- Deleuze and Baudrillard: From Cyberpunk to Biopunk by Sean McQueen
For a moment, Jean Baudrillard erupted into the popular consciousness when the Wachowskis invoked him in The Matrix (US 1999), even if the film and its sequels misunderstood (consciously or unconsciously) his ideas about hyperreality and simulacra. He has long been jacked in to the matrix of the sf genre, however, dating back to his earliest works on consumer society and perhaps most conspicuously in his 1976 analysis of J.G. Ballard's Crash (1973), an essay that may be more science fictional than the novel it (mis)reads. Likewise has Gilles Deleuze been affiliated with sf, individually and in concert with Felix Guattari, whose books on capitalism and schizophrenia are bona fide works of sf literature. In Terminal Identity, Scott Bukatman refers to the duo as cyberpunks 'constructing fictions of terminal identity in the nearly familiar language of a techno-surrealism', and the same could be said about many of Baudrillard's theoretical alt-texts. Sean McQueen reimagines the sf status of Deleuze and Baudrillard in this impressive study of two subgenres. Schizoanalysing the relationship between the titular figures, he reassigns them from the register of cyberpunk to biopunk in the context of their Marxist substructures, producing fresh, nuanced readings of key sf novels and films.
Deleuze and Baudrillard is part of Edinburgh University Press's series Plateaus: New Directions in Deleuze Studies, which features over 20 titles that channel and rethink the French philosopher's work. Foregrounding literary and cinematic sf, McQueen gives primacy to Deleuze over Baudrillard, whose ideas, he argues, have been poorly applied with limited scope in sf studies. He aligns Baudrillard with cyberpunk and late capitalism, Deleuze with biopunk and biocapitalism, the system at 'the frontline of capitalism today, promising to enrich and prolong our lives whilst threatening to extend capitalism's capacity to command our hearts and minds' (1–2). Citing Fredric Jameson, McQueen says that his book 'will be an attempt at a cognitive mapping of the transition from late capitalism to biocapitalism' (1). He deploys other prominent theorists familiar to this territory (or rather, this deterritorialisation), namely Žižek, Lacan, Foucault, McLuhan and Freud, all of whom are components in his 'critical intervention into the becoming-Deleuzian of science fiction' (2).
While McQueen's programme is schizoanalytic, his book is not a rhizome or schiz-flow in the vein of Anti-Oedipus or A Thousand Plateaus; he builds a strong, calculated case over the course of nine chapters and a coda that are best read in sequence. The chapters are broken into two parts, the first dealing with [End Page 502] the 'control assemblages' of cyberpunk, the second with biopunk's societies of 'contagion'. He outlines his project in an introduction that makes clear distinctions between the two phases.
According to McQueen, cyberpunk fiction 'dealt in mass-media technologies and the conjunction of gritty, urban experiences with virtual reality. Cyberpunks fashioned themselves as technonomadic, radical social outcasts and DIY computer hackers, solitary, yet united in virtual reality. Demanding total freedom of information and collective expression over cyberspace, cyberpunks sought to revolutionise society with cyberanarchy' (5). A dominant feature in the literature is the widespread invasion of the physical, mental, social and cultural body of the human by electronic technology, one of several allocations for the theme of control that typifies cyberpunk. This is the focus of the four chapters in Part One, 'Control'. Each chapter concentrates on one sf text. All of them have been written about extensively and can be considered canonical works in the genre: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962), David Cronenberg's Videodrome (US 1983), J.G. Ballard's Crash and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Also taken into consideration are the film adaptations of the novels directed by, respectively, Stanley Kubrick (1971), Cronenberg (1996) and François Truffaut (1966).
Addressing the 'readings of Deleuze and Baudrillard within the "control societies" of late capitalist cyberpunk', McQueen subverts 'the uses to which cyberpunks have mobilised their thought … [and] develop[s] the...