Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For me, Michele Duval represents the most alienated of the first 100. This French semiotician is homesick as he is the only of the first settlers to arrive in Mars precisely because he anticipates the emotional and psychological adjustments necessary for the transition. Also, Duval who participates out of a sense of intellectual responsibility that clearly conflicts with his personal motives. In Duval's mind, he arrives on Mars to "ameliorate the potential social and psychological dysfunction created through the election process" (White 579). Duval's attempt to classify the first 100 according to "stucturalist alchemy" of humours seems to be an oversimplified attempt to explain the realities of [trans]globalization that seems to be the underlying theme in Red Mars (Robinson 391).

It is in this context that we see Frank Chalmers wheeling and dealing his way through the politics of Mars. Now that I've completed the novel I can better relate to the Nixon-Kennedy/ Chalmers-Boone comparison, especially when we see how the two men relate to the opposite sex. For Boone, every performance is a heroic one. Even when he is engaged in sexual intercourse he is simultaneously piloting an airplane (294). Way to multitask, Boone.

This is an interesting malthusian turn considering the "draconian birth reduction acts" in the industrialized back on planet Earth coupled by the booming birth rates in the underdeveloped nations of Earth due to the lack of access to reproductive technologies. Population control and the equitable distribution of resources becomes an issue of greater and greater concern as the terraformation process continues. Indeed, the browning of humanity becomes a matter of extraplanetary concern as the following passage reveals:

"And living with the Arabs sharpened his sense of how alien they were too. Oh, they were part of the twenty-first century humanity, no doubt about it; they were sophisticated scientists and technicians, cocooned like everyone else in a protective shell of technology at every moment of their lives, and busy making and watching their own life movies. And yet they prayed three to six times a day, bowing toward Earth when it was the morning or evening star. And the reason their techno-caravans gave them such great and obviouse pleasure was because the caravans were an outward manifestation of this bending of the modern world to their ancient goals."

This bending represents the same concern for Chalmers as it does for Henry Kissinger. Somehow, even in the setting of outerspace, Euro-earthlings cannot seem to conceive of a future in which they are not in charge or piloting the ship, so to speak. Even when Chalmers contemplates the desert-like landscape of Mars, he seems to harbor bit of a resentment towards the Arabs for being more acclimated to the dry, arid environment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week 11: Red Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" presents a utopian system that seems the most realistic among all the novels assigned. Considering the way Martian colony narratives play in the popular imagination, this is not surprising. Real scientific arguments exist about the possibility of pursuing the goal of space colonization. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine a future scenario in which humanity may face the ethical dilemma of expanding our presence across outer spheres in the wake of environmental and/or diplomatic catastrophe. Such an outcome would represent such a tremendous failure by the whole of society, it would be understandable that many people would resist a project of that nature.

It is for these reasons that in the opening chapter where Frank Chalmers behaves tacitly critical of John Boone's public address, I am immediately drawn in and want to understand more about Frank, who we soon learn is implicated in Boone's assassination. What's so interesting about what is revealed through how one character serves as the perfect foil for the other one, is how Boone's optimistically, though troublingly hegemonic world view pulls the audience right into a deeper meditation on the purposes of power -- think, manifest destiny. Clearly, the first man on Mars is named after Daniel Boone to invoke this parrallel. What is also clear has to do with the motivations of those (especially those who follow the first 100) are so divergent, yet incredibly commonplace -- duty, romance, power, greed, intellectual curiosity. It's a familiar story that has been defamiliarized in the context of this parodoxically stock setting, though alien landscape.

I will post more in the following hours, days, and week on this subject.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Neuromancer (3rd post)

Because of all the reasons I outlined in my previous Neuromancer posts, I want to add that I'm aware of Kevin Concannon's attempt to juxtapose Gibson's fractal/aural world with Gloria AnzaldĂșa's borderland location. I think Concannon does so out of a distinct world view (or perhaps even, hope) that casts cultural studies, which was predominant in 1998, as a trend that would soon pass. I think this article represents one of the earliest attempts to coopt cultural studies into digital studies because through his summary of Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza (among my personal favorite tomes), Concannon demonstrates a cursory understanding of AnzaldĂșa. And in so doing, he shows that he has not immersed himself in the epistemology of women of color as a more general category. He wants to over-particularize the idea of hybridity and cast it against future oriented thinking. I think Concannon wishes to reassert hegemony by dismissing real life borderlands for a mutually agreed upon aural space.

Thankfully, Donna Haraway comes along with "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" and shows she knows how to play with the boys, thus theoretically outshining Concannon, though still ideologically in his shadow. Mixed metaphors, not withstanding, Haraway is so successful in her linking of cyberspace to "woman of color" epistemology. And in her mapping of a diaspora (digital, perhaps?) she brings cultural studies and digital culture together.

Neuromancer (2nd post)

I thought about it further and here's a good example of one of the staccato Neuromancer passages that drives me up the wall:

"No problem, mon." The Zionite executed a high forward somersault and rummaged through the contents of a zippered mesh bag, coming up with a coil of transparent tubing and something else, something scaled in a sterile bubble pack.
He called it a Texas catheter, and Case didn't like it at all.
He slotted the Chines virus, paused, then drove it home.
"Okay," he said, "we're on. Listen, Maelcrum lit a fresh joint.
"And trun the scrubber up. I don't want that shit tangling with my neurotransmitters. I got a bad hangover as it is."
Mauelcum grinned.
Case jacked byack in.
"Christ on a crutch," the Flatline said, "take a look at this."
The Chinese vurys was unfolding around them. Polychrome, shadow, countless translucent layers shifting and recombinding. Protean, enorous, it towered above them, blotting out the void.
"Big mother," the Flatline sadi.
"I'm gonna check Molly," Case said, tapping the stimstim switch. (Gibson 168)

At this point, I couldn't care less about Molly because I'm sure she's somewhere being a bad-A, sexy cyborg and I'm already distracted by the visuals that I've seen before in some Hollywood blockbuster. When Case catches up next with Molly, she's climbing out of a wreckage with a sex appeal that reminds me of something else I've already seen: The cover of a Blondie album, I'm sure. It's just that I don't think the genre really holds up considering all the images that are out in the popular culture. I'm sure had I been hip enough to have read this book in 1984, this would have blown my mind, but in 2009 it just feels like your run-of-the-mill fanboy lit.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I'll be honest. I did not enjoy reading Neuromancer. And admittedly, the same can be said about Phillip K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney. For me, the cyberpunk genre reads with a rhythm that is a bit too staccato. The action happens too rapid fire for my taste. It feels like a comic book, only without the pictures. Much like the music itself. I prefer novels with language that reads much more lyrically. I prefer literature that sounds beautiful to my ear. Call me a belletrist. I'll accept the label.

Conceptually I see what William Gibson is conveying but in 2009, who hasn't? What I mean by this is that it's hard to be blown away by Gibson's admittedly groundbreaking ideas and holographic depictions because, quite frankly, I've seen it all by now. This is only true because of the fact that the images conjured through the cyberpunk genre translate so well into film. In my opinion, it's difficult to be impressed when reading (in not so flowing prose) what I've seen at the movies or on cable for what feels like the thousanth time already. Films that come to mind are The Matrix, Minority Report, and the Rosanna Arquette character from David Soderberg's Crash. Perhaps I've been visually jaded. But maybe a verbal conceptualization of aural spacial arrangements just doesn't come across as sexily as it probably did in the 80s when cyberpunk first burst onto the scene. I will add another post when I wake up in the morning. This is something I want to sleep on and wake up refreshed to. I'll have plenty more to say about the novel in particular.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The short stories by James Tiptree create dystopic moments in which the norms of sex and gender are called into question. Each of the stories involve characters struggling with identity and a desire for wholeness in the face of larger structural forces beyond their control. I couldn't help but recall Foucault's analysis of sexuality and power while reading the stories of Dr. Alice B. Sheldon. Moreover, the themes in Tiptree easily resonates with issues taken up by Phillip K. Dick and others when it comes to the ideas she presents on surveillance and human perception.

Alongside these ideas I must say that I am struck by how often the authors we're studying-- Huxley, Piercy, and now Tiptree/Sheldon in "The Women That Men Don't See" -- turn to Native American cultural motifs as answers to the possibility of utopia. I must say, however, that I'm concerned with how the sypmbolic meaning and appropriation of native cultures is used by these authors because, despite the best intentions, a definite residue of cultural exoticism and the racialist trope of the noble savage abounds. I'm not sure that this is a problem about which the authors are fully aware, thus making their display of the general attitude all the more disconcerting.
Sadly, although the writers we have (for the most part) demonstrated their progressiveness in the area of gender and sexuality, they are clearly, hopelessly conventional as far as their ideas on race go.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is, by far, my favorite book we've read yet. Connie is a woman who is at the absolute bottom of the social caste in this system's hierarchical structure -- brown, overweight, female, poor, and mentally unstable to boot. However, Connie is considered to be extraordinarily developed by Luciente, the man from 2137 who recruits her to help save the world. In this new, future world, Connie who is ordinarily on the low end of the power scale, finds herself positioned in such a way that she communicates with cops effectively and powerfully. Of course, this would never happen in the New York City of the 70s from whence she comes. In fact, she finds the skills she learned as a welfare recipient and mental patient to be advantageous as she pursues her time traveling mission.

In Mattapoisett Connie comes to appreciate the things about being a woman of color that she has been taught to despise in the "real" world. For instance, she is shocked to learn the role of breastfeeding has been usurped from women and finds a sexless way of accomplishing the same work. Here we can see the workings of womanist epistemology (I don't think the term "feminism" suits what I'm talking about here) when Connie describes the feeling of ancient empowerment that goes along with lactating. It is in this section of the book that Marge Piercy makes a brief, critical observation about Disney characters on plastic diapers, which I think is more interesting proof to consider regarding how largely the brand looms in our imagination when we think of utopic futures.

As noted by Frances Bartowski, whenever the issue of utopia is broached, the author must necessarily consider the family (65). For Connie, this is more than a notion. Her own here and now family is horribly dysfunctional and she can only function negatively and violently in return. In the there and then world of Mattapoisett of 2137, she sees how family issues have largely been resolved, but not without its trade-offs.

Right now there are some interesting bits of datum in the popular field concerning poor women of color or like questionably pure white lineage. As I post this updated blog and explore the issues presented by Piercy -- Barbara Walters is talking about the "Octomom" and Sherry can't stop raving about the "Weave Headed Bullet-Stopping black woman." I'm tempted to capitalize the "b" and the "w" -- like on my drivers license where I am classified as BF. Nevermind the fact that this woman is obviously the victim of an incredible case of domestic violence, which just so happens to be the factor that has been shamefully elided from this entire conversation.

In other words, the media coverage of poor women of color frequently cast them (us?) as the alien other. Even when a women of color seems somewhat normal or relateable, she is viewed as the anomoly -- think Michelle Obama who is pretty and chocolate. Her daughters? More cafe au laite. Thinking futures? How will the Obama girls be cast in the future. I hear rumors of a Hannah Montana appearance. Maybe they can record a new version of "Best of Both Worlds."