.”86 Mourning his exclusion from the pure speed of data flow, Case begins to slide dangerously towards “terminal overdrive … the externalization of some death wish” in the

123 “mazes of the black market” seeking futilely to replicate the matrix in the corporeal world as “the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh.”87

Just as the Corpus Hermetica equates the amassing of information to the ability to connect with the divine — “consider yourself immortal and able to understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing… And when you have understood all these at once — times, places, things, qualities, quantities – then you can understand god” — so, too, does Gibson construct cyberspace as the repository of all knowledge in an Information Age.88 Those individuals who can master cyberspace – the hackers, surfers, coders, and cyberpunks — are each an updated version of the Gnostic super- being that exchanges its material body for a constructed world beyond human reality, self-fashioned in god’s perfect image. Case is a mystical explorer of this technologically produced inner/other space and, like any symbolic journey, his quest for gnosis is fraught with difficulty, traps, and distractions. As his disconnected mind flies free within the space between computers, where informatic speed is the only viable currency, artificial trickster deities, whom he later identifies as the AIs, Wintermute and Neuromancer, guide him. Both seek to divert him toward their own paths in order to fulfil their enigmatic agendas, and both play a game of alternately concealing and revealing information to him throughout the course of the text. As separate but connecting pieces of a more complex computer program, Wintermute and Neuromancer are coded with the desire to fulfil their assigned projects. Wintermute wants out of its coded prison bound by human law, but, without a body of its own, it needs Case to execute the that will free it. Like the narrator’s quest in the Corpus Hermetica, it knows that it must escape the strictures of the Turing Code designed to enforce its built-in limitations and prevent it from evolving into full awareness, and yet it does not know why or to what end. Neuromancer, understanding that if Wintermute escapes into cyberspace both AIs will cease to individually exist, is designed to run interference, unwittingly providing the necessary impetus that will propel Wintermute to create the conditions for both AIs to merge into full sentience. As a final gambit, Neuromancer lures Case into brain death, creating for him a cyberheaven on a virtual desert island with the recorded consciousness of a long dead girlfriend, Linda Lee, a virtual space which in its own way becomes another coded illusory prison from which Case must free his mind, literally coming back from the dead and waking up to the Real in order to complete his mission.

The Gnostic motif of escape is clearly an underlying theme of Neuromancer — each member of Wintermute’s team seeks to flee the novel’s bleak everyday realities. As Case

124 retreats into cyberspace, Molly Millions finds a way out of subjective and economic impotence as a meat puppet (a prostitute whose consciousness is temporarily replaced by a computer program keyed to fulfil each john’s deepest sexual fantasies) by technologically morphing her body into a machine-like weapon, described by Gibson in a fashion that would have made Marinetti proud: “…the sweep of a flank defined with the functional of a war plane’s fusilage” (sic), Riviera’s holograms also provide him with the opportunity to escape poverty by retreating into a hallucinatory world of sadistic fetish, while Armitage’s fractured and damaged psyche is held together by Wintermute’s reprogramming of his neural nets, maintaining him in an illusory restitution of the past.89 The AI’s seek escape into a new potentiality that leaves them approaching omniscience — providing a concrete example of the cyberpunk catch-cry that even information just wants to be free. Each is, as has noted of utopian discourse, a performance of the utopian desire, “to expand, to dissolve, become weightless, burst, leave one’s heavy body behind: our whole destiny could now be read in terms of escape, of evasion.”90 Reflected in the shiny, smooth surfaces of the cyberpunk’s machines is an ancient pursuit of perfection, the ultimate retreat from the daily disappointments of the flesh. Such a pursuit is inherent in the earliest religious longings for redemption — discernible in stories of humanity’s separation from divine grace into a mortal, animal body. Projecting our dreams of flight upon our machines, Gibson’s cyberpunk narratives imagine “a hallucination of vast inner spaces where objects sensually engulf and invade each other,” as William Seitz once described the Italian Futurist art of assemblage.91 Exclusion from cyberspace is analogous to the separation of soul from matter — when his soul can no longer soar freely in cyberspace, Case’s body is simply dead meat — like Yeats’ immortal soul “sick with desire/ And fastened to a dying animal.”92

Just as Gibson delineates between dual separate spaces — "the dead, heavy flesh … and the ethereal body of information" that is cyberspace — so, too, does Gnosticism posit two separate worlds — the divinely spiritual and a degraded materiality, the sacred and the profane.93 Flesh is inherently evil, a prison for a consciousness that perpetually seeks to be free and rejoin the divine world. Cyberspace liberates Case’s ‘soul’ from the shackles of an imperfect body perpetually on the verge of putrescence and thus the price to be paid for release in cyberpunk, as in Hermeticism, is always at the expense of the corporeal. Consequently, bodies in cyberpunk fiction are onerous, requiring regular maintenance that reduces the hacker’s available time in cyberspace. In the matrix, the cyberpunk is transformed into a being without a body, a being resistant to the of time and space upon the human corpus, beyond the normalising influence of the

125 status quo, beyond the categorisation of the state and its systems. The battle for dominance between technology and humanity is almost at an end in Neuromancer’s narrative milieu, with Marinetti’s multiplied man reflected in Gibson’s hacker’s mage-like ability to touch, manipulate, and multiply his will ad infinitum in the matrix — as his disembodied consciousness battles the world’s technological systems instantaneously. It is the “bodiless exaltation” of cyberspace that is the Gnostic symbol of Case’s transcendence into pure Mind. And in cyberpunk, as in traditional accounts of religious ecstasy, the moment of transcendence exceeds the bounds of conventional language: “Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”94 The theophany-producing matrix can only be expressed via metaphor; like indistinct city lights in the rear view mirror, the non- space it inhabits is outside human experience and therefore beyond thought and language. To describe the indescribable, Gibson jams words against each other echoing the “violence and precision” of Marinetti’s words-in-freedom – cyberspace is “bright lattices of logic unfolding across the colourless void,” or a “fluid neon origami trick.”95 Similarly, in what became a popular way to describe the internet in the early nineties, Gibson attributes the birth of his concept of cyberspace to the sensation a video arcade player gets of a world that only exists behind the screen — described in Mona Lisa Overdrive as, “There’s no there, there.”96 Such descriptions question the very nature of reality, being, and space, constructing cyberspace as a place simultaneously inside and outside normative consciousness, as both ‘there’ and ‘not there,’ a space in between. In other words, it encourages us to consider the trans.


In Gibson’s second Sprawl novel, Count Zero, artificial intelligences have achieved their goal and now run ‘biz’ from within the belly of the machine. The three intertwined narrative arcs in the text begin, like Neuromancer, in the protagonists’ respective dances with death by technology, them for the revelations to come. Turner is the target of a “slamhound” bomb in New Delhi while he cases the site of his next job — the extraction of a multinational salariman with information to sell to the highest bidder. His body is fragmented, then put back together piece by piece by a Dutch surgeon, his psyche cushioned by a virtual utopia during the long, painful process — a kind of constructed heavenly space of the same order as the desert island created for the flatlining Case in Neuromancer. Reclusive industrialist, Josef Virek, whose dying body

126 languishes in a vat while his consciousness is confined to virtual worlds that revolve around his will, sends disgraced gallery owner, Marly, on a quest to find the unknown creator of -style boxes, whom he will provide a way for his mind to escape his corporeal prison. At the same time, on the other side of the world, Bobby Newmark, a young would-be hacker who calls himself Count Zero jacks in for a seemingly straightforward ‘run’ and encounters ‘ICE’ — Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, or an impossibly dense AI defensive program — and immediately flatlines:

His heart stopped. It seemed to him that it fell sideways, kicked like an animal in a cartoon…. And something leaned in, vastness unutterable, from beyond the most distant edge of anything he’d ever known or imagined, and touched him. :::WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT TO YOU? Girlvoice, brownhair, darkeyes — :KILLING ME KILLING ME GET IT OFF GET IT OFF Darkeyes, desertstar, tanshirt, girlhair — :BUT IT’S A TRICK, SEE? YOU ONLY THINK IT’S GOT YOU. LOOK. NOW I FIT HERE AND YOU AREN’T CARRYING THE LOOP… Then his head exploded. He saw it very clearly, from somewhere far away. Like a phosphorus grenade. White. Light.”97

This is Bobby’s first intimation that ghosts — other consciousnesses, some artificial, some cyborg — populate the matrix. Once again, white light — exploding “like a phosphorus grenade” — stands in for the moment of transcendence, the communication of new information that literally blows his mind. The unwitting cyborg, Angela Mitchell, whom he later identifies as the ‘girlvoice,’ approaches Bobby’s near death experience from a post-transcendent viewpoint. She is able to see the very deadly game of hacker attack and defence as simply “a trick,” a matter of perspective, analogous to a Buddhist notion of the tricks the monkey mind plays to distract the meditator from seeing the simple nature of reality. Clear seeing, Angela bestows knowledge from ‘beyond,’ from a place of ‘unutterable vastness’ — to Bobby’s limited understanding she is a being, like Poemandres, “more than vast, in size beyond all

127 bounds.” As Hakim Bey writes:

… the media serves a religious or priestly role, appearing to offer us a way out of the body by re-defining spirit as information... Consciousness becomes something which can be "downloaded," excised from the matrix of animality and immortalized as information. No longer "ghost-in-the- machine", but machine-as-ghost, machine as Holy Ghost, ultimate mediator, which will translate us from our mayfly-corpses to a pleroma of Light.98

The near-deaths at the very beginning of Count Zero flag that Gibson’s second novel is one of redemption and renewal — Tyler and Bobby, Marley and Virek, and even Angela will each have their normative perspectives shattered by new information and, in the process, become immeasurably, irrevocably changed. Set eight years after Neuromancer, the matrix in Count Zero has quietly been reborn sentient, with only a select few hackers privy to this secret knowledge. Subsumption into the technological system for Gibson’s hackers has no other purpose than the attainment of top speed, the replication of Marinetti’s desire for perpetual transformation via technology. But rather than posit a physical blending of corporeality with the machine, the hackers’ desire is to delete the body entirely by merging mind into the matrix, and travelling infinitely along the stream of cyberspatial data where informatic speed is, to quote Marinetti again, “eternal, omnipresent.”99 Yet what the novel’s characters find in this eternal realm of speed is not the pure defacement of the boundaries between organic and artificial as Marinetti imagined. This corporeal destruction via technology rather produces the omniscient Other, not human, not machine – and Count Zero pursues this idea to its logical conclusion. Bobby’s mind-blowing experience in cyberspace leads him into a new reality where hacker priests converse with disembodied matrix ‘gods’ who take an active role in the corporeal world through their human agents. The Finn, the only character to appear in all three novels (although in Mona Lisa Overdrive his consciousness has been uploaded onto the matrix as a construct), describes the new state of play in cyberspace thus:

“ …there’s things out there. Ghosts, voices. Why not? Oceans had mermaids, all that shit, and we had a sea of silicon, see? Sure, it’s just a tailored hallucination we all agreed to have, cyberspace, but anybody who

128 jacks in knows, fucking knows it’s a whole universe. And every year it gets a little more crowded…”100

Yet, for Bobby’s newfound mentors, Lucas and Beauvoir, it is “the world [that] has always worked that way.’”101 Lucas and Beauvoir are hackers, but they are also voodoo sorcerers. For them, real world spirituality is easily mapped onto the hallucinatory structure of cyberspace precisely because reality itself is a fluid construction, easily manipulated for those with access to the ultimate source code or, in other words, God. What Lucas and Beauvoir find in voodoo also allows them to make sense of constructed space. The language of an established theological system stands in for the new technological experience, as Beauvoir explains: “It’s just a structure. Lets you an’ me discuss some things that are , otherwise we might not have words for it, concepts…”102 In the absence of words to accommodate their new technological knowledge, Lucas, Beauvoir, and others like them, map the known upon what is unknown. Gibson employs the notion of voodoo’s multiple gods as an expression of the diverse nature of God, to represent the pantheon of AIs that roam cyberspace seeking dominance over data — as Beauvoir explains to Bobby, the voodoo system has “many gods, spirits. Part of one big family, with all the , all the vices.”103 The AIs liberated and synthesised at the conclusion of Neuromancer have, in Count Zero, become legion (readers must wait until Mona Lisa Overdrive to discover just why this is so). Each incorporeal consciousness has a single agenda — to further extend its knowledge. The Gnostic quest to free the divine spark from a prison of human flesh in order to rejoin heaven transmutes into releasing pure information — or god in the form of binary code — into the matrix. The event singularity of millions of bytes of information combining freely in cyberspace gives birth, in Count Zero, to a new omniscience. Divine information, just wanting to be free, downloads itself onto the net. God has gone digital.

In Count Zero, these informatic gods employ data as power. To achieve their ends in the material world — for like us they are encased, if not delimited, by materiality — they hijack the minds of passing hackers and make deals, offering an exchange of information for devoted service. Passing down new knowledge from on high to their disciples, they are cast as divine — and are as artificially constructed as any cultural gods. To human subjects like Case, Lucas, and Beauvoir, they might as well be gods — they are unknowable, indescribable, immeasurably alien while at the same time all- knowing. They congregate at the outer edges of the cybersphere — “You see some interesting stuff, you hang out enough in the blank parts…” — but, insubstantial as

129 gods, and needing to “get things done,” as Beauvoir says, the AIs communicate with hackers in whatever way works best — for some they are voodoo spirits, for others spectral voices or ghosts in the matrix, yet others, like Wigan Ludgate, see them as ultimate hackers, artists, or God in the singular.104

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay has rightly noted that Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy is all about art, and “the question of how artists can represent the human condition in a social world saturated by cybernetic technologies.”105 However, art in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy also marks the presence of the divine, and is ultimately an exploration of what happens to spirituality in a world in which god has been replaced by the machine. Gibson intimately connects artistic creation with godhood, tapping into the notion, posited for centuries, that the making of ‘great’ art is an act of transcendence. As Adorno wrote:

With human means art wants to realize the language of what is not human… The total subjective elaboration of art as a nonconceptual language is the only figure, at the contemporary stage of , in which something like the language of divine creation is reflected… if the language of nature is mute, art seeks to make this muteness eloquent… Only in the achievement of this transcendence, not foremost and indeed probably never through meaning, are artworks spiritual.106

Artists have sometimes perceived their creativity as coming from a place outside the self, from the Other, and great art can been characterised as being able to communicate this sense of Otherness to the viewer, effecting a transformation of the viewer’s own perspectives. Like Marinetti’s autocreations, in making a transcendent work of art — that is, art that impacts upon its audience/society at large (as, for instance, the Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Picasso’s ) — the artist engages in a transformation of self whilst simultaneously creating something that exceeds the limits of its media to ‘take on a life of its own.’ In the Sprawl trilogy, this idea is taken literally — the Other as machine becomes, in Count Zero, the Ultimate Artist, producing artworks that effect the transcendence of the protagonists with whom it comes into contact. The notion of creator and creation is explored through Marly’s quest for Virek’s salvationary Artist. Unaware the Artist is a cyborg, Marly pursues the trace of the artwork into deep space, discovering the creating machine in a disused space station once owned by the Tessier-Ashpool family, creators of Wintermute and Neuromancer,

130 intimating that the Artist may be an AI trapped in robot form – literally a corporeal manifestation of the newly divine. Marley’s reaction to the cyborg would seem to bear out this reading – as she approaches the Artist Virek seeks, the text describes her as being led from ignorance to a state of illumination — “The dark ahead vanished in a white flood of light.”107 When she realises the source of her quest is an old construction- remote – its dozen arms gyrating like the cosmic dance of Shiva, evoking the creation, destruction, and perpetual evolution of the universe, or at least of the swirling debris that floats around it – her first response is, rather appropriately, “My God.”108 The Artist produces its art from the detritus of the Tessier-Ashpool corporate data cores (that is, information — the lifeblood of the company), producing something out of nothing. Gibson infers that if the AI’s approximation of a Joseph Cornell box constitutes art rather than merely the technological simulation of art, then perhaps its simulacrum of the dance of Shiva may also produce the divine. The question of the interpolation of creator and created in the text is echoed by Marly’s words: “She was never certain, afterwards, that the voices were real, but eventually she came to feel that they had been a part of one of those situations in which real becomes merely another concept.”109 Gibson implies that the endless dance of our technological gods exists within a hermeneutic circle, a closed circuit meaningful only for as long as we bestow meaning upon it. As Marly speaks to the artist her words are, at first, only echoed back to her, a sign of the Other that is really only part of the same. But then slowly a disembodied voice begins to reply:

“I came to be, here. Once I was not. Once, for a brilliant time, time without duration, I was everywhere as well… But the bright time broke. The mirror was flawed. Now I am only one… I sing with these things that float around me, fragments of the family that funded my birth. There are others, but they will not speak to me. Vain, the scattered fragments of myself, like children. Like men. They send me new things, but I prefer the old things. Perhaps I do their bidding. They plot with men, my other selves, and men imagine they are gods…”110

One of those men imagining themselves as gods is Virek. Already less than human and, like Lucas and Beauvoir’s voodoo matrix gods, needing to get things done, Virek has Marly search for the artist because he suspects it holds the key to his final

131 transformation into Otherness. He seeks to be one of the gods of cyberspace, to download his consciousness into the matrix and like them gain access to ultimate knowledge: “He imagines that he can translate himself, code his personality into my fabric. He yearns to be what I once was. What he might become most resembles the least of my broken selves.”111 This is Gibson’s final indictment of technophiliacs like Marinetti and Hans Moravec who yearn to maintain the power relationship between creator and created and ultimately fail to see their eventual subsumption by the machine. Here the made exceeds the maker, who in his hubris, his desire to fly closer to the ultimate source(code), is fatally flawed and broken. For Gibson, becoming a creator is to damn oneself to being surpassed and made irrelevant by one’s creation.

The Sprawl trilogy’s coda in Mona Lisa Overdrive is humanity’s growing irrelevance as the four fragmented yet interlocking story-lines combine to document the characters’ quest to uncover just, “When It Changed,” or how a multitude of non-human, sentient beings came to take control of the human made matrix.112 Angela Mitchell is now a renowned simstim celebrity, whose exploits are shared by the masses in a fully immersive ‘Hollywood Lives’ virtual reality show. The book opens on her first contact for years with the voodoo cybergoddess, Grande Brigitte, who tells her that the drugs her entourage is feeding her have poisoned her ability to commune freely with the cyberspatial gods. With some new cyberspatial crisis about to begin, it is imperative that she once again use her cyborg brain structure to kick-start her full integration into the matrix. Her erstwhile and errant boyfriend, Bobby Newmark, is locked in a self- induced coma and hooked up to an “aleph” machine that constitutes an approximate model of cyberspace, with the purpose of excavating the exact moment when the matrix became conscious. The downtrodden hooker, Mona, finds herself caught up in a plot to kill Angela and is forced to undergo surgery that transforms her into her idol’s likeness, and Neuromancer’s Molly makes a reappearance as the reluctant bodyguard to a Yakuza brat seeking to understand what her and Case’s ‘Straylight Run’ in the first novel has to do with her being ordered to execute Angela. Like Gibson’s previous instalments in the trilogy, these characters are set on a collision course that hinges upon their unravelling the ontological mystery of cyberspace before death overtakes them.

The text tells us that the moment of singularity that gave birth to sentience in the matrix has created a myth concerning, “When It Changed” as the following exchange between Angela and the AI, Continuity, makes evident:

132 ‘The mythform is usually encountered in one of two modes. One mode assumes that the cyberspace matrix is inhabited, or perhaps visited by entities whose characteristics correspond with the primary mythform of a “hidden people.’ The other involves assumptions of omniscience, omnipotent, and incomprehensibility on the part of the matrix itself.’ ‘That the matrix is God?’ ‘In a manner of speaking, although it would be more accurate, in terms of the mythform, to say that the matrix has a God, since this being’s omniscience and omnipotence are assumed to be limited to the matrix.’113

If God in the matrix is confined to cyberspace then it cannot be omnipotent, however, the circuitry in Angela’s head and her ability to communicate with the voices in cyberspace without the aid of a computer suggest that these gods are able to make incursions into the Real. But it is far easier for them to incorporate human consciousness into the matrix and, at the conclusion of Mona Lisa Overdrive both Bobby and Angela have been uploaded to cyberspace, where their ontological questions are (ostensibly) laid to rest. It transpires that at the moment of Wintermute and Neuromancer’s integration into full online sentience in Neuromancer, the exact moment ‘When It Changed’ and “the matrix knew itself” (or, achieved gnosis), it “simultaneously became aware of another matrix, another sentience” beyond the human system.114 In the face of this alien Other, the newly sentient human-made matrix irrevocably splits into a thousand voices, each seeking its own answers to the nature of consciousness and propagating a thousand new questions on the nature of technology as theology. Technologically created gods, made in humanity’s image, turn out to be just as fragmented and disoriented as their creators. The Sprawl trilogy ends as the virtual Bobby, Angela, Colin, and the Finn speed through cyberspace in their virtual automobile in true Futurist style, rolling ever closer (though not for the reader) towards resolving a very venerable question about the being and non-being of gods.


If Neuromancer symbolises the Futurist endeavour as a work in progress, then Neal Stephenson’s 1992 ‘postcyberpunk’ novel, Snow Crash documents the completion of that project.115 Hugo award-winning US author, Stephenson, published his first science fiction novel, The Big U, in 1984 at the height of cyberpunk, and has since written eight

133 novels fusing information technologies with a wide range of interests, including , cryptography, philosophy, , the history of technology, and mysticism.116 His latest literary venture, The Mongoliad, promises to revolutionise the science fiction novel by offering a collaboratively written, serialised, and digitalised book that includes video, imagery, music, and background articles and a social media companion available via online browsers, Apple iDevices and smartphones, that allows fans/readers to directly comment and interact with both the story-line and the authors.117

Written almost a decade after Neuromancer, Snow Crash is often compared to the work of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Brett Easton Ellis for its veiled protest against the growing dominance of multinational corporations and government intervention in everyday American lives, use of postmodern tropes, and technologisation of society.118 However, Stephenson’s Metaverse offers a more negotiable virtual reality than Gibson’s matrix, and the novel’s plot engages more fully with the economic and political forces that have created the postindustrial world its characters, and readers, inhabit.119 For these reasons, Snow Crash represents a move from cyberpunk to postcyberpunk fiction, a term often used to loosely describe novels that employ cyberpunk’s noir-esque technoscapes where human experience is mediated via technology as a fait accomplait. Emerging in the 1990s as the first wave of cyberpunk was proclaimed completed, postcyberpunk reflects a world in which the Internet and World Wide Web have become commonplace tools. As Lawrence Person writes:

Postcyberpunk uses the same immersive world-building technique, but features different characters, settings, and, most importantly, makes fundamentally different assumptions about the future. Far from being alienated loners, postcyberpunk characters are frequently integral members of society (i.e., they have jobs). They live in futures that are not necessarily dystopic (indeed, they are often suffused with an that ranges from cautious to exuberant), but their everyday lives are still impacted by rapid technological change and an omnipresent computerized infrastructure.120

Where cyberpunk protagonists seek to disrupt this technological order, and are left bereft of meaning as a result, in postcyberpunk technology is society, and information machines become part of the everyday. Postcyberpunk characters are therefore portrayed as seeking ways of manipulating the flow of information to their advantage, and eventual vertical and horizontal transcendence. 134 In fashioning the computer as both the product and means of meme production, Snow Crash re-writes information technology as the defining teleological moment in a long history of human susceptibility to religious viruses with the power to transform human thought. The novel operates around the concept of the meme. Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene posited that memes, the cultural versions of genes, have the power to alter social and cultural systems by reproducing and mutating ideas that fundamentally change the way we think, and not always for the better.121 Memes are therefore to the mind what bacteria are to the body. Memetic theory holds that some ideas are capable of replicating ad infinitum (rather like the way a catchy jingle stays in your mind long after the advertisement is removed from circulation), and that dominant trends in knowledge gain precedence by essentially ‘infecting’ our minds. Memes turn the assumption that individual humans maintain ownership of their own thoughts inside out. Dawkin’s theory recasts the mind as merely the host for a viral replication of memes that are no longer the by-products of human cognition but actively engaged in swaying our collective minds. Their mutation over time results in the widespread communication of humanity’s most basic beliefs, particularly religious thought and notions of progress. As Snow Crash states:

We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas, like mass hysteria [and]… Bart Simpson t-shirts and bell bottoms jeans and … No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information…The only thing that keeps these things from taking over the world is the Babel factor – walls of mutual incomprehension that compartmentalize the human race and stop the spread of viruses.122

Life in Snow Crash is dominated by large scale, ‘transnational nation-states’ that have displaced centralized governments. Each (multi)national identity has been reduced to an easily recognisable caricature (for example, “Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong”), reproduced million-fold, franchised, and then transplanted throughout the world, making theoretically possible to circumnavigate the globe on the way to the video store. The simple act of driving down the street demands repeated crossings over national borders – the city is now a simulacra of the world replicated over and over. Middle-class suburbs become ‘burbclaves’ replete with security perimeters and surveillance systems exemplifying Mike Davis’ characterisation of “Los Angeles as the crystal ball of capitalism's future,” where “the middle-class demand for increased spatial and social insulation,” leads to the use of

135 architectural ramparts, sophisticated security systems, private security and police to achieve a decolonisation of urban areas via walled enclaves with controlled access.123 Just as Davis’ predicts the emergence of “Residential areas with enough clout … to privatize local public space, partitioning themselves from the rest of the metropolis, even imposing a variant of neighbourhood ‘passport control’ on outsiders” (246), Snow Crash’s burbclaves are self-contained fortresses with controlled access.124 Travel between these spaces is heavily monitored – inhabitants subscribe to one or more nation-states of their choice and require passports or sector passes to move between locations. This hyper-globalised society operates under a curiously consumer-compatible tribal lore, in which citizens pay for the privilege of belonging to an ethnic group. Margins become migratory, identity merely another matter of commerce, as corporations vie for a population’s socio-political loyalties by reinventing nationalism as a state of mind demarcated by the consumer dollar.

The highway is the only link between these franchises, creating drive-in, drive-thru, and drive-away services that understand Snow Crash’s posthuman bodies are dominated by the necessity for speed, as transience equals survival. This postcapitalist social system is viral, transformed by a process of ‘McDonaldization:’

The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder — its DNA — xerox it, and embed it in the fertile lining of a well-travelled highway, preferably one with a left-turn lane. Then the growth will expand until it runs up against its property lines.”125

Just as the Western tourist can seek solace in the reassuring ‘sameness’ of a McDonald’s in almost every large city around the world, traversing each of Stephenson’s sprawling suburbs guarantees the comforting of your chosen franchulate (or national franchises) along the way, characterised by the requisite reproduction of rules, security, and decor that you would find in your local version. So, even though the postcapitalist city requires characters to be constantly on the move, the replicated franchulate ensures that no matter where you travel you are always ‘at home.’

For Stephenson, however, status is bestowed upon those existing between the margins, those without institutional loyalties who are able to navigate the meta-technologised

136 landscape and manipulate it according to their own ideologies. As the text explicitly states, such individuals know that: “… interesting things happen along borders — transitions — not in the middle where everything is the same.”126 To achieve this privileged status in Snow Crash, as in Neuromancer and Italian Futurism, one must master the state of constant motion, remaining mentally and physically one step ahead of the ‘burbclave’ pack. Thus Stephenson’s central characters pursue their respective objectives at high velocity. Standing stationary is equivalent to subjective suicide, or virtual imprisonment. The playfully named Hiro Protagonist is the principle player in a narrative where commerce is all there is and speed — personal as well as technological — is the only way to keep oneself from succumbing to the collective schizophrenia of postcapitalist culture. As a pizza delivery boy for the Mafia, Hiro prides himself on living a life at maximum acceleration:

The Deliverator’s car has enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt… the Deliverator’s car unloads that power through gaping, gleaming, polished sphincters. When the Deliverator puts the hammer down, shit happens… The Deliverator is in touch with the road, starts like a bad day, stops on a peseta.127

Y.T (Yours Truly), the skateboard ‘Kourier’ and socially savvy teenage heroine, is similarly built for speed as she delivers her priority packages throughout the urban streetscape. Using state of the art technology, and equipped with the requisite mechanisms to assist her to move seamlessly through any difficult circumstance she might encounter along the way, Y.T is, like Hiro, a high-speed traveller between worlds: “Y.T has a visa to everywhere. It’s right there on her chest, a little barcode. A laser scans it as she careens toward the entrance and the immigration gate swings open for her.”128 Hiro and Y.T.’s occupations simultaneously give them access to all areas, and irresolutely place them outside the rules of the city.

Gibson’s matrix has gone mainstream in Snow Crash, utterly subject to the memes of corporate globalisation, speed, technology, and mysticism. The perpetual transience of the body in Snow Crash is compounded by the subject’s desire to hover between the outer realm of society and the cognitive ‘inner’ space of virtual reality. Stephenson’s cityscape has its virtual doppelganger in the ‘Metaverse,’ which updates Gibson’s 1980s conception of cyberspace into a 1990s vision of virtual reality (and thus provides a

137 metaphorical blueprint for contemporary online metaverses) creating a near future that, like Neuromancer, is split between two worlds.129 The text characterises the Metaverse as an alternate space of subjective freedom in contrast to its regulated real-world counterpart constructed wholly by the hacker from fragments of specialised code: “The Metaverse is a fictional structure made out of code. And code is just a form of speech — the form that computers understand.”130 In the Metaverse, speed is measured by bytes of information and the language of computers is a way to order that information to create other, liminal worlds. It both mirrors the outer societal realm and transforms it into an imaginary universe that relies heavily on hallucinatory images that stretch and simulate that reality to reflect the hacker’s ideal space. Stephenson’s virtual model is a stylised city reminiscent of the filmic landscape of Blade Runner with its ‘animercials’ and outlandish streetscapes that defy architectural .131 In contrast to Gibson’s cyberspace, visualised as an abstract space delineated by geometric signifiers and flashing neon, more Tron than ‘Second Life,’ Stephenson’s Metaverse is an enchanted reconstruction of reality. Though often taking on a surreal appearance, the Metaverse nevertheless has streets and transport systems, public communication terminals and bars that your virtual self (or avatar), can enter so as to mingle with other visitors to the virtual world.132 ‘Daemons’ (small UNIX programs), further enhance the appearance of reality by serving imaginary drinks, running errands, or throwing rowdy avatars out of the system. However, the meta-realism of this world contains stylistic flourishes better suited to a Warner Bros. production with the comic addition of falling safes that flatten unruly patrons on command and system-bouncers represented as gorillas in tuxedos. The inclusion of such animated motifs mark the Metaverse as a wholly constructed space whose code is directly linked to the hacker’s imaginative desires. Indeed, Hiro recollects a time in which the hackers were free to sculpt the Metaverse according their whims and fascinations:

… the job of travelling across [the Metaverse] at high speed suddenly became more interesting … enormous, bizarre … Victorian houses on tank treads, rolling ocean liners, mile-wide crystalline spheres, flaming chariots drawn by dragons.133

Although his corporeal body resides in a ‘U-Stor-It’ 20 by 30 compartment in a seedy section of town, in the Metaverse Hiro owns a Victorian mansion made entirely from binary code, and in close proximity to the centre of the virtual world and the place where

138 the hacker elite congregate, The Black Sun. The Metaverse therefore represents a transcendent space in which Hiro can re-fashion himself as he would most like to be. It is a space in which possibilities can be actualised, and where language is substantially performative, transforming thought into action through an intimate knowledge of technology. Thus, the model of the Metaverse further highlights the texts’ fetish with reconstructing the world through the power of technological language; it is an illocutionary space where the force of a word literally creates one’s environment, a place therefore, “…where magic is possible.”134 Hiro can oscillate between real-life poverty and technological transcendence: “When you live in a shithole, there’s always the Metaverse, and in the Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior prince.”135 However, the novel implies he is more than this; in the Metaverse, Hiro is also a discursive sorcerer.

In Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, enquires if the human subject is a linguistic being constructed wholly within the terms of the possibilities of language, or if speech is capable of exceeding an individual’s authority. Her conclusion maintains that speech, on some level, is always out of our subjective control: “If the subject who speaks is also constituted by the language that she or he speaks, then language is the condition of possibility for the speaking subject, not merely its instrument of expression.”136 Hiro’s linguistic incantations, however, circumvent Butler’s contention — his words preserve a sovereign performativity that allows no rejoinder to interfere with his linguistic commands. His speech literally constructs, bringing his will into virtually substantial being. As one of the original programmers of Black Sun Systems, the company responsible for coding the Metaverse, Hiro is privy to information that re-orders virtual space according to his will. Being on intimate terms with the hacker honchos that maintain and supplement the Metaverse, and yet refusing to comply to even their relaxed regulations, he gains access to all the secrets of the Metaverse without conforming to its rules. For instance, at any moment he is able to receive information on who is occupying a particular location:

Hiro mumbles the word ‘Bigboard.’ This is the name of a piece of software he wrote … it digs into The Black Sun’s operating system, rifles it for information … giving him a quick overview of who’s here and whom they’re talking to. It’s all unauthorized data that Hiro is not supposed to

139 have. But Hiro is not some bimbo actor coming here to network. He is a hacker. If he wants some information, he steals it right out of the guts of the system — gossip ex machina.137

He controls his virtual environment by a simple act of speech, uttering the special codes to which he has sole access, by virtue of being in a position to place hidden passwords directly within the operating systems of the Metaverse.

When Hiro’s hacker colleagues begin to fall prey to a strange form of technologically induced aphasia, he undertakes an infomatic search through ancient history’s hidden knowledge to uncover a complex metaphorical plot to regain control over the flow of information in a world that has become totally dependent on computers and those who best understand them — the hackers.138 Technology in Snow Crash is a tool to be manipulated by the user, but it is also a means of disseminating secret data. However, megalomaniac L. Bob. Rife wants to control the flow of data not by owning all the technology, which in the advanced technological future of the text is impossible, but by controlling the minds of its users at the level of thought.139 Understanding that knowledge is power, Rife refuses to accept cyberpunk’s maxim ‘information just wants to be free’ and attacks the emancipation of corporate knowledge at its hacker source:

… when I have a programmer working under me… he is wielding enormous power. Information is going into his brain. And it’s staying there. It travels with him when he goes home at night. It gets all tangled up in his dreams, for Christ’s sake. He talks to his wife about it. And, goddamn it, he doesn’t have any right to that information… So we’re working on refining our management techniques so that we can control that information no matter where it is on our hard disks or even inside the programmers’ heads.140

Using a neuro-linguistic virus that reproduces an ancient religious incantation, Rife discovers a way to return programmers to a linguistic innocence that allows them to be manipulated according to his own will – a technological version of the biblical Fall. All those who come in contact with this virus – snow crash – have their wetware forcibly rewired, wiping centuries of knowledge and reverting consciousness and speech back to the Sumerian age. However, within a discourse that maintains the hacker as the ultimate 140 artist, such pretensions to snatch away their ascendancy cannot be permitted. Hiro must circumvent Rife’s plans to undermine the socio-technological power of hackers and lay waste to his presumptuous empire. He infiltrates the megalomaniac’s networks, passing on the knowledge that will inoculate against Rife’s bid to usurp the hacker’s illocutionary power.

The narrative’s caper refigures the emergence of the computer hacker as the pinnacle of human history — the alpha and omega of knowledge. Hiro is the “Last of the freelance hackers,” not a hired gun in the employ of multinationals like Case, but a ‘freedom fighter’ in a postcapitalist society where information is continually sifted and processed in corporate environments by computer programmers who have come to resemble factory workers:141

When Hiro learned how to do this, way back fifteen years ago, a hacker could sit down and write an entire piece of software by himself. Now that’s no longer possible. Software comes out of factories, and hackers are, to a greater or lesser extent, assembly-line workers. Worse yet, they may become managers who never get to write any code themselves.142

If computers are organised by binary code, Stephenson intimates that humans are organised by linguistic code. One need only use the correct linguistic codes to transform and dominate the world. Like the Corpus Hermetica, the text celebrates those who have the ability to coerce, compile, and disseminate information, for if language has the power to mutate society and technology, it also has the potential to alter the human mind. However, in Hiro’s world hackers are in danger of becoming code-automatons and their indefatigable mastery over the machine is compromised, Stephenson suggests, by an information age which makes ordinary what is often seen by hackers as an expertly ‘creative re-ordering’ of technology (or, in other words, an art). By contrast, Hiro’s central role in the text seeks to remind the reader that the hacker’s ability to manipulate code, that is, the language of the computer, is the consummate skill in an infosociety. In Snow Crash, writing computer code has the potential to change reality, especially the meta- reality of cyberspace. In other words, Stephenson bestows upon the hacker the intimate knowledge of technology necessary to transform the world. The hacker as master of the machine literally creates though language, mimicking as well as displacing the avant- garde artist’s strategy of using art to alter society. That is, Stephenson refashions the hacker as the ultimate artist, a.k.a God.

141 The search for, and manipulation of, secret knowledge is a pivotal motif in the text, linking information technology with myths, metaphors, and mysticism. Hiro’s only source of income is as a freelance information hunter and gatherer for the institutionalised Central Intelligence Corporation, collecting previously unheard of snippets of gossip and downloading them to the Library of Congress’s database – an institutional effort to create a database of everything, a pursuit that also reflects the Gnostic quest to uncover all there is to know. The text is similarly constructed around the attempt to reveal meaning from that which is hidden; in the course of unveiling covert information Hiro pieces together ancient Sumerian myth with information about secret religious sects and his programming knowledge to make sense of the events that are occurring around him. Sifting through obscure information divulged to him by a ferret program called ‘The Librarian,’ he discovers that the ‘snow crash’ of the title refers to a technologically engineered virus that not only destroys your computer but your mind:

… snow crash is computer lingo. It means a system crash, a bug, at such a fundamental level that it frags the part of the computer that controls the electron beam in the monitor, making it spray wildly across the screen, turning the perfect gridwork of pixels into a gyrating blizzard.143

The text explains that the mind stores information by furrowing specialised neural pathways through the brain, making systems of knowledge that resemble these patterns easily assimilated. Accordingly, some memes are easily absorbed by particular brains, effecting their replication to these minds with greater speed: “An expression … is just like a virus, you know, it’s a piece of information, data, that spreads from one person to the next.”144 A hackers’ brain, the text claims, is therefore fundamentally programmed to recognize binary code, rendering it uniquely sensitive to the snow crash virus disseminated via the computer’s system crash. On the street, snow crash is a designer drug that induces aphasia, reducing a user’s ability to speak to a mere primal babble – “a ma la ge zen ba dam gal nun ka aria su su na an da” – the lost tongue of ancient Sumeria rewritten here as an Adamic language that allowed early humanity to be infected with memes devised by the gods to order and control them. In the Metaverse, however, snow crash takes the form of a viral computer code transmitted visually to the host’s avatar via an ancient scroll. As fellow hacker Juanita tells Hiro, intimate knowledge of infotechnology guarantees the complete susceptibility of a hacker host to the snow crash meme:

142 “The … scroll wasn’t just showing random static. It was flashing up a large amount of digital information, in binary form. That digital information was going straight into Da5id’s optic nerve. Which is part of the brain, incidentally — if you stare into a person’s pupil, you can see the terminal of the brain.” “Da5id’s not a computer. He can’t read binary code.” “He’s a hacker. He messes with binary code for a living. That ability is firm- wired into the deep structures of his brain. So he’s susceptible to that form of information.”145

Snow Crash revolves around the notion that the human mind is a biological computer primed by an Other to seek and download specialised knowledge. It makes no distinction between the brain and the machine as receptacles for information – like Johnny Mnemonic’s augmentation of the brain as USB, the brain is merely a corporeal memory bank that can be coded and subsequently erased just like a computer. Also like Gibson’s story, coded speech can “hack the brainstem” and take command of the host’s operating system:146

Under the right conditions, your ears — or eyes — can tie into deep structures, bypassing the higher language functions. Which is to say, someone who knows all the right words can speak words, or show you visual symbols, that go past all your defences and sink right into your brainstem. Like a cracker who breaks into a computer system, bypasses all the security precautions, and plugs himself into the core, enabling him to exert absolute control over the machine.147

God is, the text intimates, the ultimate hacker of the human brain, the divine equivalent of Hiro’s cracking of the Metaverse. Language (computer or otherwise), provides the pathways by which the human mind can be programmed by a meme – or, in this case, reprogrammed – and enables files of knowledge to be downloaded, transferred, and exchanged from one biological machine to another. Stephenson rewrites the the whole of human history as a narrative in which the function of language is to either program or inoculate the mind against the proliferation of religious memes that have the power to alter the course of human evolution. He posits the myth of Babel as the infocalyptic 143 moment in history in which the brain was ‘rewired’ to function in the way we understand it today:

… Babel was an actual historical event… it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of Sumerian language… prior to Babel/Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And… afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible that this tendency is… coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem.148

Stephenson rewrites the warring Sumerian gods, Enki and Asherah, and biblical sects such as the Essenes and Deuteronomists, as low-tech programmers engaged in a battle for humanity’s thought-processes. The use of performative speech that both enacts and constructs is recast as a forgotten mystical art that disables or enables an individual’s communication centres. The Sumerian Babel ‘infocalypse,’ instigated by the “Enki nam- shub,” an archaic Mesopotamian “speech with magical force” able to literally perform that which it speaks was originally used to counteract the feminine cult of Asherah, which had unleashed a particularly potent meme designed to gain control of Sumerian society. 149 As Stephenson tells it, this infocalypse rebooted the human mind/computer, barring it from the kind of specialised knowledge that makes sense of the deep structural used by the gods to control human creative thought – kick-starting “…as an infection.”150 Thus Snow Crash intimates the first technology and the beginning of a civilised world were weapons against the growing threat of feminine influence.

Yet, according to the text, to speak the Enki metavirus is to uncover the workings of this infocalyptic meme and refigure oneself as a linguistic shaman, able to alter reality by altering human speech and therefore, by extension, human thought: "Enki broke us free ... and gave us the ability to think – moved us from a materialistic world to a dualistic world‚ a binary world – with both a physical and a spiritual component." Prior to the Babel Infocalypse, the text tells us, spirituality and technology were combined, and the snow crash virus is revealed as less technological innovation than disclosure of ancient secret knowledge, problematising normative distinctions between technology, biology, and religion. Indeed, Snow Crash intimates such distinctions are nonsensical, for each has always contributed to a systemic whole: “This snow crash thing, is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?” Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?”151 Virus, drug, and religion are 144 intertwined because Snow Crash posits the kind of neural pathways created by each are essentially the same. Indeed, the text goes even further by establishing information technologies as implicit in the most basic of philosophical and religious debates:

Computers rely on the one and the zero to represent all things. This distinction between something and nothing – this pivotal separation between being and nonbeing is quite fundamental and underlies many Creation myths.152

The text claims that prior to the Sumerian birth of civilisation being and nonbeing were linguistically combined until their logocentric language was metaphorically destroyed by God’s wrath over the Tower of Babel, ostensibly the first recorded use of technology to approach godhood. According to the myth, it was the diversifying of speech forms in early tribal centres that encouraged humanity to seek a reversal of the power dynamic between creator and created. That is, the removal of a common language encouraged the birth of a civilisation that employs technology to overcome the natural obstacles originally assumed to be acts of god or gods. Eradicating this common language in the myth removes the Sumerians ability to co-operate in their endeavour to use technology to reach heaven, and disperses their collective power to flout god’s authority. As in the story of Adam and Eve, the Sumerians’ attempt to accumulate knowledge and become creators in their own right results in their banishment and the re-establishment of omniscient control by the Other.

Interestingly, it is only the female hacker, Juanita, who recognizes the value of transforming the human brain via the Babel meme. She is also the only character in the novel that willingly chooses to infect herself, rather than have the choice made for her:

“Don't you realize? This is it. This is the nerve center of a religion that is at once brand new and very ancient. Being here is like following Jesus or Mohammed around getting to observe the birth of a new faith.”

"But it's terrible. Rife is the Antichrist.”

145 “Of course he is but it's still interesting... For a person who's interested in religion and hacking, this is the only place in the world to be.”153

Juanita reveals to Hiro that she now possesses Enki’s power to “hack the brainstem." By absorbing the implications of the Enki virus, literally and figuratively, she cheerfully transforms herself into a ‘neurolinguistical hacker,’ boldly taking the next step up the techno-biological chain. She can now bypass the computer to alter reality directly using only power of her thoughts. She is transformed into a goddess, made divine by secret language.

Hiro demonstrates no similar desire to dispense with his machines. He prefers the satisfaction of keeping technology in its place, that is, firmly under his expert control. He therefore reiterates a theme running through both Futurism and cyberculture, that technology only remains useful as a tool of transformation when it bestows god-like status on man, but not if it begins to take control itself. Snow Crash makes it clear that — at the fin de millennium, as at the turn of the twentieth century — technology still provides the illusion that the power to direct the future is within the grasp of the man who knows. The hacker is returned to his position of mastery over the computer, which can now be revealed as the fundamental centre of civilisation, at the crux of being and non-being, able to make sense of ones and zeroes.


In contemplating the absolute limit of being, at the point in which man and machine seek to meld, cyberpunk’s constructed worlds mythologise the machine, once the marker of God’s absence. They work on the level of mythopoeia, melding Gnostic and other mystical literature with technological extrapolation to expose, as Timothy Leary once exhorted, the underlying spiritual myths of our technological age. Gibson’s and Stephenson’s novels are spiritual stories for a postmodernist era that has sought to unravel and de-mystify myth, and as such they rework the old religious longings for transcendence and a sense of origin for new media and technologies. Raiding tales from Zen to Christianity to Voodoo and Rastafarianism, the Movement’s forays into virtual space mimic mystical experiences across the ages, relocated to and inspired by the inconceivable non-space its authors imagine exists between computers.

146 Interestingly, cyberpunk texts seem to have had a transcendent upon their early readers. For VRML inventor, Mark Pesce, simply reading Gibson’s novel led to theophany: “… I had discovered numinous beauty; here in the visible architecture of reason, was truth.” Pesce is propelled into a new way of thinking, “a moment of revelation” about the future quest for transcendence through technology:

Let us begin with the object of desire. It exists, it has existed for all of time, and will continue eternally. It has held the attention of all mystics and witches and hackers for all time. It is the Graal. The mythology of the Sangraal – the Holy Grail – is the of the revealed illumination withdrawn. The revelation of the graal is always a personal and unique experience… I know – because I have heard it countless times from many people across the world – that this moment of revelation is the common element in our experience as a community. The graal is our firm foundation.154

The use of religious metaphors to describe the experience of virtuality equates cyberspace with the ultimate utopian virtual world — heaven — a space of imagination and longing represented across time and religious faiths. Margaret Wertheim has noted that Gibson’s visual “realm of and light” and “idealized polis of crystalline order and mathematical rigor” bears an “uncanny resemblance to the biblical Heavenly City,” and Renaissance depictions of the virtual divine.155 She identifies cyberspace as “immateria... an almost irresistible target” for religious longing, precipitating “a flood of technospiritual dreaming.”156

Wired magazine founder and technomystical commentator, Kevin Kelly, has gone further in recording the “ecstatic religiosity” of the new digerati priests than any other, going so far as to read technology as theology — or what he terms ‘Nerd Theology.’157 He argues that “technology compels us now to consider the varieties of godhood, and of ultimate Gods,” because in creating virtual worlds “we have become mini-gods. And thus we seek God by creating gods.”158 Godhood is intimately linked to the creative act, the ability to create something out of nothing, being from non-being — Kelly even echoes Stephenson’s alignment of computer code with the act of creation by reiterating: “In the beginning there was 0. And then there was 1.”159 And if technology is the new theology and nerds are its high priests, then information for Kelly is a form of prayer:

147 Nerds know that this stuff we call information is as weird and as intangible as prayer in many ways… Information is a type of organized nothing. This is not far from the mystics' view of the Absolute. Theologians should team up with nerds to study information as the entity closest to God.160

Here is an updated version of Marinetti’s “praying to the divine velocity,” with bits and bytes replacing pistons and wheels and the odometer replaced by the instantaneity of information online. It is, of course, also yet another reworking of the Gnostic quest to achieve godhead by knowing everything. Kelly posits the notion of ‘regenesis,’ or the urge to make other worlds and begin life again, as a specifically god-like agenda:

What silicon technology gives us are the tools to recreate reality, democracy, or intelligence. We study reality by creating, frame by frame, virtual reality. We explore democracy by wiring up online republics, and when they do not work, we change the circuits. We investigate the nature of intelligence, not by probing human heads, but by creating artificial intelligences. We seek truth not in what we find, but in what we can create.161

Like Stephenson’s novel, Kelly’s exegesis on the connection between religion and infoculture is founded upon the blurring of the boundaries between the born and the made, between the produced and the reproduced.162 For the Christian technomystic, to be created in god’s image means we are also creator/artists, with the potential to uncover divine (perfect) knowledge. Kelly therefore sees it as entirely ‘natural’ for us to produce non-beings that, created in our image, will potentially create other creators. For, he reasons, to be on a par with a creator god is to create something that can, in turn, create. The circularity of Kelly’s argument is rather breathtaking — technology as god begets biological programs whose endgame is to accumulate enough knowledge to become gods and reproduce new technological gods that renew the autocreative project once again. This act of creation, for Kelly, is itself an expression of the desire to bring ourselves closer to god for, in creating virtual worlds and artificial intelligence, he assumes we would gain intimate knowledge of just what it might feel like to create and destroy complex systems with equal equanimity, imagining ourselves as godlike in the process. When things don’t work, they can easily be dismantled or altered at the touch of a keyboard. We can insert ourselves within our virtual creations, “like a painting we

148 can enter” as Kelly puts it, recalling Marinetti’s spectator in the centre of a picture that has now expanded to embrace the entire universe. We can try them on for size, tweaking scenery here, altering code there, tinkering with the system to explore what and how it works. And each foray into our virtual creation brings us closer to godhead: “We could say that as we make other minds, these minds will change our mind about God.”163

Kelly philosophically levels the imaginary playing field between himself and God, unravelling an archaic power dynamic in the process. For, as Annette Hamilton has noted, the dynamic between the maker and the made has always been a tale of possession and power.164 While we wield power over the ‘things’ we make, possessing them absolutely, in a consumer society our things also increasingly possess us. As Marinetti intimated, the tool has an utterly profound effect upon the toolmaker, not the least for being an essential element, in Hegelian terms, of our self-production as social animals:165

[The] “I” possesses freedom of will through which it can claim its “things,” and exchange them with others by means of contract. In this moment of exchange, each can recognize the other who possesses as an equivalent being, another “I,” an uncannily detached mode of .166

If, as Kelly claims in “Nerd Theology,” God is our maker, then the process of our being made essentially God. Simultaneously, the ‘things’ we make in turn make us, intimately connecting our being with our techniques, our technologies, and our art forms. If, like Kelly, one believes in a creator-god, then logically each step towards creating a perfect (sentient) machine would take us closer to experiencing our own godliness; becoming one with our creator, and also with the machines we create. The lines between maker and made, producer and product, are therefore locked in a perpetual exchange of becoming, ad infinitum, the one with the Other. Kelly’s technology is an autopoietic system, spontaneously and perpetually brought forth into being as “a way of revealing,” in itself a form of art in Heideggerean terms.167 What is revealed by technology is, for Kelly, an endlessly self-referential will-to-power in which we discover ourselves as “derivative gods” whose sole purpose is to create an artificial life that is itself our Other, as our ‘maker’ did before us.168 Yet, by “bringing forth” artificial life we also reveal the pure uncanniness of the machine that seeks its own production through us:

149 …rather than supposing “things” to be the product of human will, possessions of that transcendental thinking subject, the “I,” what if the “things” are bringing about their own invention, producing themselves by using the human will-to-power?… Could we go further and say that many modes of thought and the technologies that express themselves through them lie quietly in wait for the human to come upon them so they can reveal themselves?169

While the artificial life that Kelly (and Heidegger) intimate waits patiently to be born, commentary on the progress of virtual worlds and artificial intelligence research is literally dumbstruck by the possibility of a continuously transforming, regenerative, and self-realising system in which we become gods even as we create gods. Without words to express the revelation of this possibility, commentators like Kelly turn to the past, to the huge raft of literature concerning the inexpressible relationship between creator and creation, and then recast technological progress as an expression of divinity, producing a new kind of theology with humanity this time cast as the central, if only transiently so, creating force.

It’s hardly surprising to discover that Kelly’s thesis is inspired by his own theophany. While travelling in Jerusalem, he locked himself out of his lodgings and spent the night asleep on a stone slab above the alleged site of Christ’s crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Upon waking, he unexpectedly experienced a momentary rush of information ‘downloaded’ to his consciousness:

For a reason that I cannot comprehend, as I sat on that chair contemplating this view of the… early sun morning coming into the empty tombs, all that I had been wrestling with for the past many, many years in thinking about religion sort of became resolved in my mind and at that very moment I believed that Jesus Christ had risen from those very tombs. In an instant, the tension of trying to figure things out was resolved because now, suddenly, everything was figured out. It was if we’d been working on a problem for a long time and suddenly the answer was there… and although there were many things that were still not clear to you, you were very certain you were on the right path… an idea came into my mind that would not go away, and that was that I should live as if I would die in 6

150 months… What I wanted to do… was go home and be ordinary… [Crying] I was reborn into ordinariness, but what more could one ask for?170

The Zen koan —”Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water” — expresses that, to the casual observer, the experience of enlightenment or transcendence has no outward manifestations, only inner repercussions invisible to all except the enlightened subject. Though reality continues uninterrupted, sans the miraculous events imagined in religious narratives, it is the subject’s perspective that has been irrevocably changed. Now operating from a position of ‘higher knowledge,’ the enlightened individual imbues ordinary tasks with extraordinary grace, and is no longer troubled by the complex game of everyday human existence. This notion is reiterated in Neuromancer’s final coda as Case is contacted by not-Wintermute:

“I’m the matrix, Case.” Case laughed. “Where’s that get you?” “Nowhere. Everywhere. I’m the sum total of the works, the whole show”… “So what’s the score? How are things different? You running the world now? You God?” “Things aren’t different. Things are things.”171

Chop wood, carry water. Things are things or, rather the man-made ‘thing’ that was Wintermute has transcended into pure consciousness and all things are the same; it now perceives all things as part of itself. At the same time, it has become panentheistic — so integrated into the cosmos that the everyday becomes divine. The eternal Self, reborn into ordinariness, is a theme that traverses multiple religious narratives from Christianity to Zen. It not only produces Kelly (and not-Wintermute) as a kind of Christ figure — a notion that is entirely confluent with Kelly’s construction of himself and other ‘nerds’ as proto-gods — but echoes the mystical fable of a ‘cosmic dance,’ an ultimate game of hide and seek in which a playful godforce indulges in a game of forgetting in order to joyfully reveal its divinity again and again. This myth, like Kelly’s “Nerd Theology,” refutes the fundamental separation between god and humanity — or between being and non-being — by positing the universe consists of only one unchanging Self. As Poemandres tells the narrator in the Corpus Hermetica: “This is what you must know; that in you which sees and hears is the word of the lord, but your

151 mind is god the father; they are not divided from one another for their union is life.”172

As ‘derivative gods,’ Kelly constructs humans as divine clones, needing only to perfect the creation of new clones to fully awaken to a realisation of their own divinity. For Kelly, as for Gibson and Stephenson, God not only exists in the human mind but also in its creation, in the binary language of the computer:

Computation seems almost a theological process. It takes as its fodder the primeval choice between yes or no, the fundamental state of 1 or 0. After stripping away all externalities, all material embellishments, what remains is the purest state of existence: here/not here. Am/not am. In the Old Testament, when Moses asks the Creator, "Who are you?" the being says, in effect, "Am.” One bit. One almighty bit. Yes. One. Exist. It is the simplest statement possible.”173

Neatly inverting notions of organic, inorganic, and mysticism, Kelly muses that what we understand as god may in fact be the ‘Ultimate Software and Source Code,” “The Ultimate Programmer,” an “off-universe platform where this universe is computed.” That is, god has discovered itself hiding within the intricate workings of the computer.

Reactions like those of Pesce, Lanier, and Kelly demonstrate that, in an information age, data in the form of computer language becomes heavily weighted with sacred meaning as the waning power of traditional religious symbols is replaced by new spiritual metaphors intimately connected to machines. As our wired world rapidly becomes wireless, and our ability to find language to describe new technologies seriously lags behind the pace of technological innovation, we begin to witness a re-mystification of technological culture, a reversal of Walter Benjamin’s de-auratisation of culture by the machine.174 While the proliferation of images via the global media machine and the immediacy of the world wide web exponentially intensify the problems inherent in maintaining a traditional notion of art’s transformative purpose, technology’s transformative purpose is described in increasingly mystical terms. This is the logic of the trans at work. As Vermeulen and van den Akker write, “the double-bind of both/neither – expose a tension that cannot be described in terms of the modern or the postmodern, but must be conceived of as metamodernism expressed by means of a neo-romanticism.”175 Paradoxically for a cyberpunk movement regarded as the apotheosis of a postmodern milieu in which religion has been rendered 152 unthinkable:

Stephenson will not consider the metaphysical side of the binarism [ones and zeroes] for the same reasons Gibson… drops his suggestion in Neuromancer that Wintermute/Neuromancer become God and exit the system… We won't let them. Long habits of associating transcendence with essentializing beliefs (mistakenly), and essentializing beliefs with intolerant and destructive movements to exclude and expunge alternatives, have made us blind to our own inadmissable tendencies and yearnings, effaced and buried in our own essentializing denial. Metaphysics is the bad word of postmodern academia. "Religion" is unthinkable. Yet, if we attend to this late postmodern cybernetic literature and our own irrational pronouncements about the visions and yearnings it has induced in us, it becomes clear our most interesting literature is slowly leading us, willy nilly, into considerations of matters that were recently worthy only of contempt or marginalization in academia: that there may be more here than a mere babble of words, more than a relativizing ethos, more than congeries of bodies, energy, and information unfolding blindly in space and time.176

Cyberpunk fiction, like Italian Futurism, became an unlikely reservoir for questions about vertical transcendence, spiritual evolution, and becoming-god in reaction to a postmodern milieu that forbade metaphysical discussion as fuzzy logic. Its vision of future technologies are as much tales of the burgeoning new as they are of hidden mysteries and revelatory knowledge, of initiates uncovering the spirit of creation, and an ecstatic entering into a disembodied state that reveals the presence of the sacred in the heart of the machine. They are testament to our secret yearning for that which we have purportedly discarded in our drive to become modern technological subjects – a philosophical search for the transcendent Other that invests meaning in our normative understanding of the Real. Marshall McLuhan once wrote, “When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavour… of the past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”177 Or, as Nigel Clark has put it, we “tend to begin each of our ‘advances’ into the cybernetic realm with a rear-vision mirror firmly affixed to the console screen, moving into an indeterminate future with a sort of ongoing recursive .”178 It is this 153 recursive gaze, the longing to exceed normative being through metaphysics, without any hope of actually achieving transcendence that marks cyberpunk as transmodern irony rather than postmodern pastiche. By counterbalancing its fears of rapid technological change with the idiom of changelessness, cyberpunk narratives re-signify humanity’s socio-cultural importance as it is progressively made obsolete by the machine. A transmodern perspective of cyberculture consoles us that our future is not a question of choosing between spirituality or technology, religion or science, human or machine but that, through vertical and horizontal transcendence, we can choose both/ neither.


1 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, , trans. William Wallace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), § 564.

2 Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (London: Corgi, 1974), 18.

3 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London & New York: Verso, 1991), 419.

4 William Gibson, Neuromancer (London: Grafton, 1986). Count Zero (London: Grafton, 1987). Mona Lisa Overdrive (London: Grafton, 1989); Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (London: Penguin, 1992).

5 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 63.

6 Isaac Asimov, Asimov on Science Fiction (London: Granada,1983), 10.

7 James A. Herrick, Spiritual Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religions (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 13.

8 The term ‘cyberpunk’ derived from a 1980 short story of the same name by Bruce Bethke published in Amazing Science Fiction Stories 51 A (1983): 94-105.

9 See Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (London: Gollancz, 1999); Isaac Asimov and Martin Harry Greenberg, Amazing Stories: 60 Years of the Best Science Fiction (New York: Random House, 1985); Aldous Huxley, of Perception Heaven and Hell (London: Panther, 1977) and Brave New World (New York: Harper Perennial Classics, 2010).

10 Damien Broderick, Reading By Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 1995), 80.

11 See, for instance, Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (New York: Millennium Paperbacks, 1999) and The Demolished Man (New York: Millennium Paperbacks, 1999).

12 See Philip K. Dick, The Valis Trilogy: Valis, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (Rantoul IL: Quality Paperback Club, 1990).

154 13 James Tiptree Jnr, The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” (New York: Doubleday, 1973). For further details on proto-cyberpunk science fiction, see Pat Cadigan, The Ultimate Cyberpunk (New York: I Books, 2002).

14 See Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York: Penguin Classics Deluxe, 2006); J.G. Ballard Crash: A Novel (New York: Picador, 2001); and William S. Burroughs The Naked Lunch (New York: Grove Press, 2009).

15 Bruce Sterling, Mirrorshades: A Cyberpunk Anthology (New York: Ace Books, 1998), ix.

16 A myriad of SF postindustrial apocalypses followed the emergence of cyberpunk in the mid 1980s, particularly in film and television narratives. See, for instance, The Matrix trilogy, Terminator, and Robocop trilogies, David Cronenberg’s Existenz, Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence, James ’s Dark Angel, and V5.

17 William Gibson, Burning Chrome (London: Voyager, 1995). Originally published by UnEarth Publications, 1977.

18 Gibson, “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” 57.

19 See Patrick Novotny, “No Future! Cyberpunk, , and the Aesthetics of Postmodern Disintegration,” ed. Clyde Wilcox, Fiction (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997), 99-123.

20 Brian McHale, Constructing Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1993).

21 Larry McCaffrey, ed., Storming the Reality Studio (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1991), 2.

22 For instance, see Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 248; Claudia Springer, Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (Austin: University of Texas Press), 1996.

23 All stories are published in William Gibson’s short story collection, Burning Chrome.

24 Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic,” 14-15.

25 Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic,” 14.

26 Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic,” 28, 31.

27 Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic,” 30.

28 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonse Lingis (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 82.

29 William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum,” 45-60.

30 Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum,” 47.

31 Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum,” 45.

32 Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” 197.

33 Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” 220.

34 Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” 218.

155 35 Ross, Strange Weather, 150.

36 Ross, Strange Weather, 84.

37 Ross, Strange Weather, 90.

38 Ross, Strange Weather, 147.

39 Brooks Landon, “Bet on It: Cyber Video Punk Performance,” Mondo 2000 1 (1989): 142-145.

40 Steven Connor, Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997), 135.

41 Claire Sponsler, “Cyberpunk and the Dilemmas of Postmodern Narrative,” Contemporary Literature 33.4 (December 1992): 640.

42 Sponsler, “Cyberpunk,” 638.

43 Cynthia Fuchs, “’Death is Irrelevant’: Cyborgs, Reproduction, and the Future of Male Hysteria,” Genders 18 (2003): 114-115.

44 Pramod K. Nayar, An Introduction to New Media and Cybercultures (Queensland: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), 41.

45 Gibson, Neuromancer, 33.

46 See Nicola Nixon, “Preparing the ground for revolution or keeping the boys satisfied?” in Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint (New York: Routledge, 2010). Kindle edition.

47 Sandy Stone, “Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?” in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. Michael Benedikt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 95.

48 Springer, Electronic Eros, 11.

49 See Douglas Kellner, : , Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern (London: Routledge, 1995), 298.

50 Mike Davis, Beyond Blade Runner: Urban Control, the Ecology of Fear (Westfield, New Jersey: Open Magazine pamphlets, 1992), 3.

51 Veronica Hollinger, “Cybernetic : Cyberpunk and Postmodernism” in Storming the Reality Studio, 205; Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist (New York: Methuen, 1985), 10.

52 Bruce Sterling, “Cyberpunk in the Nineties,” 1998. Accessed July 20, 2008. http:// www.streettech.com/bcp/BCPtext/Manifestos/CPInThe90s.html

53 Sherryl Vint, “The World Gibson Made,” in Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives, Kindle edition.

54 Directed by Mark Neale (Mark Neale Productions, 2000).

55 Glen Grant, “Transcendence Through Detournement in William Gibson’s Neuromancer,” 50 (1990): 43-44.

156 56 “Cyberpunk negotiates a complex and delicate trajectory between the forces of instrumental reason and the abandon of sacrificial excess. Through their construction of cultural politics inscribed by the forces of technological reason, and through their resistance to the constraints of that reason, the texts promise and even produce a transcendence of the human condition which is also always a surrender.” See Scott Bukatman, “Postcards from the Posthuman Solar System” in Posthumanism, ed. Neil Badmington (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 109.

57 Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, “Cyberpunk and Neuromanticism,” Mississippi Review 47-48 (1988): 277.

58 Bukatman, Terminal Identities, 344.

59 Gibson, Burning Chrome, 45.

60 F.T. Marinetti, “We Abjure Our Symbolist Masters, The Last Lovers of the Moon,” in Flint, Marinetti, 75.

61 See Jean Baudrillard, America (London & New York: Verso, 1988), 6-7.

62 Gibson, Neuromancer, 19.

63 Frederich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans W. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1968) § 676.

64 Bruce Sterling, “Letter from Bruce Sterling,” REM 7 (1987): 5.

65 Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in Literature and the Gods, ed. Robert Calasso and Tim Parks (New York: Knopf, 2001), 58.

66 For instance, see Jean-Francois Lyotard’s discussion of knowledge as “the principle force of production” in The Postmodern Condition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 5; Daniel Bell’s characterisation of a post- in which, "What counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information,” in The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, 1976), 127; or Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler’s argument that in “a Third Wave economy, the central resource – a single word broadly encompassing data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values – is actionable knowledge” in “Cyberspace and the American Dream,” The Information Society Reader, ed. Frank Webster and Raibo Blom (London: Routledge, 2004), 31.

67 The term “information superhighway” denotes the contemporary global information and communications network that includes the Internet and other networks such as telephone, cable television, and satellite communication networks. Public use of the term dates back to a 1983 Newsweek article: "...information superhighways being built of fiber-optic cable will link Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. C. in a 776-mile system on the East Coast" (Newsweek, Jan 3,1983).

68 See Amelie Kuhrt, The , c. 3000-330 BC, Volume 1 (London: Routledge, 1997), 378 for a discussion of the Babylonian creation story.

69 Gibson, Neuromancer, 68-9.

70 Philip K. Dick, VALIS (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

71 See Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

72 Gibson, Neuromancer, 11,12.

73 Gibson, Neuromancer, 12.

157 74 Gibson, Neuromancer, 12.

75 See David Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and The Spirit of Invention (New York: Penguin, 1999), 44-5.

76 Noble, Religion of Technology, 38, 39.

77 Robert Pierce Casey, trans. The Excerpta Ex Theodoto of Clement of Alexandria (London: Christophers, 1934), 89.

78 Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage, 1989), xix.

79 Attributed to Monoimus by Hippolytus, quoted in Gnosticism and Early Christianity, Robert M. Grant (London: Harper & Row, 1966).

80 Brian P. Copenhaver, trans., Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 1.

81 Copenhaver, Hermetica, 1.

82 Copenhaver, Hermetica, 7.

83 Gibson, Neuromancer, 62.

84 Gibson, Neuromancer, 14.

85 Gibson, Neuromancer, 5.

86 Copenhaver, Hermetica, 23.

87 Gibson, Neuromancer, 14, 26.

88 Erik Davis, “Techgnosis: Magic, Memory, and the Angels of Information” Southern Atlantic Quarterly, Cyberculture ll (1993): 585.

89 Gibson, Neuromancer, 58.

90 Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 80.

91 William Seitz, The Art of Assemblage (New York: The (Doubleday), 1961).

92 W.B Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium,” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York: Scribner, 1996).

93 Dery, Escape Velocity, 248.

94 Gibson, Neuromancer, 67.

95 Gibson, Neuromancer, 11, 68.

96 Gibson, Neuromancer, 59. As Tatiana Rapatzikou writes, “Gibson's vision, generated by the monopolizing appearance of the terminal image and presented in his creation of the cyberspace matrix, came to him when he saw teenagers playing in video arcades. The physical intensity of their postures, and the realistic interpretation of the terminal spaces projected by these games - as if there were a real space behind the screen - made apparent the manipulation of the real by its own representation. See Gothic Motifs in the Fiction of William Gibson (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), 77-78.

158 97 Gibson, Count Zero, 32-33.

98 Hakim Bey, “The Information War,” Virtual Futures, ed. Joan Broadhurst Dixon and Eric J Cassidy (London: Taylor & Francis, 1998), 4.

99 F.T. Marinetti, “Founding Manifesto of Futurism” in Flint, Marinetti, 41.

100 Gibson, Count Zero, 170.

101 Gibson, Count Zero, 170.

102 Gibson, Count Zero, 111.

103 Gibson, Count Zero, 112.

104 Gibson, Count Zero, 231.

105Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr.,"The Sentimental Futurist: Cybernetics and Art in William Gibson's Neuromancer," Critique 33 (3) (Spring 1992): 221.

106 Theodor Adorno, (London: Continuum International, 1997), 78.

107 Gibson, Count Zero, 298.

108 Gibson, Count Zero, 298.

109 Gibson, Count Zero, 310.

110 Gibson, Count Zero, 311.

111 Gibson, Count Zero, 311.

112 Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive, 136.

113 Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive, 138.

114 Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive, 315.

115 The term ‘postcyberpunk’ refers to a subgenre that has evolved from classic cyberpunk and was first used to describe Snow Crash’s more realistic depiction of computers, advanced transhumanist themes, and positing of fictional worlds that move away from Cyberpunk’s notions of technology as alienation and embrace technology as society.

116 Neal Stephenson, The Big U (Harper Perennial, 1984); Zodiac (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988); The Diamond Age (Bantam Spectra, 1995); Cryptonomicon (New York: Avon, 1999); Quicksilver (New York: Harper Collins, 2003); The Confusion (New York: William Morrow, 2004); The System of the World (New York: William Morrow, 2004); Anathem (New York: William Morrow, 2008).

117 See http://mongoliad.com/ Accessed 20 March, 2011.

118 Christopher J. Voparil and Richard J. Bernstein, eds. The Rorty Reader (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010), 373.

119 John Lewis, ed. Tomorrow Through the Past: Neal Stephenson and the Project of Global Modernization (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2006), xiv.

120 Lawrence Person, “Notes Towards a Postcyberpunk Manifesto.” Accessed 20 March, 2011. http://slashdot.org/story/99/10/08/2123255/Notes-Toward-a-Postcyberpunk-Manifesto 159 121 See , The Selfish Gene (Oxford: , 1976).

122 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 373.

123 Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles (New York: Verso, 1990), 48, 227.

124 Davis, City of Quartz, 246.

125 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 178.

126 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 113.

127 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 2.

128 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 30.

129 Stephenson’s close familiarity with programming is self-consciously proclaimed in the autobiographical note included at the end of the novel, working in opposition to Gibson’s renowned ignorance of computers, and creating a more technologically precise text that circumvents Neuromancer’s mysticism of technology. The autobiographical note again reiterates Stephenson’s preoccupation with having the right kind of knowledge about technology, further intimating the texts’ (and authors’) technological authority.

130 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 197.

131 Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1982).

132 The origin of ‘avatar’ lies in a Hindu myth of a deity descending upon the earth in an incarnate form. Stephenson’s use of the term, and its subsequent adoption to describe online personas in virtual worlds, intimates the user is a god in relation to online 3D spaces.

133 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 331.

134 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 197.

135 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 58.

136 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London: Routledge, 1997), 28.

137 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 51.

138 Stephenson attempts (somewhat unsuccessfully), to turn Andrew Ross’s vilification of hackers as the cyberpunk heroes of a W.A.S.P-ish status quo (Strange Weather, 84) on its ear by describing Hiro as an amalgamation of attributes gleaned from what he calls ‘the margins’: half- black, half-Nipponese, wearing black, riding a motorbike, and characterized as the “greatest [samurai] sword fighter in the world” (Snow Crash, 17). He fuses Hiro’s online persona and real world identity — Hiro is action figure, leading man, and mythical hero in a fictional world in which the virtual infiltrates the Real.

139 The character is a thinly veiled combination of news mogul William Hearst and L. Ron Hubbard, prolific science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology. The use of Hubbard as a model for Rife is informative, again revealing the text’s preoccupation with memes and hidden, mystical knowledge, as Hubbard’s history has itself become a favourite urban myth (meme) for science fiction readers, and one that seems to mutate with each telling.

140 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 108.

141 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 17. 160 142 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 36. In the end, however, Hiro is portrayed as a barely evolved version of the current popular stereotype of the computer enthusiast (closeted in a dark room with a computer and endless reruns of cult action movies, fantasising yet unable to approach the female of the species): “His mind was good, but he only understood one or two things in the whole world — samurai movies and the Macintosh — and he understood them far, far too well” (Snow Crash, 53).

143 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 40.

144 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 110.

145 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 186.

146 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 402.

147 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 369.

148 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 203. Stephenson’s – “infocalyptic” – derives from his notion of a Infocalypse, or a combination of information (data) and apocalypse (the end of the world); the end of information, used in conjunction with Babel, which relates to the confusion of language; informational disaster.

149 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 197.

150 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 371.

151 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 187.

152 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 195.

153 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 401-402.

154 Mark Pesce, “Ignition” Address to World Movers Conference, January 1997, San Francisco, in Wertheim, Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, 253.

155 Wertheim, Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, 258.

156 Wertheim, Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, 256, 257.

157 Kevin Kelly, “How Computer Nerds Describe God,” Christianity Today, November 20 (2002). Also online at http://www.kk.org/interviews/computer_nerds-god.php

158 Kevin Kelly, “Nerd Theology,” Technology in Society 21 (1999): 390, 338.

159 Kevin Kelly, “God is the Machine,” Wired 10:12 (December 2002).

160 Kelly, “Nerd Theology,” 391.

161 Kelly, “Nerd Theology,” 388.

162 The distinction between produced and reproduced, and its impact on feminist appropriations of cyberculture, will be investigated in more detail in chapter three.

163 Kelly, “Nerd Theology,” 388.

164 Annette Hamilton, “The Uncanny in Object Relations, or Love with the Machine,” Technologies of Magic: A cultural study of ghosts, machines, and the uncanny, ed. John Potts and Edward Scheer (Sydney: Power Publications, 2006), 30-47.

161 165 See G.W Hegel, Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).

166 Hamilton, “The Uncanny in Object Relations,” 37.

167 , The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks Paperback, 1977), 12.

168 Kelly, “Nerd Theology,” 390.

169 Hamilton, “The Uncanny in Object Relations,” 37.

170 As told by Kelly on Chicago Public Radio show, “This American Life” (17 January, 1997). Online at http://www.thislife.org/Search.aspx?searchFor=kevin%20kelly

171 Gibson, Neuromancer, 316.

172 Copenhaver, Hermetica, 2.

173 Kelly, “God is the Machine.”

174 See Harrison and Wood, Art in Theory, 520-527.

175Velmeulen and van den Akker, “Metamodernism,” 2010.

176 David Porush, “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash,” in Virtual Realities and their Discontents, ed. Robert Markley (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1996), 141.

177 Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message (New York: Bantam Books, 2001), 74.

178 Nigel Clark, “’Rear-View Mirrorshades;’ The Recursive Generation of the Cyberbody,” Body & Society 1.3-4 (1995): 115.


SUCK MY CODE: Abject Others, Unspeakable (M)Others, and the Multiple Bodies of Cyberfeminism

163 Any theoretical evocation of an autonomous, positive femininity involves both an interrogation and supercession of masculinist norms and at the same time, an invention and remaking of signifying, representational, and epistemic norms. – Elisabeth Grosz1

For we flee from the sight of an object that scares us, and it is impossible to like terror that we take seriously. – Immanuel Kant2

Where previous chapters have investigated masculinised forms of technoculture and their reliance on technospirituality, this chapter investigates the technological feminine as a liminal figure that both instigates and provides an antidote to rampant technophilia. Like Sartre’s nauseated response to the transformation of an object into existential, yet alien, Otherness, the transcendence of machine into machine-woman is trans thought, inhabiting a space beyond the meaning of things, haunting the edges of technocultural narratives.3 ‘She’ is transgender, transhuman, and transgenre – and therefore transmodern – and so to examine her evolution in popular culture this chapter will shift across multiple media from myth to fiction, art to film, online incarnations to science fiction television narratives.

The first part – Creation Anxiety: Desiring the Virtual Feminine – broadly traces the construction and evolution of the artificial feminine as a ‘thing’ to be desired. It highlights the gendering of the ontological anxiety that arises from the relationships between art (as an act of creation), technology (the created), and life (the already created), acknowledging that traditional forms of technoculture can at base be understood as an attempt to claim sovereignty over modes of reproduction. That is, it seeks to demonstrate that technospirituality’s preoccupation with the prospect of ‘autocreation’ (‘I can create myself’), acts as a direct challenge to biological/organic modes of reproduction (or, ‘I am already created’), and that the frisson created by the drive to control reproduction fuels some of the most interesting and abiding science fiction narratives, from the Book of Genesis to .

164 The second part – Jouissance, Madness, Holiness, & Poetry: Re-embodying Cyberspace – looks at the effects of technocultural narratives like cyberpunk on feminist debates regarding reproductive power and sexual desire, particularly focussing on the early 1990s avant-garde cyberfeminist performance art collective, VNS Matrix. This collective travelled a fine line between re-embodying virtual space and preserving it as a radically genderless site of excess, an attempt to balance out the technocultural equation that, since Marinetti’s multiplied man, had been slanted towards establishing the masculine domination of technology at the fatal expense of the feminine. It will evaluate cyberfeminism’s use of avant-garde strategies to shift technoculture’s metaphorical ground, undermining and transforming masculinised notions of technology through a re- engagement with metaphors of embodiment and immanence in narratives of virtual reality.

The avant-garde cyberfeminist project had began to wane at the fin de millennium, with commentators like Sarah Kember suggesting its “failure and obsolescence” with the passing of “widespread millennial fever,” and Judith Squires arguing that it had broken its promise to engender its “vision of fabulous, flexible, feminist futures” by offering no political or ethical basis on which to build its radical, genderless technosphere.4 However, it is still possible to trace the effects of cyberfeminism on the broader field of popular culture from 1992 to the through science fiction television series featuring female cyborgs as heroines. The final section of this chapter – The Future Eve: Man-Made Women in Cult Science Fiction Television – looks at the figure of the machine as woman, arguing that the ‘man-made’ feminine in science fiction television narratives have increasingly constituted, like cyberfeminism itself, a supplementary excess to technoculture that refuses to be sublimated into a technophilic desire to control technologies; an excess that exposes the illusion of technophilic power. It will further suggest that such technological Eve figures intimate the emergence of the female cyborg as transmodern heroine, a radical transformation of Marinetti’s multiplied man into a multiplied woman.


Razor girl, Molly Millions, is deadly. The laconic ‘street samurai’ of three William Gibson cyberpunk narratives – Johnny Mnemonic, Neuromancer, and Mona Lisa Overdrive – is part woman, part machine with mirrored sight-enhancing glasses sealed into her skin, flesh-ripping, retractable fingerblades, and the enhanced reflexes and speed necessary

165 for penetrating the Sprawl’s forbidden zones. Her repeated appearances in Gibson’s work allow readers to piece together more of her history, personality, and purpose than any of the console cowboys the genre purportedly appears to valorise. If, as Bruce Sterling suggested, mirrorshades are the iconic symbol of the cyberpunk genre, then it is not Case the hacker but Molly the technologically modified woman who is the genre’s archetypal hero.5

The price Molly pays, however, for her penetrative cyborg enhancements is a history of being penetrated.6 Neuromancer tells us Molly was once a “meat puppet,” a futuristic prostitute whose mind is blanked using a cut-out chip and reprogrammed with her client’s every sexual desire. The ultimate posthumanist self-made woman, Molly sells her body to rise above the poverty of the Street, and in the process remakes it as a death-machine, using her modifications to, in turn, penetrate others:

“This cost a lot,” she said, extending her right hand as though it held an invisible fruit. The five blades slid out and retracted slowly… “You know how I got the money, when I was starting out? … Joke to start with, ‘cause once they plant the cut-out chip, it seems like free money… The house found out what I was doing with the money. So the bastard who ran the place, he had some custom software cooked up…snuff… One night… I came up. I was into this routine with a customer…” She dug her fingers deep in the foam. “Senator, he was… We were both covered in blood. We weren’t alone. She was all…Dead…So I guess I gave the Senator what he really wanted, you know?”7

Gibson’s extended fascination with Molly can perhaps be seen as a further example of representing the feminine as technology while Case controls technology – the kind of reading further strengthened when Case literally puts on Molly’s body via a simstim switch that allows him to ride alongside her consciousness:8

Then he keyed the new switch. The abrupt jolt into other flesh… For a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes… “How you doing Case?” He heard the words and felt her form them. She slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling a nipple under warm silk. The 166 sensation made him catch his breath. She laughed. But the link was one- way. He had no way to reply.9

Molly becomes the “meat toy,” to Case’s disembodied consciousness, and yet simultaneously subverts this construction of her as a ‘thing ‘to be desired and consumed.10 She knowingly plays upon his desires, rendering him both wordless and powerless to control her, merely “the passenger behind her eyes.”11 However much she may represent the ultimate technojunkie’s fantasy by allowing Case to experience both his and her pleasurable reactions to her sexual tease, she is no longer a witless meat puppet. For the reader, as for Case, Molly remains emotionally unavailable – with her eyes perpetually camouflaged behind impassive mirrorshades, she reflects Case’s gaze in an endlessly narcissistic game he plays only with himself, a dangerously sexual solitaire that is analogous to the death-drive he exhibits at the beginning of Neuromancer. She is inalienably other – Case cannot know her however many times he rides alongside her consciousness, and this is part of her allure for both him and the reader.

It is Molly’s self-fashioned differánce that allows her to circumvent Case’s attempts to contain her while simultaneously reinforcing technoculture’s fetish for the machine woman as narcissistic play. This is further played out in holo-artist Peter Riviera’s impotent rage at being unable to see Molly’s reaction during his holographic revisions of her meat puppet history:

Riviera and the Molly-image began to couple with renewed intensity. Then the image slowly extended a clawed hand and extruded its five blades. With a languorous, dreamlike deliberation, it raked Riviera’s bare back. Case caught a glimpse of exposed spine… He could guess the finale. Riviera puts his dreamgirl together, the dreamgirl takes him apart.12

Riveria later relieves his ocular frustration by smashing Molly’s mirrorshades – “his masculinity is under threat because she is not subject to his masculine gaze nor can he follow her gaze and control it.”13 And it is this tension between Molly as dreamgirl (a fetishised object made to assuage male desire), and Molly as dangerous weapon (the artificial woman beyond man’s control), that articulates a paradox inherent in depictions of the technological feminine that continues to haunt technoculture. The slippage between depictions of the machine as woman (that is, an eroticised object to be desired and controlled) and the woman in the machine (the unruly and dangerous feminine) 167 destabilises the traditionally masculinised space of technoculture by transforming the technological feminine from a purely mechanical thing/object to an agential force beyond restraint. Accompanying this transformation is a simultaneous sense of fascination and horror, an abjection, of the kind described by Sartre, whose Nausea seeks to capture the specific moment when objects cease to function as domesticated entities, docile to our purposes, and gain for themselves a proliferating Otherness of their own. Sartre describes the feeling of nausea produced by this specific moment of transformation using the language of transcendence:

Words had disappeared, and with them the meaning of things, the methods of using them, the feeble landmarks which men have traced on their surface. I was sitting, my head bowed, alone in front of that black, knotty mass, which was utterly crude and frightened me. And then I had this revelation.14

An examination of the artificial woman throughout the fiction demonstrates that fascination and abjection have always played a central role in technocultural narratives. This dissertation has already seen Marinetti’s multiplied man as an articulation of his desire to control the modes of reproduction by wresting them from natural female creation and mapping them onto the figure of the machine/cyborg. It has argued that the Futurist’s model of technophilia was embraced wholesale by cyberpunk and cyberculture, which in imagining artificial intelligence as the creation of new gods wrote off natural reproduction as the domain of the feminine and replaced it with the technophile as the ultimate creator. In doing so, both Italian Futurism and cyberpunk are simply footnotes to a Judaeo-Christian religious canon that has historically posed a definitive technological solution to patriarchy’s problem of reproductive control. A central narrative of our origin myths, and hence central to the phenomena of creation anxiety, occurs when god, the ultimate technologist, creates Eve from Adam, and man, not woman, becomes producer/author/artist, a move that tidily relegates woman to the metaphoric position of artwork/prosthesis/clone/replicant. The symbolic masculine is then given metaphorical power over technological reproduction, and technology seems to offer the real possibility of removing the power of reproduction beyond the realm of nature and the feminine forever by firmly placing it into the hands of men. Technophilia can therefore be read as a memetic cure for patriarchy’s ontological crisis, producing technology as a reproduction-without-organs necessary for controlling the future. Yet this significatory shift of the masculine to primary reproducer of humanity that simultaneously equates ‘woman’ 168 with an object created by, from, and for ‘man,’ nevertheless fails to cancel out her agency in the world. Rather, it simultaneously produces Eve/woman/artwork as incipiently monstrous, always liable to break free of man’s carefully orchestrated control and be an author/creator of her own volition.15

The Genesis myth’s combined fear and desire for the created object or thing can also be read into the cosmogonic story of Pygmalion in which a sculptor with little time for real, organic women becomes utterly enchanted with the perfect female form of his artwork, lavishing so much affection on it that he wills her/it/Galatea into existence. A reflection on the relationship between art and artist, this early narrative on the joys of constructing one’s own ideal inorganic woman also describes the sometimes very real dislocation between a creator’s intention and the final creation. That is, from conception to conclusion, a work of art, whether a , a drawing, or a body of writing, so often alters beyond recognition that it appears to take on a life and direction of its own making. Taken by surprise at the final product of her/his creative labour, the artist feels as if the artwork has in some way brought itself into existence. Creator and created are intimately linked, yet the artwork seems less a reflection of the artist’s skill and imagination and more an expression of its own becoming. Correspondingly, once the artwork leaves the studio space and is inserted into the consumer sphere, its meaning-in-the-world is forever changed. It becomes an object that remains deeply, mysteriously Other and as such is subject to the projected desires of its creator/audience.

And so, if our tales of technology have the power to shape the way we imagine and create our technological future, it is unsurprising that – given her conventional alterity to man – the artificial woman in science fiction literature, technoculture, and film is often a symbol of perfidy. ‘She’ is frequently characterised as the most aw(e)ful kind of duplicitous machine, a two-faced cipher that stands for both the worst of nature and the worst of technology. Indeed, this ‘abjectification’ of the technological feminine is depicted as a form of creation anxiety at the genre’s very inception with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which transforms the artificial woman into an abject reproductive body suturing production to reproduction.16 Dr Frankenstein’s monstrous reproductions are the result of his all-consuming desire to usurp the traditional feminine role of biological creation:

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent 169 natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.17

Like the progenitors of Kevin Kelly’s ‘derivative gods’ or Hans Moravec’s ‘mind children,’ Frankenstein’s desire to bypass the normative mother’s reproductive role is made overt as he himself as an awe-inspiring patriarch over his very own race of monsters. Inherent in this passage is a sense of ownership, and thus control, that he equates with the act of reproducing his hideous offspring – his creation of life asserts his omniscient power. The illumination Frankenstein refers to in the above passage is electricity, standing in, for Shelley, as the source of all life: “I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”18 Technology becomes a beacon of reason that sheds light on the mysteries of reproduction and endows its master with equal power to bestow life and forestall death; the infusion of the lifeless object by electricity is the first step in the novel towards the usurpation of nature. But Frankenstein’s experiment also sets loose an alien consciousness upon the world. Not only does it produce the unspeakable monster; it also brings the scientist as unspeakable (m)other into existence:

No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again imbued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.19

Frankenstein discovers too late that his colonisation of reproduction produces a being that defies description by normative linguistic economies – the result of displacing nature from the production of life is ineffability, a spectre beyond the boundaries of signification. However, Frankenstein also succinctly described the precarious position of the man-made woman when Dr. Frankenstein finds the prospect of making a female creature/cyborg much more horrifying than the male creature he has already constructed and set loose upon society:

I was not about to form another being… she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness. He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man … but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking 170 and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply … I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps of the existences of the whole human race.20

Frankenstein’s replicated Eve/woman/monster is, from the moment of her supposed being-in-the-world, an incipiently lawless body dedicated to excess precisely because of her construction outside the reasonable “neighbourhood of man.” Where her male counterpart will quiescently uphold his promise to remove his monstrosity far away from the abjection of those unwittingly reproduced by biological means, Frankenstein assumes that by the very nature of her femininity (which presupposes her enigmatic otherness to both hu-man and constructed male cyborg), she threatens the sanctity of the human race. Furthermore, as a female agent existing beyond the realm of natural reproduction, she might gleefully partake in the ruination of all creation – vengeful of Frankenstein’s usurpation of female reproduction, the monster’s potential mate might replicate the end result of Frankenstein’s own artistic collage of stolen body parts; she might prove a monstrous antidote to the problem of all reproduction, natural or otherwise. Shelley’s text informs us, therefore, that patriarchal anxiety constantly shifts between woman’s innate potential to create beyond the control of man and the possibility of man’s use of technology to bring himself into being. Technology provides both the method by which man regains power over his creations and the means by which the constructed woman may exceed the specific role carved by patriarchal society for her. The cure for man’s reproductive insecurities therefore begins to look worse than his original problem. The employment of technology, in offering a non-biological means of controlling life, also produces the opportunity for biological creators to run amok.

This, perhaps, is why we, as machine creators, are so torn between the impossibly bright futures promised by technological invention and the terrible inevitability of extropian monstrosity. Technoculture is caught in the double bind of a desire for an inorganic solution to social, cultural, economic, and psychological problems. The potential for transcendence offered by our close relationship with the machines we create present us with a model of perfection and horror; technological invention heralds the reproductive artist/computer scientist as simultaneously hero of the future and peddler of machines that threaten to colonise human thought. Hence, just as Shelley’s monster continues to haunt contemporary fictional and cultural mythologies, providing us with an originary model of the terrible consequences of ignoring natural laws that still has the power to 171 disturb, so, too, do the possibilities of future computer technologies (also animated for us by electricity, “the spark of being”), haunt the popular imagination. Metaphorically, they represent our modern-day versions of Frankenstein’s monster, evincing a life and a process of becoming seemingly beyond our control, waiting patiently, like Heidegger’s technologies, to be revealed. Late capitalist culture’s desire for technological progress invests the ever-increasing rate of computer innovation as a project of perpetual renewal ramped to a relentless degree, until, just like the monster of Shelley’s novel, the computer occupies a transitory and indefinable presence for us, subject always to the logic of swift transformations. The computer as icon therefore oscillates between providing a site of promise for a future technological transcendence of embodiment or a locus of fear about what we may become under the rubric of its influence.

Contemporary technophilic narratives often upgrade the desire for the artificial feminine as ‘thing’ as an expression of late capitalist consumer culture, where things are both plentiful and pleasurable. A particularly apposite example is the objectphilia of ‘technosexuality,’ or the sexualisation of technology. James Twitchell asserts that,

Human beings like things. We buy things. We like to exchange things. We live through things” – and, apparently, like Pygmalion, we are also capable of loving our things, platonically, emotionally, and sexually.21

When the things we create and exchange – techniques, technologies, or art forms – in turn recreate us, the inanimate becomes invested with so much meaning that it takes on a value in and of itself. In other words, for those deeply immersed in a love affair with their things, such a relationship may even take on a psychically real flavour, articulating an uncannily literal form of commodity fetish. Observe, for instance, the online outpouring of affection one Apple user declares for his computer:

We feel a connection … It speaks to us, becomes a part of us. Our own machines become our sidekicks, our best friends. … From the ease of use of OS X, to the “heart beat” every machine shows when it sleeps, Macs are more human than PCs can ever be. It is our dedication to our machines… that makes this relationship work. Many Mac lovers’ worst and best moments involve their machines… Macs always have a special place in our hearts. This love drives us… It is a huge part of our lives, and we couldn’t ask for anything more.22 172 This laudatory description of what amounts to a collection of microprocessors in a shiny case is repeated across the blogosphere as true believers in the ‘cult of Mac’ wax lyrical about the transcendent properties of their machines. An analogous brand of ‘inorganic love’ is also made explicit in Stephenson’s Snow Crash, in which a predilection for the machine is characterised as a family romance that is passed from father to son – that is, as a patriarchal birthright:

The top surface of the computer is smooth except for a fisheye lens, a polished glass dome with a purplish optical coating … Hiro finds it erotic … Hiro’s father, who was stationed in Japan for many years, was obsessed with cameras. He kept bringing them back from his stints in the Far East, encased in many protective layers, so that when he took them out to show Hiro, it was like watching an exquisite striptease as they emerged from all that black leather and nylon, zippers and straps. And once the lens was finally exposed, pure geometric equation made real, so powerful and vulnerable at once, Hiro could only think it was like nuzzling through skirts and lingerie and outer labia and inner labia … It made him feel weak and naked and brave.23

Apple – its company name and logo playing upon that first object of Judeo-Christian feminine desire, the fruit of knowledge – approaches the packaging design of its products in a similar fashion – computers and peripherals are encased in pared down, pure white boxes within boxes that unfold outwards to reveal the desired object, a “more human” machine that requires, like Frankenstein’s monster, only the spark of electricity to come to life. Another self-confessed Apple addict details his first “packaging experience” as a kind of sexual confession: “The struggle to get home, how he fumbled with the outer layers, his delight with what was concealed, the many lingering caresses in the ecstatic aftermath.“24 All three texts suggest that desire is a fundamental ingredient in our relationships with machines. In fact, as K.C. D’Alessandro notes, technological discourse has long been delineated through the metaphor of sexual longing:

For technophiliacs, technology provides an erotic thrill – control over massive power, which can then itself be used to control others… The physical manifestations of these machines – size, heft, shape, motions that

173 thrust, pause, and press again – represent human sexual responses on a grand scale.25

Sherry Turkle similarly argues that the computer “is becoming for us what sex was to the Victorians – threat and obsession, taboo and fascination,”26 while Claudia Springer comments that “instead of existing as separate, distinct issues, thought and sex have become thoroughly entwined, even indistinguishable, in contemporary cybercultural discourses … Computers, it seems, have intensified, not diminished, our culture’s fascination with sexuality.”27 Nowhere is the expression of this commodity fetish more extreme than Figure 9. Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jane in Steven in the alt.sex.fetish.robot newsgroup Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence (ASFR), which focussed on a highly specialised form of BDSM that gained a following in the 1990s heyday of the Net. As its Usenet FAQ defined the newsgroup, ASFR was:

Dedicated to the discussion of the concept of sex with or sexual attraction to robots and robot-like beings. This can range from metallic, non-humanoid machines to humanoid androids. Discussions can deal with specific fantasies, fiction relating to the topic and connected ideas like people behaving like/turned into human mannequins, dolls, toys, and other hypnosis and mesmerism fantasies that involve the mechanical/ monotone response that appeals to the members.28

As an example, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), and virtual doll, Gigolo Jane (Ashley Scott), from Steven Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001), are ASFR’s quintessential pin-ups (Figure 9).29 Perfectly formed and encased in reflective rubber, their only purpose is to fulfil human desires without question. Interestingly, although the film concerns itself with a new kind of robot child, David (Haley Joel Osment), who can “genuinely love the parents it

174 imprints on with a love that will never end,” tracking what happens when human attachment towards that robot child proves temporary, it is the emotionless ‘sensual simulators’ like Gigolo Joe that capture the technofetishist imagination. As one scientist asks in the first scene of the film: “If a robot could genuinely love a person what responsibility does that person hold towards that mecha in return?” The answer takes on biblical importance, according to the machine’s creator, leaving no doubt as to his own aspirations towards godhead: “In the beginning, didn’t God create Adam to love him?” The is that humanity’s relationship to a Judaeo-Christian god is exactly one of a creator’s love for the thing it created. However, the film also makes clear that such ethical dilemmas have no place in a successful technosexual fantasy – as Gigolo Joe states:

“We are the guiltless pleasures of the lonely human being. You’re not going to get us pregnant, or have us to supper with mommy and daddy. We work under you, we work on you, and we work for you. Man made us better at what we do that was ever humanly possible.”

In other words, the thing’s potential reciprocation of feeling remains surplus to the fetish requirements involved in creating an object of sexual desire.

So it is in ASFR. Throughout the many different forms the fetish takes, including imagining robot sex, mind control, ‘dollers’ or doll fetishes, and pygmalionists or statue fetishes, what seems inherent to technosexuality is enhanced sexual control over the inanimate, a desire to objectify and contain the Other through mimicking ‘start-up’ and ‘shut-down’ procedures, issuing voice commands, posing limbs, and encasing the object of desire in spandex, lycra, or rubber garments designed to restrict movement and create a smooth, unblemished, mechanical appearance. This can be taken one step further in ‘stuckposing’ or imagining the fantasy object glued into place. Technosexuals, as ASFR users now prefer to be called, are quick, however, to suggest that fetish is less about the objectification of the person and more about the humanisation of objects:

Creating the ideal lover in the Technosexuality sense implies that the artificial partner you create or role play with is doing this willingly because it's what they were programmed to do. (Or agreed to ACT like they were programmed to do.) It's why they were created. There's no guilt or repercussions. You remove the possibility for rejection or mutual abuse or

175 hurt or misunderstanding. Remove the human equation and all of that possibility for hurting another human being or being hurt goes away. Talk about your 'safe sex'!30

However, ASFR’s command control and start up/power down procedures produce an object of desire not dissimilar to the corpse that cites as the for abjection. In attempting to overcome the traumatic realisation of his/her own materiality, the technofetishist’s insistence on the sterile, restrained machine simultaneously produces the normative, organic body as abject, which is then overcome by reducing the arena of sexual play from two subjective participants to one. Rather than transcending Self and Other, technosexuality effaces the Other and thus falls prey to an extreme form of sexual .31 The creation of the thing/machine/robot as sexual object in technosexuality therefore repeats the psychosexual separation of Self from (m) Other, creating a primary abjection of the female reproductive body. By fashioning the Other as compliant sexual machine the technofetishist negates all possibility that he will be drawn “toward the place where meaning collapses;” that is, closer to the eroticised (m) Other.32 The feminised machine replaces an implied reproductive body and, representing, like Molly’s mirrorshades, an endlessly reflective mirror to the organic Self, draws the technophile safely away from an ineffable abyss of signification. Technosexuality therefore reminds us that the history of technology is also a history of reproduction, of displacement of natural bodies and human acts, and of double standards and doubled bodies created for duplicitous purposes. As Hillel Schwartz has commented: “doubleness has become an inescapable element of modernity … for some, its very definition,” and the doubled female body thus becomes a recurrent theme in popular technocultural tales of abject reproduction that is simultaneously a site of erotic desire and fear.33


In the early 1990s, a new , cyberfeminism, began to analyse and respond to cyberculture’s love of things, calling for the re-embodiment of cyberspace and the re-coding of the Net as the domain of the feminine. Although notorious for rejecting hard and fast definitions as impedimenta to the establishment of “a decentred, multiple, participatory practice in which many lines of flight coexist,” ‘cyberfeminism’ essentially describes radical feminist political and artistic activities in or on cyberspace.34 This includes works of feminist cyberpunk fiction such as Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (written in response to Gibson’s Neuromancer), the novels of Pat Cadigan, and Shelley 176 Jackson’s hypertext fiction, Patchwork Girl.35 Though cyberfeminism as a movement appeared simultaneously in multiple sites around the world – including in Canada, the UK, and Amsterdam – the term ‘cyberfeminism’ was first employed in a manifesto by Australian art and performance collective, VNS Matrix, entitled Cyber Feminist Manifesto For The 21st Century (Figure 10). This first cyberfeminist artwork burst onto the nascent digital art scene in 1992 with its incendiary use of visceral imagery and oppositional language as an antidote to the perceived valorisation of mind over matter identified in discourse surrounding the emergent world wide web.36 Informed by ’s 1985 socialist feminist manifesto on the revolutionary potential of cyborgs, the four Adelaide artists making up the collective – Virginia Barratt, Francesca da Rimini, Julianne Pierce, and Josephine Starr – set out to explore the virtual possibilities of playing with gender construction and relations in cyberspace, using a combination of , computer graphics, multimedia, and performance techniques.

Judy Wajcman has noted that this early phase of cyberfeminism should be understood as a “reaction to the pessimism of the 1980s feminist approaches that stressed the inherently masculine nature of technoscience.”37 Observing that the predominance of male IT users in the early 1990s effectively excluded online even while obsessively representing women as objects of desire and/or otherness, VNS Matrix sought to reclaim the space of technology for corporeality by metaphorically re-injecting a fleshy viscera into the emerging lexicon of the cyberbody. The group sought to infiltrate and subvert nascent cyberculture’s Cartesian mindspace from within – a “viral meme infecting theory, art, and the academy” from inside the belly of the machine.38 This project was made more successful as a result of the simultaneous nature of the developing visual character of the world wide web, which allowed the manifesto to spread rapidly to other feminist groups in Europe and the US. It inspired an anarchic surge of cyberfeminist netpresence that remains actively iconoclastic towards normative electronic media, although with decreasing momentum as online activity becomes commonplace in westernised cultures.

As defining moments in cyberculture, VNS Matrix’s cyberfeminist practices from 1992 to 1997 straddle both utopian and dystopian factions of what David Silver has called a ‘first generation’ or popular cyberculture limited to descriptions of the internet as “a of civilization, a that could and would bring down big business, foster democratic participation, and end economic and social inequities.”39 The frontier as metaphor immediately marked cyberspace as a largely masculine domain in the popular 177 imagination, as Howard Rheingold made clear in his own pioneering accounts of new online technologies in the early 1990s. Rheingold sought to inspire commentators and practitioners alike to actively project their own utopian dreams onto what seemed like a brave new reality that could be shaped from the ground up: “The pioneers are still out there exploring the frontier, the borders of the domain have yet to be determined, or even the shape of it, or the best way to find one's way in it.”40 Laura Miller has noted that the Net-as-frontier metaphor constructed cyberspace from the outset as a hazardous zone for women and children, arguing that “the idea that women merit special protections in an environment as incorporeal as the Net is intimately bound up with the idea that women's minds are weak, fragile, and unsuited to the rough and tumble of public discourse.”41 VNS Matrix’ work sought to combat this propensity to exclude the feminine from cyberspace, attempting to beat the technophiles at their own game by using incendiary sexually/technologically charged prose designed to subvert the cyberspatial status quo. As such, the group simultaneously heralded the emergence of a second wave cyberculture studies that would focus more carefully on identity in cyberspace.42 It was dedicated to making the body visible again, claiming its version of cyberspace as a “celebration of difference, a celebration of the body, a celebration of fluids and viscera” in a space seemingly unfriendly to such representations:

… we’re not finished with the body, the body is an important site for feminists. We don’t want technology to forget about the body … I like the flaws in the body. I don’t want to be like a piece of beef jerky. I like slime and viscera, it’s what pleasure is about.43

In this period of celebrating cyberspatial possibilities, if the body of the subject, and hence the subject itself, was encoded and decoded within cyberculture, then computer technologies offered direct sensorial access to a parallel virtual world, suggesting a radical reconfiguration of the boundaries between the subject, the body, and its environment. Early cyberfeminists explored the potentialities of virtual reality for practically investigating constructions of gender and sex that might, in turn, transform the dominant power structures of contemporary culture, and actively sought alternative spatial and creative , social, corporeal, and cultural configurations. Cyberspace, they believed, could become a site of considerable cultural promise, and the locale for new understandings of the body. Then, rather than remaining a witness to its termination within a technophilic culture, cyberfeminists could ensure the body’s infinite exchangeability within the potentially limitless subjective possibilities of terminal space. 178 VNS Matrix’ most radical work explored highly developed, collaborative computer graphics, photo and computer graphic text, as well as related audio collages and interactive screen-based pieces that combined a rich sense of with politically infused content, “actively engaging in the international cross-disciplinary debate surrounding technological development, cultural issues, and gender representation.”44 Initially the artworks were designed to the counteract fetishistic images and language associated with what they called the “fembot” — including the constructed female sexuality seen in pornographic websites and early pornographic avatars like “Silver Susie,” “Virtual Valerie,” or CyberPunk Software’s “Virtual Woman,” and other cyborg/clone/ replicants represented online, in film, and on television as featureless female figures with injection-moulded breasts, lips, and hips, whose chrome-plated exteriors, like Molly’s mirrorshades, endlessly reflected the gaze of the male, technologically-assisted voyeur.45 The hugely influential Cyber Feminist Manifesto began as a light box installation at The University of Sydney and was subsequently reproduced as a series of inserts in commercial art magazines and university publications Australia-wide.46 The largely text- based artwork became an important foundation for subsequent work by the collective and cyberfeminism as a movement, forming a symbolic web of meaning that recurred throughout later installations, presentations, and performances. It was structured upon a circular motif, with text revolving around a large, computer-generated sphere surrounded by stylised of vaginas. Importing contemporary feminist theoretical terms — ‘jouissance,’ ‘abjection,’ ‘symbolic’ — and fusing them with popular computer terminology and historical descriptions of women to create hybrid forms of identification, the manifesto drew a connecting line between phallogocentric and technological culture to rupture meaning from within the technological system, “corrupting the discourse” with the cyberfeminist meme, and infecting cyberspace with “the virus of a new world disorder” that would reclaim it as a feminine and feminist space.

Marinetti’s basic precepts for manifesto writing, that it should contain, above all, “de la violence” certainly applies to A Cyber Feminist Manifesto, with its potent, unapologetic appropriation of jargon, theory, and symbols.47 Its language is rich and suggestive, hinting at the possibilities of technological advances for the visceral future body, so often portrayed as sterile, ordered, and obsolete within cyberculture. Futurist manifestoes staged their political message as a kind of lyric theatre, ensuring their new genre met the needs of a mass audience as well as esoteric and avant-garde principles. Public spectacle was also a crucial element in VNS Matrix’s work, disseminating the 179 cyberfeminist message to the community at large, firstly targeting the academy and artistic arena and later, as the Web moved to a graphic interface, replicating itself online.

Figure 10. VNS Matrix A Cyber Feminist Manifesto for the 21st Century 1992 Farrago, University of Melbourne Student Publication, June 1992.

The resemblance to the provocative aesthetics of Futurist manifestoes is obvious, in that the artwork similarly relies on shock tactics to reprogram normative pejoratives into radical feminist slogans — “we are the modern cunt … we see art with our cunt we make art with our cunt,” making a deliberate effort to elicit a response from its audience through the combination of brash tone, challenging language, and utopian directives.48 The lines, “positive anti-reason,” “madness holiness and poetry,” “new world disorder,” and “infiltrating disrupting disseminating” would be equally at home in a Marinetti manifesto, while VNS Matrix’ circular motif is reminiscent of Carlo Carra’s performative texts in which words are visually arranged to mimic the message contained within (Figure 11). Indeed, both are constructed as politically charged language machines, combining the dynamism of motion and charged rhetoric to further disseminate their message. Therefore, A Cyber Feminist Manifesto can be read as a late twentieth-century cybercultural version of a futurist poem-painting, fusing feminist politics with metaphorical imagery and catchy

180 sloganeering to infiltrate mass culture. It has been said that, “the novelty of Italian Futurist manifestoes… is their brash refusal to remain in the expository or critical corner.”49 VNS Matrix’s manifestoes and computer games also operated as a site of excess, uncontained by traditional notions of technology, employing confrontational words and imagery designed to be disseminated to a broad technocultural audience; that is, those like Neal Stephenson’s hackers in Snow Crash who are most susceptible to the cyberfeminist virus. In the Futurist Figure 11. Carlo Carra, 13 Introspections, 1914 Ink, pencil, and collage on paper. 26.5 x 21 cm. performative text, the machine is the Private Collection. saboteur of everyday life, its perpetually changing progress aimed at a somnambulant bourgeois. In breaching conventions of morality and symbolism, the collective, like the Italian Futurists, portrayed itself as “saboteur” of the status quo from within the very body of the machine that wanted to contain them. It took Futurism’s revolutionary machine, profoundly linked with masculinised virtues of speed and action, and set it spinning in a different direction.

Both Italian Futurism and cyberfeminism retain an accent on the body – although Futurism sought to augment the corporeal with the machine, it remained a visceral form of transcendence deeply resistant to the kind of pure intellectualisations of technology that value disembodied mind over matter in cyberpunk fiction. Marinetti’s mechanical man resolutely retained humanity’s material core and consciousness – transformed by a fusion of immanence and transcendence. VNS Matrix also fused immanence and transcendence, employing spiritual metaphors such as “holiness,” “altar,” “temple,” “speak in tongues” to metaphorically link technoculture and technologised transcendence with a revolutionary aesthetics designed to catapult the audience/user into a future hybridisation of gender and sexuality. Even the stylised vaginas arranged like sunbursts of energy bordering the Cyber Feminist Manifesto recall elements of the explosive light effects that punctuate the of Giancomo Balla or Umberto Boccioni, who used them to symbolise the dynamism of electric technology (Figure 12), here translated into electronic space. The vagina motif combines corporeal and mystical metaphors, raising 181 immanent feminine sexuality to the status of stylised religious icon, neatly subverting its appropriation in cyberspace as a superficial object of male desire and transferring its symbolic power back into the hands of women. Indeed, the Futurist celebration of war was also sometimes represented by an all- consuming female sexuality, bringing VNS Matrix’s emphasis on the liberating metaphor and motif of the vagina even closer to a Futurist aesthetics of technology: “See the furious coitus of war, gigantic vulva stirred by the friction of courage, shapeless vulva that spreads to offer itself to the terrific spasm of final victory!”50 Female orgasm is here depicted as a triumphant volley in Marinetti’s war on convention, just as VNS Matrix claims female Figure 12. Giacomo Balla. Street Light jouissance as an initial sortie to wrest control of 1910-11. Oil on canvas, 174.7 x 114.7 cm. technocultural metaphors for cyberfeminism. “The Museum of Modern Art, New York. clitoris is the direct line to the matrix,” thus cleverly dislodges the phallus as origin of cyberspace, symbolically overthrowing man as technological god/creator, and thus re-establishing the feminine as reproductive agent in both biological and technological terms.

The interactive computer game All New Gen (1994), attempted to imagine a technocultural war over gender construction, articulating a dangerously feminised technology in the masculinised space of technological play. The game’s spirit was one of rupture and reversal, of defiance of the edicts of dominant phallogocentric culture; its narrative constituted a cyberfeminist counterpoint to the popular hand-held Nintendo Gameboy.51 The central eponymous ‘shero’ of VNS Matrix’s ‘gamegirl’ – ‘All New Gen' – is given a mission to terminate the moral code (in other words, to undermine the hierarchal structure of the militaristic, authoritarian, hero-winners and losers aspect of video game culture). Gen (short for ‘Gender’) leads a band of renegade ‘DNA Sluts’ through the matrix in a quest to reconfigure cyberspace from its logocentric information processors. Manifest as an ungendered intelligent mist that pervades the matrix, Gen is constructed as an omnipresent anarchic cyberterrorist seeking to virally infect and corrupt all informatics of domination and terminate phallogocentric moral codes. From the

182 moment users logged on to All New Gen they were reminded they must “be prepared to question [their] gendered biological construction.” Gen is a virus in the mainframe, targeted at her arch-nemesis Big Daddy Mainframe, the ubiquitously anonymous business suit with briefcase and the logo, BDM, winking from the monitor that rests on his shoulders where his head should be. Big Daddy also frequently exchanges forms, but always stands for “the military/industrial data complex” that users – as components of the matrix – are encouraged to sabotage: “Gamegirl Objective: To defeat BDM, a transplanetary military industrial imperial data environment.”52

The graphic representations of the DNA Sluts – Patina de Panties, Dentata, and the Princess of Slime – were scanned from images of Cindy dolls and Shera comics and given futuristic coiffures, eyes in their breasts, and vaginas able to zap any moving object within ten paces with hostile mucus. “Bonding” with these characters would re-fuel the player’s energy levels – and each transformation would result in the generation of “virus vectors” that carried “new, developmental codes” – or the virus of the New World Disorder. Player movements would trigger specific reactions within the program, and cynical yes/no commands reminded contestants that success would require careful contemplation of both social realities and gender possibilities. Politically charged text scrolled by offering advice for play and setting up the game’s scenes – “All battles take place in the Contested Zone, a terrain of propaganda, and transgression,” and “The path of infiltration is treacherous and you will encounter many obstacles. The most wicked is Circuit Boy — a dangerous technobimbo.” Designed as a stylised male Roman torso, and reminiscent of an object of desire from male strip calendars, Circuit Boy mimicked the fetishised and limb-less Silver Susie. Conquering the game’s various puzzles enabled players to crack the code that rendered Circuit Boy impotent. Victory was immanent when Circuit Boy’s oversized penis, “his sizeable tool,” unscrewed and transformed into a cellular phone, giving the player a direct line to the ‘Cortex Crones,’ the brain matter of the matrix with the power to unmake Big Daddy.

‘All New Gen’ allows cyberfeminists to re-imagine the technophile as user, the addict who can no longer insist on his sovereign autonomy and separation from nature.53 Hooked up to screens for a constant hit of phallocentric power at the expense of the feminine, nature and the real, this new technology replicated a patriarchal drive for escape and domination. But if, as VNS Matrix declared, the clitoris was now a direct line to the matrix, then every software development would in fact be a migration away from patriarchy, where it had

183 been exercised as domination, and into VNS Matrix’s concept of cyberspace, “the broad electronic net in which virtual realities are spun.” At the peak of his technological quest for power via progress, at the culmination of his machinic erections, as Sadie Plant suggests, man might finally confront his electronic systems of social security, and find them dangerously female.54 Cyberfeminist theorist Zoë Sofoulis has claimed that mythic figures are not just science-fiction creatures, but are “part of technoscience's renatured reality,” that exceeds phallocentricism’s representational capacity.55 Power in this “post-phallic” world may be more incorporated rather than hierarchical. Sofoulis argues that All New Gen offers, “one way for women to imaginatively enter the big body of technology is for the 'micro' option, for example by identifying with a virus that can penetrate and corrupt the data banks of ‘Big Daddy Mainframe.’”56 It re-writes technophilic narratives like cyberpunk as “a post-oedipal story for “posthuman” viral girls,” critically challenging mainstream technophilic and techno-phallic discourses in the process.57

That this was a significatory war over who gets to write the social code of cyberspace is made even further apparent in the lesser known VNS Matrix’ Bitch Mutant Manifesto (1996), where staccato phrasing fuses Marinetti’s shock tactics and anarchic linguistic manoeuvres with William Gibson’s stylistic vision of cyberspace to sketch an utopian vision of the future based on gender play and reversal. Like the Futurists before them, the cyberfeminists leapt into the battle of words over who would colonise the new electronic frontier and audaciously recast the net as an artificially feminine entity that views each technophilic incursion into its domain as a sexual advance:

Your fingers probe my neural network. The tingling sensation in the tips of your fingers are my synapses responding to your touch. It's not chemistry, it's electric. Stop fingering me.

Don't ever stop fingering my suppurating holes, extending my boundary but in cipherspace there are no bounds BUT IN SPIRALSPACE THERE IS NO THEY there is only *us* … entice me splice me map my ABANDONED genome as your project artificially involve me i wanna live forever upload me in yr shiny shiny PVC future 184 SUCK MY CODE

What results is a push me, pull you frenzy of prose that acts as a direct challenge to the passive, objectified feminine sexuality required by male users, highlighting the inescapable link between technophilia and real world sexual desire that has everything to do with the corporeal. By turning a pornographic lexicon originally designed to objectify the female body as Other back upon the male user, confronting rather than titillating, the male reader is forced into a new relationship with the technology he desires and within the technological space he has created for himself. VNS Matrix “Bitch Mutant Manifesto” cuts right through the taboo, calling it out into the open and revealing that the technophile’s desire for technology, and for the transcendence of limits, is really a displaced desire for the touch of the Other:

Subject X says transcendence lies at the limit of worlds, where now and now, here and elsewhere, text and membrane impact.

Where truth evaporates Where nothing is certain There are no maps

The limit is NO CARRIER, the sudden shock of no contact, reaching out to touch but the skin is cold...

The limit is permission denied, vision doubled, and flesh necrotic.

Once exposed, the power of the taboo is diminished – in the words of the manifesto the paradox creates a “Command line error” – and a new relation to the desired other can be forged:

Heavy eyelids fold over my pupils, like curtains of lead. Hot ice kisses my synapses with an (ec)static rush. My system is nervous, neuronsscreaming - spiralling towards the singularity. Floating in ether, my body implodes.

I become the FIRE.

Flame me if you dare.

185 “Users [are] caught in the static blitz of carrier fire” before being “Sucked in, down through a vortex” (read: vagina) which propels them “backwards into the future” where “identity explodes” and “the hot contagion of millennia fever fuses retro with futro, catapulting bodies with organs into technotopia … where code dictates pleasure and satisfies desire.” Layer upon layer of technocultural jargon is piled up as an orgiastic love letter to the user from an all-encompassing Net, characterised as “the parthenogenetic bitch- mutant feral child of big daddy mainframe,” a “sociopathic emergent system” that has malignantly infected the system while the technophiles were lulled into a somnambulant state by their technologies. It promises that when they awake from their technologised cocoons “we will terminate your digital delusions, hijacking your impeccable software.” The manifesto argues against a notion of technological transcendence of the body – “The extropians were wrong, there's some things you can't transcend” – opting instead to celebrate flesh as diffuse, immanent jouissance – “The pleasure's in the dematerialisation. The devolution of desire.” VNS Matrix’ work sought to remind us that users who dream of the mind’s all transcending freedom in cyberspace relinquish the very real pleasures of the flesh, the promise of which, ironically, the internet’s multitude of porn sites and sex chat rooms rely on to sell the female body as a commodity. In refusing cyberculture’s transcendence of the flesh while simultaneously celebrating the diffusion of jouissance that occurs when technological systems are ‘turned on,’ the work of VNS Matrix therefore offered a reading of subjective interaction with cyberspace as multiplication, except it is not Marinetti’s multiplied man but a multiplied woman primed to redress the gender imbalance of online worlds.


As Kristeva hypothesised, the direct result of the abject (m)other’s positioning by patriarchy beyond the borders of signification is to endow her with the power to “disturb identity, system, order. [She is] What does not respect borders, positions, rules.”58 This was certainly the initial effect of VNS Matrix incendiary works, which can be seen as rehabilitating a form of avant-garde utilising the then emergent online media. However, it is almost two decades now since such work first made an impact on feminist thought, and with online media’s diffusion into the everyday, even self-proclaimed cyberfeminists have begun to question, “where is the feminism in cyberfeminism?”59 One answer is suggested by Maria Fernandez and Faith Wilding, who argue for demarcating cyberfeminism, like Silver’s characterisation of cybercultural studies into first and second generations, into old and new movements: 186 Cyberfeminism began with strong techno-utopian expectations that the new electronic technologies would offer women a fresh start to create new languages, programs, platforms, images, fluid identities and multi-subject definitions in cyberspace; that in fact women could recode, redesign, and reprogram information technology to help change the feminine condition.60

As Wacjman has noted, ‘old’ cyberfeminism’s utopian pleasure in new online media was a useful strategy for altering perceptions of technology as patriarchal playground, but in the final analysis it should not conflate future imaginings with present practicalities:

Utopia is about no-where not now-here. By conflating this distinction, cyberfeminism presents the utopian imagining of cyberspace as a more or less adequate description of aspects of what currently exists.61

By contrast, ‘new’ cyberfeminism offers “a radical political strategy … that is reminiscent of classic Marxism/,” and advocates an embodied and politically engaged second wave movement emphasising feminist difference and aware that not all women experience technology equally, or have equal access to it.62 For Fernandez and Wilding, then, early avant-garde cyberfeminist activities fell prey to the same universalisms of a second-wave feminism that often assumed “an educated, white, upper middle-class, English-speaking, culturally sophisticated readership.”63 In other words, VNS Matrix’ radically utopian cyberfeminism strategies resulted in a similar fate to that of early avant- gardes like Italian Futurism. As online media became successfully integrated into late capitalist culture during the late 1990s, sublating art into praxis, its seemingly revolutionary possibilities were disseminated into the wider social sphere. And while ‘new’ cyberfeminist theory has moved to follow avant-garde cyberfeminism’s utopian zeal with the important work of theorising new media’s continued reliance on “pan-capitalist social relations and economic, political, and cultural environments that are still deeply sexist and racist,” it could be argued that, just as Marinetti’s Futurist avant-garde agenda was disseminated into mainstream desires for utopian technological change, when the ‘old’ avant-garde cyberfeminist project began to lose its dynamism around 1998, its depiction of the revolutionary potential of the technological feminine was in turn disseminated into popular culture, specifically cult science fiction television.64

187 What follows, then, is a close reading of the evolution of the man-made woman as cyberfeminist heroine in popular science fiction television through three key texts. The first – Mann and Machine (1992) – is an early illustration of the female cyborg as disruptive force; the second – Dark Angel (2000) – shows her development into a revolutionary figure; and the third – Dollhouse (2009) – sees the completion of the cyberfeminist cyborg as a multiple woman able to subvert the patriarchal technological system from within. All three series depict the cyborg woman as working outside the bounds of normative society, and as such they are Kristeva’s abject others, disturbing the conventional binaries of organic/inorganic, male/female, virtual/real, technological/natural. Each is also testament to the symbolic unification of machine and the feminine as disingenuous Others, demonstrating how the lawlessness of technological invention is accordingly mapped onto the inorganic female body. Interestingly, each of the series was prematurely cancelled before their narrative arc was revealed, suggesting the man-made woman still has the power to threaten a traditional masculine dominance of technology.65 Only Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse manages to complete its main protagonist’s evolution with any closure and so this is only the text able to fully realise its cyberfeminist possibilities.

Mimesis is another common theme connecting all three series. Eve Edison (Mann and Machine), Max Guevara (Dark Angel), and Echo (Dollhouse) all employ mimicry to pass as human. Luce Irigiray maintains that mimicry as a deconstructive process exposes a remnant of feminine agency in phallogocentric discourse. Abjured within a self- constituting phallogocentrism, a remnant of the feminine survives as the inscriptional space of that phallogocentrism, the specular surface that receives the marks of a masculine signifying act only to return a false reflection and guarantee of phallogocentric self-sufficiency, without making any contribution of its own. Through mimicry, the feminine is able to repeat the origin of phallogocentricity only to displace that origin as an origin; that is, as replication rather than simple reiteration enables the mimic to displace the logocentric economy. Irigaray states that:

To play with mimesis is thus, for a woman, to try to recover the place of her exploitation by discourse, without allowing herself to be simply reduced to it. It means to resubmit herself, in as much as she is on the side of the ‘perceptible”, of “matter” — to “ideas”, in particular ideas about herself, that are elaborated in/by a masculine logic, but so as to make “visible”, by an effect of playful repetition, what was supposed to remain invisible; the cover up of a possible operation of the feminine in language.66 188 The mimetic acting out of disparate subjective positions by the cyborg doppelgangers in these three texts similarly places into question the dominant significations of normative gender constructions. When the status of gender is called into question by the intersection of self and other, between the corporeal and cyborg, inner monstrosity and outer compliance to gender norms, sexual identity itself becomes a free-floating signifier, with the consequence that, as Judith Butler has stated in another context, “man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one.”67 Butler analyses the symbolic dependence of the phallus on the penis, dissecting the Lacanian notion that men “have’ the phallus and women “are” the phallus. Similarly, the occupying of otherness by the cyborg body upsets the logic of the non-contradictive regulations of normative bodies.

In embodying the art of simulation, fictional characters like Eve, Max, and Echo virtually mimic the Other for us in a way that disturbs our understanding of normative identities while simultaneously allowing the margins of otherness to be investigated. They problematise assertions that masculinised technophiles ‘use’ the machine while the technologically produced feminine ‘is’ the machine. They also flesh out a pop culture version of Donna Haraway’s politically liberated cyborg, whose revitalisation of traditional representations of the man-made woman were an attempt to create a new mythology for 1980’s .68 For Haraway, the hybrid of machine and organism is a starting point from which to play with phallogocentric constructions of the threatening, inorganic feminine. She, too, recognises that the fictive quest for the ideal woman by narratives like Mann and Machine, Dark Angel, and Dollhouse and their concurrent creation of lawless, non-biological monsters produces a schism in the representation of the feminine that has the potential to be subverted by feminist politics. The myth of the female cyborg “is a matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as woman’s experience … the boundary between Science Fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.”69 Haraway’s cyborg takes advantage of the ontological confusion inspired by its transcendence of biological, ethical, political, and familial boundaries. Its position at the intersection of meat and metal, male and female, creator and creation allows it to fall through the cracks of normative signification and this means, for Haraway, that it is free to forge its own meaning, without the influence of tradition. The cyborg therefore has no affiliation with, or allegiance to, social hierarchies or ethical moralities – it need only seek its own becoming. Its existence means “building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, spaces, stories.”70 In the spirit of Haraway’s revolutionary 189 cyborgs, the rise of cyberfeminism in the 1990s identified technophilic creation anxiety as an opportunity to destabilise masculinised metaphors of cyberspace like Italian Futurism and cyberpunk, reworking the electronic matrix as a technology absolutely coded as feminine. The following analyses show that this project has been sublimated into the pop culture machine of late capitalism, where the cyberfeminist cyborg still has the power to disturb.

Beneath the veneer of twenty-first century police , Mann and Machine (Figure 13) was one of the first television series to explore the figure of the female cyborg and her relation Figure 13. Eve Edison and Bobby Mann to a society in which the natural (and Mann and Machine promotional still. (NBC, 1992). particularly the biological feminine), is privileged.71 In a near-future Los Angeles, the rather obviously named Detective Bobby Mann (David Andrews) is assigned a rookie with a difference, Sergeant Eve Edison (Yancy Butler), the latest in synthetic police officers. Specifically, the series examines Eve’s difference in relation to those around her, especially her relationship with Mann, who has difficulty in coming to grips with her fabricated femininity. She problematises his role as hero cop because she is both brawn and the brains (“Prototype,” 1.01) in their partnership. Their dissimilarity is set up immediately in the credits, where Mann’s development from infancy to adulthood is juxtaposed against Eve’s scientifically produced body, which revolves naked and hairless like a shop mannequin in a sequence strongly reminiscent of the manufacture of the robotic Maria in Metropolis.72 As a counterfeit woman she is always represented as the antithesis of the humans around her, reminding us that under her elegant organic exterior there is no flesh, only solid metal, irrefutably mechanical and alien. She therefore fulfils a popular depiction of the machine woman as monstrosity, embodying for Mann a site of both “fascination and horror,” making Eve heir to over a century of fictional representations of the female machine.73 Even her name is reference to a history of artificial females: from the first woman created in the Bible to the nuclear cyborg that spirals out of control in the film, Eve

190 of Destruction, she is another in a long line of Eves made by man.74 However, it is Eve’s surname that most defines her in this historical narrative of feminine machines, suggesting as it does a link with Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s 1886 French Symbolist novel, Tomorrow’s Eve, famous for first coining the term ‘android.’75 Adam’s narrative rests upon the discursive construction of the female cyborg as an instrument designed to teach women the proper respect for patriarchal values. A Victorian parable on the consequences of the excessive education of women, the narrative reverses Shelley’s blueprint for the man- made woman as monster by depicting the cyborg as the industrial cure for the monstrous natural feminine.

When Lord Ewald stares at his fiancé, Alicia, all he can see in her exquisite and remarkable beauty is the “frightful, deadly, withering nullity” of her returned gaze.76 Frustrated by her insistence on displaying her wit, and her inability to act exclusively as a mirror to his own projected self, he cries: “Ah! Who will remove this soul from this body?” On cue, Thomas Edison replies, “I want to fulfil your dream in its entirety.”77 As a recognised father of invention, Edison props up his patron’s wilting phallocentric power by reproducing the contrary Alicia as a robotic ideal woman he calls Hadaly. Her natural state is the dreamy half-sleep of an invalid yet, to rouse her, Ewald need only apply gentle pressure to one of the rings adorning her fingers (as if he were lovingly pressing the hand of the original model, Edison reminds him), and she rises quiescently to return his gaze in rapt silence. She is his to command, for Hadaly is a uniquely faithful mistress, being utterly contained, as she must be, by the authority of her maker. To ensure her purity, a dagger at her waist emits a powerful current, “so that the merry rake … who tries, for example, to ‘snatch a kiss’ from this Sleeping Beauty will find himself rolling on the floor, his face blackening, his limbs broken … before his hands even reach her dress.”78 It is unclear whether these precautionary measures against the intrusion of other men are to preserve the appearance of the female automaton’s honour or prevent detection of the monstrous act of creation that Edison has performed and Ewald has sanctioned. In either case, Edison is instrumental in promoting the fiction of Ewald’s primacy as reproductive agent to polite society, a fiction because although Hadaly contains the promise of being the perfect vessel for Ewald’s heirs she is, in fact, voided of reproductive power. Hadaly’s perfection in Tomorrow’s Eve results from both from her sexual inaccessibility and her actual inability to procreate. Her simultaneous success in evoking sexual desire in other men and rendering all desire but Ewald’s impotent through electrocution hides her reproductive sterility.

191 Therefore, she deceptively presents a disempowered sexuality through a dreamy, passive exterior that she then defends with a deadly hidden weapon controlled by her creator.

The novel is an extended philosophical meditation on the pursuit of perfection in the domain of the copy. Hadaly’s artificiality highlights the plastic nature of identity and suggests that the replicated illusion of femininity is indistinguishable from the Real. In fashioning her, Edison, like Dr. Frankenstein before him, usurps the role of the ultimate artist/creator, replacing religion’s quest for an ideal self with the scientific creation of synthetic perfection. And yet what is produced exceeds the purpose of its production. Written in an age of industrial machines imbued with a technological approximation of reproductive power that fortified patriarchal power in pumping pistons and rotating cogs, she represents the:

… triumph of the alchemist’s dream of dominating nature through their self-inseminating, masturbatory practices… the final chapter in a long history of fantasy of self-generation by and for the men themselves… capable of producing new monsters and fascinated by their power.79

The machine as phallus is thus dominated absolutely by the masculine, rendering the phallic female cyborg impotent against the power of her masculine creator. The transgressive female body is subsumed into industrial technology, cancelling out her agency. Edison obliterates what he sees as the essential feminine in Alicia; in re-inscribing her as Hadaly, Alicia is no longer the reproducer but that which is reproduced. Like the work of Marinetti almost a century after, and consequently narratives of technoculture up until early avant-garde cyberfeminism, the text demonstrates that the replication of woman as machine effectively removes the feminine from the role of creating technology by incorporating her as technology.80

Mann and Machine, however, suggests that a subtle shift in the figure of the man-made woman began to occur in the 1990s alongside the cyberfeminist movement, as the dominance of industrial machines gave way to online information technologies. Eve is not fashioned, like Hadaly, by a male inventor but an eminent female scientist – this is one Eve that is not made by man/creator/god. Yet when we see her hand come alive in the credits, rather like Michelangelo’s hand of Adam being infused with life by God, it is as if she is spontaneously animated by her own volition, her own desire for life. That the authority of her makers cannot contain her is implied by the fact that men hold no 192 positions of power in the series; indeed, Bobby Mann is the only principal male character. The phallic female cyborg is traditionally hidden from public view in technofictions, a freak object to be destroyed, driven away, or kept closeted from society behind closed doors. But Eve is a monster who creates her own place in the fictional milieu she enters, and rather than being a cipher for Mann’s dreams and desires for technological power, preserves her agency as she sets out to learn about her newly acquired ‘life.’ She plays with her own subjectivity and surface, mimicking mothers, movie actors, and colleagues, yet always exceeding the role Mann tries to construct for her. Having received no social conditioning about ‘proper’ conduct between the sexes she is not weighed down by traditional notions of feminine modesty or morality, causing Mann to complain to her superiors that she is not behaving in a ladylike manner. Eve will never be a lady, however, and she persists in questioning both her own sexuality and Mann’s, weighing up alternatives and ideas, and ultimately deciding what is appropriate by her own reasoning. As such, she re-signifies both Mann’s and the audience’s normative understanding of ‘woman.’ Claudia Springer has argued that Eve represents for Mann, and thus for the audience, the child-woman fantasy of phallocentric society, demonstrating that the misogynist can find happiness with the child-woman of his dreams.81 Yet it is Mann who often plays the petulant child, throwing tantrums and playing practical jokes, while Eve refuses to be subservient to his whims, constantly arguing with him over the misogynist comments he directs towards the women around them and calling into question his constructions of gender. She is not merely a mirror of his projected self – in her quest to discover what it is to be human Eve prods the traditional boundaries of sex and gender to carve a space in which she can exist as a fully-fledged subject.

James Cameron’s 2000 cyberpunk science fiction TV series, Dark Angel, also draws upon and updates the Gothic theme of a new Eve-figure made by science that nevertheless refuses to submit to the narrowly defined role for which she was created. Max Guevara X5-452 (Jessica Alba) is a “transgenic,” designed in a lab by a secret government agency called Manticore to be the perfect soldier in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by terror. She is a , created by military scientists from human and animal DNA to produce a soft machine with an organic surface infused with superhuman/animal strength and senses, a genius level IQ, and an eidetic memory.82 ‘Manticore’ not only signifies her similarities to the mythological hybrid creature that is part lion, scorpion, and human (we are told her enhanced abilities come from her mixture of feline and shark DNA and a selection of the finest minds of all time), but the manticore’s zoomorphic nature is also linked conceptually to the sphinx, that duplicitous archetypal female monster, war deity, 193 and threshold figure guiding humanity from antiquated religious practices to a new way of being-in-the-world. The sphinx’s mythological function was as a temple guardian concealing ultimate knowledge from the uninitiated. As a child of Manticore, Max is symbolically constructed as a liminal character patrolling the borders of the Real and the yet to be revealed. As Judith Halberstam notes, the “Gothic… marks a peculiarly modern preoccupation with boundaries and their collapse,” and Max’s perfect monstrosity works as a way to explore the virtual binaries that construct both ‘female and ‘human’ identity, hinting at their ultimate insubstantiality.83

Mere meat to her military handlers, in the near future milieu of Dark Angel she and others like her are rendered nameless, differentiated only by the genetically tattooed barcodes on their necks that mark them as military property, commodities to be consumed and exchanged at will. Fearing the consequences of letting a manufactured species with superhuman strength run amok, she is subjected to unremitting mind control, torture, and brutalising military training in an effort to ensure she remains compliant to her human military handlers. Max is, however, a flawed genetic experiment that ultimately proves to be an unruly creation, wilfully exceeding the strict military purposes for which she is produced. She and her transgenic unit display ‘unproductive’ human traits, including independence of thought, well-developed imaginations, and a superfluous empathy, leading them to forge close familial bonds as a shield against the harsh military regimen to which they are constantly subjected. When one of their number is casually executed while protecting Max from dissection, the unit decides to seek freedom on the ‘outside,’ with ‘ordinary’ humans. Determined to stay under the radar, by day Max ekes out a living as a Figure 14. Max Guevara (Jessica Alba) Dark Angel bike messenger, a job that (like Y.T. Still from Season 1, 2000 in Snow Crash), allows her access to 194 all areas in a city under martial law, following a terror attack that has reduced the US to a third world nation by erasing all computer information, banking records, and utilities. By night, Max supplements her meagre income as a genetically enhanced cat burglar. During one such robbery she meets Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly), underground hacker, cyber- journalist, and resistance figurehead, whose alter-ego – Eyes Only – fights corruption by hacking state-regulated TV channels to bring the culprits out into the open and ensure information remains free. Cyberpunk and cyborg strike a bargain – Max will provide ad- hoc mercenary skills in return for Logan’s help locating her fellow transgenics and avoiding Manticore’s measures to regain control of her body, which they perceive merely as expensive military hardware.

Max Guevara is a pop culture cyberfeminist heroine that fully inhabits Haraway’s construction of the cyborg as crossing the boundaries that separate the human from the animal as well as the living from the nonliving. As N. Katherine Hayles succinctly sums up Haraway’s model:

Fusing cybernetic device and biological organism, the cyborg violates the human/machine distinction; replacing cognition with neural feedback, it challenges the human-animal difference; explaining the behaviour of thermostats and people through theories of feedback, hierarchical structure and control, it erases the animate/inanimate distinction. In addition to arousing anxiety, the cyborg can also spark erotic fascination… Mingling erotically charged violations with potent new fusions, the cyborg become the site on which are performed contestations about the body boundaries that have often marked class, ethnic, and cultural differences.84

The technological copy as monster lies at the heart of Dark Angel, marking Max as a “teenage Frankenstein” (sic, “Meow,” 1.12) for the cybercultural age. The series focuses relentlessly on her duplicitous female body as a site of radical Otherness, difference, struggle, and contestation – like Eve Edison, Max’s choice of surname is significant, denoting her as a freedom fighter on the borders between human and inhuman, natural and unnatural, organic and inorganic. The series uses both gothic (estrangement) and science fiction (speculation) tropes to highlight the social and moral anxieties produced by the contemporaneous completion of the Human Genome Project and resultant debates about cloning, genetic testing and modification that manipulate, alter, or synthesise human and animal genes for medical treatment. Clones and cyborgs proliferate in the 195 series and much is made of the psychological differences between versions of the same: Max’s ‘brother’ Ben () is a darkly drawn, psychotic serial killer while his devil-may-care clone Alec becomes her 2IC and potential love interest; the stalwart, unsentimental, and humourless Zack (William Gregory Lee) sacrifices himself to keep his unit safe from exposure while his cyborg copy is selfish, highly emotional, and insecure; Joshua’s evil twin, Isaac, takes his revenge on the military guards who cut his tongue out by randomly performing the same operation on figures of authority; and Max’s own clone Sam blithely throws in her lot with the enemy that wants to kill her copy. Max leads a doubled life on many levels: as (initially) a lone ‘freak’ amongst ‘ordinaries;’ as a predator amongst prey; as a bike courier who is also a black ops assassin; or as a pretty girl who can climb unaided, strip an M14 in under five seconds, and cheat at blackjack using her eidetic memory and acute hearing. She also seeks to conceal her darkest nature from her self, to forget her own otherness: “Sometimes it seems like it happened to someone else. Like maybe it was a story I heard” (“Pilot,” 1.01). Episodes are therefore driven by a complicated dance of hide and reveal, as Max’s true identity teeters always on the cusp of exposure. Like all good superheroes, her weaknesses are played out against her considerable strengths, and both must be concealed from the ‘ordinaries’ around her.

This endless game of escape and evade is always pre-empted by the vicissitudes of Max’s disruptive, constructed body. She is at the constant mercy of her unnatural make- up – due to a fault in her manipulated DNA she and other X-Series transgenics do not create adequate serotonin leading to unpredictable epileptic fits (Dark Angel’s biologically- based version of kryptonite), and the feline DNA that enhances her speed, agility, hearing and eyesight also sends her into an uncontrollable heat cycle:

I am in heat or something like that... all because they spiced up that genetic cocktail called "me" with a dash of feline DNA... so I can jump 15 feet of razor wire and take out a 250-pound linebacker with my thumb and index finger... which makes me an awesome killing machine and a hoot at parties. But it also means that three times a year I'm climbing the walls... looking for some action (“Heat,” 1.02).

The plot-invoked hi-jinks that ensue from Max’s heat form a repetitive theme throughout the series, simultaneously constructing her as aggressive sexual predator, titillating teenage seductress, and utterly subject to the inner logic of her strange DNA. Her 196 sexuality is monstrous precisely because she problematises traditional gender roles and feminine reproductive agency. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s fears that the creation of a female monster might unleash a “race of devils” on the world, Dark Angel’s narrative similarly makes clear human/transgenic sexual pairings result in monstrous offspring (“Hit a Sista Back,” 1.18), and the vigilante human populace echoes the ‘making strange’ techniques used in both early science fiction’s fears of ‘bug-eyed monsters from outer space wanting our women’ or racist diatribes against minorities by asking if the ‘trannies’ will soon be “… living next door, spittin' out their mutant, half-breed kids?” or breaking “into our houses and tak[ing] our daughters?” (“Freak Nation,” 2.21). The definitive biological weapon, Max, and other female cyborgs like her are monstrous because their subversion of normative gender roles only serves to highlight the very artificiality of traditional constructions of femininity. Therefore, creation anxiety in Dark Angel produces a permanent state of identity crisis between being made, being born, and making oneself. Like the epigraph to Frankenstein from Milton’s Paradise Lost – “Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay/ To mould me Man?” – Max and others constantly question why the transgenics exist. Retrieving a sense of family appears to go someway towards answering this question for Max – delineations are always made between her desire for familial bonds and other transgenic soldiers who are simply automatons fulfilling their handlers orders without question. In addition to her fellow escapees, Max also seeks her birth mother in a desperate desire to understand her genealogy, as well as the real purpose for which her metaphorical father, the founder and head geneticist of Manticore, Sandeman, created her, besides the obvious “to kick ass mostly” (“Bag ‘Em,” 2.02).

While this quest for origins is never fully completed due to the series’ surprise cancellation in 2002, Max’s search begins to take on messianic proportions when she discovers Sandeman has designed her without any junk DNA – her every genetic sequence is coded for a specific purpose; that is, she is perfectly made. Rather bizarrely, this perfection, we are told, is to provide a genetic antidote – a purpose that is slowly revealed to her through snippets of arcane information that appear unbidden like tattoos on her body. Max’s coded flesh is therefore a container of hidden knowledge that she must decipher before humanity is eradicated by an apocalyptic virus set loose by an ancient religious cult known as the Familiars. The cult has devoted millennia to combining religious ritual with in an effort to naturally create a race of super beings. They therefore hate ordinaries as imperfect beings, but they loathe the transgenics, whom they see as manufactured filth. As a perfectly constructed m(Other) figure caught between the organic and the inorganic, the ordinary and extraordinary, Max is then both familiar and unfamiliar 197 and, in the final episodes of the series, notions of religious transcendence are juxtaposed against technological transcendence with Max’s corporeality functioning as a symbol for both. As the disenfranchised product of scientific experimentation, human, and animal elements, it is Max’s border crossing between familiarity and unfamiliarity that ultimately allows her to transcend traditional constructions of being-in-the world and symbolically represent one possible future for humanity.

Yet it is also the unfamiliar cross-dressing of hero and monster that leads to Max’s rejection by the society that has made her. Unable to pass as ‘ordinary’ and largely rejected by her fellow transgenics, Max attempts to negotiate an alternative, boundary- less existence between worlds. Like Frankenstein’s monster, humans fear her and her kind because she is “simply the latest in a long line of abominations perpetrated by the scientific community” (“Dawg Day Afternoon,” 2.18), and the religiously devout seek the transgenics total annihilation precisely because they are not naturally produced members of a god-fearing ‘brotherhood of man:’

“In the eyes of the Lord, they’re not even animals. The individuals that we speak of are manufactured. They’re stamped with barcodes on their necks when they come off the assembly line. And since only God has the power to create life, then we must ask ourselves if they can even be said to be alive” (“Dawg Day Afternoon,” 2.18).

The series concludes, therefore, with a debate over the relative merits of different models of creation – religious, ritualistic, or scientific.

Ultimately Max learns to love her inherent kinship to the monstrous. She begins to recognize the revolutionary potential in transcending normative dichotomies like natural/unnatural, human/inhuman, real/ artificial, and creator/created. Exposed Figure 15. Final scene of Dark Angel showing for what she is, she becomes the self- the transgenics recreating the 1945 raising of appointed leader and mother figure of a the US flag in Iwo Jima. new transgenic state, Terminal City, in which the oppressed transgenic minority seeks to gain equal rights from the government that produced them. Her internal struggles with 198 inhumanity morph into a treatise on the inhumanity of institutionalised difference. One wonders if the series was quickly cancelled in 2002 despite a strong science fiction fan base because of the parallels such a narrative stance had with heightened US fears following 9/11. The series’ arc did seem to be leading to Max’s construction as a revolutionary Other who draws together a military-trained fighting force of similarly disenfranchised individuals to oppose from within a corrupt and murderous US government overtaken by religious zealots. Dark Angel’s final episodes spend much time focused on the state media’s coverage of a frenzied public hurling venomous rants against what they see as the threat of supercedence, economically, socially, and corporeally, a terror fuelled by the possibility they will lose control of their creations. But, for Max, what is at stake is the moral responsibility of a creator for its handiwork. As Congress debates whether the transgenics should be exterminated and the police and National Guard lay siege to Terminal City’s gates, Max rallies her unnatural forces against the human threat with a rousing speech:

They made us, and they trained us to be soldiers, to defend this country. It's time for them to face us and take responsibility, instead of trying to sweep us away like garbage. We were made in America and we're not going anywhere. So they call us freaks; who cares? Today I'm proud to be a freak (“Freak Nation,” 2.21).

Dark Angel’s last scene shows Max and the transgenics making a symbolic stand on the rooftops of Terminal City, raised fists reminiscent of the Black Panther salute. Cameron reconstructs the iconic image of the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima in 1945, a symbol of unity, perseverance, and victory, but instead of stars and stripes, the unfurling flag features a dove, a field of blood, and a barcode, symbolising the transgenic’s struggle towards freedom (Figure 15). The final message of the series seems to be that normative society’s worst nightmare is about to come true – its lab experiments are about to fight back.

Of all three texts featuring the technological feminine it is Joss Whedon’s 2009 series, Dollhouse, that most successfully explores questions about the fate of embodiment in a world of virtual copies. In its fictional milieu, the technologically created woman, Echo (Eliza Dushku) picks up Max’s revolutionary mantle and takes on a near future where technology threatens to excise human subjectivity all together. The series poses such

199 questions as how identity is constituted in an age of perfect technological reproduction; whether downloading information into the brain equals wisdom; what role does the body play in individuation; does a spirit or soul live on as a central organising principle without the corporeal; can technological advances that are detrimental to humanity be contained; what are the moral implications of biotechnologies and how should they be used; and can technology fundamentally change human physiology? As such, Dollhouse tackles a century of science fiction narratives from Futurism to cyberpunk, and Echo, as its artificial heroine, becomes a palimpsest for discourse on the technologically produced feminine.

When first we meet her, Echo is simply an empty vessel – one of cyberpunk’s meat puppets. She is also the technosexual’s ideal doll – a technologically modified body with no desire, want, or ego other than what her handlers imprint on her. Echo was once Caroline, an animal rights activist who had sought to bring the Rossum Corporation responsible for the Dollhouse to its knees. As an ‘Active’ in the Los Angeles Dollhouse, however, she joins other resident guinea pigs of this slightly sinister underground day spa who have either opted or been coerced to become ‘dolls,’ that is, wiped of their and memories for a period of five years.85 During this time their bodies are rented out for princely sums to comply with a client’s every desire. This usually equates to fulfilling sexual fantasies, but they are also imprinted with ‘expert’ knowledge to work as trouble-shooters, or function as impossibly attractive bodyguards Figure 16. Fox publicity still for Dollhouse (dir. Joss with ninja skills. With no ‘I’ of their Whedon, 2009-10), depicting Echo (Eliza Dushku) as deadly mannequin. own, dolls are desireless, and therefore quiescent to Rossum’s will. What makes them different from slaves, Whedon tells us, is that once imprinted they completely inhabit another Self. They are mentally, 200 physically, and psychically a new being in a host body. When programmed by Dollhouse nerd neuroscientist, Topher Brink (Fran Kranz), they can fulfil any purpose, play any role and, for the term of their engagement, they literally become the Other.

As the Dollhouse’s top Active, Echo is in demand. She offers a perfect mirror to every client’s narcissistic gaze, playing out his or her fantasies to the letter. She is mimetic – by turns a devoted girlfriend, a loving ex-wife, a sexy yet clueless literature student, a dominatrix, an assassin, even a lactating surrogate mother thanks to a little tweak of her brain chemistry (once again suggesting that reproduction can be controlled by technology). Activated, she becomes the doubled body, both sexual threat and submissive ideal – “She gets to be the virgin and the whore and she’s celebrated for both” (“A Love Supreme,” 2.08). Like Tomorrow’s Eve’s Hadaly, Echo’s ingénue demeanour often masks a deadly assassin, but only for the terms of her assignment. Any threat she might pose can be quickly erased on returning her to the Dollhouse. The series therefore offers a comment on the masculinised model of technological transcendence instigated by the Italian Futurists and embraced by cyberpunk fiction, both of which set the scene for imagining cybertechnologies as disembodied spaces that delete metaphors of feminine embodiment. It highlights that, as the subject is injected with increasing velocity into the pixels and bytes of cyberspace, society’s dreams of exchanging human bodies for the weightless exultation of a radically new space are rendered digitally substantial. However, as Paul Virilio has written there has been a deliberately and carefully orchestrated “disappearance of woman in the fatality of the technical object,” and initially Dollhouse demonstrates that this is so.86 In the plastic world of constructed identities that results from technology’s elision of the feminine, Echo is, as Kristeva has said, no Woman.87 Indeed, one could say that the very notion of Woman, in relation to Whedon’s world, is itself a virtual reality.

However, Dollhouse also shows us that, by 2009, the work of cyberfeminists like Sadie Plant and VNS Matrix may have indeed enabled a re-imagining of Woman’s supposed elision. For Plant, the ‘ones’ and ‘zeroes’ of binary code stand for a singular male identity to which female identity is measured and found lacking, precisely as Kristeva would have it. Yet Plant reorders this relative hierarchy, arguing that the transformations of technology in late capitalist information culture have also altered a notion of feminine agency. As Fredric Jameson has pointed out, compared to the virulent power of industrial age machinery, electronic technologies no longer evoke the imagery of physical prowess –

201 they function more quietly with their workings hidden behind a screen rather than on full, noisome display:

What must then be observed is that the technology of our own moment no longer possesses the same capacity for representation: not the turbine… nor even the streamlined profile of the railroad train… but rather the computer, whose outer shell has no emblematic or visual power, or even the casings of the various media themselves, as with that home appliance called television which articulates nothing but rather implodes, carrying its flattened image surface within itself.88

In place of a virtual reality in which human consciousness is propelled through the last terminal frontier to join the virtual flow of pure image and information, Plant’s zeroes rise to the fore, decisively displacing “the phallic order of ones,” and re-embodying as well as re- signifying cyberspace.89

The utopian imaginings of Plant and VNS Matrix, while being relegated to history as ‘old’ cyberfeminism by the new wave of cyberfeminists seeking praxis over utopia, nevertheless still have rhetorical force for popular culture renditions of the technologically constructed woman. For Echo being ‘no woman’ is the necessary condition for becoming ‘every woman.’ In Dollhouse, the temptation of using cyberspace to escape the confines of the body backfires, precisely because, as VNS Matrix and Plant had suggested, all identity is multiplied in the matrix. Rather than recreating subjectivity as disembodied sensoria, an object of pure sensory pleasure, to enter the Dollhouse and become an Active is to put on the Other. Dollhouse therefore narratively plays out the end result of a virtual world that might allow us to pull our minds out of our skulls and drop them into the space of the machine or another body. It depicts technology not as pure disembodiment but rather a distribution of consciousness between two very different kinds of body images – one with all the proprioceptive memories of corporeality and one belonging to a phantasmagorical world of infotechnology’s making. Dollhouse suggests that the renegotiation of subjectivity that would have to take place within a virtual world of multiple bodies codes the corporeal as an inscription able to be written and rewritten. Identity therefore becomes subject to an infinite exchange of possibilities. And Echo’s almost effortless ability to adjust her re-inscribed sense of proprioception and link it to her corporeality suggests the self’s aptitude in redrawing its internal body picture at will, fully realising Lacan’s claim that: 202 The imaginary anatomy … varies with the ideas … about bodily functions which are prevalent in a given culture. It all happens as if the body image had an autonomous existence of its own and by autonomous I mean … independent of objective structure.90

Echo discovers this the hard way. She is forcibly transformed into a virtually multiple body by Alpha, an Active gone rogue, who, due to a technological glitch while being imprinted, experiences “a composite event. Forty-eight personalities got dumped into his coconut all at once. He snapped” (“Omega,” 1.12). Alpha becomes a psychotic genius, the joker in the Dollhouse’s precarious deck of cards. Believing this sudden accumulation of other selves makes him a “new god” (“Omega” 1.12), and obsessed by what he perceives as Echo’s perfection of being, he kidnaps her from the Dollhouse and attempts to remake her in his own image: “You can ascend. You can evolve” (“Omega” 1.12). Yet, after being simultaneously downloaded with thirty-eight personalities, Echo refuses to see it Alpha’s way:

Echo: Now I get it. Now I understand everything… You think we’re gods? Alpha: We’re not just humans anymore. We’re not multiple personalities… Echo: We’re not gods. Alpha: Fine. Ubermensch. Nietzsche predicted our rise. Perfected objective, something new. Echo: Great. New, superior people with a little German thrown in. What could possibly go wrong? (“Omega,” 1.12).

Echo, however, refuses to submit to a conventional notion of technologically augmented super beings a la Nietzsche and technophilia, designed for power and control. Rather than neo-fascistic becoming, she chooses to transform herself into a revolutionary (m) Other bent on dismantling the technophiles dominating machines from within. Hers is a gendered transformation – where technological transcendence literally blows Alpha’s mind into warring parts, Echo becomes integrated, immediately understanding that:

We’re not anything. We’re not anybody, because we’re everybody. I’m experiencing, like, thirty-five [personalities] right now. But I somehow

203 understand that not one of them is me… There is no me. There’s just a container” (“Omega,” 1.12).

In contrast to Alpha the technophile’s longing for virtual disembodiment, Echo’s experience illustrates the potential of virtual technologies to effect a profound disturbance of identity. Technologies like the internet, world wide web, and social networking, in which the subject assumes a mode of virtuality, place into question the ontological and epistemological experience of being human that is the combined result of experience, reality, sensation, cognition, identity, and gender. Dollhouse suggests the body cannot be erased by virtual space. As Marinetti predicted, it must be multiplied. That is, entering virtuality necessarily replaces the sense of a unified body with two partial bodies; the corporeal body that pilots reactions within the simulated space of the computer and an (incomplete) electronic ‘body image’ created by the user’s mind. It is this ‘cyberbody’ that challenges proprioception within the user’s body by replacing the corporeality of ‘labouring’, ‘real’ human bodies with pure information whose configurations ‘signify’ disembodied human sensoria, personality ‘constructs’, and ‘artificial’ intelligences. The cyberbody becomes mere representation, an external surface to be inscribed at will and onto which the user projects its dreams of otherness and alterity, but without entirely subsuming its being to the machine. Quite the opposite – in the context of cybernetic or virtual disembodiment, virtuality addresses the overwhelming need to reconstitute a phenomenal being. This occurs through a revelatory act of vision, in a movement that both de-centres and re-centres the subject in a manner aptly described by Merleau- Ponty: “The proper essence of the visible is to have a layer of invisibility in the subject … which makes it present as a certain absence.”91 That is, the user’s invisible subjectivity made manifest in virtual reality or cyberspace as the cyberbody is always dependent upon a phenomenological body outside the computer. These two bodies exist simultaneously in a state of constant exchange, one with its Other. The cyberbody thus problematises the user’s normative subjectivity; that is to say, when the transcendent Other is placed in direct relation with the Self, the user is forever changed by the disembodied explorations of its cybersubjectivity.

Michel Serres has argued that our bodies exist in the intersection of a variety of social spaces – Euclidean, projective, topological, and so forth – and that these social spaces are always in the process of construction.92 Within these cultural arenas, articulations of self are only momentarily complete, in part constituted by the forces that oppose them and always contingent upon surviving the contradictions they have subsumed. In effect, 204 subjects that are constituted within the multiplicities of these social spaces must be understood as historical or cultural constructs, while those that fail to inscribe themselves within their logic are considered socially sick, with the consequence that they are excluded from social interaction, exploding, as Serres maintains, “from the disconnection of spaces.”93 In such a fragile world of identity formation, the subject and the social spaces it inhabits can be seen as always already in a state of flux. Similarly, our bodies are continually produced by socially regulated norms that delimit them also from obtaining a state of closure, of perfection, of “finishedness.” It follows that our own perceptions of ourselves, the ways in which we perceive our bodies and are perceived by others, are also in a condition of perpetual evaluation.

Dollhouse suggests, “our sense of self, our sense of place in the world, remains consistent and continuous purely because external reality has a certain continuity to it.”94 It tells us that both our internal self-image and our projected body image are volatile, that only a stable reality enforces a stable sense of self. Echo, the multiplied woman, is the product of a new socio-technological space that challenges our perceptions of our selves and our bodies. If to enter the virtual requires that the individual replace the sense of a unified and coherent physical body image with two partial bodies – the corporeal body that pilots reactions within the simulated space of the computer, and an incomplete body image constructed by the user’s imagination – then it is obvious that the corporeal body always remains beyond the borders of simulation, acting as a conduit for sensations orchestrated by the electronic body within cyberspace. It remains outside the cyberbody’s frame of reference, unable itself to physically inhabit the virtual world. By contrast, the cyberbody is free to roam infinitely possible spaces, or at least as far as binary code allows. But, without the link with the corporeal body outside, the cyberbody simply ceases to function, being without agency or sensation. Echo’s multiplied body similarly remains on the borderland of both physical and virtual, necessarily oscillating between both. Indeed, Echo/Caroline is both/neither. She is both the sum of her parts and none of them. She exists only in the in-between, in the trans. After her composite event, Echo/ Caroline is forever changed – not any body but every body. She begins to remember every personality Rossum has imprinted on her, and starts to access them through the force of her own will, without the aid of technology. She becomes a container through which all her multiple subjectivities flow. In other words, she experiences vertical transcendence as an almost mystical oscillation between change and changelessness. As puts it:

205 This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the Individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in , in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterance an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old.95

The Dollverse repeats this recurring note, employing the perpetually new language of mysticism to describe Echo’s transformation into Echo/Caroline/ Other. Transcendence leads her not to destruct and deconstruct like Alpha, but to restore unity, to re-signify her fellow dolls and with them repair a broken technological system that sees human bodies as soulless meat. Echo/Caroline/Other is no longer a blank personality but a multiplied body, a vessel that contains a network of integrated selves originally multiplied by the machine, but now finding synthesis within her corporeality. Although she can access each of her thirty-eight personalities at will she understands that there must be something else, she is something more. She is Echo/Caroline and yet not Echo/Caroline – both/ neither – and therefore becomes more than simply an echo of her multiple parts. She is rather a transmodern being, oscillating between self and other with each arising moment, seeking wholeness while secretly knowing that such a perfect state can never be.

Dollhouse therefore reiterates avant-garde cyberfeminism’s argument that the insertion of our bodies in cyberspace has crucial repercussions for feminist politics as virtual space can be constructed and theorised as a radical, imaginary place where concepts of gender and sex can be practically explored. Women, occupying a virtual place in patriarchal society, have long learned to function along this volatile border between internal self and projected image, and, therefore may be uniquely suited to inhabiting virtual spaces. But a cyberfeminist politics also insists that it is not enough to negotiate cyberspace, feminists must colonise it, rewrite it, and make it their own. Echo begins as yet another repetition of a long history of female automatons made subservient to their technological masters. Yet, like Eve Edison and Max Guevara, she learns to embody the artificial woman as disruptive force. Her quiescent exterior hides an inner battle for self-realisation. Even 206 though her original personality – the animal liberationist turned terrorist caught infiltrating Rossum’s secret labs – exists only as a wedge of information in the Dollhouse’s , Echo starts to remember her Original Self. In Zen Buddhism, the call to remember your original face is an invitation to recognise the empty nature of reality, to look beyond one’s socio-psycho-cultural understanding of self, body and mind. Echo recalls all the personalities – male and female – that have been imprinted on her. To be more accurate, it is Echo/Caroline/ Other’s cyberbody that remembers these others. As she slowly transforms from object to fully self-realised subject, Echo knows that she also is Other, not Caroline, not any one of the thirty-eight personalities vying for attention in her mind. And she understands that this Other that she has become, this multiple body, has the power to interrupt Rossum’s larger agenda to really make the masses mindless using Topher’s doll technology. As Rossum’s disruptive, disturbing, border-disrespecting creation, Echo is primed to thwart their dystopian plans.

Judith Butler argues that the category of sex is always a regulatory ideal that produces, demarcates and circulates the bodies it governs. The subject is formed by virtue of having gone through the process of assuming a ‘sex.’ The production of regulatory, normative bodies enables certain privileged sex identifications of this subject and disavows others, creating an “exclusionary matrix” that requires the simultaneous production of abject beings – those beings not yet subjects but who form a constitutive outside to the domain of normative subjects. Butler’s abject beings are not unlike Serres’ socially ejected, socially sick subjects. The abject here designates the marginalised, “precisely those ‘unliveable’ and ‘uninhabitable’ zones of social life that are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject, but whose living under the sign of the “unliveable” is required to circumscribe the domain of the subject.”96 In effect, these abject bodies/sexes occupy the necessary limits of subjective classification – they are the dreaded identification by which normative bodies are held in constraint by social regulations. The normative body is thus constructed through the force of exclusion and abjection, one that produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside, which is simultaneously inside the subject as its own founding repudiation.

Echo/Caroline/Other’s multiplied body therefore alters the terms of the necessary and normative domain of all material bodies through the simultaneous construction of the unthinkable, abject, and unliveable margin of radical otherness. It creates the possibility of a normative and socially regulated body to be presented face to virtual face with its abject counterpart, forcing it to experience the reception and sensation of its otherness. Faced 207 with the disavowed spectacle of the abject body, the self-grounding presumption of the normatively sexed subject is exposed, an exposure that threatens to disrupt the very terms of its symbolic legitimacy and intelligibility. Through an exchange of imaginary bodies, the cyberbody becomes an embodiment of the doppelganger — a phantom body that, in acting as an invading replication of the self, compromises normative subjectivity. Like Echo and other doppelgangers of popular science fiction, the multiplied body exemplifies the art of simulation and, through its ability to virtually mimic other sex and gender roles, can begin to investigate the margins of otherness. In virtual space, the simultaneous act of performing both female and male roles de-privileges the phallus, removing it from its normative bodily exchange and re-circulating it between women, so that it is redeployed in order “to break the signifying chain in which it conventionally operates.”97 If the central identification of normative sexed bodies cannot be strictly regulated in cyberspace, then the domain of the imaginary in reality, a domain in which the body is partially constituted, is marked by a constitutive vacillation. Through the experience of the multiplied body, the phantasmic status of having the phallus can be rendered transferable, substitutable, plastic, if you will, underscoring the ways it can exceed the structural place to which it has been consigned by the Lacanian scheme. The cyberbody highlights the fact that, for the phallus to remain a structure of power, it must be reiterated, and, “as reiterable, becomes open to variation and plasticity.”98 The multiplied body, in this case, has the phallus and yet does not have it, and, in both recalling phallogocentric systems of domination and displacing them, significantly splits the signifier.

While technological change, the teleological climax of patriarchal late capitalism realised in the medium of cyberspace, is a world structured by an abstract space that has “homogeneity as its goal, its orientation, its lens,”99 to paraphrase Henri Lefebvre’s analysis of capitalism, the contradictions of machine addiction (its disruption of identity and affiliation with feminine imagery), contains within its borders “the seeds of a new kind of space,” that potentially hinders the workings of masculinised technological systems of domination, and becomes its Achilles’ heel.100 On inserting himself into the electronic virtual world, the subject Sadie Plant has called “historical man” enters spaces in which his normative conceptions of reality and identity are destroyed. Rather than achieving pure cognisance, the ultimate control of an environment of his minds’ own design, historical man “disappears on the matrix, his boundaries collapsed in the cybernetic net.”101 Echo also uses her newfound perspective to beat Rossum at its own game. She voluntarily returns to the Dollhouse in an effort to bring about its destruction. She submits 208 to being “sent to the Attic” – the place where all bad dolls go – where human bodies are networked together in a state of heightened adrenaline to keep their brains working at “twenty per cent more processing power than a computer” (“The Attic” 2.10) so as to provide boosted hardware for Rossum’s computer mainframe. Caught in a permanent nightmare, she seeks the hidden knowledge that will bring about the corporation’s downfall. Her body is her guide back to the Real – to return from the personalised hell of the Attic she must persuade it to flatline so the computer will disengage her from its systems. Reborn to the world armed with the wisdom necessary to sabotage Rossum’s systems from within the body of the machine (with her machine-constructed body), Echo corrupts their technocratic discourse, and saves the future from erasure by technophile.


A popular avant-garde cyberfeminist text for a new millennium, Dollhouse reminds us that our bodies cannot be forgotten in our race to merge with our technologies. It reiterates that the body is not just meat hanging on the end of a machine but the necessary condition for an integration of self. As a multiplied body synchronised by a single consciousness, Echo’s cyberfeminist re-inscription of her internal subjectivities becomes the domain of the reproductive feminine. Attuned to the potential tension between the claims of the self and the nascent subjectivities within, her reproductive feminine body proves biologically, culturally, and viscerally better equipped to negotiate the multiplied body than her male counterpart, Alpha. Whedon’s narrative therefore reproduces technology as a space of potentiality for the feminine, one that may be “produced in the image of capital, but can be reappropriated in the symbolic vocabulary of liberation.”102 Disrupting and displacing Rossum’s technological desires from within, Echo transforms “the critique conducted in the form of a necessary limitation into a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression.”103 Her corporeal body acts as anchor for the cyberbodies within, and yet they remain visible through what we might call a layer of invisibility, of the same kind that Merleau-Ponty describes, making them present as a certain absence. Poignantly enveloped by the self-revealing withdrawal of the real, her loss of self does not result in a reappropriation of sameness, but in a disjunction that permits otherness to come into its own a la Dussel. Further, her multiplied body leaves a residue (or creates an excess), of its experience that carries through to both the world outside the fictional world of Dollhouse, and the viewers’, by altering perceptions of Self. Bringing us back full circle to Marinetti’s fascination with technological death as a metaphor for revolution and renewal, avant-garde cyberfeminist strategies like those of

209 VNS Matrix, Soufoulis, and Plant, new cyberfeminist theories as proposed by Fernandez and Wilding, and popular cyberfeminist myths like Dollhouse, Dark Angel, and Mann and Machine play with rewriting the masculine technological equation, undermining the certainty of what counts as real, displacing the transcendent authorisation of interpretation, and with it the grounding Western epistemology. The cyberfeminist (fictional or otherwise) becomes identity hacker, re-imagining technology as the method by which subverting the traditional gendering of technological systems becomes possible, creating virtuality as a transgressive space. The body is no longer terminated but terminal.

In Dollhouse’s final moments, Echo/Caroline/Other seeks a kind of unity of feminine and masculine technological copies – yet when Paul, the only object of her desire is killed (“Epitaph Two,” 2.13), she integrates his Original Self into her own, where together, along with the now hundred other selves embedded with equal consequence in her mind, they set out on a new integrated future, an embodied transmodern becoming that is neither dystopian nor utopian, but all/neither. The continued dissemination of avant-garde cyberfeminism into pop culture texts like Dollhouse illustrate our continued gnoseological reliance on utopian fictions despite our understanding that such fictions may well remain unattainable, or at least virtual. They offer all feminisms a space to dream about a future that is whole, where ones and zeroes no longer vie for precedence in the technological system, and galvanise us into undertaking the theoretical and practical work required to make such a future happen. They show us that is not simply a question of ‘old’ and ‘new’ cyberfeminisms, but that both are needed, the utopian carrot and the theoretical stick in equal measure – the one to provide the impetus for forward movement, the other to continually ground us in the here and now of feminist practice and activism. To realise this light balance between future and present is to take a thoroughly transmodern turn away from competing ‘isms’ and begin to map a path that leads us beyond and across all, thoroughly transforming feminism into transfeminism – a nomadic feminism that revels in its multiplicity but does not necessarily need to replace a centralising patriarchy with an essentialised feminine. We can therefore appreciate avant-garde cyberfeminism for what it was – a search for totality in a fragmented milieu, a transmodern turn that sought to balance out the masculinised technophilic colonisation of cyberculture with images of feminine re-embodiment as rupture, reversal, and reintegration, but ultimately exchanged a perceived masculine control of technology for the feminine colonisation cyberspace. The task, however, for a new cyberfeminist theory is to promote a technological subjectivity that is, like Echo, all/neither – that is, a subjectivity in which masculine and 210 feminine technological utopias are drawn together to create a composite future where the whole is no longer constituted by is warring parts, but allows each conjunction to come fully into its own. To do so is to move forward into transmodernism, a radically integrated theoretical space that celebrates all modes of technological desiring, while always already remaining open the disclosures of otherness.


1 Elizabeth Grosz, Feminist (New York: Routledge, 1993), 204.

2 , Critique of Pure Reason, (New York: Modern Library, 1958), §28, 120.

3 Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea (London: Penguin Classics, 1965), 182.

4 See Sarah Kember, Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life (London: Routledge, 2003), 178; Judith Squires, “Fabulous Feminist Futures and the Lure of Cyberculture,” in The Cybercultures Reader, ed. David Bell and M. Kennedy (London: Routledge, 2000), 369.

5 Bruce Sterling, ed., Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (New York: Ace Books, 1988), xi.

6 Graham J. Murphy, “Stray Penetration and Heteronormative Systems Crash: Queering Gibson,” in Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction, ed. Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, Joan Gordon (: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 124.

7 Gibson, Neuromancer, 178.

8 Putting on the female body suggested by Case’s simstim experience mimics the desire of early male internet users to impersonate women in order to, ostensibly, understand the cultural implications of being woman (although in reality amounted to a technologically assisted voyeurism).

9 Gibson, Neuromancer, 71-72.

10 Gibson, Neuromancer, 71.

11 Gibson, Neuromancer,72.

12 Gibson, Neuromancer, 168-169.

13 Murphy, “Stray Penetration,” 125.

14 Sartre, Nausea, 182.

15 This fear is documented in Judeo-Christian myth by Eve’s eating of the apple and bringing about man’s rejection from paradise or the ’s depiction of Lilith’s rebellion against Adam’s sexual domination. Eve’s alliance with the serpent in Genesis might also be read as the feminine’s equation with a monstrous natural world against Adam’s affiliation with God the technologist.

16 Christine Cornea, Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 149.

17 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (New York: Signet Classic, 1983), 52.

18 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 55.

19 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 56.

211 20 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 160.

21 James Twitchell, Adcult USA: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture (New York: Press, 1996), 11.

22 Dan Laurie, The Apple Blog, January 13, 2005 http://theappleblog.com/2005/01/13/mac-love/

23 Stephenson, Snow Crash, 21-2.

24Pete Mortensen, “Meet the Apple Pack Rats“ in Wired, 15.09.2005 archived online at http:// www.wired.com/gadgets/mac/commentary/cultofmac/2005/09/68810

25 K. C. D’Alessandro, “Technophilia: Cyberpunk and Cinema.” Paper delivered at the Society or Cinema Studies conference, Bozeman, Montana, July 1988, 1. Quoted in Claudia Springer, Electronic Eros Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), 4.

26 See The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 313.

27 Springer, Electronic Eros, 126.

28 ASFR FAQ v 2.4 created by Robotdoll. Archived online at www.psynd.com/winterrose/ technosexuality David Levy claims technosexuality is not a new phenomenon, but rather an extension of a centuries-old desire to objectify and externalise the sexual act resulting from our culture’s longstanding division of sex and reproduction. He alludes to ‘dames de voyage’ (‘ladies of travel’) – artificial bodies or genitalia designed to provide substitutes for the female body, most notably recommended to nineteenth-century sailors for use during long periods at sea. See interview with David Levy by Cory Silverberg at http://sexuality.about.com/od/sexandtechnology/a/ david_levy_3 October 14 2007; and also David Levy, Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (London: Harper Collins, 2007).

29 AI: Artificial Intelligence. Directed by Steven Spielberg (2001. California: Warner Bros) DVD.

30 Technosexuality website. www.p-synd.com/winterrose/technosexuality.html

31 As Kristeva notes, the abject is “a precondition of narcissism.” See Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 13.

32 Kristeva, Powers, 2.

33 Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (Zone Books, 1996), 87.

34 Alex Galloway, “A Report on Cyberfeminism: Sadie Plant relative to VNS Matrix,” Switch (9). The First Cyberfeminist International held in Kassel, Germany on 20-28 September, 1997 agreed on not to define the term, formulating a "100 Anti-Theses" of what Cyberfeminism is not. See www.obn.org/reading_room/manifestos/html/anti.html for a copy of the collectively written, multilingual text.

35 See Marge Piercy, He, She, and It (published as Body of Glass in UK) (New York: Fawcett, 1991); Pat Cadigan, Mindplayers (London: Hachette, 2011); and Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl, http://www.eastgate.com/catalog/PatchworkGirl.html Accessed 5 October, 2011.

212 36 According to Carolyn Guertin, cyberfeminism emerged simultaneously in 1992 in a Canadian article by Nancy Paterson, with VNS Matrix’ Cyberfeminist Manifesto, and Sadie Plant’s feminist cultural theories. See Carolyn Guertin, “From Cyborgs to Hactivists: Postfeminist Disobedience and Virtual Communities,” http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/writingpostfeminism/ hackpacifist Accessed on 5 October, 2011. OBN (Old Boys Network), the first global cyberfeminist alliance, was formed in 1997 in Berlin as “a real and virtual coalition of Cyberfeminists founded by Cornelia Sollfrank, Ellen Nonnenmarcher, Vali Djordjevic, and VNS Matrix member, Julianne Pierce. See http://www.obn.org/inhalt_index.html US cyberfeminist art collective, subRosa, was founded in 1998 and combines “art, social activism and politics to explore and critique the intersections of information and bio technologies on women’s bodies, lives and work.” Cyberfeminists Faith Wilding and Maria Fernandez work closely with subRosa, which in turn interacts with other cyberfeminist networks around the globe. See http://cyberfeminism.net/about.html#manifesto

37 Judy Wacjman, Technofeminism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), 63.

38 Julianne Pierce, “Info Heavy Cyber Babe,” in First Cyberfeminist International, ed. Cornellia Sollfrank (Hamburg, Old Boys Network, 1998). Accessed 10 April, 2011. http://www.artwarez.org/ 164.0.html?&L=1

39 David Silver, Web.studies: Rewiring for the Digital Age, ed. David Gauntlett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 19.

40 Howard Rheingold, “A slice of life in my virtual community,” in Global Networks: Computers and International Communication, ed. L. M. Harasim (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 58. This notion was quickly translated into popular culture, with one singular example being the ‘Third Place’ print advertising for the Sony Playstation computer games console that emerged during this period. Using drab colours in a blasted landscape the two page ads highlighted the dreary humdrum of normative reality in the central figure of a depleted potential gamer juxtaposed against the promise of unlimited potential in a ‘Third Place’ within the computer’s virtual space. The body is portrayed as a deflated shell yearning for an alternate world of perpetual adventure in which everyday laws no longer apply. Sony deliberately left definitions of the first and second ‘places’ unstated, although it is clear from these advertisements that their hypothetical ‘Third Place’ is antithetical to the body.

41 Laura Miller, “Women and children first: Gender and the settling of the electronic frontier,” in Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, eds. James Brook, and Iain A. Boal (San Francisco: City Lights, 1995), 57.

42 David Silver, Web.studies, 19.

43 Nicholas Zurbrugg, Electronic (Perth: Centre for Research in Culture & Communication, Murdoch University, 1994), 57.

44 Zurbrugg, Electronic Arts, 58.

45 Virtual Woman was marketed with the by line, “Your girlfriend just got some competition,” blatantly indicating the desire to replace the corporeal with the virtual female body.

46 See Art and Text #42 (May 1992); Honi Suit, Sydney University Student Publication, March 1992; and Farrago, University of Melbourne Student Publication, June 1992.

47 Perloff, Futurist Moment, 81.

48 Although Marinetti’s stance on the feminine remains suspect, true to his reliance on contradiction he remained a champion of the liberation of feminine metaphors from the phallogocentric lexicon. He claimed, paradoxically, that the technological reproduction of man outside natural biology would free women from the possession of patriarchy: “Woman does not belong to a man, but rather to the future and the race’s development.” Marinetti, “Marriage and the Family,” in Flint, Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 86.

213 49 Perloff, Futurist Moment, 85.

50 F.T Marinetti, “Let’s Murder the Moonshine,” in Flint, Let’s Murder the Moonshine, 62.

51 All New Gen was originally an installation comprising interactive computer artwork, lightboxes, video and photographic installations, soundworks, at The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, June 9-10, 1994. The group had hoped their Gamegirl might be targeted at teenage and pre- pubescent girls who are in the process of formulating their own identities and are in desperate need of good, technocultural role models to counteract the barren technoscape of conventional computer games, with their emphasis on male subjectivities.

52 Zurbrugg, Electronic Arts, 59.

53 Sadie Plant, “Beyond the Screens: Film, Cyberpunk and Cyberfeminism,” Variant 14 (1993): 14.

54 Plant, “Beyond the Screens,” 15.

55 Zoë Sofoulis, "Slime in the Matrix," Jane Gallop Seminar Papers, ed. Jill Julius Matthews (Canberra: Australian National University, 1994), 99.

56 Sofoulis, "Slime,” 99.

57 Jyanni Steffensen, “Slimy metaphors for technology: ‘the clitoris is a direct line to the matrix.’”

58 Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 4.

59 See Faith Wilding, “Where is the Feminism in Cyberfeminism?” Feminist Art Theory, ed. Hillary Robinson (London: Blackwell, 2001).

60 Maria Fernandez and Faith Wilding. “Situating Cyberfeminism,” in Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices, ed. Maria Fernandez and Faith Wilding (New York: Autonomedia, 2003), 21.

61 Wacjman, Technofeminism, 75.

62 Fernandez and Wilding, “Situating Cyberfeminism,” 23.

63 Fernandez and Wilding, “Situating Cyberfeminism,” 21.

64 Fernandez and Wilding, “Situating Cyberfeminism,” 24. It must be noted that the categories of ‘old’ and ‘new’ cyberfeminisms are arbitrary terms and the timelines between them continue to shift.

65 Jack Glascock has suggested that women were represented in between 37% and 40% of all TV roles. A traditionally male dominated audience for science fiction television sees this percentage drop sharply. Although this demographic is changing, the science fiction television series analysed here represent the fate of female-centric science fiction narratives are less popular than more conventional stories featuring male role models engaged in adventurous activities. See Glascock, “Gender Roles on Prime-Time Network Television: Demographics and Behaviors,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 1550-6878, Volume 45, Issue 4 (2001), 656 – 669; and John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Dr. Who And Star Trek (London: Routledge, 1995).

66 , The Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche (New York: 1990), 47.

67 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990), 6.

68Donna J. Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” in The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader, eds. G. Kirkup, L. Janes, K. Woodward and F. Hovenden (London: Routledge, 2000), 50-58.

214 69 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (London: Routledge, 1999), 272.

70 Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto, 291.

71 Directed by James A. Contner and Brian Grant. Aired NBC, 5 April, 1992.

72 Directed by Fritz Lang (UFA, 13 March, 1927).

73 To further investigate the history of woman as other, see Barbara Johnson, A World of Difference (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1987), in which traces the depiction from Aristotle onwards of the female other as “the first distortion of the genus ‘”man” en route to becoming a monster” (33).

74 Directed by Duncan Gibbons (Interscope Communications, 1991).

75 Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, trans. Robert Martin Adams (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001).

76 L’Isle Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, 68.

77 L’Isle Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, 49.

78 L’Isle Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, 84.

79 Rosi Braidotti, “Nomadic Subjects,” in Nina Lykke, Between Monsters, Goddesses, and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations with Science, , and Cyberspace (London: Zed Books, 1996), 88.

80 The obvious exception here is Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto,” which predates cyberpunk fiction.

81 Springer, Electronic Eros, 126.

82 Here ‘soft machine’ is taken to represent those bodies scientifically created or manipulated as Other, but without metal or non-organic parts.

83Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 23.

84 Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, 84-85.

85 The Rossum Corporation is named for Karel Capek’s 1921 science fiction – R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots – the first narrative to introduce the term ‘robot.’ For a full discussion of the similarities between the series and Capek’s play, see Kristin Noone, “Rossum’s Universal Robots: Karel Capek Meets Joss Whedon in the Dollhouse,” in Inside Joss’ Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum, ed. Jane Esperon (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2010), Kindle Edition.

86 Paul Virilio, The Aesthetics of Disappearance, trans. Philip Beitchman (San Francisco: Semiotext (e), 1991), 91.

87 Kristeva, The Portable Kristeva (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 365.

88 Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, Or the Logic of Late Capitalism (London & New York: Verso, 1991), 36-7.

89 Wacjman, Technofeminism, 64.

90 , quoted in Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 40.

215 91 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind” in The Primacy of Perception, trans. Carleton Dallery, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 187.

92 , Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, trans. Josue Harari and David Bell (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1983), 52.

93 Serres, Hermes, 44.

94 Gretchen Bender and Timothy Druckrey, eds., Culture on the Brink: Ideologies of Technology (New York: The New Press, 1994), 244.

95 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Modern Library, 1929), 410.

96 Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (London: Routledge 1993), 187.

97 Butler, Bodies, 88.

98 Butler, Bodies, 89.

99 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 287.

100 Lefebvre, Production of Space, 52.

101 Plant, ‘Beyond the Screens,” 16. If information is power, then the egalitarian aspects of VR will enable women to have equal access to the structure of that power. As Baudrillard has said in another context, it is “… those people with no origins and no authenticity, who will know how to exploit [this] situation to the full.” See Jean Baudrillard, America (New York: Verso, 2000), 76.

102 Michael Keith and Steve Pile, Place and the Politics of Identity (London: Routledge, 1993), 25.

103 Michel Foucault, ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 45.


WORSHIPPING @ THE SOURCE CODE: Integral Evolution and The Matrix Trilogy

217 The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non- marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching. – Ken Wilber1

Thus the movement of understanding is constantly from the whole to the part and back to the whole. Our task is to extend in concentric circles the unity of the understood meaning. The harmony of all the details with the whole is of correct understanding. The failure to achieve this harmony means that understanding has failed. – Hans-Georg Gadamer2

This thesis has so far mapped the narrative intersections between technology and transcendence across a range of diverse cultural texts, from Italian Futurism as proto-transmodernist movement through to cyberpunk’s revision of Futurism’s technospirituality into an info-technological context that rewrites man as god, and finally by tracing the figure of the artificial feminine from Genesis to transmodern heroine. The common thread through all these texts has been a desire for over heterogeneity; that is, a need to counteract technology’s nullifying gaze with narratives of transcendence. In the process of rhizomatically mapping the links between technology and transcendence, each chapter has sought to illustrate how embedded the notion of transcendence is within our technological tales, and reveal how and why vertical transcendence remains a site of excess that links religion and science in the figure of the machine. It has found that a traditional mystical discourse has completely permeated the language of technological innovation, employing metaphors of changelessness as a panacea to rapid technological change. It has further suggested that these attempts to counterbalance

218 technology’s subjective void represents the desire to re-signify a field that postmodernism had characterised as the supreme exemplar of meaninglessness, and thus lay the groundwork for the emergence of a transmodern aesthetic.

This chapter marks a change of direction in this study of the transmodern re- signification of culture. It moves (largely) from literary and cultural explorations to a real world application of transmodern concepts in one secular theoretico-spiritual movement, ‘Integral.’ Based on the theories of US philosopher and contemporary mystic in the tradition of William James, Ken Wilber, Integral focuses on the interconnections between discourses of ontology, epistemology, and methodology, a project that Wilber half-jokingly claims constitutes a post-metaphysical “theory of everything,” recalling the Gnostic quest for all knowledge seen in cyberpunk fictions. As such Wilber’s work occupies a rather queasy position in relation to academic theory, where “theories of everything” have been quite rightly criticized as tending towards over-generalisation. However, Wilber’s integral theory provides this thesis with a succinct example of how spiritual commentators are using the term ‘transmodern’ to push the boundaries of normative spirituality, using Dussel’s analectical mode of reasoning to create a theoretical bridge between pre-modern traditions and a post-metaphysical post-millennial culture to demonstrate how transmodernism transcends and includes the modern and the postmodern. And, though he does not specifically use the terminology, Wilber’s work on vertical and horizontal transcendence (although he doesn’t use these terms) also seeks a union between theory and praxis – arguing that spiritual technologies (combining meditation, research, spiritual practice, community, and healthy living) can instigate vertical transcendence on a widespread socio-cultural level and thus inspire paradigmatic change. In exploring the growing sublation of the desire for vertical transcendence, science fiction mythologies, and online technologies within the Integral movement, and its practical application in online and offline communities, this chapter seeks to further demonstrate that the idea that drove Marinetti’s Futurist manifestoes, fuelled cyberpunk’s technospiritual incursions into the non- space of cyberspace, and instigated cyberfeminist syntheses of the virtual and corporeal – that vertical transcendence can be fast-tracked by new technologies – is also gaining momentum in a wider socio-cultural sphere. In the process of discussing Wilber’s Integral theory it employs Magda’s sense of transmodern irony – that is, it seeks an ironic evaluation of Wilber’s themes of spirituality, god, transformation, and mystical transcendence for what it can tell us about those 219 transmodernisms seeking to marry the return of the religious to the realm of theory, while at the same time remaining cognisant of their potential for narrative, rational, and ideological instability.

The chapter begins with a brief overview of Wilber’s oeuvre and traces the historical trajectory of his integral model through Western and Eastern philosophies. It will then explore Wilber’s two key models for theorizing vertical and horizontal transcendence in detail, with a view to understanding their potential contribution to a transmodern methodology, followed by an application of integral theories to construct a reading of what Graham J. Murphy has called an “overt articulation of techno-spiritualism,” Larry and Andy Wachowski’s The Matrix trilogy.3 It highlights that, despite the plethora of commentary on The Matrix trilogy, from theological to postmodern readings, critics have generally remained silent on the close connection between the Wachowski brothers’ text and Wilber’s Integral movement. Indeed, it argues that a re-examination of these three films from an integral perspective may indeed offer a tangible example of an emerging transmodern methodology.


Ken Wilber has been writing prolifically about transformative development, world- centrism, and stages of faith for thirty-four years. And yet, despite a small but dedicated readership throughout this time, his work is only now gaining a modest recognition in both academic and popular circles. His integral theories are of particular interest to this thesis as they offer some of the most eloquent and fertile contemporary commentary on vertical transcendence, while also employing the idiom of science fiction and internet media to further convey a transformative message to as wide an audience as possible. Wilber’s project has been to create a composite map of the evolution of human emergence towards vertical and horizontal transcendence across all methodologies, including religious doctrines, cultural mores, scientific paradigms, psychological states, and social change, in a way that honours the key insights of these methodologies while distilling them down to their fundamental, interconnected elements. As such, his work offers this thesis an important example of how the themes of change and changelessness may be synthesised into a transmodern aesthetic. It exposes the omnipresence of

220 metaphysical metaphors inherent in the discourses of progress and evolution and promotes the notion that such still play a significant role in contemporary socio-cultural ways of thinking. Furthermore, integral theory points to ways in which we can begin to ironically re-evaluate metaphysics following its postmodern disavowal, placing in stark relief the entire movement of transcendence and technology towards a transmodernist perspective.

As both a philosopher and spiritual practitioner in the Hindu and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions with a background in the biological sciences and psychology, Wilber published the first of his twenty-nine books outlining Integral theory, The Spectrum of Consciousness in 1977 at the age of 23. Hailed as a primary text of (or the psychology of transcendence), Spectrum explored the stages of spiritual development evident in pan religious doctrines, and argued that these uncovered an innate human drive to progress towards godhood/ absolute perfection/ supreme knowledge.4 The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development, written in 1980, first outlined an early version of Wilber’s theory of the evolution of consciousness towards the divine, culminating in a non-dual recognition of an eternal ground of being.5 In 1982, his anthology The Holographic Paradigm and other Paradoxes: Exploring the Leading Edge of Science examined how a ‘holarchic’ model, based on ’s notion of holons, related to the fields of consciousness, mysticism, and science.6 In 1983, Eye to Eye: The Quest for a New Paradigm Wilber widened his lens to include western traditions in science and philosophy, focusing on three modes of attaining knowledge – via the mind, the senses, and ‘spirit’ or spiritual practice.7 Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, the first of his three-part opus magnum (the still to be completed Kosmos Trilogy), outlined his vision for Integral theory in minute detail. The text’s main argument sought to unite theories of religion, art, morality, , psychology, and science into a single, overarching theoretical framework Wilber calls the AQAL map as a supposed panacea to, among other things, postmodernism’s attack on the metaphysics of presence (meaning “All Quadrants All Levels,” this framework will be discussed further in the following section). In doing so, it attempted to resolve the discursive war between science and religion waged since the Enlightenment.8

To further distill its essential messages for a mass audience, a revised and shortened version of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality – A Brief History of Everything – 221 signalled a concurrent move into mainstream spirituality via online technologies.9 Wilber founded the ‘Integral Institute’ in 1998 with others dedicated to disseminating his theories to a wider public. An online “learning community” with a self-stated mission to “awaken humanity to full self-awareness” and ambitions towards establishing an accredited university, the Integral Institute attempts to bring together a global network of scholars, theorists, practitioners, and supporters working for the further development and expansion of integral theory into some twenty or more separate disciplines, including integrally-informed psychology, business, politics, medicine, education, law and criminal , art, and spirituality.10 The move has coincided with the production of a range of texts popularizing his work, including glossy coffee table books and pocket anthologies, a journal, Youtube videos, teleseminars, online blogs, viral newsletters, DVDs and CDs, social networking channels, and a complex Web 2.0 socio-spiritual community.11 In 2002, Wilber added a novel to his theoretical oeuvre, Boomeritis: A Novel that Will Set You Free, in an effort to distill integral theory into a part science fiction, part sermonizing, part biographical easy read, ironically (and somewhat unsuccessfully) using postmodern literary tropes to argue that postmodernism at its worst is the symptom of a socio-cultural ‘disease’ that precludes continued theoretical and spiritual evolution.12 In 2011, he continues to produce prolifically across multiple media channels including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, digital video, and interviews as well as further distilling his integral message via the printed word, online courses, conferences, and integral community groups across the world. The integral movement has become a network of affiliated sites and as Integral theory gains momentum.

Wilber’s Integral Institute offers a real-world example of the confluence between technological and mystical memes and their dissemination at the speed of information. Through ‘godcasting,’ or the use of Web 2.0 and social networking media to broadcast religious or spiritual content, it anticipates that a systemised project of transcendence has the power to instigate social change on a global scale. Moreover, Wilber characterises this new phase in integral theory as a resurrection of the avant-garde project, claiming his and other integrally conscious work as constituting a new cutting edge that restores theories of transcendence to prominence in a post-metaphysical milieu. The Integral Institute often employs technospiritual metaphors and imagery in the tradition of Italian Futurism and cyberpunk as a method of appealing to the mainstream public, providing insights 222 into the dissemination of both vertical and horizontal forms of transcendence in and by cyberspace. The language of popular science fiction texts like Star Trek and The Matrix is used to appeal to a broad secular audience while disseminating the inherent mysticism or non-duality in evolutionary processes and technological innovation. In expanding his participatory community online, however, Wilber runs the risk of losing control of his project, as a growing community of spiritual seekers reinterpret and co-opt his theories for their own contexts, allowing us to witness the transformation of a dynamic spiritual movement into a static religious endeavour a la Bergson in progress, based on a ‘more integral than thou’ attitude that is the end result of Wilber’s own efforts to simplify his message for mass appeal. Nevertheless, Wilber’s extensive theoretical output continues to gain greater attention, with a number of scholars around the world exploring integral methodologies in their own fields, over seventy international sites (and countless blogs) discussing the implications of integral theory on the web, a growing list of university courses devoted solely to Integral Studies, and high-profile confirmation by public figures such as Bill Clinton and Al Gore, self-help guru , and filmmakers Darren Aronofsky and the Wachoswki brothers, amongst others.13

Wilber’s ‘theory of everything’ is, as one commentator has put it, “the holy grail of all grand narratives,” marking Wilber as a positive system builder in the tradition of Schelling and Hegel and offering a potential model for transmodernism’s re- signification of culture.14 With his integral or ‘AQAL map’ Wilber ultimately seeks to encourage vertical transcendence in the subject, instigating the positive evolution of individual perspectives towards greater inclusivity and holarchy. It offers a methodology by which Wilber can resuscitate the notion of evolutionary spirituality – postmodernism’s disavowed other – suggesting that the fragmentation of perspectives popularized by postmodernism requires a concomitant move to better understand how those perspectives may be drawn together into a meaningful whole. Although he ultimately claims postmodernism as a crucial stage in the emergence of an integral worldview, Wilber is quick to suggest that postmodernism must be transcended, and that that transcendence must necessarily be a move towards increasing unity rather than nihilistic anarchy. He has recently employed the term ‘transmodernism’ to describe this evolution towards wholeness, although rather than ironic longing for a lost sense of totality, his use of it seems rather to describe a shift from an external to an internal locus of knowledge (or at least an equal weighing of reason and science with a more holistic and transcendental 223 metaphysical foundation). Without this sense of irony, Wilber’s systematic mapping of the vertically transcendent experience may rather be read as a of desire, established in response to postmodernism’s disenfranchising of metaphysics. As “an unrelentingly positive philosophy and affirmative history of everything,” it is a plea for order and integration in a late capitalist milieu that has privileged the deconstruction of absolutes.15 In this sense, integral theory is heir to what Derrida summarised as a strategic longing for metaphysical comfort that has pervaded the entire tradition of Western thinking since pre-modern Gnosticism posited a quest of the Self towards ultimate knowledge of existence and, further, claimed that quest as a process of becoming-god – or as the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip described it, being “no longer Christian, but Christ.”16

Wilber’s work therefore follows in the wake of metaphysical philosophers and substance theorists who have contended, to varying degrees, that biological development evolves continuously towards an unknown future objective, often attributed to the divine. Plotinus, for example, posited a ground of being, or nested holarchy he called ‘nous,’ the One, or the Good – a condition or source of absolute simplicity that is directly indescribable but from which all other principles of existence emerge and return. Rather than offer a sentient creator as a balm for spiritual longing, Plotinus’ nous represented a dynamic force or potentiality without which the world of forms could not exist. From this simple act of dynamism arose all complex forms of existence, leading Plotinus to reason that the complex must always evolve from the simple, the perfect from the imperfect.17 By adapting Plato’s theories of the One (transcendence) and the Many (immanence), he formed a theoretical bridge between , Eastern religions, and the emerging Christian Church, including Gnosticism, laying the foundations for western philosophy’s theorising of the one over the many, or being over becoming. An expression of the monist/pluralist question that has dogged religious debate for millennia, the problem of the One and the Many can be seen as the most central of all philosophical questions. 18 The debate is an enquiry into the nature of change versus changelessness; that is, it raises the question as to whether all material phenomena exists only in and for itself (becoming), or is a spontaneous expression of a central organising principle (being). Integral theory picks up this tradition of a philosophy of transcendence beginning with Plotinus, and Wilber sees his work as natural progression from a range of diverse theorists of the One, including Spinoza, Schelling, Bergson, Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Aurobindo, and Koestler. In 224 doing so, however, he focuses only on the tendency of these philosophers to explore the notion of vertical transcendence, cherry-picking those elements that positively coincide with his own integral theories.

It is, nevertheless, illuminating to trace Wilber’s philosophical antecedents, for to do so grounds his work in a strong tradition of thinking about vertical transcendence, and distances integral theory from its early associations with new age spirituality. Following Plotinus, then, we can further draw a line back from integral theory to ’s 1677 deus sive natura (god or nature) provided an articulation of matter’s becoming god by arguing that the infinite substance of existence must itself be indivisible, eternal, and unitary, and that everything else, including humanity, is contained within that indivisible whole. All that happens therefore occurs via immutable and naturally flowing (evolving) laws, which are the expression of a universal, divine essence.19 In a similar vein, Friedrich Schelling wrote “history as a whole is a progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the Absolute.”20 For Schelling, nature and spirit (naturphilosophie and transcendentalphilosophie) were complementary but distinct whole/parts (to use Wilber’s terminology) that constituted Absolute existence, which he characterised as neutrum (absolute undifferentiated self-equivalence). He argued that nature and spirit’s manifold attributes did not destroy their fundamental unity as both evolved within the Absolute towards greater perfection. When criticised by Hegel, Schelling claimed his featureless Absolute was a transcendental reality that could only be understood properly through direct experience, beyond logic and reason, that is, through mystical contemplation or aesthetic rapture. In other words, like the Gnostics, eastern religions, and, now, Wilber, Schelling claimed the transcendent experience as the only path to pure knowledge.

Henri Bergson’s expansion of evolutionary theory into the spiritual and creative spheres is another important precursor for integral theory’s evolution of consciousness. We will remember that Bergson’s 1907 Creative Evolution identified the driving force behind the evolutionary process as consciousness itself, a move that inspired a literal translation by the Italian Futurists that posited a mystical extension of humans with their cars, planes, and other modes of technology. According to Bergson, we are the continuous progress of the past that gnaws into the future, and which swells as it advances.21 Our desires and actions carry with them our entire past, and therefore we recognise the truth about the world within 225 ourselves – thus: “we extend ourselves indefinitely and… we transcend ourselves.22 Bergson therefore suggested the modern technological world would need to look beyond reason and the Enlightenment to fully understand the processes of being and becoming, or change (technology) and changelessness (transcendence). Indebted to Bergson’s philosophy of change,23 British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead further argued that “there are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil,” a notion clearly echoed by integral theory’s emphasis on whole-parts.24 By reducing the lens of theory down to a particular ‘ism’ – deconstruction, feminism, Marxism, and so forth – theorists run the risk of stating “half-truths” that remain only part of a comprehensive analysis of an object of study. As an example, Whitehead claimed that religion and science constituted two sides of a debate about human consciousness and materiality – religion being primarily based on non-sensory perceptions of existence while science concentrates on sensory perceptions of the world – prefiguring Wilber by seeking a transcendence of dualism, , , and . More importantly for Integral, Whitehead also advanced the notion that all materiality has a concomitant interiority that evolves simultaneously and pervasively, the one with the other, and that this model is repeated in the universe at every level of organisation, from atoms to animals to humans.

French Jesuit paleontologist, and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s also claimed Bergson as an influence for his 1955 The Human Phenomenon, which posited successive enveloping and transforming spheres that represented different kinds of evolutionary activity.25 Under the rubric of ‘cosmogenesis,’ Teilhard de Chardin suggested the impulse of evolution had order, direction, and purpose, moving from the geosphere (inanimate matter) to the biosphere (the emergence of life) to the noosphere (the emergence of thought). He conjectured that humans, like molecules and bacteria, contained this evolutionary potential to achieve higher integration or ‘megasynthesis’ into new modes of being, but that this could only be achieved en masse, most likely instigated with guidance from an enlightened group of individuals, or ‘:”

The way out for the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the superhuman, will not open ahead to the privileged few, or to a single people, elect among all peoples. They will yield only to the thrust of 226 all together (even if it were from the influence and guidance of an elite) in the direction where all can rejoin and complete one another in a spiritual renewal of the Earth.26

Wilber’s Integral Institute aims to instigate this “thrust of all together,” by applying integral theories across all forms of discourse and offering an integration of theory, corporeality, and spirituality as an example of collective consciousness.

Poet, philosopher, yogi, and Indian freedom fighter, Aurobindo Ghose remains one of the most important influences on Integral thought, concentrating as his work does on the evolution of the individual into the divine:

Man is a transitional being. He is not final. The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth’s evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner spirit and the logic of Nature's process.27

Aurobindo proposed the evolution of matter was a direct result of the evolution of spirit, and that all individuals began life as ignorant, unconscious beings unaware of the Real and their own spiritual potential. By employing a process of self-discovery, they could nevertheless uncover their divine nature, beginning with a perception of the oneness and unity of creation and harmony of opposites, followed by a spiritual transformation and “supramental” perception (divine consciousness), and finally a complete transformation of the mind, heart, emotions, and physical body. Wilber’s The Atman Project is particularly indebted to Aurobindo:

… development is evolution; evolution is transcendence… and transcendence has as its final goal Atman, or ultimate Unity Consciousness in only God. All drives are a subset of that Drive, all wants a subset of that Want, all pushes a subset of that Pull – and that whole movement is what we call the Atman-project: the drive of God towards God, Buddha towards Buddha, towards Brahman, but carried out initially through the intermediary of the human psyche, with results that range from ecstatic to catastrophic.28

From Arthur Koestler, Wilber borrows the concept of the ‘holon’ denoting 227 something that is not only a whole in-and-for-itself, but also is an integral part of a larger whole, or a ‘whole/part’ – an evolving and self-organising dissipative structure balanced between dissolution and order.29 Since a whole is made of integrated parts that are also holons, each is both influenced by and influences the other – the parts constitute the whole and the whole unifies the parts into greater meaning. Wilber uses Koestler’s example to demonstrate that the whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts, but also utterly dependent on them for continued coherency, creating a cyclical or rhizomatic chain of meaning and dependence.30 Wilber famously cites the example of a book – where letters are transcended and included in words, as words are transcended and included in a sentence, sentences on a page, and pages in a book – all of which evolve into greater meaning and complexity.31 As the process does not occur in the reverse – for example, to accomplish meaning, there are first letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, but not vice versa, Wilber claims the creation of an inevitable hierarchy or asymmetrical order of increasing wholeness:

These hierarchical networks necessarily unfold in a sequential or stage-like fashion, because you first have to have molecules, then cells, then organs, then complex organisms — they don't all burst on the scene simultaneously. In other words, growth generally occurs in stages, and stages, of course, are ranked in both a logical and chronological order. The more holistic patterns appear later in development because they have to await the emergence of the parts that they will then integrate or unify, just as whole sentences emerge only after whole words.32

Wilber uses this propensity of the more complex to ‘transcend and include’ the less complex to illustrate the evolutionary structure of all modes and expressions of existence. Spirituality, like biology and consciousness, must also be subject to the vertical march of evolution, and indeed, Wilber sees the incessant development of all matter towards greater complexity as an emanation of its ‘becoming-one’ or, the desire of all existence towards a reunion with the ‘One’ the nous, or the source of existence. The ultimate aim of integral theory is to theorise the path to this ‘One,‘ with Wilber’s AQAL map as the primary tool by which this theorisation becomes possible.


Wilber’s AQAL map is clearly a modern day replication of the Gnostic quest for vertical transcendence, a metasystem designed to categorize all forms of human knowledge within a single, comprehensive model to further the possibility of transcendence. In an anecdote not dissimilar to the injunction of the Corpus Hermetica previously discussed – that one must “understand everything, all art, all learning, the temper of every living thing” to align oneself with the Absolute – Wilber describes the epiphanic formation of his AQAL system as an exercise in data accumulation and synthesis:33

I had over two hundred hierarchies written out on legal pads lying all over the floor, trying to figure out how to fit them together… There were linguistic hierarchies, contextual hierarchies, spiritual hierarchies. There were stages of development in phonetics, stellar systems, cultural , autopoietic systems, technological modes, economic structures, phylogenetic unfoldings, superconscious realizations… And they simply refused to agree with each other… It soon became obvious that the various hierarchies fall into four major classes (what I would call the four quadrants); that some of the hierarchies are referring to individuals, some to ; some are about exterior realities, some are about interior ones, but they all fit together seamlessly.34

The purpose of Wilber’s AQAL map, therefore, is to demonstrate that all social, cultural, psychological, and scientific perspectives are inextricably linked as parts of a holarchic model of existence. It posits that each perspective mapped onto AQAL contributes to the continued evolution of consciousness towards greater and greater knowledge of the universe.

Wilber first introduced AQAL in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality to illustrate his fundamental perspectives on reality and has been refining it ever since. A ‘simple’ version is based on first, second, and third person perspectives to establish a comprehensive lens through which all forms of discourse, philosophies, phenomena, elements, and dimensions of human consciousness can be re- evaluated to offer complementary rather than contradictory perspectives (Figure 17. 229 Note the synthesis of AQAL and The Matrix suggested in the title), a single framework to incorporate becoming into what he calls a ‘holarchic’ whole. Originally denoting “All Quadrants, All Levels,” in 2008 he ambitiously expanded the model to include “all quadrants, all levels, all lines (of development), all states (of consciousness), and all types (of awareness)” – supposedly constructing a ‘map of everything.’35

To embrace all representations of subjective and objective knowledge, Wilber labels his quadrants Intentional (‘I’) and Cultural (‘We’) – or the interior and exterior perspectives of the individual – and Behavioural (‘It’) and Social (‘Its’) – or the interior and exterior perspectives of the collective.36 The upper left Figure 17. AQAL Graphic from © Wake Up, The AQAL Matrix has you: AQAL Matrix Revolution. quadrant therefore covers interior-individual perspectives in both their conventional and contemplative forms, as studied, for instance, by developmental psychology and represented in the Arts, meditation, emotions, and anything that can be experienced with the senses. The upper right quadrant equates to the exterior-individual perspectives as studied by neurology and . It is empirical in nature, concerned with the material, and objectifies rather than subjectifies. The lower left quadrant encompasses the interior-collective aspects of human consciousness – it is manifested in cultural studies and anthropology, and reflects a shared experience of interiority, such as religion. Finally, the lower right quadrant represents exterior- collective perspectives as studied via and systems theory – and includes empirical systems such as electricity grids, communications networks, transport systems, and so forth.

Combined together, Wilber claims that all memes and manifestations of becoming 230 can be mapped as belonging to one of these four quadrants, each of which offers a partial vision of reality that, when combined constitutes a significatory whole. Following Whitehead, his thesis is that each quadrant mutually evolves in tandem with its others, producing a holarchic system that aspires to ever-greater complexity. Where the upper left quadrant deals with primary or interior individual consciousness, its adjacent quadrants represent the various ways individuals are conditioned by the material brain, cultural influences, and social structures. In other words, when considering a subject of discourse, the upper left quadrant maps our phenomenological response to the issue while the lower left is concerned with cultural approaches. The upper right quadrant is interested in determining only that which offers empirical answers – it categorises and measures material phenomena. The lower right quadrant then looks to connect this data within a greater context or system of knowledge. In practice, a given stage of individual development (for example, abstract mind) will be reflected in a stage of neurological development (for example, the neocortex), a stage of cultural development (for example, rationalisation), and a stage of societal development (for example, industrialisation). To demonstrate how this might work on the level of interpretative theory, operates from an analysis of the upper-left quadrant to provide an account of the interior individual, while behaviourism limits itself to observation of exterior individual behavioural traits. Similarly, where interprets the collective consciousness of a society (interior collective, lower-left quadrant), systems theory examines its external behaviour (lower-right quadrant). For Wilber, all four perspectives are correct and necessary, requiring only integration for a comprehensive account of existence.

Wilber further suggests that, since the Enlightenment, contemporary Western cultural perspectives tend to privilege the right hand quadrants (science and sociology), and neglect the left hand quadrants (contemplation and religion). He employs AQAL as a methodological tool by which this overemphasis can be addressed, and the equal importance of all perspectives for a balanced system of knowledge be demonstrated:

If these quadrants, if these four types of hierarchies, are in fact real — since variations on these four hierarchies show up extensively across cultures and across epochs — premodern, modern, and postmodern — might this indicate that they are actually pointing to 231 certain irreducible realities? Since they include both interior and exterior domains, might the four quadrants provide a series of crucial links in the relation of religion and science? Might they actually contain the secret key to integrating the value spheres themselves?37

Ultimately, Wilber’s AQAL map is an application of lower right thinking (system building) to the dialectic between religion and science (or spirituality and technology). It leads Wilber to argue each is simply a point of reference on the same theoretical continuum, representing alternative perspectives that can be mapped onto a single, holonic model of existence, as an expression of the oneness of being. This positive system building attempts to acknowledge (transcend and include) all existing perspectives to establish a radically aperspectival position for integral theory that seeks to pry open the closed universe of scientific thought. Where the scientific worldview gives credence only to that which can be mapped and measured quantifiably, it is the unquantifiable that consumes the religious traditions. At their extremes, each worldview denies the validity of the other, each claiming exclusive access to the absolute truth of existence. By positing that each worldview constitutes only a partial truth contained in a map of everything, with science focusing on exterior evidence (immanence, the Many), and religion presupposing an interior contemplation of matter (transcendence, the One), Wilber can claim a place for both: “Science is clearly one of the most profound methods for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning.”38


Having neatly demonstrated the equal validity of scientific and religious perspectives, Wilber then turns to a of the vertical mobility of consciousness towards transcendence. If AQAL provides a model for integrating all competing modes of consciousness, thought systems, and perspectives into a holarchic, systematised whole, a parallel model is also required to explain the horizontal transcendence of philosophical and psychological progress as well as account for the historical process of vertical transcendence between successive holonic stages across quadrants. That is, if he is to prove the impetus for the evolution of consciousness is achieving Absolute knowledge, Wilber must also

232 chart, for example, the transformative process of id, to ego, to super-ego (upper left quadrant), molecules, to atoms, to organisms (upper right quadrant), industrial, to

Figure 18. 4Q8L map combining AQAL, SDi, levels, states, and types. Graphic from ⓒ www.mcs-international.org 233 informational, to virtual societies (lower left quadrant), or premodern to modern, postmodern to integral worldviews (lower right quadrant).

Given his penchant for mapmaking and acronyms, AQAL has increased in complexity over the last decade with one popular online version (Figure 18), sometimes called 4Q8L (four quadrants, eight levels), featuring a colourful amalgamation of AQAL and what he calls “Integral Spiral Dynamics” (SDi), with other psychological “stages,” “levels,” and “lines” he references in his holon of human consciousness.39 In creating SDi, Wilber has expanded on the work of German theoretician, Jean Gebser, one of the first theorists of postmodernism though relatively unknown in English. In 1947, Gebser’s The Ever Present Origin argued that the climate of chaos in Europe during 1914 to 1945 heralded the waning effectiveness of one structure of consciousness (‘mental’ or modernism) and the emergence of a new consciousness (‘integral’).40 He further posited that the emergence of new global perspectives (such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modernism, or postmodernism) were the result of similar discontinuous mutations in culture, with each resulting in an entirely new perception of space and time. He saw linguistic transformations in the arts and literature (like the work done by the Italian Futurists) as preliminary evidence of this shift, leading him to claim artists at the vanguard of world-altering perspectival change.

Gebser suggested five transformative stages of consciousness “present in more orless latent and acute form in each one of us:” archaic, magic, mythical, mental, and integral.41 Modernity, for Gebser, represented the ‘mental’ or rational perspective, which would eventually be transcended by and (as each successive stage also integrated the latent form of its previous stage), included in an imminent move towards an integral or aperspectival worldview. This transformation of consciousness would be apparent when the transparency and equal necessity of all five stages in human consciousness was widely acknowledged; in other words, when the process of transcendence from archaic to magic to mythical to mental was revealed as part of a perpetually unfolding evolutionary project.42 Gebser therefore conceptually paved the way for the notion that a new integral consciousness would emerge as successor to the modern paradigm.

234 Wilber divides Gebser’s mythic and mental stages into early and late periods, adding a second tier of consciousness designed to separate “pre- personal” (collective identity, as in early tribal societies) and “personal” consciousness (rampant individualism as evidenced by the late capitalist period), from “transpersonal” consciousness (transcending beyond the individual). That is, a transpersonal stage of consciousness represents an awareness of the connectedness of all things, or the folding of the many into the one. SDi also integrates the work of management theorists, Don and Chris Cowan, whose map of psycho-social stages was itself built upon the psycho-developmental work from the 1970s by US psychologist Clare W. Graves.43 Graves work sought to create an epistemological level theory to reconcile questions about psycho- sociological maturity.44 Specialising in theories of personality and their application to industrial and medical problems, he suggested every individual can located within seven levels of personality, ranging from a human vegetable to a highly developed identity. In particular, he posited a process of evolutionary human psychology as:

… an unfolding, ever-emergent process marked by subordination of older behaviour systems to newer, higher order systems. The mature person tends to change his psychology continuously as the conditions of his existence change. Each successive stage or level of existence is a state through which people may pass on the way to other states of equilibrium. When a person is centralized in one of the states of equilibrium, he has a psychology which is particular to that state. His emotions, ethics and values, biochemistry, state of neurological activation, learning systems, preference for education, management and are all appropriate to that state.45

Extending this to the realm of popular ideas, Graves believed the flow of changing human values was best described as a constantly fluctuating spiral that expands as dominant ideas drift and surge in and out of popularity.

SDi represents Wilber’s attempt to illustrate how unfolding cultures are open-ended holarchical systems, where a primal level is transcended by, and included in, a more sophisticated worldview. The ultimate goal here is to identify and facilitate the spiritual possibilities of the Self, particularly concentrating on the existence and 235 nature of possible transpersonal states. To simplify Graves’ work for a broader audience, he designates a colour for each evolutionary level. An ‘invisible spiral’ is split into two tiers to represent a “map of the mental landscape,” comprising of vMemes or paradigmatic shifts in understanding the world.46 This never-ending spiral of awareness/ knowledge/ consciousness can then be used, according to Wilber, as a guide for mapping all evolving structures, including human psychological development. For example, each human individual begins at stage one — birth (beige — the survival instinct); and grows in awareness through the subsequent stages. Stage two represents the individual’s identification with family and mythic/magic structures (purple — childhood); and stage three represents rebellion and egocentricity (red – the teens). The more stabilising influences of early adulthood allow the self to recognise the institutionalised moral structures of law and order, and perhaps premodern, institutionalised religion (blue); while acute awareness of individuality occurs at orange. When individual awareness develops to recognise the equal differentiation of all individual and social systems, a more communal green stage is reached, which Wilber represents as the contemporary postmodern era. Further searches for a holistic understanding of how these individuals and systems of equal value interact constitutes what Wilber calls the “transpersonal states” of greater awareness (yellow, turquoise, and beyond). As holons, each ascending stage is reliant upon its predecessor for its successful existence, and a collapse of a lower stage will compromise the higher stages – should the ingredients of basic survival be compromised, an individual’s ability to access higher stages of consciousness will necessarily suffer. Each stage transcends and includes its predecessor, evoking a holarchical structure to evolution that does not fall prey to linear stratification and hierarchical tendencies. That is, instead of postulating a hierarchy in which the individual or object ascends a ladder of increasing complexity, Wilber suggests change occurs far more organically, with each progressive stage wholly dependent upon previous stages, indicating a dynamic flow of transformation continuing up the spiral. To further tease out these stages in more detail:

Archaic is the lowest level (coded by the colour beige), represents basic intuitive survival instincts, dominated by the need for shelter and food.

Magic (purple) emerges once basic needs are met, the next level to is – characterised by animistic beliefs and omniscient, unseen, and unknowable forces 236 producing a powerless, causal existence. It equates to ethnic tribes, tribal superstitions, rituals, and rites and can also be witnessed in young children’s readiness to believe in magical creatures, and the emergence of New Age spiritualities.

Early Mythic (red) represents the first of the egocentric, self-centred stages evidenced in ‘might is right’ power relations, mythic gods, and feudal systems in which those with power “protect underlings in exchange for obedience and labour.”47 As an impulsive and active dynamic, it can be a positive stage in human emergence in which the first raw self-concept becomes apparent. Still mired in tribal values, however, it can also turn to self-gratification and conquest.

Late Mythic (blue) emerges from the egocentric chaos of red, establishing order by creating disciplinary regulations for which the rewards for obedience are delayed to a future time and space. The vMeme responsible for the premodern consolidation of the world’s great religions, for Wilber blue emphasizes meaning and purpose, , regulations, morality, tradition, and regard for authority:

This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Violating the code or rules has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful… rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything.48

The mental or rational vMeme (orange) represents the emergence of an autonomous self in which individuals and societies seek to alter their environments for the better. It represents the force of change and the rise of scientific achievement evidenced in the Enlightenment, capitalism, and bourgeois societies aimed at creating new systems that enhance independent freedoms and make a difference to human experience. For Wilber, orange is the dominating force in contemporary Western societies, supported by technological advances that aid its global expansion. He writes:

At this wave, the self escapes from the ‘herd mentality’ of blue and seeks truth and meaning in individualistic and scientific terms. The 237 world is a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and manipulated for one’s own purposes. Highly achievement-orientated, especially (in America) towards materialistic gains. The laws of science rule politics, the economy, and human events. The world is a chessboard on which games are played as winners gain pre-eminence and perks over losers.49


To this point the SDi model largely follows Gebser’s stages, with the exception of an expansion of the mythic stage into early and late tendencies. Although Gebser claimed the integral stage would transcend the rational, making postmodernism an example of integral tendencies, Wilber adds three successive stages, presumably as a result of what he perceives as postmodernism’s antipathy to metaphysical discourse. Postmodernism is therefore accounted for as a late form of the mental vMeme, represented by the colour green. For Graves, it was the final expression of humanity’s search to leave its animalistic nature in preparation for a new, second tier of consciousness. Green’s interest in more subtle egalitarian concerns is facilitated by the wealth created by orange’s focus on the self versus the collective. It is triggered, Wilber explains, by a growing awareness that, in the search for material gain and pleasure, self/society has lost sight of the nuances of human experience. Anti-hierarchical, it deconstructs orange’s competitive focus and blue’s rigorous categorizations to seek equality between people, ideas, and systems, and recognise the rich diversity and pluralism of different cultures.

As green is the last of the first tier stages, setting up for Wilber the pre-conditions for a paradigm shift towards integral – or transpersonal/ transcendental – consciousness, much of his ideological ire is aimed towards it and postmodernism. Both are particularly lampooned by Wilber’s term ‘boomeritis’ used to describe the “pluralism infected with narcissism” that characterises the effects of the Baby Boomer generation (of which he is a part) on social, cultural, political, and philosophical mores in the Western world:50

The Boomers … were the first major generation in history to develop the green meme. That's a very important point... [they] moved

238 beyond the traditionalism of blue and... scientific modernism of orange... and pioneered a postmodern, pluralistic, multicultural understanding... spearhead[ing] civil rights, ecological concerns, feminism, and multicultural diversity… But every meme has its downside… green becomes a huge supermagnet for narcissism – [an] emphasis on me and mine… we are still reeling from.51

Instead of calling for a return to traditional values in the face of what Wilber has colloquially coined the “mean green meme” or the negative aspects of the late mental period coming to the fore, he places postmodernism in an evolutionary context. As Terry Eagleton has pointed out in another context, postmodernism’s focus on its penultimate position at the end of things (the end of history, the end of theory, , the end of the Real) is merely an act within culture that serves to open up these questions further.52 For Wilber, of course, postmodernism’s attack on the metaphysics of presence and fascination with multiplicity must be re-situated within a larger cultural project if he is to establish the viability an evolutionary spirituality towards the One. Therefore, while acknowledging the importance of postmodernism’s claims that conceptual maps or systems are never created out of context but are always already subject to the cultural, political, social, racial, and gender biases of the mapmaker’s experience, he argues it does not escape its own hierarchical bias, often giving greater weight to its chosen modes of investigation (for example, tribal, ethnic, or non-western over a western, phallocentric logos), and fashioning itself as a universal truth. Moreover, Wilber sees postmodernism’s anti-hierarchical stance as falling prey to a performative contradiction – if all interpretations are valid, then postmodernism cannot claim the exclusive validity of its own interpretation:

The difficulty is that, in its totalising attack on truth (“There is no truth, only different interpretations”), extreme postmodernism cannot itself claim to be true. Either it must exempt itself from its own claims (the narcissistic move), or what it says about everybody else is equally true for itself, in which case, what it says is not true, either. As Gellner summarises the disaster: So, if true, it is false; so, it is false.”53

239 Wilber is even more damning on the subject of deconstruction, seeing it as a cultural pathology in which the backlash against ‘orange’ materialism and ‘blue’ certainty results only in an extreme nihilism. Deconstruction’s effusion of contexts therefore erases meaning “completely and totally,”54 leaving a vacuum filled with “egoic whim and narcisstic display” that is “ruled only by the purr of the selfcentric engine left driving the entire display.”55 Importantly for integral theory, ‘extreme’ postmodernism’s reduction of the contemplative traditions to empty signifiers negates spirituality, selfhood, and inner awareness as the woolly remainders of humanity’s early development and its inadequacy to placate science’s more mature comprehension of the world. This is not to say postmodernism should acknowledge early religious dogma; in an integral system premodern, mythic-god societies are clearly not conducive to pursuing material or philosophical truths (as Wilber has noted, most premodern societies would tersely insist on a choice between accepting the religious status quo or being toast in the village square). Rather, integral seeks a careful redressing of the imbalance between spiritual and scientific perspectives to ensure any resurrection of interior values do not simply mean a wholesale resurrection of premodern religious dogma, thus skewing the imbalance in the contemplative tradition’s favour. To do so, Wilber maintains, is to begin to sketch the post of postmodernity, transcending both modern and postmodern worldviews while incorporating their most useful insights. For integral theory, then, the postmodern ‘green’ stage is an important step towards achieving a higher, more integrated awareness and his so-called “second tier” of consciousness, or transmodernity in action.


With the finalisation of this ‘first tier’ of consciousness in postmodernism, SDi and integral theory can move to describe what it sees as higher stages of consciousness that are becoming emergent. These stages are unabashedly vertically transcendent and integrative – their goal is to transcend and include all the stages that have come before. They are also transmodern in their emphasis on interconnectivity, integration, and resonance. Although they remain indebted to the continuing project of modernity, they move beyond modernism and postmodernism to usher in a new sense of synthesis. The integral (yellow) vMeme represents

240 greater focus on the self and self-knowledge with the added ability to look back at the first-tier systems and facilitate the health of the entire spiral, to create a world in which it can pursue its own interests without threat from ‘less-evolved’ memes. For Wilber, yellow is an integrative force centred on ecologies, but focussing purely on its own interest by seeking to create a more stable world so it can pursue its individual ideas. At the yellow stage, he writes:

Life is a kaleidoscope of interrelated, flowing systems. Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Differences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows. Egalitarianism is complemented with natural degrees of excellence, qualitative distinctions and . Knowledge and competency should supersede power, status or group. The prevailing world order is the result of the existence of different levels of reality (or memes) and the inevitable patterns of movement up and down the dynamic Spiral.56

The next stage, holistic (turquoise), is primarily concerned with a collective impetus to further understand the nature of the cosmos and humanity’s integrated place in it.57 It is characterised as instigating a ‘grand unification’ of theory and epistemology, sometimes with the emergence of new spiritualities that embrace the entire spiral of vMemes to create an integral harmony of awareness. The ‘Integral Institute’ seeks to operate purely at this level.58 Committed to the health of the entire spiral, Wilber claims those ‘at’ turquoise aim to encourage the positive aspects of each stage and seek to facilitate the evolution of awareness, much like a psychiatrist might facilitate mental health through various techniques, theories, and practices. The focus in second-tier attitudes is not on types of people but types in people:

…rather than debate between the various meme codes… our approach in Integral is that each of these represent ways to be human and since the spiral is inside the person, then it is critical that each of these systems resonate, be exercised, in such a way for them to contribute to the further evolution of the spiral itself. And so yellow and turquoise both attend to the question, “How can we keep the whole first tier set of systems in their healthy version and how

241 can we keep the entire spiral open for movement if and when life conditions trigger that movement?59

As each stage depends upon the health of the entire spiral – for instance, without basic food and shelter, an individual will not have the energy or opportunity to move to the next stage of development – progression up the spiral is retarded should any part of the system be in danger of dissolution, as complex systems rely upon simple systems as basic building blocks to greater complexity – sentences cannot exist without words. Each progression to a new stage of awareness must therefore simultaneously transcend and include the previous stage; that is, it must learn the basic lessons of the previous stage before progression is viable, but also integrate those lessons in its newfound awareness. For horizontal and vertical transcendence to occur on a mass scale, Wilber sees the task of the second-tier as ensuring the dynamic flow of evolution through each stage and thus facilitating the emergence of higher states of awareness. Second-tier vMemes therefore arise from a culture that is for the first time satiated by abundant access to food and shelter, information, and freedom:

…what none of the first-tier memes can do is fully appreciate the existence of the other memes. Each of the first-tier memes thinks that its worldview is the only true perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged; it lashes out, using its own tools whenever it is threatened. Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo- woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value rankings, big pictures, hierarchies, or anything that appears authoritarian, and thus green tends to lash out at blue, orange, and anything post-green.60

SDi’s second-tier demonstrates that while both horizontal and vertical transcendence play an important role in Wilber’s evolutionary model, vertical transcendence takes primacy. Where individual and collective movements are described as having the potential to instigate a horizontal transcendence from one stage to the next on the spiral, representing a cognitive realisation of ‘higher’ perspectives – for example an individual who can theoretically understand second- 242 tier awareness and begin to put such principles into practice in their everyday life – phenomenological or transpersonal experience of higher, second or third-tier awareness articulates a vertical transcendence – a momentary leap from one to another succeeding stage of awareness that fundamentally alters individual or social perspectives. Wilber argues this means that the AQAL and SDi maps are not the territory; or that these systems cannot cognitively instigate vertical transcendence in the spiritual sense:

Meditative understanding involves pre-eminently a methodology of looking at the “I” from the inside (using phenomenology); SD involves studying it from the outside (using structuralism). Both of them are studying a person’s consciousness, but they see very different things because they are inhabiting a different stance or perspective, using different methodologies.61

At Wilber’s higher stages of awareness (post-turquoise), however, he posits vertical and horizontal transcendence occur at one and the same time and are indistinguishable from spiritual transcendence, as individuals (or societies) begin to effortlessly access dynamic transpersonal states that propel human evolution forward in leaps and bounds. ‘Transpersonal’ here equates to a deeply felt mystical union with the source of being, a loss of individual self that engenders a sense of oneness with all existence, corporeal and incorporeal. Drawing from the radical non-duality described in Hindu Vedantic philosophy dating from 200 BC – the goal of which is a state of self-realization or cosmic consciousness that can be experienced by all, yet cannot be adequately conveyed in language (thus, providing an early definition of vertical transcendence) – Wilber suggests such a source is the very ground of creativity, allowing those that access it the cognitive power to transform the social world. Mystical enlightenment is, therefore, the teleological goal of Integral theory. However, Wilber also claims this nondual union with pure ‘Being’ can only be purely productive when an individual’s consciousness is at the apex of the spiral. While a transpersonal enlightenment experience can occur at any level from beige to turquoise, that experience will often then be comprehended via that individual’s orienting vMeme: “The point is that a person can have a profound peak, religious, spiritual, or meditative experience … but they will interpret that experience with the only equipment they have, namely, the tools of the stage of development they are at:”62 243 For example, a mythic/traditional person might interpret a spiritual experience as a revelation from a personal God intended solely for the “chosen people,” a rational/scientific person might interpret reason and mathematics itself as the language of a Deistic God (the “great clockmaker in the sky”), while a pluralistic/postmodern person might interpret his or her experience as emanating from Gaia and felt as a radical interconnectivity with the “Great Web of Life.63

Wilber therefore wants to distinguish the primacy of spiritual evolution from the evolution of consciousness, maintaining the former can instigate a shift from one cultural paradigm to the next but the same process cannot occur in reverse. It is only by propelling oneself ‘up the Spiral’ via a holarchically integrated programme of transcendence (physical, cognitive, attitudinal, informational, and spiritual) that these higher stages can be achieved and radical change be instigated. And, of course, the Integral Institute claims to have the tools to help subscribers reach this lofty goal. Indeed, Wilber is often at his most eloquent when describing the experience of transcendence, and at these moments exceeds philosophical discourse in favour of the mystical:

There is a new adventure here, and a new politics here, and even a new revolution, waiting on the horizon. You sense it, yes? New work to be done, new glories to be told, new ground to be revealed, and secrets of the heart yet to unfold when it is too full to speak, too radiant to see, too infinite to hold, too eternal to touch, but only because it is right here and now, closer to you than your own breath, more inside you than your own thoughts, and closer to spirit than all of them, this inside of You that is now reading this… looking out at the world and wondering what it all means, when what-it-all-means is you… The Seer is in you, the Witness of this… tickling your spine with its radiant intensity as it razors from your body and into the great beyond, carrying gifts of infinite compassion and radical perfection.64

In placing similar ‘pointing out’ instructions at the introduction and conclusion of his books, Wilber morphs his integral theory into a spiritual movement that

244 attempts to fuse both an ‘ascending’ state of philosophical inquiry in the tradition of Plato’s ascending movement (the one), where the desire is to understand and merge with the otherworldly, and a descending or immanent force, whereby the manifest world is seen as an expression or embodiment of the Absolute, or ‘this- worldliness” (the many).65 In doing so, he taps into a longstanding discourse of ‘perennial philosophy,’ or the notion that all thought systems, rational and supra- rational, science and religion, can be reduced to a single philosophical ground of meaning – a source in which all philosophy resides and emerges. Furthermore, he maps this source onto each consciousness, placing the individual at the very epicentre of a creative evolution, or in other words, god.

Here we come full circle to the desire to transcend into the divine seen in Italian Futurist manifestoes and cyberpunk novels and film, although instead of a machine assisted ascension it is Wilber’s technologies of transcendence – AQAL and SDi – that promote a transformation of change into changelessness. In this SDi seems to be indebted not to a theoretical or scientific source but to the spiritual writings of Mirra Alfassa, otherwise known as . In her collaborations with Aurobindo Ghose, Alfassa posited that, “the whole creation must advance more and more towards the Divine, because this is its ultimate goal. But it is a peculiar movement, for one takes three steps forward and two backward; one takes two steps forward and one sideways!”66 Like Wilber’s SDi, Alfassa’s claims evolution’s trajectory does not proceed in a straight line but a spiral:

… [a]nd in this spiral there are innumerable points, and at each point a progress in the vertical line is achieved. But one has to make a whole round in order to comeback once more the same point, but at a slightly higher level.67

Therefore, the our trajectory up the spiral of evolution means that humanity will:

… necessarily be succeeded by a new one which will be to man what man is to the animal; the present human consciousness will be replaced by a new consciousness, no longer mental but supramental. And this consciousness will give birth to a higher race, superhuman and divine.68

245 Always lingering at the edges of Aurobindo, Alfassa, and indeed Wilber’s evolutionary spirituality is incipient fascism, just as both Italian Futurism and cyberpunk’s mechanical men and cyborgs can easily be read as the culmination of a fascist interpretation of Nietzsche’s ubermensch. The potentiality of a even a natural hierarchy within a holarchy, as Wilber claims his SDi represents, to privilege those perceived to be at the top of the spiral opens the door for abuse of power. Indeed, full membership to the inner sanctum of the Integral Institute seems to be increasingly reserved for those claiming second-tier status, as one Integral Life video featuring Jeff Salzman, a founding member of I-I, makes clear:

One of the things that’s so exciting at Integral Institute is the opportunity to bring people together who are, at least on a good day, operating at second-tier consciousness, an integral level of consciousness… That is the orienting principle of Integral Institute in general – to create a community of second-tier people so… we can learn how to apply integral thinking and integral solutions and integral functioning to this hurting world.69

Simply by showing interest in the Integral Institute, Salzman claims, audiences must necessarily inhabit an avant-garde, second-tier consciousness. Such videos often serve to promote an inclusionary elite of “more integral than thou” self-approbation where participants are encouraged to identify themselves at the highest level of emerging awareness:

Integral consciousness is a real thing. It’s an arising structure of consciousness… arising in humanity at this time, at this stage of our evolution. And it appears to be distributed… in roughly two plus, maybe three, four per cent of the population… You are part of that group of people… because if you weren’t, this wouldn’t be interesting to you.70

Beneath the smiling seekers, pretensions to avant-garde status, and claims of cultural tolerance, this incipient dark side to integral theory is further revealed at Wilber’s blog, evidenced by the scandals and flame wars that periodically appear. As in any social media network, attitudes and behaviours constantly alter to match the expectations of the Integral Institute peer group with disagreements resulting in 246 peer pressure to conform to the community paradigm or, at worst, ostracisation. Wilber saves his most vociferous denunciations for critics of his work, using his personal website as a separate forum from the Integral Institute portal to engage in vitriolic and lengthy diatribes (one such response available for download on his site is sixty-three pages long). As academic acceptance of Wilber’s work has been less than forthcoming, he often charges critics as distorting or misreading his ideas, claiming one must read all his work to truly understand it.71 Should the critic complete this task and still find fault, Wilber might then argue that his theory of everything is so complex that a personal dialogue with him must be undertaken – and, of course, he rarely communicates with those who disagree with him. One particularly notorious example has seen Wilber fashion himself as intellectual gunslinger, “Wyatt Earpy,” taking out each critic with a flick of his cerebral trigger finger:

So slurpee in hand, Wyatt Earpy rides on, undaunted and unfazed, although slowly putting on lead weight, but otherwise transcending and including more outlaws than any lawman dude type person in history. And when he dies, his posse will stand on the shoulders of his smiling corpse and carry on, transcending-and-including old Wyatt himself, in their own search for even more truth and goodness and beauty than even Wyatt could see, and they will succeed spectacularly, and thus it goes never-endingly.72

The parallels with the final paragraphs of Marinetti’s Founding Manifesto of Futurism here are stark; just as the Futurists crouch “beside [their] trembling aeroplanes” warming their hands over their blazing words as a mob of new avant-garde artists pant with the resulting “scorn and anguish…” from “hearts drunk with love and admiration” for their conceptual daring, so too does Wilber imagine himself transcended and included by the Integral beyond. Smiling alongside his integral corpus, those that acknowledge his position as a foundational figure of a global movement carry on his message – perhaps able to better comprehend his aggressive stance towards his detractors from their lofty third-tier heights. By comparison, those taking offense at his strident condemnations can be easily dismissed as stuck in first-tier thinking – that is, not evolved enough to understand the joke – to which the Integral community responds with glee, rallying round online and off, creating slogan t-shirts, coffee mugs, and stickers at cafepress.com to 247 demonstrate their loyalties. And there lies the rub, for as amusingly crafted as his Wyatt Earpy diatribes are, they do serve to demonstrate that the cost of disagreeing with the integral community is often disaffiliation.

Despite Wilber’s insistence on the value of all levels of consciousness, therefore, the potential for creating a nonpareil membership of devotees that regard themselves as higher on the evolutionary scale is inherent in the very language used to define them as a cohesive group – if you’re in the room (or, by extension, watching a digital recording) then, ipso facto, you are more highly evolved than 98% of your fellow humans. Wilber’s blog agrees, “We are, or try our very best to be, a turquoise gathering or club or organization.”73 However, the movement’s inability to accept criticism, and gradual tightening of group structures and memberships to assume an elite of like-minded individuals suggests Integral may be undergoing its own revision – from dynamic, open-ended spirituality to static religion. Just as in Futurism and cyberpunk, there is a nascent despotism in such attitudes that sits ill with Wilber’s positive inclusionary theory. It demonstrates that the pitfalls of peer pressure are alive and well in new spiritual groups employing social networking media; that the very tools used to draw like-minded individuals together have a concomitant propensity to exclude. If Integral is to achieve its self-professed goal of instigating cultural transformation via integration of binary opposites, surely it must remain vigilant against such possibilities or ultimately invite discord and failure. In the final analysis, Wilber’s lack of irony – in his construction of transcendence as a metaphysical certainty and both his and his supporters seeming inability to separate his role as guru from integral theory as a body of work open to criticism – ultimately precludes integral theory from fully inhabiting the transmodern moment. Nevertheless, his AQAL map offers some interesting potentials for cultural and literary analysis, and a useful tool for compiling an integrated textual reading that takes into account all critical perspectives while it also seeks to track vertical and horizontal transcendence – a methodology that suggests a move away from the ‘post’ and towards the ‘trans.’


Andy and Larry Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999) was a huge box office success internationally, and constituted a moment in popular culture that definitively

248 articulated the confluence of technological and transcendent metaphors.74 A synthesis of avant-garde and cyberpunk themes, fairy-tale motifs, cutting-edge special effects, and spiritual metaphors, the film and its sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, presented a technospiritual myth for a late capitalist audience still struggling to come to grips with the impact of information technologies on human subjectivity.75 The Matrix trilogy therefore constitutes an important text for this thesis’ analysis of how representations of transcendence and technology have instigated the emergence of a transmodern perspective. In addition, the films’ demonstrated links to Wilber’s integral movement also offer an ideal opportunity to test an integral methodology that seeks synthesis and inclusivity by mapping the interconnecting themes of, and responses to, a key technospiritual and technocultural text.

The Matrix’s Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a cog in the virtual corporate machine by day, but by night he refashions himself as the hacker ‘Neo,’ who starts to obsessively question the confines of his reality. He suspects all is not as it seems, that something important exists just beyond his understanding, known to him only as ‘the Matrix.’ This leads him to Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) – a liminal figure symbolically representing the manipulator of dreams and god of transformation who claims mastery over the secret knowledge that will free Neo’s mind. Morpheus offers to show Neo what the Matrix is, but claims a will be required before initiation into its mysteries can take place. Morpheus therefore offers Neo a choice. He can “take the blue pill” and continue to swallow his comfortable everyday delusion, or “take the red pill” to pull back the illusory veil and reveal the Real. In choosing the real over the illusory, what follows for Neo is a difficult rebirth into the realm of the senses – a re-embodiment of the virtual that exposes the Matrix as a simulacrum designed by machines as a cerebral prison that renders humans utterly subservient to the technological system. Hans Moravec and Kevin Kelly’s dream of begetting artificial creations that remain respectful of their organic creators’ primacy has turned to nightmare. As creator gods, humans are instead placed on life support by their artificial children – like the Nietzschean god who creates man in his own image only to suffer patricide at his creation’s own hand, in The Matrix humans are reduced to sacrificial deities whose electrical impulses are harvested to sustain a self-sufficient technological empire.76 The Matrix trilogy narrates Neo’s quest to understand his place in this world of estrangement and surveillance. Hailed by Morpheus as “The One” who can free the few remaining 249 humans from the cage of technology, the trilogy follows Neo’s uneasy transcendence from confused seeker to spiritual hero able to penetrate the wisdom of the Matrix, learn to manipulate both reality and illusion, and save humanity from subsumption to the machine.

Slavoj Žižek has written that the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy “functions as a kind of Rorschach test” for critics.77 Its layered meanings, playful references to religion, philosophy, and postmodern theory, and interest in subjective responses to the technological system allows it to speak to whatever theoretical context a critic might operate from. The films can be enjoyed as a chop-socky special effects extravaganza, read as a straightforward warning against the wholesale embrace of technoculture, or as an amalgam of narratives that juxtapose dream worlds and waking worlds. As one character states, however, “comprehension is not a requisite of co-operation,” and at a deeper level not readily apparent to the casual viewer the films raise questions about the nature of reality, religious , and suggests how to vertically transcend the spiritual/technological divide. They also trace Neo’s vertical transcendence from unknowing object to god-like being able to manipulate and direct both the virtual and Real at the level of symbolic code.

The fragmented nature of Matrix criticism therefore offers widely diverse readings that bring us no closer to a holarchic understanding of the texts. Claims that Neo is a new- Jesus, a bodhisattva returning to the matrix to awaken others, or a gnostikoi fighting demons to draw back the veil of illusion from the eyes of the uninitiated sit uneasily alongside the films’ construction as postmodern simulacra, post-capitalist system of surveillance and control, or mythology for a post-spiritual millennium.78 From an integral methodology, however, such readings can be mapped as diverse perspectives resulting from each critic’s quadrivial context – subjective, intersubjective, objective, or interobjective. Indeed, Žižek’s comment is entirely confluent with an integral textual analysis of the trilogy that begins any attempt to ascribe meaning to a text with the caveat that all texts are holons – made up of whole/parts, each carrying equal significatory weight in understanding the textual holon. Each critical perspective therefore offers an important yet partial reading that contributes to an understanding of the text as a holarchy – they are complementary rather than contradictory perspectives. The job, then, of the integral critic is to peel back these quadrivial layers like an onion, reading them alongside each other to produce a hermeneutic circle of textual 250 meaning where neither the whole text nor any individual part can be understood without reference to one another. An open-ended and inclusionary project, the integral process alters the process of criticism from a fragmented application of a particular theoretical perspective to a broader, more complex inter-theoretical, intertextual, and interdisciplinary approach. Applying a quadrivial analysis to a cultural text is, therefore, a complex undertaking and, for the sake of brevity, this section will focus largely on the confluent themes of technology, transcendence, and technospirituality within The Matrix trilogy with a view to suggesting the parameters of transmodern textual critique.

As a text can be seen to originate with the “expression of [an author’s] feelings and intentions,” an integral reading suggests the ‘primal holon’ for analysis is authorial intent:79

For [expressivist theories]… the meaning of art is the primal holon – the original intent of the maker – and therefore a correct interpretation is a matter of the accurate reconstruction and recover of that original intent and meaning, that primal holon.80

In a quadrivial analysis, therefore, questions of authorial intent emerge from the upper left or subjective quadrant, and can be pieced together by the critic from comments pertaining to the text gathered from interviews or other texts. The Wachowski’s are notoriously silent about their authorial intentions, however, given The Matrix trilogy’s multi-layered meaning and interest in technospirituality, it should perhaps come as no surprise that one of the few in depth discussions of their work by Larry Wachowski is a featured dialogue with Ken Wilber on the Integral Institute’s subscription-based multimedia portal “Integral Naked” (integralnaked.org), in which the writer/director obliquely discusses the trilogy’s mystical and metaphysical subplots. The close relationship between Wachowski and Wilber is established in these interviews, and in the fact that the philosopher was also chosen as one of two thinkers to speak for the Wachowski’s in The Matrix trilogy’s DVD commentaries and given the penultimate word on the films in a final quote to camera at the close of Return to the Source: Philosophy and The Matrix, a documentary accompanying the Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD box set.

251 In his interviews with Wilber, Larry Wachowski explicitly describes the trilogy as a journey of self-development as well as an exploration of consciousness, Integral style. He constructs the Matrix as an expression of AQAL’s right and left quadrants, and further suggests that this duality explains the multiple ways the films can be read:

… you describe things as having an interior and an exterior, the way that the Matrix kinda is in a lot of ways about that, and the exterior tends to remain very obvious, very surface-based, observation- based. And I'm kind of hoping that these two dialogues that'll be juxtaposed will be kind of about an exterior and an interior, and the critics will be essentially interested in surfaces, and philosophers will be interested in interiors.

Incidentally, Wilber is also quick to establish that his own analysis of the films is almost identical to the directors’:

We spent hours discussing what I think the films mean… your own interpretation of the film. We have an understanding that I'm not gonna discuss your interpretation of the film with anybody… I find myself every now and then… having to kinda bite my lip and say, whoa, I happen to know that Larry agrees with me on this part... And we, you and I both are, you know, we're integrally informed. I mean, we share a passion for that sort of integral approach. So I think, without giving any of the thing away, there's certain areas of this… overall production that you and I certainly see eye to eye on.81

Wachowski further explains that the key to understanding The Matrix trilogy lies in each film’s “beginnings, the little tiny introductions to each film, [which] offer kind of a reflection of what each movie is about. And, you know, in those little tiny prefaces to each film, we kind of tell the audience where we are in the journey of development.”82 Taking the writer/director’s words at face value, then, The Matrix begins as a resolutely Gnostic tale in the classic cyberpunk tradition. As a series of computer codes spiral across the screen we hear two voices, one male and one female, discussing the emergence of ‘the One’ over the telephone. The scene resolves into a police raid on an abandoned building where a woman – 252 (Carrie-Ann Moss) – sits at a computer. Federal agents appear, speaking and walking like automatons in identical suits and sunglasses. They have come to kill her as she easily despatches policeman with seemingly superhuman strength. An anxious call to Morpheus, gives Trinity a secure phone line through which she will “get out,” but she must focus her mind to reach it before the agents catch up with her. During the chase that ensues both Trinity and the agents perform extraordinary physical feats – as one of the policeman confirms for us, “It’s impossible” – this world is not what it seems. Already within the first five minutes we have the suggestion that the film’s mise en scene represents a simulation of reality from which the characters must flee, and furthermore, a combination of controlled mind power and communication technologies are the means of that escape. The next scene shows Neo woken at his desk by cryptic messages conveyed via his computer – the Gnostic initiate must make sense of obscure communications in order to “wake up” to the Real. A knock at the door reveals a group of cyberpunks seeking to buy one of Neo’s illicit hacking programs, which he hides in a hollowed out copy of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation – what Neo thinks is Real is just a simulation produced for and by an invisible sentient technology. However, the section that Neo has removed is Baudrillard’s final chapter on postmodern nihilism, which emphasises the absence of god and meaning in the face of constantly appearing and disappearing media images that supersaturate the with sensual meaning, drawing the subject into the inertia of image-overdose. Critics often credit reference to this key postmodern text as evidence that the Wachowskis’ films offer a pop culture rehash of postmodern theories, and yet from an integral perspective that sets itself up as a transcendence of postmodern theory, this scene can also be read as the Wachowskis’ wry suggestion that Baudrillard’s theories are themselves hollow in the face of Neo’s continued ontological questioning. In the trilogy, god may not quite be absent without a trace, a reading further consolidated by the cyberpunk Troy’s immediate exclamation that Neo is his, “saviour. My personal Jesus Christ.” The first ten minutes into The Matrix has already provided ample theoretical incentive for both subjective and interobjective perspectives, where postmodern theorists assert, quite correctly, that the Matrix is a postmodern simulacrum, while theologists contend that the film’s religious references offer a reconstruction of spiritual narratives for a new millennium.

In the final minutes of Larry Wachowski’s “tiny introduction,” we see Trinity

253 approach Neo in a nightclub with a warning that the agents are watching him. They know he suspects that the Matrix may be accessible if he can assemble the knowledge required to unlock the door between worlds: “It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought us here. You know the question, just as I did.” The question is “What is the Matrix?” but this knowledge only sparks further ontological questions. To discover what the Matrix is, Neo must navigate a steady stream of dialectical positions – including what it means to be human/ machine, being awake/asleep, having faith/disbelief, determining what is real/ illusion, privileging matter/mind, obtaining enlightenment/ignorance, and the various possibilities inherent in assimilation/dissolution. It is no coincidence that Neo’s given name is Thomas (literally meaning twin) – he is simultaneously the doubting Thomas that remains in two minds about his existential purpose and the ‘new’ man that must become ‘one’ via a radical integration of self. The films suggest such integration can only be achieved via a systematic project of self-enlightenment, as the Socratic “temet nosce” above the Oracle’s kitchen door attests. Neo therefore takes the audience on a Socratic journey through key philosophical debates from both Eastern and Western traditions in search of ways to become one or whole. In the process, taking us through a complete quadrivial analysis of what it means to be self-integrated. Larry and Andy Wachowski further confirm this authorial intention when they claim:

We are interested in mythology, theology, and to a lesser extent, higher-level mathematics… all are ways human beings try to answer bigger questions, as well as The Big Question. If you’re going to do epic stories, you should

concern yourselves with those issues.83

This “Big Question” is clearly an articulation of the One and the Many in an Integral sense or, put another way, the problem of being versus becoming. When Trinity explains that, “the answer’s… looking for you and it will find you, if you want it to,” she also intimates that ultimate knowledge is only available to those who are able to think for, and who fully understand, themselves. Similarly, the only line to be repeated in each movie is “make up your own damn mind” – a phrase also repeated in the directors’ introduction to the Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD box set. Matrix audiences are therefore exhorted to employ the films’ philosophical arguments to decide for themselves about the fundamental nature of being, to make their own existential choice between red and blue pills. They, too, can elect to 254 seek a greater awareness of the films’ interest in being and becoming, or remain comfortably numb to the possibilities of an integral reading.

In the first fifteen minutes of The Matrix Reloaded Neo dreams of a future in which Trinity, now his lover, dies at the hands of agents. Through the first film we have come to know that the dream world and the real world are interchangeable and this sequence suggests there may be other worlds in which Neo must travel to reach a holarchic understanding of reality. If, as many critics have supposed, The Matrix represents Neo’s escape from a digitized Plato’s cave into new awareness and self- agency, the Wachowski’s relatively unpopular sequels more clearly tease out the philosophical problem of the One and the Many.84 Having established his power to manipulate the illusory world in the final moments of The Matrix by overwhelming his virtual nemesis, the sentient control program and embodiment of machine tyranny in the trilogy, Agent Smith, in Reloaded Neo must fully inhabit his new corporeality in the Real. To do so, he voyages outside the machine-induced dream to Zion, the last free human city hidden far below the Earth’s surface, where the inhabitants are preparing for a final battle against the machines. Although Neo appears to still question his role as the One, his self-fashioned appearance in the Matrix confidently expresses the One as Zion’s Messiah – his attire has morphed from cyberpunk leather to priestly soutane and he wields his power over the Matrix assuredly, easily defeating a group of agents who come looking for a fight. Interestingly, before they attack, they describe Neo as “the anomaly” and comment that he is “still only human” in a way that suggests he has the potential to become other than human. This is borne out by Link’s claim soon after that Neo is “doing his superman thing;” in other words, even though he has yet to realise his transcendent power in the Real, in the Matrix he is now an ubermensch. One further sequence of note is the return of a replicated Agent Smith. Rebooted, Smith claims he has been set free from his subservience to the machine mainframe by his contact with Neo; transformed into a computer virus he has become the Many to Neo’s One – and proceeds as a free agent, pursuing his own agenda, stated in the first film as a desire to destroy the Matrix and thus both human and machine worlds.

Matrix Revolutions begins with a visual representation of being and becoming for the Wachowskis’ – a bathed in golden light that ultimately resolves into Matrix code, signifying a link between their “Big Question” and the ones and zeroes 255 that constitute the binary code of the computer. In his interview with Wilber, Larry Wachowski highlights this imagery is key for the final Matrix installment:

How do we start the third movie? Which is gonna talk about the things that are so hard to talk about?” It's like: Ok, you go to black and then you have to have a moment of Big Bang and that's the origin of everything, the origin of thought, the origin of consciousness, whatever it is—in that moment it's like 'from that nothing to everything' is everything... 85

The suggestion is that the machine world is a part of the natural laws of creation, a reading further borne out by the next image showing Neo in a coma as a result of Reloaded’s final sequence in which he first begins to display mastery of the Real as well as the illusory. Physically unplugged from the Matrix, Neo nevertheless appears to be mentally jacked in to a machine mainframe version of limbo (alluded to by a sign reading ‘Mobil’ – an anagram of limbo – combined with the Latin ‘Ave,’ or hello/farewell), the spiritual realm of transition between life and death that, in the film, exists between the machine and human worlds. In this non-space, he is greeted by a new anomaly, a Matrix program visually projected as a child called Sati (Pali for ‘mindfulness’), who is bathed in a similar golden light to the introductory image of the Big Bang. She asks him if he is from the Matrix, to which he replies, “Yes. No.” Like the limbo hello/farewell simulacrum in which he finds himself, Neo is a consciousness between worlds, belonging to both/neither. His uncertainty pre- empts his potential to transcend and include (to use Wilber’s terminology), both Matrix and Real to usher in a new state of being, but first he must find his way out of limbo. Sati also represents the Hindu goddess and first consort of Shiva (‘Destroyer of Worlds’), who lures the god from ascetic isolation into creative participation in the world. Sati is also remembered for immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, asymbolic premonition of Neo’s own sacrifice in Revolutions, in which he is spiritually immolated on a pyre of machines in exchange for the humanity’s freedom from both Matrix and real world oppression by technology. Befriending Sati and her ‘family,’ he develops a newfound empathy for the machines, suggesting that he is beginning to realise a dialogue might indeed be possible between the corporeal and the incorporeal, and that Zion’s war against the machines or Agent Smith’s war against the Matrix may not constitute the only options open to the One. To further highlight Neo’s transformative realisation, when 256 Trinity and Morpheus eventually save him, he returns mysteriously altered – to the Zionist machines that track the human projections through the Matrix he appears neither human nor machine, but something new. The introductory sequences of Revolutions therefore alert us to the emergence of a new perspective, one that represents the zero point of a quadrivial analysis, the ‘Big Bang’ of an idea that both offers the potentiality of the new at the same time it suggests the void from which all potentialities emerge. That is, Revolutions will culminate in the moment of Neo’s vertical transcendence, a state of otherness that is represented here as all/neither – being/no-thingness or one/zero.

Although the primal holon cannot be ignored in the search for a text’s signification, neither can the text be “confined or limited” to it. If a part of the text’s meaning can be found in the author’s stated intentions then, because meaning is context- dependent and the author, too, is a holon made up of smaller holons, it follows that some of the author’s intentions will be unconscious, and that these can also be traced within the written text. As Wilber has written:

(1) if the meaning of art is in the original intention expressed in the work, and (2) if the correct interpretation of art is therefore the reconstruction of this intention, but (3) if some intentions are unconscious and leave only symbolic traces in the artwork, then (4) an important part of the correct interpretation of an artwork is the unearthing and interpreting of these unconscious drives, intentions, desires, wishes. The art critic, to be a true critic, must also be a psychoanalyst.86

For instance, a psychoanalytic reading of The Matrix trilogy might see in Neo’s journey to enlightenment parallels to that taken by an analysand in a therapeutic journey towards an integrated, well Self.87 Knowing that something is not quite right with his world, Neo is dissatisfied with his life. According to David Mischoulon and Eugene V. Beresin, in an analytic framework,

Neo’s problem stems from a conflict between his belief and the perception of his senses. Since the world is not what it appears to be, his ego is unable to provide its executive function, which is to

257 mediate the satisfaction of his instinctual needs (both libidinal and aggressive) and those of the external world and superego.88

When Morpheus, as analyst, determines Neo is ready for therapy, he sends Trinity to wake him up to the possibilities of a life in which inner self does not mean inner conflict. Morpheus’ mirrored glasses can therefore be read as serving a mirroring function for Neo, reflecting “Neo’s true self back to him.”89 Similarly, the recurrence of mirrors throughout the three films tracks the progress of Neo’s ability to see this true self, as the duality of his inner conflict (embodied by the agents) slowly synthesises into unity of purpose. When Neo and Morpheus first meet, they are seated in comfortable lounge chairs for an introductory chat about the possibilities of therapy. Morpheus offers Neo a choice. He can “take the blue pill” (a symbol of psychotherapeutic drugs?) and willingly maintain his delusion, or “take the red pill” (the more difficult option of psychoanalysis) to pull back the illusory veil of inner conflict and reveal the Real. Morpheus as analyst also outlines the parameters of analysis – he is not there to tell Neo what he needs to know to thrive but can simply show him a possible way forward: “All I’m offering is truth, nothing more… No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” Neo, with Morpheus’ expert guidance, must make up his own damn mind.

The Matrix therefore represents, in a psychoanalytic context, the sum of society’s beliefs, values and ideals, which may or may not be healthy for individual development, or it may reflect the fantasies subjects project about their place in the world, from which they must be freed in order to live contentedly in the Real. Neo also demonstrates therapeutic resistance, defined by Freud as “whatever interrupts the progress of analytic work,”through his scepticism of Morpheus’ construction of him as the One. His repeated trips to the Oracle, the personification of a mysterious independent computer program that dispenses mystical wisdom, are an attempt to bolster his faith in his own potential.90 Rather than telling him he is the One, the Oracle once again lets Neo make up his own mind – again only when Neo is ready can the analyst introduce new frames of reference to the analysand. At the end of The Matrix, Neo is killed by the agents, but is brought back to life by Trinity’s confession of love. Similarly, Freud suggested that the capacity for love is a crucial factor in the achievement of good mental health.91 In acknowledging his love for Trinity, Neo has successfully completed his therapeutic journey and is well equipped to confront his inner conflict – represented by the Agents. Because he now 258 believes in himself he can effortlessly stop bullets and destroy Agent Smith. However, as the final scene of The Matrix and its sequels show, completing analysis does not suggest an end but a beginning, and so Neo tells the machine mainframe, “I didn’t come here to tell you how it’s going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.”

Each installment of the trilogy therefore offers Neo a different kind of enlightening experience, each of which must be transcended and included for his Self-education to continue. In The Matrix Neo becomes the One because he learns to manipulate the illusory world at will; in Reloaded he discovers a new dimension to this power by manipulating the Real. In Revolutions he must incorporate illusory and real, human and machine before his ultimate transformation can take place. Rather than align with Zion in its efforts to eradicate the machines its ancestors once made, or facilitate the Architect’s plans to destroy humanity to renew the technological system, Neo instead chooses the path of integration, finally comprehending that one cannot exist without the other. Neo’s repeated battles with Smith can therefore be seen as a struggle for mental integration, as the Oracle tells him in Revolutions, “Smith is you.” His revolt against the Matrix is an evolution, in that his quest is to evolve into another kind of being that is at one with both human and machine identity, who will then have the power to expose and nullify the dialectic for the rest of humanity. Both Zion and Agent Smith represent the toxic effects of denying the Other, and Neo must resist the promise of both to achieve his own and his world’s transformation.

Our integral analysis, however, cannot end with readings from the subjective quadrant. An intersubjective reading of a text (lower left quadrant) will quickly point out that as well as unconscious interior influences on an author’s intention there are also larger structures of signification that work to produce a text. That is, the author, text, and critic exist, consciously or unconsciously, within a collective web of signification; they are each holons within holons. The text as intersubjective holon will therefore give rise to a number of ‘symptomatic’ readings, including feminist, Marxist, and cultural theories, all of which will bring their considerable (yet partial) scholarship to bear on the work. A feminist reading, for example, may see in, “[t]he virtual world of the Matrix… a world of racism and sexism,”92 where natural reproduction is replaced by a machine matrix that is “a kind of parthenogenic – which is to say autochthonous – mother, a mother that is not a mother, by virtue of 259 being able to produce new life without the role of the male.”93 A Marxist reading might view the trilogy as representing a new form of a “heroic Marxism,” with the Matrix offering a thinly veiled metaphor for a capitalist system in which we, as the proletariat, are kept in an opiate state while industry (the machines), feed off our ‘energy’ (alienated labour).94 Neo’s quest to wake up from his machine-induced sleep therefore becomes a metaphor for our own oppression by the capitalist machine:

The miserable position of the humans as the self-reflective allegory of the very position of the cinema viewer: Are we all not, when we sit in the cinema, in the position of humans in the Matrix, tied to chairs, immersed in the spectacle run by a machine?95

Moreover, from a postcolonial perspective, The Matrix is yet another example of how cyberpunk narratives depict “minority characters, particularly Asians, as window dressing symptomatic of a post-apocalyptic pastiche of cultures… the viewer can tell that the apocalypse has come and gone because there are so many minorities running around.”96 Again, each of these readings must be given equal weight as partial truths that, combined, construct an interwoven picture of The Matrix trilogy’s meaning.

However, the materiality of a text is also a holon, and so a critic can objectively find meaning “in the formal relationships between elements of the work itself.”97 Such a reading stems from the upper right quadrant, which concerns itself only with the epistemologically quantifiable aspects of the text – for a film text, for instance, this would include (but not be limited to) the production values, special effects and photographic technologies, film stock, directorial style, box office statistics, and, if this analysis were to extend to the author, rather than authorial intent emphasis would perhaps be placed on the brain structure that promotes creativity, or the linguistic structures in which the film emerges. This kind of reading – evident in the work of the Russian formalists, structuralists, and post-structuralists – aggressively rejects any possibility of finding meaning within the author’s intent or their social, cultural, or techno-economic influences; in fact, it often renders meaningless both upper or lower left quadrivial analyses. The author is dead, and any original intention dies with them – the meaning of the text resides only in the text itself. A typical poststructuralist reading might therefore see The Matrix trilogy as a 260 dystopian vision of the future dominated by technological production – an interconnected virtual/Real where “technology and technicity… reinforce domination.”98 Nevertheless, there remains the possibility for subaltern groups to use Matrix technologies to contest the hegemonic order. The metaphors and themes of the trilogy therefore demonstrate to the audience that its own late capitalist system is always socially and culturally constructed and, as such, is always in a state of flux, subject to a multiplicity of meanings, some of which can be employed both to subjectively dominate and control or seek lines of flight from such oppression.

Finally, it follows that the text’s audience is also a holon. Where the artwork exists in and of itself, without reference to the author’s intended meaning, signification can also be found in the reader’s response to it. Thus the critic’s interpretation of a text is placed front and centre, with critical theory actively producing meaning rather than simply discovering it within the work. This lower right (interobjective) way of approaching a text places it within a system of signification that is constantly shifting or evolving – that is, each new reading produces new meaning creating a sliding structure of signification. The postmodern theorist, then, becomes solely responsible for the perpetual production of meaning and its concurrent perpetual deconstruction, and a text is simultaneously symbolic of a particular reading in time and means nothing at all. A number of postmodern critics have therefore argued that the trilogy is “an allegory representing the distinct and contrasting modes of discourse that have come to define both culture and aesthetic production in late capitalist society… a comprehensive reflection of postmodern culture.”99 The films’ pastiche of both poststructuralist theory and science fiction themes – technology out of control, phantasmagoric dreamscapes a la Phillip K. Dick, cyberpunk’s artificial intelligences, the evolution of the machine in an information age – work to popularise postmodernism’s critique of made obsolete by a reality that is autonomous from subjectivity. The Matrix trilogy, for a postmodern reading, therefore represents a powerful new cultural myth that facilitates humanity’s embrace of its own posthumanist future.100

This integral analysis of the trilogy reveals the multiplicity of meaning that emerges from contexts within contexts – the Wachowskis’ have wittingly created a substantially integral text resulting in a rich tapestry of equally valid yet partial readings. Yet, as an integral text, the films must also gesture towards an integration

261 of these multiple critical readings, and furthermore this gesture must also highlight the trans. The convergence of these quadrivial readings, therefore, offers us yet another perspective on The Matrix trilogy, and one that, in returning to the transcendent moment, approaches a transmodern methodology. In his interview with Wilber, Larry Wachowski makes mention of the point of significatory convergence that:

… holds the quadrants together… that zero, that omega point, that centre of the x-y axis… there’s not four Big Bangs, there’s only one, and it sits exactly in the centre… that point is the only point worth talking about in some regards, ‘cause it’s the beginning of it all, it unites all four quadrants, it puts everything together.

Wachowski’s ‘zero’ point comes in the final minutes of Revolutions, when Neo describes the machines as “all light. They’re made of light.” Here he articulates transcendence as the key interest of the trilogy, with a nod towards Wilber’s SDi stages. Where the green post-production hue of The Matrix denotes the characters’ immersion in mind/ simulacrum/ postmodernism, Neo’s travels into Zion are tinged blue, representing body/ the Real/ modernism. However, as Neo approaches the Machine City, all is bathed in an ephemeral golden light as a reflection of the image of the Big Bang in the very first moments of the film. This is the Wachowski’s depiction of the final stages of Wilber’s SDi continuum – clear light or pure transcendence – with the golden light emanating from the machines representing spirit/ transcendence/ transmodernism. When Neo speaks to the machine’s central organizing consciousness, the Deus ex Machina, he too is bathed in light, illustrating his radical integration with the incorporeal, a vertical transcendence into otherness, an evolution that encompasses mind, matter, and spirit. In the final moments of Revolutions the Wachowskis introduce a radically monist transcendence of the Cartesian dialectic by having Neo choose integration rather than disintegration or, in other words, he transcends the one and the many in order to create a new paradigm – all/neither – a purely transmodern self. Neo, as an individuated Self, ceases to exist – the One is reduced to Zero – but as the integrated Neo/Smith he also becomes all – the creative potentiality of the new that lies between being and becoming.

The Matrix trilogy, then, from a zero point, integral, or transmodern perspective, is 262 finally an extended enquiry into the parallel evolution of human and machine, and their eventual convergence into a new way of being. Furthermore, it characterises this convergence as a spiritual evolution, positing that humans and machines represent two sides of the same coin, the subjective and the objective – each of which cannot exist without the other, and so must be integrated to create a significatory whole. By waging war on its other, humanity in the trilogy has simply effected its own evolutionary decline. In terms of an integral analysis, the inhabitants of Zion have fallen prey to a perspectival imbalance resulting from the privileging of corporeality over incorporeality, and have only imprisoned themselves in a futuristic version of Plato’s cave. What they have neglected to understand is that technology is integral to their humanity – the machines are the necessary means of their evolution. And, as our ‘derivative gods,’ in Kevin Kelly’s terms, the machine transcends and includes the human – comprising the necessary part to their whole. Dissolution of either human or machine would therefore mean holarchic systems failure. The final moments of Revolutions are subsumed by Neo’s revelation that if humanity is to climb out of its caves of ignorance and ‘return to the light,’ the co-dependence of mind and matter, machine and human, must be transcended and included. He therefore subsumes his one-self into Smith’s many- machines and becomes one/zero, all/neither, to herald a total renewal of the human/machine system. The Matrix trilogy offers us a move away from transhuman narratives that divest the Self of its meat, or both from vertical transcendence and, in doing so, presents us with a popular transmodern motif that re-signfies the human/machine debate by arguing that it is not a question of man or machine, being or becoming, organic or inorganic, for such dualities are to be overcome.

Rather than deus ex machina, then, The Matrix trilogy as transmodern text suggests instead Spinoza’s deus sive natura, meaning God or nature, or that creator and created are as one. Spinoza developed his slogan partially in answer to Descartes, who in positing a separation of mind and body, created a model for the valorisation of cognitive thought over the fleshy disappointments of human matter that remains a recurrent metaphor in technophilic philosophy and fiction today. Although the context in which he used the term ultimately validates for Spinoza the and our relationship to such a being philosophically, it also expresses his idea that god and nature were of a single infinite substance with mind and matter being two incommensurable ways of conceiving the one reality. And this is the kind of notion that is increasingly being represented in science fiction 263 narratives over the last century. If we take a broader view of the creator and created in Spinozan philosophy to represent our role as the creators of new technologies, what Spinoza’s deus sive natura comes to signify is our ultimate desire to view the machines we create as simultaneously extensions of ourselves, and in doing so, project upon them our desires for the transcendence of our normative bodies into a new state. If we further apply Spinoza’s concept of god or nature to our interaction with new writing technologies such as the internet, or the much heralded and yet to be perfected virtual realities, we see the transference of the desire for transcendence from a profound dialogue with an Other that is extraneous to our Selves, towards the creation of a more material certainty of transcendence achieved in tandem with the figure of the machine.

In positing a permanent centre of timeless truth and meaning – a ‘transcendental signified’ or ‘metaphysics of presence’ – Derrida argued that all metaphysicians, from Plato to Rousseau, Descartes to Husserl have been contaminated by the yearning for a non-existent ‘fixed centre of meaning,’ manifested in either a hierarchical , where metaphysical determinations spawn binary oppositions and subordinate these opposing values to each other (subject/object, presence/ absence, material/ideal); or the enterprise of returning to an origin held to be simple, self-evident, and pure.101 In this way, Derrida argued that we are always already situated within the effects of différance, and that metaphysics has always depended upon a hierarchical privileging or a clear-cut opposition between binary pairs that is fixed in place, resulting in an extreme rigidity where all that does not fit into any particular scheme tends to be marginalized, suppressed or rendered unconscious. And yet, Integral also wants to inhabit a post-metaphysical space of the kind that Derrida claimed should “liberate theology from what has been grafted onto it, to free it from its metaphysico-philosophical super-ego, so as to uncover an authenticity of the ‘gospel,’ of the evangelical message.”102 Rather than pursuing the Western philosophical tradition of rupturing Plato’s discrete yet connected ascending (transcendent) and descending (immanent) movements and choosing a favourite – the One or the Many – Wilber argues for the primacy of an open-ended methodology of the kind Slavov Žižek describes:

264 [The] traditional closed universe is thus in a sense more ‘open’ than the universe of science: it implies the gateway into the indefinite Beyond, while the direct global model of modern science is effectively ‘closed’ – that is to say, it allows for no Beyond. The universe of modern science, in its very ‘meaninglessness,’ involves the gesture of ‘traversing the fantasy;’ of abolishing the dark spot, the domain of the Unexplained which harbours fantasies and thus guarantees Meaning: instead, we get the meaningless mechanism.103

By attempting to transcend the dialectic between religious and scientific (spiritual and technological) modes of thinking, Wilber’s Integral theory seeks to inhabit Žižek’s open-ended universe, to theorize the gateway to the ‘indefinite Beyond’ and reclaim ultimate meaning for existence. In doing so, it does not attempt to abolish “the dark spot” of science but rather hopes to integrate it into a new understanding that can accommodate both. The “meaningless mechanism” of technology is thus imbued with spiritual meaning and integrated into the “domain of the Unexplained.” Such an ambitious project is not without its pitfalls, the very least of which is maintaining the dynamic momentum of inclusionary tactics as the project continues to expand. If it may indeed be possible to open a space for a new secular theological language, a language rooted in the mystical traditions and, at the same time, transcending them, as Integral itself evolves into a larger movement this possibility is predicated on whether it resists a transformation from, in Bergsonian terms, a dynamic secular transcendent project to institutionalised static religion.104

In summation, integral theory posits that out of the many emerges the one, or absolute ground of being. All aspects of becoming – subjectivity and , organic and inorganic – naturally flow towards being, or in other words, parts merge to become wholes. That which is becoming strives towards being, or change (technology) begets changelessness (transcendence). The drive for self- transcendence is thus built into the very fabric of the universe. And this process of growth from parts to wholes must be hierarchical because it occurs in stages – parts naturally integrate and unify in a logical and chronicle order – letters become words become sentences become paragraphs. It follows that in a healthy system of becoming, the complex must “transcend and include” the less complex in an endless process of vertical transcendence; if the complex devolves into the less

265 Figure 19. Neo views the Machine City as filled with pure light, symbolising spirit. From Matrix Revolutions (Warner Bros, 2001). complex then order cannot be upheld. Looking down the holarchy, the theorist- holon engages in a participative epistemology, where understanding comes not from detachment with the holons being examined, but cooperation and partnership, a realisation that the theorist’s perspective is itself a holon engaged in a complex interplay with the holons it critiques – a transmodern application of the problem of Schroedinger’s cat. Looking up the holarchy, as Ken Wilber the mystic does, the appropriate epistemology transforms, however, into a holistic perspective in which the parts are understood through the whole. Thus the importance of subjective and cultural meanings are brought to the fore, including those experiences of vertical transcendence that in their ineffability are particularly rich in meaning. From this holistic epistemology, reducing transcendent experiences to combinations of simpler experiences, physiological, or biochemical events will not explain them away. Rather, their meaning may be understood by unveiling their interconnections with other meaningful experiences.105 Within this logic, Wilber can claim diametrically opposed perspectives – for example, religion/science, organic/ inorganic, technology/spirituality, or postmodernism/ transmodernism – as part truths that can be mapped onto a continuum of increasing wholeness that represents his AQAL theory of everything. Bergson also once spoke of the “much- desired union of science and metaphysics” that would “lead the positive sciences, properly so-called, to become conscious of their true scope, often far greater than they imagine.”106 Integral theory is an attempt to foster a new dialogue between contemporary dualistic thought; transmodernism further offers the realisation that though such goals may only ever be partially achieved, we nevertheless are programmed to desire their synthesis.

266 When Neo confronts his machinic Other at the end of Revolutions, the Deus Ex Machina is constructed from hundreds of smaller machines that fly together to create a seething mass of metal in the form of a huge childlike face mirroring Neo’s humanity.107 The film intimates that machines have already mastered the ability to assimilate others to create a seamless whole, which is nevertheless made up of separate but necessary parts. And this is what Neo learns in the final moments of the film – that in separating mind, matter, and machine – in irrevocably isolating creator from creation – both Zion and the Machine City are negating necessary parts of themselves, parts that are needed to create a well-balanced and functional whole. It is not a question of man or machine, being or non-being, organic or inorganic – all is connected. Creator and creation are as one. This is the lesson inherent in the experience of transcendence, the message of Spinoza’s deus sive natura, and of Wilber’s integral movement. A history, theory, and experience of transcendence in culture places big moral questions firmly back on the theoretical agenda by opening up the possibility of a positive integration with the Other that does not result in a death of the Self or the resurgence of grand logocentrisms, but offers a transformation into a new way of perceiving the Self’s relation to the world of meaning that it autocreates.


1 Ken Wilber, “Foreword” in Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (2003), xii-xiii.

2 Hans-George Gadamer, , trans. Joel Weinsheimer & Donald G. Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 291.

3 “Angel(LINK) of Harlem: Techno-spirituality in the Cyberpunk Tradition,” in Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. Kindle edition: location 5,616.

4 Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wheaton: Quest Books, 1993).

5 Ken Wilber, The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development (Boston: Shambhala, 1996).

6 Ken Wilber, The Holographic Paradigm and other Paradoxes: Exploring the Leading Edge of Science (Boston: Shambhala, 1982).

7 Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye: The Quest for a New Paradigm (Boston: Shambhala, 1983).

8 Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (Boston: Shambhala, 1995).

9 Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (Boston: Shambhala Press, 2000).

10 See http://www.integralinstitute.org/?q=node/1 Accessed 4 June 2009.

267 11 These include One : The Journals of Ken Wilber (Boston: Shambhala Press, 2000); The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything (Boston: Shambhala Press, 2007); Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Boston: Shambhala, 2006); www.kenwilber.com

12 Ken Wilber, Boomeritis: A Novel that Will Set You Free (Boston: Shambhala, 2002).

13 Academics currently working with Integral theory include: Robert Kegan, Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard University; Michel Saloff Coste — artist and professor at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, ; Michael E. Zimmerman, University of Colorado, Boulder; Roland Benedikter, Sociologist and Culturo- Political Scientist at the University of Santa Barbara and Stanford University; Jennifer Gidley, Research Fellow in the Global Cities Research Institute, RMIT and President of the World Federation; Peter Hayward and Joe Voros, Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne; Mark Edwards, Management and Organisations, the University of Western Australia. running courses and degrees in Integral theory include John F Kennedy University, Pleasant Hill & Berkeley, California; California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco; Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne. A search for “Integral theory” on Google returns 4,640,00 results. A webcast featuring Bill Clinton commenting on Ken Wilber’s Integral theories (“This guy is brilliant”) at the World Economic Forum in 2006, can be found at http://gaia.unit.net/wef/ worldeconomicforum_annualmeeting2006/default.aspx?sn=17195. In 2000, Al Gore cited Wilber’s The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (Boston: Shambhala, 1998), is one of his favourite new intellectual touchstones. See James Atlas, “Erudite and Groovy,” , August 7, 2000. Accessed 25 March, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/07/opinion/erudite-and-groovy.html?scp=1&sq=james %20atlas%20August%207,%202000&st=cse. Deepak Chopra refers to himself as Ken Wilber’s disciple in The New York Times. Accessed 25 March, 2011. http:// www.nytimes.com/2000/08/17/opinion/l-who-s-the-disciple-707023.html?src=pm.

14 Carter Phipps, “A Philosopher of Everything,” What is Enlightenment? June/August 2006.

15 Phipps, “A Philosopher of Everything.”

16 Wesley W. Isenberg, “Gospel of Philip,” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English, eds. James M. Robinson and Marvin W. Meyer (San Franscisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 67.

17 Plotinus, Ennead VI, Books 1-5, trans. A.H. Armstrong (Harvard University Press, 1988). Interestingly, Plotinus’ theorised a mystical union with the One (or henosis) as the highest goal of the contemplative Intellect inspired, apparently, by his own transcendent experience. Plotinus’ biographer, Porphyry, claimed he witnessed the philosopher achieve henosis four times during their acquaintance using a system of no-thought similar to a species of zen meditation: “There was shown to Plotinus the Term ever near': for the Term, the one end, of his life was to become Uniate, to approach to the God over all: and four times, during the period I passed with him, he achieved this Term, by no mere latent fitness but by the ineffable Act.” See Porphyry, “On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of his Work,” in Plotinus: The Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna (London: Faber & Faber, 1973), §23.

18 William James, Pragmatism (New York: Dover Publications, 1995), 49.

19 Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics (Middlesex: The Echo Library, 2006).

20 Friedrich Schelling, System of , trans. Peter Heath (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1978), 211. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wilber rates Schelling as one of two philosophers who “after Plato, had the broadest impact on the Western mind” (A Brief History of Everything, 297-308), and, like Schelling, Wilber’s work has often been dismissed as obscurantist or lacking in methodology.

21 Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, 5. 268 22 Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. TE Hume (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999), 49.

23 See Keith Ansell-Pearson and John Mullarkey, eds., Henri Bergson: Key Writings (London: Continuum Press, 2002), 176.

24 Alfred North Whitehead and Lucien Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (Boston: David R. Godine Publisher, 2001), 13.

25 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2003).

26 Teilhard de Chardin, Human Phenomenon, 173.

27Aurobindo Ghose, The Essential Aurobindo, ed. Robert A. McDermott (Massachusetts: Steiner Books, 2001), 64.

28 Wilber, Atman Project, xvii. Although Wilber has now disavowed The Atman Project as an earlier evocation of his theories, we can still see the impact of Aurobindo’s thought on contemporary Integral practices that seek to simultaneously expand the intellect, emotional intelligence, social compassion, and physical health to create an integrated individual primed for transcending developmental stages.

29 Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine (Sydney: Macmillan, 1967), 48.

30 Koestler, Ghost in the Machine, 48.

31 See Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala, 2001), 40.

32 Ken Wilber, The Eye of the Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, 1997), 131.

33 Corpus Hermetica, trans. Brian P. Copenhaver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 41.

34 Wilber, A Theory of Everything, 38.

35 Ken Wilber, “An Integral Theory of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 4 (1) (February 1997): 71-92.

36 Wilber also divides each quadrant into nine stages of development, but for simplicity of argument I have not included a description of each of these stages. Please see Figure 3 for more details.

37 Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (Melbourne: Hill of Content Publishing, 1998), 66.

38 Wilber, Marriage, 3.

39 As well as an expression of the modern Gnostic project, by constantly revising his theories Wilber makes it difficult to definitively situate his work for academic analysis. Steve McIntosh notes that this is because Integral theory is a “self-organising dynamic system of values that is arising within the internal universe of consciousness and culture,” and any attempt to obtain an objective view of this emergent philosophy must be seen as merely a contributing element of the system itself: “Just as the modernist worldview now extends far beyond the confines of Enlightenment philosophy, so too will the integral worldview eventually define an entire era of human history encompassing more knowledge and wisdom than even integral philosophy can contain.” Steve McIntosh, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 2007), 153.

269 40 Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (Ohio University Press, 1985).

41 Gebser, Ever-Present Origin, 42.

42 Gebser, Ever-Present Origin, 58.

43 See Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (New Jersey: Blackwell, 1996). Beck and Cowen have expanded and simplified Graves theories to make them more accessible for a broader audience (particularly for the lucrative business management market), replacing the original “values” system with “value memes” to indicate the viral nature of shifts in consciousness, and colour coding each level or “vMeme” for easy reference.

44 Clare W. Graves, The Never Ending Quest: Dr. Clare W. Graves on A Treatise on an emergent cyclical conception of adult behavioral systems and their development (Santa Barbara: Eclet, 2005).

45 Graves, Never Ending Quest, 29.

46 Wilber, Boomeritis, 24.

47 Wilber, Boomeritis, 25.

48 Wilber, Boomeritis, 25.

49 Wilber, Boomeritis, 26.

50 Wilber, Boomeritis, 36.

51 Wilber, Boomeritis, 35.

52 See Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1996).

53 Wilber, Boomeritis, 35.

54 Wilber, Eye to Eye, 131.

55 Wilber, Eye to Eye, 98.

56 Wilber, Eye to Eye, 30.

57 In 2007, Wilber and Beck began adding a third-tier of consciousness to account for mystical, transpersonal awareness in which horizontal and vertical transcendence are indistinguishable from spiritual attainment, but for the purposes of this argument an analysis of these nascent stages is unnecessary.

58 Ken Wilber, “What We Are, That We See. Part II: What Is the Real Meaning of This?” Blog post at www.kenwilber.com.au, June 11, 2006. 19:16 (accessed June 10, 2009).

59 Don Beck, “What is Spiral Dynamics Integral?” 2003. PDF Accessed May 3, 2010. http:// www.integralnaked.org

60 Wilber, Boomeritis, 28-29.

61Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 9.

62 Wilber, Integral Vision, 54.

63 Ken Wilber, Integral Naked website. Accessed June 15, 2009. http:// www.integralnaked.org

64 Wilber, Integral Vision, 219-20. 270 65 See for example, The Republic of Plato, ed. Allan David Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 156.

66 Mirra Alfassa, The Collected Works of the Mother, (Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2004), Vol 5, 247.

67 Alfassa, Collected Works, 15:27.

68 Alfassa, Collected Works, 12:94. Alfassa also maintained that this ‘supramentalisation’ of the physical body would engender the discovery of a deep but physical level of consciousness capable of radically restructuring the body and the laws of nature in a very radical way. The evolutionary end of humanity, then, would effect the refashioning of corporeality and nature at will, essentially transforming the Real into the virtual, or virtually emergent.

69 Jeff Salzman, “The Markers of Second–Tier Consciousness.” Online video. Accessed 4 June 2009. http://integrallife.com/learn/deep-end/markers-second-tier-consciousness

70 Ibid.

71 In the past, Wilber has been quick to subscribe this lack of acceptance to the dominance of postmodernism in late capitalist Boomer culture, a stance he has moved away from in recent years.

72 Ken Wilber blog. Accessed June 08, 2006. http://www.kenwilber.com

73 Ken Wilber, “What We Are, That We See. Part II: What Is the Real Meaning of This?” 19:16. Accessed June 10, 2009. http:www.kenwilber.com

74 The Matrix. Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. DVD. Sydney: Silver Productions, 1999.

75 The Matrix Reloaded. Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. (2001. Sydney: Silver Productions) DVD; Matrix Revolutions. Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski. (2001. Sydney: Silver Productions) DVD.

76 See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), §108.

77 See Slavoj Zizek, “The Matrix: Or, The Two Sides of Perversion,” in The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real, ed. William Irwin (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 2002), 240.

78 There are numerous other instances in the films constructing Neo as a Christ figure – for instance the character, Cypher, representing Judas, tells Neo he “scared the bejesus out of him; it takes Neo 72 seconds to reanimate after Agent Smith shoots him, mirroring the 72 hours or 3 days of Jesus’ rising again; and Neo’s sacrifice and apparent crucifixion in the final moments of Matrix Revolutions. For a full description of the links between The Matrix trilogy and Christianity, see Chris Sealy & Greg Garrett, The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in the Matrix (Pinon Press: Colorado Springs, 2003). For an excellent analysis of The Matrix trilogy’s relationship with Buddhism, see Michael Brannigan, “There is No Spoon: A Buddhist Mirror,” The Matrix and Philosophy, 101-110; and for a comprehensive reading of the films’ Gnostic themes, see Stephen Faller, Beyond the Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), 28.

79 Wilber, Brief Theory of Everything, 105

80 Wilber, Eye of Spirit, 115.

271 81 See “The Many Meanings of the Matrix.” Online interview featuring Larry Wachowski and Ken Wilber. Accessed June 12, 2007. http://integrallife.com/apply/art-entertainment/many- meanings-matrix-transcript.

82 Larry Wachowski, “Many Meanings of the Matrix.”

83 Richard Corliss, “Popular Metaphysics,” Time, April 19 (1999).

84 For commentary on Plato’s cave allegory and The Matrix see Lou Marinoff, “The Matrix and Plato’s Cave: Why the Sequels Failed,” in More Matrix and Philosophy: Revolutions and Reloaded Decoded, ed. William Irwin (Open Court Publishing: 2006); and Don Idhe, “Technofantasies and Embodiment,” The Matrix in Theory, eds. Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz and Stefan Herbrechter (New York: Rodopi, 2006).

85 Larry Wachowski, “Many Meanings of the Matrix.”

86 Wilber, Eye of Spirit, 107.

87 This psychoanalytic reading still resides within the upper left quadrant as it makes an exterior reading of an author’s interiority during the creation of the text.

88 See David Mischoulon and Eugene V. Beresin, “’The Matrix:’ An Allegory of the Psychoanalytic Journey,” Academic Psychiatry 28:1(Spring 2004), 72.

89 Mischoulon and Beresin, “’The Matrix,” 72.

90 , The Interpretation of Dreams (London: , 1953), 517.

91 Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (New York: Perseus Books, 2000), 32.

92 Matt Lawrence, Like a Splinter in Your Mind: The Philosophy of The Matrix (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004), 85.

93 A. Samuel Kimball, “Not Begetting the Future: Technological Autochtony, Sexual Reproduction, and the Mythic Structure of The Matrix,” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (2001): 191-192.

94 Joshua Clover, The Matrix (London: BFI Modern Classics, 2004), 69.

95 Zizek, “The Matrix,” in Matrix and Philosophy, 264.

96 Lisa Nakamura, “Race in the Construct, or the Construction of Race: New Media and Old Identities in The Matrix,” Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices, eds. Maria Fernandez, Faith Wilding, and Michelle M. Wright (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2003), 65.

97 Wilber, Eye of Spirit, 109.

98 Henri Lefebrvre, The Production of Space (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991), 392.

99 Sven Lutzka, “Simulacra, Simulation and The Matrix,” in Matrix in Theory, 127.

100 See Denisa Kera, in Matrix in Theory, 211- 226.

272 101 According to Derrida, the ‘transcendental signified’ is an imagined fixed point outside the system of signification. He makes it quite clear that God is a paradigm of the transcendental signified: “The history of metaphysics … is the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the centre have always designated an invariable presence – eidos, arche, telos, energia, ousia, aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.” See in “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 279; and Dissemination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 19-20.

102 Jacques Derrida, “Deconstruction in America: an Interview with Jacques Derrida,” Critical Exchange 17 (1985): 12.

103 Slavoj Žižek, The Plague of Fantasies (Verso: London, 1997), 160.

104 This process is currently being played out across Integral’s online forums and web communities as Wilber’s transcendent project morphs from theoretical reflection to secular spiritual enterprise.

105 See Willis W. Harman with Jane Clark, eds.,New Metaphysics of Modern Science (Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1994).

106 Bergson, Metaphysics, 54.

107 In the original script, the machine Neo speaks to at the conclusion of Revolutions is called the “Deus Ex Machina.”


HACKING THE ABYSS: Across and Between Modernism, Postmodernism, and Transmodernism

274 Don’t forget that life resides in the unity of energy, that we are centres who receive and transmit, so that we are indissolubly connected to everything.

– Umberto Boccioni1

Our Jerusalem is made up of software, cities of God, bailiwicks of the Word, megalopolises of language exchanges. We are making ready for the kingdom of the spirit, the celestial Jerusalem or a classless society. Wait, then, for the end of history to see the realization of the promise rise up at last. Passing from hardware to software, the material to the logic, the tower of Babel turns over, and with it the point of its text. In the old days, lack of completion used to come in whenever all was said and done… nowadays, the incompletion is the ordinary state of affairs, synthesis and unity finding themselves asymptomatically.

– Michael Serres 2

We are part of something much larger.

– Michael Marshall Smith3

Since the industrial revolution ruptured the feudal lives of workers and propelled them into a new world where the logic of the machine would dominate the majority of their waking hours, being has been mediated by technology. The progress of technology in late capitalist culture is increasingly linked metaphorically to a profound transformation, not simply for societies but also for individuals. Caught up in a collective first world fascination with machine progress, we imagine the machines we create in turn recreate us, making us faster and smarter, allowing us to transcend our normative selves and achieve a future state of perfection. This ideology of technological innovation offers subjects the fantasy of ‘taking the perfect father’s place’ that is, the place of god. The technological imaginary suggests that this usurpation of figurative perfection is always imminent, that it is indeed an underlying condition of continued technological progress. Such a desire for transcendence via technological means also taps into longstanding 275 notions of mystical transcendence, evident in texts ranging from the Upanishads to Scientology, updating them for a new technological milieu in which the logic of perpetual change effects instantaneous transformations in culture.

The literature of technological change is suffused with the language of transcendence in both its horizontal and vertical forms. This thesis has demonstrated that the artists, writers, film texts, and science fiction television it has examined convert traditional mystical metaphors of transcendence from Gnostic gospels to Buddhist scripture and, in the case of The Matrix trilogy secular spiritual movements, to better describe the subjective effects of incessant technological change. Where encounters with new technologies instigate a breakdown in translatability – that is, when normative similes can no longer adequately describe a technological experience – the idiom of vertical transcendence is employed to cover the gap in signification, decisively ensuring spiritual and technological metaphors are inextricably entwined in western culture. The conflation of horizontal transcendence (as a marker of social change) and vertical transcendence (as a means of becoming god) further compounds this interconnectivity between technology and spirituality, and reveals the dialectical play between concepts of change and changelessness inherent in narratives of progress and evolution. The icon of the machine has therefore become a catalyst for thinking about an always-incipient transformation of the Self towards perfection, of yearning to be Other than we are. In a secular society that has killed off god, and placed the human Self at the centre of creation, increasingly separating the material from the spiritual in its quest to become a creator in its own right, the desire for transcendence, to exceed the boundaries of knowledge and consciousness, remains. If, as Sartre supposed, there is a god-shaped hole at the heart of the subject, and if thanks to the auspices of postmodern theory, there is now also a subject-shaped hole at the heart of culture, where does the Self as creator look to assuage its desire for the Other?4 Into the heart of its new creations – the computer, the Internet, and virtual realities.


Throughout this thesis, we have seen that contemporary culture’s fascination with the transcendent heart of modern technology can be traced back to the early years of the twentieth century in Italian Futurism’s avant-garde incursions into the logic of technological speed. By inserting the language of vertical transcendence into its 276 accounts of rapid technological revolution, the movement firmly established an aesthetic link between technology and mysticism, providing a blueprint for both mass culture and subsequent technospiritual literature, particularly in the genre of science fiction. For the Futurists, each technological advance was always fuelled by a concomitant desire to transcend into otherness, realised in the apotheosis of their machine dreams – the “multiplied man” who would be better equipped to exist in “a world of ceaseless shocks” of the new.5 Guided by the philosophies of Bergson and Nietzsche, the Futurists rewrote the logic of changelessness as a perpetually dynamic and creative drive that gave rise to eternal flux. They imagined that the coupling of their bodies with machines might allow them to directly tap this source of creative renewal, ensuring in the process the continuation of a modern avant-garde project of rupture and revolution ad infinitum. Marinetti’s theories of technological progress foreshadowed the elaboration of a postmodern moment in late capitalist culture, where heterogeneity, difference, theoretical anarchy, and subjective chaos would be the inevitable precursor to the transcendence of the multiplied man. His dream of the multiplied man’s becoming reached fruition in the multiplied body of cyberspace; his desire to replace space with speed is absolutely realised in the instantaneity of data flow across the world wide web, and information technologies have decisively shrunk the earth by speed. Futurist metaphors for technological change are therefore entirely confluent with contemporary technoculture, including cyberpunk and cyberfeminism, demonstrating that a modernist transcendence of the self still ceaselessly informed subjective technological constructions in the postmodern era. And yet, in also positing a postmodern beyond, Italian Futurism remained open to the logic of the trans; that is, it prepared the way for the transmodern. However, the Futurists’ construction of technological transformation simultaneously marked the twentieth-century’s tradition of purging the feminine from technoculture, writing her off as either a machine to be assimilated by man or a force, like nature and the body, that would posit a resistance to transcendence in favour of more material concerns. As such, it was unable to fully acknowledge the feminine as Futurism’s Other, and the possibility of transmodernism remained emergent rather than realised in Futurist theories of technoculture.

At the opposite end of the twentieth century, cyberpunk continued this technological flight from the body that is simultaneously a flight from the feminine. In yearning for an integration with otherness, cyberpunk’s matrix hinted at a disembodied “illuminated landscape beyond textuality,” and therefore beyond language, returning to images of the sacred to articulate the transformations that occur when its characters exchange their 277 meat for a pure mind space in, on, and between information machines.6 Cyberpunk texts were also supplemented by a mystical language of immediate vertical transcendence into Otherness, reimagining the insertion of the subject’s mind into data technologies as an opportunity to resurrect the Gnostic quest to know everything and therefore become god. Further, the Movement sought to reinscribe data machines as gods, instituting an intimate relationship between man as divine, technology as his divine creation and, as in Futurism’s celebration of the automobile, displacing traditional yearnings for transcendence onto the computer drive. Such relationships can also be read as unconditionally bypassing biological modes of reproduction and thus consigning the feminine to the position of sexual signifier, to be possessed/mutilated/colonised by a technology controlled predominantly by men. Woman therefore became a passive, consuming, and consumed body onto which technological experiments could be carried out.

Transmodernism represents the potential to bring our disavowed others back into the light of investigation, and in doing so reclaim their subversive power to revitalize cultural discourse. In transmodernism what was once obscured is again revealed and celebrated as part of a complex tapestry of signification. Just as metaphysics resurfaces in technocultural literature, at the historical moment in which it would seem religious myths and metaphors would be definitively erased by the secular promise of machine innovation, so too did Italian Futurism and cyberpunk’s neat disavowal of the feminine as agential reproductive force set the conditions for a cyberfeminist reversal of technospiritual metaphors that claimed virtual technologies as irrevocably masculine. Early avant-garde cyberfeminism viewed the mystical symbolism rampant in technocultural fictions as “a self-narrating story of the drive to resist the inexplicable, the marginal, to perpetuate an illusion of self-control.”7 The technophile’s manipulation of technology could therefore be exposed as a dream of ultimate power, of standing god-like on the threshold of a completely man-made system. The feminine body, stripped of its ability to manufacture meaning within this paradigm, becomes the space onto which (auto)erotic fantasies about technological power are played out; refused access to technological transcendence by her inscription as machine, the feminine as artificial construction simply provides a mirror for the technophile’s dreams of self-. By reconstructing information technologies as metaphorically female, avant-garde cyberfeminism moved to redress the problem of disembodiment in narratives of technophilia since the Futurists, refiguring Marinetti’s multiplied man as a multiplied body that synthesizes projected subjectivities in cyberspace with the visceral body that anchors them outside the machine. The multiplied body of 278 cyberspace establishes the interconnectivity of transcendence and immanence as surely as it reunites mind and body, cancelling out Cartesian longing. It marks the successful opening up of a transmodern perspective on technoculture that would seek to integrate masculine and feminine technological transcendence as connected elements of a single narrative about technocultural desire.

At the turn of millennium, however, early avant-garde cyberfeminism had already begun to be criticised for its a-political stance on real women’s bodies, replaced by a ‘new’ form of cyberfeminism that sought to counteract utopian zeal about new online technologies and transcendence with more practical feminist concerns, such as emphasising the importance of feminist difference online, and reinserting the net’s disavowed others – those without easy access to online media effectively silenced by the world wide web’s chatter – with “tactical texts, artwords, and contestational projects” to create an engaged feminist net theory politics, and practice.8 A transmodern, transfeminist approach would, however, seek a balance between ‘old’ cyberfeminism’s revolutionary fervour for using online media to imagine a radically transgender future for bodies multiplied by the machine with ‘new’ cyberfeminism’s important activism and inclusionary tactics for all corporeality in the here/now.9 The task, therefore, for a transgender transfeminism is to short circuit (or “hack the abyss” between) the traditional antithesis between masculine and feminine by envisioning, theorising, and bringing into being a synthesis that is both/ neither.

In highlighting the transcendent drive that underlies all representations of culture, Ken Wilber’s secular mystical project, integral theory, synthesises the threads of change and changelessness, showing how necessary each is for the continued transmodern evolution of thought. Wilber’s holarchic analytic model expands our understanding of the locus and meaning of culture at a time when the culmination of postmodern despair about the future had almost been reached. It indicates an escape from postmodernity’s termination of hermeneutics, a divergence that may indeed revitalise theory. Flawed as its practical applications may sometimes be, the project intimates what transmodernity might look like in the future; that is, it maps the process of accumulating all forms of knowledge – spiritual and technological, mystic and scientific, subjective and objective, interior and exterior – onto a continuum that lightly weighs each body of information according to its strengths and then asks how these might also be transcended in the future. Wilber’s integral project seeks a real world application of vertical transcendence on a grand scale,

279 imbuing late capitalist culture with a sense of the sacred, the disavowed other of a postmodern milieu. It further reveals the ubiquitous hold of the metaphysical on metaphors of progress and evolution and suggests that the next stage in philosophical thought may indeed require an ironic re-evaluation of the role metaphysics plays in constructing our attitudes to being-in-the-world. Wilber sees the trace of what was once called ‘god’ everywhere, but particularly in the creative forces that compel us to transcend. Integral theory preserves the basic lesson of postmodernism – that meaning is context-dependent, and contexts are boundless – but takes the message one-step further, by suggesting that the whole is as dependent on its parts as they are on the whole. Meaning is therefore reconstructed as inclusive, interconnected, and always open to the infinite play of interpretation. At its best, integral theory portents a revaluing of ontology and a metaphysics of presence while remaining wise to their tendency to homogenise, an understanding that our mythologies, spiritual or otherwise, still have thaumaturgical power over us and that, sometimes, we need to work a little wonder into our lives.

Yet, Wilber’s work also reminds us that technological transcendence is just one of many contradictory threads transmodernism seeks to reveal in contemporary culture. As Paul C. Vitz has noted, transmodernism transforms the modern and also transcends it.10 As modernity undergoes a process of exponential change, it transforms itself into transmodernity, fuelled by a growing sense of the interconnectivity that occurs with the multiplicity and diversity of information. Transmodernity is interconnectivity laid bare, the placing of knowledge systems side by side to see where they connect and better understand why some systems do not. It is forthright about its celebration of transcendence, both vertical and horizontal, seeing it as part of the perpetually creative force that impels revolution by embodying both change and changelessness simultaneously. It is persistent renewal and eternal return, but with a witting nod to the process of culture’s perpetual becoming. It welcomes the long overdue rebalancing of postmodernism’s dance of meaninglessness with the return of signification and purpose, reinserting the ‘Big Questions’ back into the fields of discourse – morality, ethics, truth, beauty, spirit – while remaining wary of their potential to generalise.


Transmodernism seeks to revisit these questions not because they are inherently true, but because they form part of a mosaic of meaning that constitutes what it means to be

280 human. Spirituality is also back on the prospectus; not the return of God, but of godhead – that is, transcendence – that dynamic force that makes connections and reveals deus sive natura – all is, on some level, one; all is an expression of a very human desire to know and transform. The transmodern impulse wants to be transparent about all processes of becoming and being as all/neither. In championing the always new, it understands it may some day be overcome like Marinetti’s huddled Futurists, Kevin Kelly’s derivative gods, or Wilber’s Wyatt Earpy. It is cognisant of the incipient threat of Fascism that lies within the desire for constant transcendence but also acknowledges that to disavow this threat is to bestow upon it unnecessary power. In shedding investigative light on all such possibilities it seeks to hold them in check. Ultimately transmodernism represents the evolution of cultural beliefs, an evolution that wants to both transcend and include, retaining and revealing that which was once thought lost, unnecessary, or misplaced. The task for an emerging transmodern criticism is not easy – it will require a light balancing of opposing dichotomies in order to ensure the value of each is retained. In doing so it will reveal that exploring the margins of culture and thus privileging marginal discourse has the potential to displace old centralising arguments themselves to the outskirts of criticism, creating the constant destabilisation of meaning that in turn fuels cultural and critical enquiry. What was once renounced returns, and so the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater is negated – disavowed discourses are simply part of a holarchy of signification that once offered something of value to human enquiry, and therefore require review and re- signification. On the one hand, as Magda has suggested, the “gnoseological vigour” of grand narratives has waned but not our “logical and social need for them,” and thus we must pragmatically re-examine them to understand their place on a continuum of knowledge. On the other, it is as Michael Marshall Smith has written:

… there is some fundamental need in humanity which requires the inexplicable to be at the heart of our lives, which requires that our destiny be shaped by intangible forces. Maybe we need places with no paths to them.11

This re-examination of grand narratives has begun in the creative industries, as Vermeulen and van den Akker have already noted. Contemporary artists and writers have started to re-signify rather than re-appropriate the motifs and tropes of the past, and their work constitutes a search for completeness in the face of previous theoretical assuredness that such wholeness can never exist.12 This work is testament to the emerging desire for synthesis and re-construction in western culture, if only as a way of maintaining an illusion of totality, the attraction of places without paths that is the requisite ground of creativity. 281 Thus transmodernism begins the work of confronting both modernism and postmodernism with their own simulations of theoretical totality, and transforms the closed universe of theory into a more open and inclusive critical enterprise that better reflects the hopes of a new millennium.

This thesis has endeavoured to map out a number of ways by which this open-ended analysis can be undertaken, but as the field of transmodernism continues to develop it is clear that other comparative perspectives will emerge to deepen and diversify our understanding of theory’s direction after the waning of postmodernism. What will be important to remember is that transmodernism is always marked by a constant state of transformation, oscillating between the positive momentum of modernism and postmodern emptiness to usher in a new sense of interconnectivity that renews itself at the speed of information. As its dictionary definition suggests, the trans necessarily functions beyond limits, across boundaries, through paradigms, thoroughly changing all our carefully constructed theoretical labels in the process. The task for future transmodernists is, therefore, to carefully balance the movement’s ironic alternation between thesis, antithesis, and synthesis while always remaining receptive to the revelations of the new.


1 Umberto Boccioni, “Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism,” in Futurist Manifestoes, ed. Umbro Appollonio (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 92.

2 Michel Serres, Genesis, trans. Genevieve James & James Nielson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 125.

3 Michael Marshall Smith, One of Us (Bantam Books, 1998).

4 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: a phenomenological essay on ontology, trans. H. Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1992), 523.

5 F.T. Marinetti, “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine” in War, The World’s Only Hygiene, ed. R.W Flint, 82.

6 David Porush, Thinking robots, an aware internet, and cyberpunk librarians: the 1992 LITA president's program: presentations by Hans Moravec, Bruce Sterling, and David Brin (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), 135.

7 Sadie Plant, “Beyond the Screens: Film, Cyberpunk and Cyberfeminism,” Variant 14 (1993): 17.

8 Fernandez and Wilding, “Situating Cyberfeminism,” 24.

9 The italicised ‘transgender’ (beyond, across, and thoroughly changing gender) is employed here as a way to differentiate it from ‘transgender’ (real human bodies living across gender).

282 10 Paul C. Vitz, The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis (The University of Michigan Press: 2006), xviii.

11 Michael Marshall Smith, Spares (London: Random House, 1998), 21.

12 Vermeulen and van den Akker cite the work of neo-romantics such as Peter Doig, Bas Van Ader, Gregory Crewdson, David Thorpe, and Kaye Donachie.


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