by Conrad Russell, Altitude, Volume 2, Article 3, 2002.
‘Like City Lights, Receding�’
‘the cyberpunks are fascinated by interzones: the areas where…”the street finds its own uses for things”‘ (Bruce Sterling, Mirrorshades xiii ).
‘Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions� Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding�’ (William Gibson, Neuromancer 67).
‘Cyberpunk’, which forms the central theme of this paper, has been described by one of its best-known practitioners as ‘(a)n unholy alliance of the technical world and…the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity and street-level anarchy’ (Sterling xii) 1. Fran�oise Choay insists that utopia must consist of a narrative description of a model society, and that, ‘the model society (must be) supported by a model space which is a necessary, integral part of it’ (34). Does Cyberpunk qualify as a ‘utopia’ in this sense? The privileged site for Cyberpunk, as both fiction and social criticism, is ‘cyberspace’, the notional space within which digital communication occurs. In the vast literature that has sprung up on the subject in the last decade, this space takes on the aura of that ‘nowhere-somewhere’, which is one sense of the term ‘utopia’ (Robins 36).
Cyberpunk is not only possessed of a utopian space-how it articulates its sense of such a space connects to an older utopian tradition. As Marcos Novak has noted, the sense of cyberspace as a ‘liquid’, emergent and temporalised spatiality recalls earlier ‘visionary’ architectures, including those of the Futurists and Situationists (‘Liquid Architectures’ 246-7). This connection renders Fredric Jameson’s assertion that Cyberpunk represents ‘the supreme literary expression, if not of Postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself’ (Jameson 419), highly problematical. Using Novak’s insight as my starting point, I want to concentrate on the work of perhaps the best-known Cyberpunk author, William Gibson, tracing his use of utopian architectural metaphor from his first novel Neuromancer, to his most recent, All Tommorrow’s Parties, published in 1999. Gibson’s understanding of cyberspace, as a confused tangle of forms, ‘like city lights receding’, is profoundly architectural. Much of this architectural imaginary recalls earlier visions: from the Surrealists in the 1930’s to the Situationists in the 1960’s. This sensibility is also present in Gibson’s description of non-virtual environments. From these sources, Gibson derives his ‘utopia’-a fluid, organic spatiality constituting a rich web of adventures and encounters, and also marked by a sense of the ‘uncanny’ and the collective unconscious (space as dreamscape).
Conrad Russell completed his doctoral thesis on Fourier, the Surrealists and the Situationist International at the University of Leeds (United Kigndom).