Open main menu
FICTION THAT BLEEDS TRUTH

Cyberpunk has passed from literary fad to manic subculture, a vogue
that's touched a generation of hackers and (dis)infotainment
junkies whose ideal state is jacked into the matrix a la William
Gibson's Case, and devouring data like so much spicy fruit. The
market droids, sensing the craze, commodify the trend (cf. the
Peter Max acid-trip shower curtains of the 60s), and (as always)
attempt to divert psychic energies from exploration to consumption.
The cynical component of the hacker mentality, however, seems
above-average hype-resistant.
     Straight culture, ever hungry for facile analogies, may see
cyberpunk and the hacker ethos as forms of adolescent rebellion, a
negotiable accommodation. This worked in the 60s; radical will was
broken not by violent suppression, but by a neat combination of
accommodation and trivialization driven by market and fashion. The
"revolution" became another cultural commodity, with a "shelf life"
past which concerns evaporated and American culture at large moved
on to the next fascination, having learned that you can package
anything: politics, lifestyle, war....
     60s culture trivialized radical ferment among the young,
coining the term "generation gap" to assign safe relevance to
energies that might otherwise feed rage and rowdiness. The
perceived gap fed journalists and scholars for years as middle-
class youth assumed a new status, as a kind of cultural elite, and
an established source of revenue. At the same time that we taught
the youth demographic to become "disaffected" (the Holden Caulfield
act), we created a market for cultural identification, a market
which split into factions (skaters, preppies, gangs), each of which
identifies with a particular strategy for consumption. 
      Cyberpunk was not so much a literary movement as an extension
of postmodern experimentation that reaches back to the first
cultural memes generated by radical shifts in perception (Leary's
experimentation with psychotropics and McLuhan's vision of "the new
media matrix," Buckminster Fuller's perception of "Spaceship
Earth," his insight that "up" is really "out."). Larry McCaffery,
in his casebook _Storming the Reality Studio_, presents cyberpunk
and related fictional forms as 

     the inevitable result of art responding to the
     technological milieu that is producing postmodern culture
     at large.... SF's aesthetics can be seen as extending the
     implications of the surfictionist, metafictionist, and
     fabulist experiments of the 1960s in using its highly
     stylized codes and conventions to produce textual
     'meaning' in a manner as fully distinctive as the
     linguistic systems that give rise to meaning in a
     Shakespearean sonnet, a medieval morality fable, or a
     postmodernist story by Coover or Barth.

     Fiction, imaginative storytelling, is fixated on bourgeois
forms and ideas from the 18th and 19th centuries, i.e. typical
novel and short story structures. The emphasis on what fiction was,
in response to an archaic cultural milieu, has obscured relevance
to what's happening now in all but this most visionary literary
experiments. Today's most interesting fiction will, like cyberpunk,
reflect new social and cultural realities which are inherently
linked to evolving technologies and radical new perceptions of the
nature of reality. SF author Rudy Rucker has proposed the evolution
of an avant-garde fictional form called *transrealism*, a
revolutionary form dedicated to "the breaking down of consensus
reality," the myth of shared reality which, according to Rucker, is
"a major tool in mass thought control." The superficial acceptance
of consensus is a barrier to true community, in which diversity of
thought and perspective is not only accepted and tolerated, but
encouraged. If I must assume that you and I share the same reality,
there is a danger in proximity: if we're close enough, I might
learn that your internal reality differs from mine (which, of
course, it inevitably will). If, on the other hand, I buy the myth
that "we are all the same," the perception of difference implies
that one of us is crazy, possibly evil. Extreme representations of
this kind of situation can be found in historical accounts of Nazi
Germany. A fictional form that contradicts an assumption of shared
reality, then, contradicts the fascist tendency which evolves from
prevailing styles of social control.
     Experimental diversity in fictional form and content, then,
has political as well as literary and cultural significance. It is
a nonthreatening way to acknowledge and share diverse perspectives
on reality, and thereby accommodate flexible new-world transitions
and alternative modes of existence.

(c) 1992 by Jon Lebkowsky. Originally appeared in bOING-bOING #9.
Subscribe to bOING-bOING: $14 US, $20 Elsewhere except Mars:
bOING-bOING
11288 Ventura Blvd. #818
Studio City, CA 91604
818/980-2009