Tuesday, July 12, 2011

100 Pages of Solicitude #3: Terminal Identity

"Terminal identity: an unmistakably doubled articulation in which we find both the end of the subject and a new subjectivity constructed at the computer station or television screen" (9). "In the end, image addiction is no longer posited as a disease: it has instead become the very condition of existence in postmodern culture." (69)

Today's book of choice: per suggestion, Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction by ScottBukatman. In this case, the subtitle explains the argument rather well; Bukatman maintains that science fiction is the ideal vehicle with which to follow the projection of the subject within postmodern discourse. Or in English, he's mixing postmodern and sci-fi to get the cyborg. The first hundred pages, in this case, might as well be called the introduction + chapter 1, "Terminal Image," because the chapter ends exactly on page 100. Its argument is a little narrower than the book at large; essentially, it traces how our society has become addicted to images. The theorists for this task are Guy Debord and Jean Baudrillard, with a little focus (mostly negative, sad to say) on Marshall McLuhan. And the sci-fi writers range greatly, from J. G. Ballard to Burroughs to Philip K. Dick to comic book writer Howard Chaykin to filmmaker David Kronenberg.

Now, that's more like it; I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I found Bukatman to be much, much more readable than either Bauchard or Fenves. Perhaps it's a matter of background; Fenves and Bauchard are based more towards philosophy, whereas Bukatman has cultural studies as his main area. Or more likely it's my background, which also has a bias more towards cultural studies over philosophy. Whatever the reason, these pages flew by rather quickly. I have to say, while I don't count myself as a McLuhanite (at least, not until later this week when I turn my 100 page view his way), I thought Bukatman was a little harsh in his appraisal of him as a utopist, especially as he served as a sort of foil to Baudrillard, whose dystopic slants are occasionally so extreme as to be a caricature. But I do appreciate his use of Howard Chaykin, and the acknowledgement of the contributions comic books in general can make towards science fiction, and, to a degree, postmodernism. (I have to admit, I don't think I've read any of Chaykin's work, but still, it was appreciated.)

While I wouldn't go quite as far as to say that the remit of the book is to rehabilitate science fiction for academic circles, there's a definite sense that Bukatman believes that its contributions to literature and culture haven't been properly recognized, especially in terms of its relation to postmodernism. In that sense, he's preaching to the choir with me. When I was reading the likes of Jameson, Hutcheon, and Lyotard for my literature comp exam, my mind was constantly flashing to sci-fi examples--in part because Jameson is pretty big on sci-fi as well, but largely because it lends itself well to postmodern themes. While a franchise series such as Star Trek gets a little too utopian to really work with postmodernism, the focus on cyborgs and human extensions fits postmodern like a self-extending glove. (Random tangent: Sliders is a postmodern television show in its depiction of reality as something interchangeable and consumable. Discuss.)

I'll admit a bit of disappointment that videogames don't even get a name check in his study. Aside from my objection on principle given my own academic focus, I think they would lend themselves well to what he's discussing. First, if you're going to extend a sci-fi study that includes television, movies, books, and comic books, ignoring sci-fi content in video games seems like an unnecessary omission. And more related to his later arguments, if you're going to discuss how the line between human and technology is being effaced, or how humanity has gone from being bombarded by images to controlling their reality through images, again, the video game is an ideal lenses. I suppose that at the time of Bukatman's writing, console games were still oriented mainly towards children and computer games were more focused on fantasy than sci-fi, and both were still rather primitive in the way they addressed such themes, but at least the text-based games of the 80s should have had some approaches he'd be able to use.

Verdict: A nice, light read, despite the absense of video games, though perhaps a little lighter for those already versed in sci-fi and postmodernism.

Would Read the Rest?: Yes, but more out of an interest to see what other works I could learn about through his study than for his arguments themselves, as I feel as if I've already gotten the gist at this point.

Later Days.

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