Tag Archives: representation

Why I want to look at Neuromancer

Most of the time I read, I’m  reminded that I don’t read enough.

This in itself can be read (at least) two ways, I suppose.  What I mean first is that I haven’t read Neuromancer, but I keep reading about it and William Gibson.  This is similar to reading Ciritcal Theory and Science Fiction or Archaeologies of the Future without having read Man in the High Castle.  Guilty.  Perhaps, its the term “cyberpunk” that has dissuaded me from Gibson.  Perhaps.

I am interested by Chun’s effort on this text, though, for its focus on *text* – specifically her comment that “high-tech Orientalism also renders Gibson’s text something other than mere text” (195).  I am preoccupied with the artifice of the book (and by this I mean, briefly and inconclusively, the relation of non/fiction, narrative, text and experience), so this concept is a frequent destination for my rambling thought process.   I did appreciate the careful argument concerning Orientalism and think it seems to be an important one in regards to Neuromancer and Blade Runner.  And there is fertile ground in discussing hybridity of text and the binaries of Orientalism (and cyborgs, too, of course) as relates to Ghost in the Shell.  But, that won’t be happening here and now, as that’s far too much for me to wrap my meagre brain around, especially in combination with this whole *text* thingy…

I’m going to inevitably fumble this, because it is a thought in progress, so I openly invite counterpunches and questions, shrugs and blank stares.  Chun follows the above quote by tying this textual multiplicity (of function? effect?) to the representational – Gibson’s creation of the text to a soundtrack (punk) and the text as filling a need for a spatial/visual deficit in actual technological methods of representation (cyberspace).  The latter is interesting to me as it seems to be complicit with the genre-ization of SF, as characterized by definitions that incorporate the temporal shifts (SFnal past as real present, SFnal future as real present – a la Jameson, Delany and Gibson ipso).  In other words, the SFnal future of Neuromancer dictates the goals of the current network.  In this sense, text is product and producer – a rough analogy to the aforementioned temporal paradoxes/coincidences.  

More interesting to me is the idea of coded data and real experience.  (Another way of wording this might be disembodies v. bodied.)  It seems, in Neuromancer, there is a (understandable and practical) disconnect between the realities and possibilities of the coded world in comparison to the real world.  Roughly, virtual reality experiences are less *real* than real reality experiences.  In other words, the internal reality of the text’s VR/cyberspace/jacking fails to become an effective hyperreal experience and does not destroy the binary of real/virtual.  (I don’t know if its fair to characterize this as “failure” or expected, which would depend on your view of the potential of the internet.)  Yet, in another manner, the creation (above) and analysis of the text complicates this binary: Chun is able to point that the East-West binary breaks down in Case’s own mistakes and even positions the text (and not-so-subtly here reading of the text) as perhaps a “brilliant critique of Orientalism in general” (192).  

Is this one possibility of the text being more than “mere” text?  

I would argue, in general, that the treatment of text as critical subject blurs the distinction between fiction and real object, as representations are given treatment as realities.  The transmittal of emotion and experience through text is another case of this, to me.

Second Life

This was my first time in Second Life, so I really did not know what to expect when I went to the website.

[This is a convenient space to admit that I’m a *huge* Law & Order fan.  I lived with two obsessed fans a few years ago, who were planning to start a Law & Order cover band.  My wife is a prosecutor, who use to watch it, but had more interest in the short-lived “Conviction”.  Anyway, my obsession began about two years ago; my favorite is SVU, if I was forced to pick, but Dickie Goren can usually steal any show if he sniffs a corpse’s fingers.  

How does this relate?  The only notion I had of Second Life was based on an SVU episode, in which the good detectives track down a missing girl by checking out the suspects property in an online game based on Second Life.  He had made a near exact representation of the cabin that they were looking for; Det. Benson convinced the game creator/admin to set the sun to rise in the middle of the night, so they could identify which shore the cabin was on.]

I resisted the initial opportunity to design my avatar, as none of the default designs were interesting to me, though the cyberpunk-ish would be my first choice – and somehow was when I got to the tutorial… uh place?  space?  Chun, help me out…

I spent probably a fast 45 minutes running around trying to do all the tutorials.  Normally, I’d launch into “gameplay,” as, well, its for fun, and the games I traditionally play are similar (sports games, first-person shooters, and a hell of a lot of Civ – when there’s time).   As this was “academic,” I decided to try and immerse myself in the general nuances and small intricacies with the thought this knowledge of the interface would help me “explore” more successfully.  Though, after typing that, I wonder if knowledge and exploration sometimes have the opposite relationship.  

After learning to fly and talking to some[thing], I went to find out about building blocks and property and money – and have to admit I was terribly disappointed with these “real world” concerns.  I guess I like my games either unconcerned with property or at least not-so-overtly concerned with ownership of space and materials.  I’d rather just take things, like in GTA.   I clicked on the door to the “real” world of Second Life.

Which took me to something like a transportation hub in a forest.  There were groups of people hanging about and some posters about making money.  I resisted talking to any of these people, as I wasn’t sure of the social rules of striking up a conversation.  Did these avatars know each other?  How well and in how many worlds?  Did I want to know them or even talk to them, with my slow typing?  I decided not, but committed to a search of folks at UWM. 

So, in my Second Life, I was drawn to look for folks I might know in my first life.  I found a few (6) with UWM ties.  I tried to figure out who these people might be, but didn’t think any were from our class this semester, and none were online, regardless.  

Thus, I continued on my path of first life habits and looked for some places on books.  I found a small and loosely-organized-sounding place (my requirements at the moment), so I teleported on over.  It was late at night (I think; still unsure about temporal issues in SL), so no one else was around.  Or maybe it was boring and no one ever went.  I did find a board that declared itself some kind of record of a contest, with books placed at height intervals reflecting a “score.” I still don’t know how to play, though.  

I picked up a free latte and a free book (I don’t know what book ; I don’t believe it has content, rather a little representation for display – a conversation starter?) and flew around.  I noticed a green blip on my radar (and had a Perfect Dark flashback) and went to check out who was around.  The avatar was in a huge house with a door and doorbell. I could see inside, where he was standing.  So, I said hi and asked what the deal with the book place was.  My response, for which I was unready: “that’s next door.”

I had no idea of the dividing line between the book “space” and this avatar’s private “space”. To me, it was all book place. I teleported there for books, found books, but there were neighbors, too.  I went back to the lodge, where I signed up for the group, found out about an upcoming SL book fair this month, thought about starting a press in SL, figured it would cost money and time, both of which were lacking, and failed terribly at a 19th century lit quiz offered by a gramophone.   

I sat in a comfortable looking chair in the lodge and signed out.

——————————————————

I went back in tonight, after thinking about how I projected my first life onto my SL experience.  I was also thinking about the breakdown of space and place in cyberspace and how this might relate to transportation and exploration within SL.  SL offers the basic ability to walk, the special ability to fly, and the practical gameplay function of teleporting.  Clearly, scales of distance and time has to do with these options: if I want to go from the book “place” to that avatar’s house, I can walk fairly quickly or fly if I’m feeling bored with my key-punching.  It isn’t economical to teleport, wrt time – it would likely take longer to pull up the map, I’d have to know how to search for the house, which means I’d have to have pre-existing knowledge of the place.  The ambulatory function of SL allows for discovery on a local level by allowing an avatar to roam in a continuous path through a continuous world.  Flying speeds up the same process.  Teleporting, however, allows for discovery based on keyword searches.  Thus, it facilitates an exploration based upon preconceived concepts.

And, for me, the continued path of first life concepts led me to weather.  One of the reasons for my ill-conceived and oft-neglected little blog on severe weather is to explore the relationship between terror, news, natural phenomena and probabilities/forecasting.  My interest in representations of weather in the form of brightly-colored radar imagery and numeric values prompted me to see what manifestation weather might have in SL.  

I found the Weather Channel’s home “space”, which, besides featuring ads for upcoming programming, has severe weather experience theme-park rides.  These are supposed to simulate hurricanes, blizzards, tsunamis, sandstorms – but in fun ways, like flying through the eye, skiing down a mountain, surfing and riding motocross bikes.  TWC has decided that SL is far less dangerous than first life.  Which is interesting, since I’m guessing they make their money from high ratings on coverage of events like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, and various North American severe storms that killed people and shut down the normal flow of goods and services.  

I guess, what I’m saying is that perhaps my avatar is on his way to becoming an evil scientist, who will stop at nothing to create a machine – built form basic solid shapes of Euclidean geometry – that controls the weather, so long as he can scrape the L$’s together…

Chun

Points of interest:

= the divide between the interface and the machinations of technology. I am preoccupied with ideas of artifice and representations. The idea of windows/desktops/folders (hyperreal models of metaphors?) or point-and-click OS is an interesting instance of my preoccupations. I understand, to some degree, the nature of how the personal computer functions (code, circuitry, data, etc) yet have largely avoided considering my usage of OS as a type of artifice. This “reading” of the user experience questions other “hidden” aspects of my usage, such as the packet-sniffing Chun brings up in her introduction, the fact “that your computer constantly wander without you” (3). Again, these are consequences that I’ve known to be true for some time, to an increasing extent, but have dismissed (or perhaps accepted) out of hand, as I didn’t consider myself to be an individual target of surveillance. This is the result of a panoptic reasoning and of believing that those who might be surveilling are not perfect observers, nor are they able to decipher the unimaginable glut of information to be sifted. Thus, my choice (necessity?) to use was part of

= the utility of paradoxes, which Chun refers to through the fiber optics (26). In my specific case as participant in technology, I think I accept the possibility of surveillance as a matter of practicality – it can make my life more convenient sometimes, while admittedly more complex at others; still, the attraction is there. And, I know I’m talking a lot about surveillance and that is supposedly the hallmark of a discipline society. I’m still looking for a better definition of control – or maybe a more complete one that has an analog for surveillance. Chun’s articulation of the difference does make some sense to me, in that I gather that control incorporates the manipulation of freedom (and liberty, I s’pose) in order for the institutional power structures to achieve an ends that they desire (such as undermining labor unions, in Chun’s example). 

Back to paradoxes: one thing that excites me about Chun’s notion of “the theoretical necessity of using, rather than resolving, paradoxes” is the discarding of Enlightenment notions of objectivity (26). Is it ironic or paradoxical that Chun employs technology, the fruit of science’s labor, to destabilize the foundations of science? It is appropriate, given her clearly stated goal of considering technology and all its imperfections, rather than eliding technology as the pure product of an ideology. Chun’s fiber optics example reminded me of Foucault’s essay “Of Other Spaces” and his discussion of heterotopias. (I felt pleasantly justified by the later usage of heterotopia, as well as an indirect shout out to Foucault’s “What is Enlightenment?” by way of flâneur. Which is also a tidy connection to my statement on objectivity.) 

Another possible avenue I could enjoy exploring, wrt paradoxes and Chun, is Authorship. My entry point is a briefer comment within a brief comment on Benjamin: the computer’s “reading [of the user] as writing elsewhere” on the network (4). My question in response to this is to what degree is the user an “author”, if she doesn’t know what “writing” is being recorded and if the recorder does not know what might be being read and by what audience?

Onwards; maybe backwards and sideways later.