Terminal Constructedness and the Technology of the Self in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky
Wilson, D. Harlan, Extrapolation
Arthur Kroker and David Cook have said that the postmodern body is "a power grid, tattooed with all the signs of cultural excess on its surface, encoded from within by the language of desire" (Postmodern 26). A product of late capitalism, this language of desire's foremost task is to uphold and perpetuate a community of consumers whose cyborg bodies bear the brightly colored marks of the media. These marks warn us not to be less than avid (if not rabid) consumers lest we fall short of being adequate, functional social subjects. The postmodern body, in other words, is a desiring-machine whose contours are defined by the technetronic mediascape of late capitalism, which equates adequacy with excess. This dynamic has been most effectively represented and mapped out by the science fiction genre, as Scott Bukatman indicates in Terminal Identity: "It has 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). By means of technology, the real world has seen the actualization of what sf narratives of old only imagined. The result is the terminal or blip subject, a conflation of the human and the technological distinguished by a new, oppositional subjectivity that is as transcendental as it is submissive.
Much postmodern sf can be read as social and political theory, particularly that which represents the oppositional nature of the terminal subject. Istvan Csiscery-Ronay Jr. says sf "is not a genre of literary entertainment only, but a mode of awareness, a complex hesitation about the relationship between imaginary conceptions and historical reality unfolding into the future" (388). Such an unfolding into the future almost always involves some form of innovative or extrapolated technology that manifests itself as a boon, a bane, or both. Cyberpunk narratives, for instance, which Frederic Jameson calls "the supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself" (419n), feature technophilic universes in which the theme of body invasion is rampant. Widely regarded as the definitive cyberpunk novel, William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) is set in an imploded, urbanized world of infoterrorism where the human is technologized in various ways, namely by being wired to the computer; subjects are able to interface with a cyberspatial realm called the matrix (1) by jacking out of their bodies and roaming through a virtual reality mainframe as an incarnate mind's eye. This experience evokes feelings of ecstasy as well as dread. The novel's protagonist, Case (as in basket case, among other things), uses the act of disembodiment, of freeing his mind from his body, as a drug. In this capacity technology functions as agency. At the same time, Case develops an aversion to the flesh. He becomes addicted to the matrix and its transcendental powers, and his own body becomes a source of fear and loathing. Technology functions as an affliction, too. This tension indicates a raw anxiety about how the body and ultimately the self is increasingly spoken by the technological. Critical theory stems from some form of anxiety about a subject, event or condition. It is the anxiety about the of the mechanization of the self that makes Neuromancer and other postmodern sf theoretically savvy.
Some sf, however, fails to realize that the self has always been mechanized, that the human is always-already spoken by the technological. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, technology is an "extension of man," (2) and today's "high" technology is merely the most recent, most expansive manifestation of that extension. Thousands of years ago, primitive cultures extended (and in so doing defined) themselves by means of images, tools and ultimately language, just as we do today. The difference is that our extensions are simply more advanced. …