- The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace
In his previous book, Vincent Mosco made the most significant intervention in research on the political economy of the media in the last decade. Drawing on the geographical analyses of scholars Loe, Sassen and Castells and on Giddens's sociology, Mosco singles out commodification, spatialization and structuration as the critical processes of the contemporary telecom and media regimes. Not content with an innovative analysis, Mosco proposed a synthesis of political economy with critical cultural studies, which is at the center of the book published this year.
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There appears to be something special about the Canadians; perhaps it is the geography that leaves them at once subsumed into the North American media market and marginalized within it. Innis, Smythe, McLuhan and Grant, Theall, the Krokers, Berland, Marchessault, Straw, Attalah and Raboy, and younger scholars like Laura Marx and Acland have consistently brought together disparate streams of philosophical and empirical research to propagate their own rich hybrids. A mature figure in this constellation, Mosco has extended his analyses of cash and exchange into the turbulent domain of futurological rhetoric in The Digital Sublime.
The core of the book is the rhetoric of "endings," especially the end of space, the end of ideology, and the end of history. Indeed, in a typically astute and witty trope, Mosco reviews the titles of every book received by the Harvard Library between 1998 and 2002. Over the millennium, over a hundred books announced the end of everything from change to imagination, from baseball to modern medicine. Francis Fukuyama's End of History, like Frances Cairncross's Death of Distance, imagined the world reconfigured around the loss of something crucial: the sense of destiny or the differences that geography makes. Mosco's quest is to read through the avatars of digital radicalism, to spot the myths they build, and to offer critiques that bring their flights of fancy back towards the sweat and strife of the real world.
Not that Mosco is without an interest in the ways that cultures change. For this reader the richest and deepest vein he taps comes in the final chapter. Like many books written in North America in the early years of the century, the long shadow of the Twin Towers looms over these pages. The difference is that Mosco has researched the World Trade Center. Disregarding the thriving light industries of Radio Alley that used to be there, the Rockefeller dynasty-not only bankers but longtime governors of New York State-set about building not just skyscrapers but also a global center for the trade in financial services. The WTC was to be the hub of a new New York; one grounded not in the mix of docks and advertising, culture and commerce, industry and services, but one fit for the neoliberal triumph of finance capital. Enmeshed in corruption from the start (the fireproofing subcontractor was found bobbing in concrete boots at the bottom of the Hudson), the ambitious, ugly buildings never made commercial sense, which is why City of New York offices occupied floor after floor. The architectural equivalent of the dot.com crash, the WTC was symbolic, all right, but not of the community that formed in its ruins.
The point of the detailed history of the real estate that crashed and burned in 2001 is that myths have the peculiar capability of becoming realities. Alvin Toffler's Progress and Freedom Foundation may be dotty, but it has sponsors to burn. Al Gore's information superhighway still inspires politicians years after he and it have proved their redundancy. Legends of the end of atoms, hard energy, geography and history are all absurd, as the hurricanes produced by global warming battering Florida and the Caribbean in 2004 should surely prove. What we do has physical consequences; and even Amazon has to use FedEx to deliver the goods to its one-click shoppers. However, the myths of cyberspace, absurd as Mosco shows them to be, are myths...