Academic journal article Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies

Reflected Spaces: "Heterotopia" and the Creation of Space in William Gibson's Neuromancer

Academic journal article Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies

Reflected Spaces: "Heterotopia" and the Creation of Space in William Gibson's Neuromancer

Article excerpt

Michel Foucault's concept of "heterotopia" is finding a welcome place among twenty-first century theoreticians who are concentrating increasingly on space in relation to social, cultural, and political arrangements. The widespread use of Foucault's "heterotopia" in literary and cultural theory stems from the popularity of a lecture titled "Des Espace Autres," 1 given in 1967 but not published until 1984, only a few months after his death and the same year, coincidentally, as the publication of science fiction writer William Gibson's novel Neuromancer. This essay will argue for a renewed look at "heterotopia," both in and outside of Foucault's writing, as a contextually and theoretically situated concept, using Gibson's Neuromancer as a literary backdrop for the theoretical mise-en-scène.2 As a potent theoretical tool (Foucault sometimes referred to his texts as providing "toolkits"), "heterotopia" can be deployed more productively by resituating it into Foucault's broader and continually evolving theories on space (especially in relation to social technologies/regimes of knowledge). Such a resituation is important for critical discourse today-not only in literature, but also in conversations ranging from political philosophy to digital humanities-because the theoretical investigation of space has re-entered the dialogue in force. That such theorization is receiving renewed importance can be seen in contemporary analyses of a wide array of spaces (from all eras)-for example, the city, the prison camp, the brothel, the sex club, the restaurant, the department store, the resort, etc.-as well as in concerns over the new digital or virtual "spaces" constantly emerging and bringing with them political, social, and legal questions. Many of these spaces (both of the past and present, real and virtual) may too easily be construed as special, deviant, and free, and be idealized under what I will argue is the ossified version of heterotopia as any "other" or heterogeneous "disconnected" space. Yet the "heterotopia" designated in Foucault's work is not simply an other, deviant space, but, as a real or virtual instantiation of a utopian ideal, heterotopic space carries the potential for abuse, for the violent rounding of real comers that refuse to conform to the ideal, or merely for ignoring the parts of the instantiation that do not fit. More importantly, these spaces, and the violence that accompanies them, function to maintain the network of places that constitute "normal" space.

Neuromancer is an excellent vehicle for elaborating the complexity of Foucault's "heterotopology," as well as the difficulties that can emerge from attempts to deploy it theoretically. Not only was it composed and published in the same theoretical milieu (i.e. with similar concerns about space and life in a late capitalist world) in which "Different Spaces" came to prominence, but it also reflects many of the spatial arrangements that Foucault posits. Both the text itself and the critical writing around the text can serve as examples for describing Foucault's theories and the ways in which critics deploy such theories by applying them to relevant or popular cultural productions. The body of literature surrounding cyberpunk and Neuromancer in particular3 offers a unique example of repetition and fashion in theoretical terminology. As the bulk of this criticism dates from the late eighties and early nineties, the conversation often comes back to the idea of networked space, global connectivity, and the dominance of so-called "postmodern" themes in science fiction.4

Literature, in this case Neuromancer, serves as an object-anchor, something that can be returned to, speculated upon, something that gives shape to the theory at hand. It is, strictly speaking, unnecessary in the theoretical domain to bring such an object to the fore. However, for my purposes here, it is beneficial to have an objective counterpoint to the abstraction of theorizing spaces-in-relation. …

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