Virtual bodies : technology and embodiment in cyberpunk fiction
This thesis offers a new way of reading narratives of cyberpunk fiction. It
undertakes to re-evaluate cyberpunk fiction according to a feminist criticism that takes
direction from Donna Haraway's cyborg politics and Eve Sedgwick's "deconstructive"
reading. Both cyberpunk fiction and its criticism are read "deconstructively" in order to
contest the notion that cyberpunk fiction cannot productively be read for feminism. The
representation of embodiment and technology in cyberpunk narratives is customarily read
in terms of a Cartesian opposition of body and mind, in which the materiality of female
bodies is contrasted with the virtuality of male minds. The feminist analysis in this thesis
focuses upon the way in which cyberpunk narratives can be seen to problematise both
materiality and virtuality, embodiment and technology.
Four novels are examined in detail: William Gibson's Neuromancer, Pat
Cadigan's Synners, Marge Piercy's Body of Glass, and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. In
each narrative, conventions of cyberpunk fiction are seen to be subverted and contested.
Gibson's novel, which has become accepted as the template of "classic", masculinist
cyberpunk fiction, is revealed through this feminist analysis as a narrative which is
profoundly ambivalent in its depictions of technologised male and female bodies. This
ambivalence continues in the versions of cyberpunk offered by Cadigan, Piercy, and
Stephenson. These readings illuminate the way cyberpunk narratives work to deconstruct
binary oppositions through their explorations of gendered bodies, technology, virtuality,
and disembodiment. The deconstruction, disruption and dismantling of binarisms are
conceptualised in the image of the unnaturally embodied cyborg, which unites gendered
embodiment and technological augmentation in an imaginary body.