p r e a m b l e
|1. "Slimy metaphors for technology: 'the clitoris is a direct line to the Matrix'"
Dr. Jyanni Steffensen
In this paper I will analyse a hypertextual installation, All New Gen by Australian cyberfeminist artists, VNS Matrix (1993). This contemporary narrative can be read as a critique of the masculinist techno-cultural discourses retrospectively assimilated and categorised as part of what has become know as the "cyberpunk" movement of the1980s. This term- cyberpunk - is now applied to a broad range of representational media and cultural practices (e.g. films, comic books, role-playing games, hacking, and computer crime). According to Thomas Foster, this textual and cultural movement emerged as a new formal synthesis of a number of familiar science fiction tropes. These can be summarised as: direct interfaces between human nervous systems and computer networks; the related metaphor of cyberspace as a means of translating electronically stored information into a form that could be experienced phenomenologically and manipulated by human agents jacked into the network; artificial intelligence, including digital simulations of human personalities that could be downloaded for computer storage; surgical and genetic technologies for bodily modification; the balkanization of the nation-state and its replacement by multinational corporations; and the fragmentation of the public sphere into a variety of subcultures. Foster proposes that cyberpunk gave narrative form to what could be called the "posthuman" condition. In this form of fiction, cybernetics and genetic engineering combine to denaturalize the category of the "human" along with its grounding in the physical body.1
Given that dominant western epistemologies, including psychoanalytic discourses on the subject, have posited the "human" as the self-sufficient phallic male subject, one can surmise that cyberpunk fiction represents a crisis for masculinist subjectivity. This conflict might be exacerbated by a western ontology which fixes unified masculinist subjectivity as transcendent in relation to the (abjectly feminised) materiality of the body. Cyborg constructions imply both penetration (of bodily boundaries) and reproduction (i.e.heterosexual femininity). In order to be made invulnerable, the masculinist body, paradoxically, must be penetrated - by technology, by information, by biological implants, by genetic manipulations. Bruce Sterling cites the thematics of "body invasion" as characteristic of this fiction, and cyborg imagery as the most explicit form given this thematics. The cyberpunk understanding of technology as "pervasive," "utterly intimate," as "under our skins" and "inside our minds" informs this writing about media technologies and computer interfaces just as much as its representations of mechanical prostheses, surgical alterations, and genetic engineering. 2
Cyberfeminist theorist Zoë Sofoulis, writing in "Slime in the Matrix: Post -Phallic Formations in Women's Art in New Media" also claims that mythic figures are not just science-fiction creatures, but are "part of technoscience's renatured reality."3 These figures, according to Sofoulis, increasingly exceed the representational capacity of a phallocentric system. For her, high-tech masculine maternity is a key example of a "post-phallic" formation. It is not that men aren't still in power, but that power has become more incorporating/incorporated. Reading post-phallic formations suggests to Sofoulis the possibility of adding a third term to the dichotomy of wholeness/lack. Along with the imaginary and symbolic, she theorises the addition of a mythic ratio in which the masculine corporate body appears as something like the pre-oedipal mother. This combinatory parent-figure body might be plundered for other purposes - perhaps feminist purposes. Sofoulis, in relation to All New Gen, suggests that: " one way for women to imaginatively enter the big body of technology is for the 'micro' option, for example by identifying with a virus that can penetrate and corrupt the data banks of 'Big Daddy Mainframe.'"4 All New Gen might be read as a re-writing, appropriating the language and narratives of cyberpunk, of a post-oedipal story for "posthuman" viral girls. While an art/technology text produced by this cyberfemininst collective does not compete with the dominant Hollywood corporate produced and distributed narratives of technology in either state of the art aesthetics or technical effects, it nonetheless critically challenges mainstream technophilic and techno-phallic discourses.