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Title: Reading cyberspace : fictions, figures and (dis)embodiment
Author: Stoate, Robin
ISNI:       0000 0004 2710 562X
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2011
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My thesis tracks the human body in cyberspace as a popular cultural construct, from its origins in cyberpunk fiction in the 1980s to the pervasion of cyberspatial narratives in contemporary fictions, along with its representations within wider cultural texts, such as film, the mainstream media, and on the Internet. Across the two respective sections of the thesis, I focus upon six recurring literal-metaphorical characters, entities or motifs which serve as points of collision, entanglement and reiteration for a wide variety of discourses. These figures—the avatar, the hacker, the nanotechnological swarm, the fursona, the caring computer, and the decaying digital—have varying cultural functions in their respective representations of the human/technological interface. Informed by theorists such as Donna Haraway (1991, 2008), N. Katherine Hayles (2001) and others, I trace both their origins and their shifting and (often increasingly prolific) representations from the 1980s to the present. This allows me to uncover these figures’ registering of contextual discourses, and permits, in turn, an interrogation of the extent of their normative character, along with measuring how and to what extent, if any, these figures may offer alternative visions of human (and other) subjectivity. It also permits a rethinking of “cyberspace” itself. Section One analyses three figures that depict the human/technological interface as a space for reinscribing and reifying Cartesian dualistic views of human subjectivity, along with the exclusive and marginalising implications of the remapping of that dualism. The figures in Section One—the avatar, the hacker, and the nanotechnological swarm—have their roots in the 1980s, and have stratified over time, commonly deployed in describing the human/technological interface. These figures function in first evoking and then managing the threats to the unified masculine subject posed by the altering human/machine relationship, policing rather than collapsing the subjective boundaries between them. They maintain and reiterate their attendant logics of identity, recapitulating an image of technology as the object of human invention, and never a contributor to the substantiation of the human subject. Science fiction–especially cyberpunk—has at least partially set the terms for understanding present-day relationships between humans and technologies, and those terms are relentlessly humanistic and teleological, despite their putatively postmodern and fragmentary aesthetic. The threat of the technological other is almost invariably femininecoded, and my work in this section is explicated particularly in the light of Haraway’s work and feminist theories of embodiment, including the work of Elizabeth Grosz (1994) and Margrit Shildrick (1997, 2002). Section Two analyses three emerging figures—ones not so clearly and widely defined in fiction and popular culture—that depict the human/technological interface as fundamentally co-substantiating, rather than the latter being the product of the former. Acting as nodes of connection and constitution for various phenomena both depicted in fiction and enacted/performed at the human/technological interface itself, these three figures—the fursona, the caring computer, and the decaying digital—demonstrate potential ways to understand the human/technological interface outside of conventional, dualistic discourses of transcendental disembodiment of a bounded subject-self. Deploying theoretical work on concepts such as Alison Landsberg’s notion of prosthetic memory (2004) and Brian Massumi’s reading of the “real-material-but-incorporeal” body (2002), as well as Haraway’s later work on companion species (2008), I position these figures as representative visions of technologically-mediated subjectivity that allow us to imagine our relationships with technology as co-operative, open and materially co-substantiating. I argue that they recover the potential to rupture the unified and dualistic mind-subject that is both represented and contained by the figures seen in Section One, while reflecting a more recognisably prosaic, ongoing transformation of subjective participants in human/technological encounters. In opening up these two respective clusters of human-technological figures, I map two attendant visions of cyberspace. The first is the most common: the smooth, Euclidean grid into which the discrete unified consciousness is projected away from the body, which is conflated with (a reductive understanding of) virtuality, and to which access is allowed or denied based on highly conventional lines of gender, race, sexuality and so on. The second vision is emerging: it is possible to view cyberspace as less of a “space” at all, and more of a technologically-mediated field of material implication—one which is not discrete from the putatively offline world, which is implicit in the subject formation of its users and participants, and accounts for, rather than disavowing, the physical, bodily substrate from which it is explicated.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council, Research Fellowship ; Newcastle University, School of English ; AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available