- Technology, History, and the Postmodern Imagination: The Cyberpunk Fiction of William Gibson
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 1994
- pp. 63-87
- View Citation
- Additional Information
M. KEITH BOOKER Technology, History, and the Postmodern Imagination: The Cyberpunk Fiction of William Gibson The Disneyland theme park, as Jean Baudrillard has noted, is in many ways the ultimate postmodern phenomenon, the ultimate example of the kind of simulated environment with which we deal in less obvious ways every day. Its younger but bigger brother, Disneyworld , is even more perfectly postmodern, especially with addition of the technological and cultural marvels of Epcot Center. One of the most striking aspects of Epcot Center is its "Woild Showcase," an anay of pavilions from various nations, which—arranged in a circle around a manmade lake—allow one to take a simulated tour of the world without actually traveling at all. At first glance this compressed world community might appear to be the epitome of Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia, but it is also worth wondering whether Epcot Center— which Andrew Ross has called "the most fully administered of corporate futurist environments" (138)—does not in fact represent a denial of heteroglossia. Among other things, the prepackaged world tour offered to visitors of Epcot might be seen as a sott of Baedeker phenomenon updated and perhaps iun amok, indicating the artificiality and superficiality of the contact that touiists make with the countries they visit even in "real" tiavel. This tout also says something about the paradoxical way we view space in a postmodern wotld where high-speed transportation has made international tiavel easier than ever before, Arizona Quarterly Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 1994 Copyright © 1994 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 16 10 64M. Keith Booker even as high-tech communication has made tiavel largely unnecessary. Such technological developments figure significantly in the literature of the past few decades. Waltet Faber, the protagonist of Max Frisch's Homo Faber, anticipates the world of Epcot by recalling a speech by one of his former professors of science on the obsolescence of travel amidst the advanced communications environment of the modr ern world: " 'Traveling, gentlemen, is medieval, today we have means of communication that bring the world into our homes, to travel from one place to another is atavistic" (106). Faber himself is a product of modern technology, a lover of logic and machines, though he seems to contradict his old teacher by promoting travel through his work as an aeronautics engineer. But in their different ways both Faber and the professor reflect the radically changed sense of space and time that modern technology has given rise to, whether that technology comes in the form of advances in electronic communication that often make travel unnecessary or of advances in transportation that make travel itself fai quickei and easier than ever before. Indeed, this changed sense is one of the more obvious ways technology has changed the texture of life in the modern world, so much so that descriptions of our "shrinking world" have long since passed beyond the status of social commentary and entered the realm of cliché. This does not, however, reduce the significance of the changed relationship among widely separated locations that modern technology has brought about. Bakhtin has argued that the way we think about space and time is perhaps the central element of the way we view the world as a whole. In particular, he has suggested—through his concept of the "chronotope "—that works of literature are informed by characteristic attitudes toward space and time and that these attitudes are fundamental to differences and similarities among individual works.' Given Bakhtin's emphasis on the chronotope one would expect the changed sense of space and time brought about by modern technology to produce fundamental changes in modern literature. Such changes should probably figure most obviously at the level of plot structure, but they might be expected to occur in more subtle ways as well, involving virtually every aspect of narrative technique. For example, one might argue that the radical intermixture ofdifferent languages in a text like Finnegans Wake could only arise from a modern historical context in which rapid—or even instantaneous—communication among different nations is a tech- The Cyberpunk Fiction of Wuliam Gibson65 nological reality. One also thinks here of Frederic Jameson's suggestion that postmodern...