Notes for Scott Bukatman Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction

Key concepts: .

Related theorists: Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Fredric Jameson.

(2) Fredric Jameson has labeled the resultant ambivalent, and sometimes contradictory, formations of postmodernism “the cultural logic of late capitalism.” There has arisen a cultural crisis of visibility and control over a new electronically defined reality. . . . It as fallen to science fiction to repeatedly narrate a new subject that can somehow directly interface with – and master – the cybernetic technologies of the Information Age, an era in which, as Jean Baudrillard observed, the subject has become a “terminal of multiple networks.”
(2-3) It is common knowledge that the complacency of the postwar United States was shattered with the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957. Historian Walter McDougall argues that the premises of American technological superiority and the “evident superiority of American liberal institutions” were challenged by the beeping orbiter that circled above.

Consider analysis of science fiction by Hayles to study subjectivity.

(3) MacDougall's history of the Space Age emphasizes the establishment of a comprehensive technocracy in the United States. . . . The citizen is defined within an encompassing techno-political system, reinforcing a view of the human that arose with the advent of cybernetics (post-WWII) and its “functional analogy” between human and computer.

Heidegger discourse.

(3) Hence technology is always disruptive and creates a crisis for culture.

Jameson periodization of culture.

(3) In his oft-cited, oft-contested, but indispensable essay on postmodernism, Fredric Jameson has constructed a periodization of culture that corresponds to Ernest Madel's periodization of economic development.


Everything exists as spectacle; we are all spectators, albeit active consumers.

(26) Tokyo exists as pure spectacle; that is, as a proliferation of semiotic systems and simulations which increasingly serve to replace physical human experience and interaction.

A land of [Godelian] operations; see 3. (Years later, not sure where this is meant to go.)

(27) A spectacular ambivalence pervades science fiction cinema, television, and comics. Television and computer cultures have repeatedly been posited as formations of spectacular control, but it is important to note that the new modes of challenge and resistance have themselves become spectacular in form.

(27-28) In all these cases, and others less notorius, the cyberneticized orientation of the respected critic aligns him or her with society's debased prophet of the technological: the science fiction writer. . . . The language of science fiction provides a self-critical discursive level from which theories of language and media benefit.

This threatening overthrow of the Word, regression to infantilized science fiction, alludes to Derrida, Benjamin, and Horkheimer and Adorno, and countless other media theorists, philosophers of technology, and social critics whose sad diagnosis of the human situation foresees a future of diminished depth, dividuated dispersion of identity.

(29) The overthrow of the Word is presented as tantamount to the overthrow of Reason itself, leaving an infantilized – if not barbaric – citizenry poised passively before the pseudo-satisfactions of the spectacle, bereft of the ability to think, judge, and know.

Hey Callen, image culture is not equal to capitalism. Loss of examined life!

(29) Television, computers, and the hybrid forms of virtual reality having arisen to comprise Toffler's blip culture, the loss of the often unexamined, empirically accepted category of “the real” has instantiated a crisis throughout our hardwired cultural circuits.

Textuality now an explicit theme; Hayles considers Bukatman.

(30) Textuality now becomes an explicit theme in the science fiction work; language will comprise the content of the discourse as well as determine its form. . . . a text that emphasizes the estrangement of the sign.

(32) This chapter, then, traces the first phase of terminal identity: the recognition and ambivalent acceptance of the spectacularization of human culture and human beings.


Reversing Galileo's telescope.

(33) The rhetoric of expansion and outward exploration has been superseded by the inward spirals of orbital circulation – in cybernetic terms, the feedback loop.

(33) The explosion of the Space Age has yielded to the implosion of the Information Age; everything exists as data, and the real worlds of production and commerce exist largely as an afterthought.

The collective consciousness cannot think itself due to expansion of data; it goes under, unconscious (Baudrillard, Debord).

(34) Social reality undergoes a “gravitational collapse” beneath the weight of the accumulated data that defines the Information Society. Baudrillard describes a society at critical mass, collapsing into itself.
(35) In the fictions of cultural theory and SF, a new subject emerges, one that begins its process of being through the act of viewership: “The TV self is the electronic individual par excellence who gets everything there is to get from the simulacrum of the media” (Kroker and Cook, 1986).

The Society of the Spectacle

According to Debord, Society of the Spectacle declares new mode of phenomenological and commercial existence.

(35) Guy Debord's 1967 manifesto, Society of the Spectacle, begins by acknowledging the passage into a new mode of phenomenological and commercial existence: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation” (Thesis 1).