Annotation: E.L. McCallum’s “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction” (2000)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as yet, still untitled. See my prospectus here.

McCallum, E.L. “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction.” Poetics Today 21.2 (2000): 349-77. Print.

In this essay McCallum asserts the importance of examining the function and role of “real” space in cyberpunk fiction. She argues that while works of the genre are traditionally noted for their innovative representations of virtual spaces through “distance transcending technology” such as the internet, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it only through physically traversing this realm that certain narrative ends can be accomplished (350). McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and familiar oppressive power structures (race, gender, nationality, class, etc) continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual space. She ultimately asserts that the contemporary cyberpunk genre has its roots in imperialistic adventure narratives such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and fail to transcend the geographic and ideological norms of our current society, making these texts rather conservative. But I argue that rather than lacking the creativity to imagine a more “transcendent” future, cyberpunk authors are interested in exposing familiar oppressions and exploitations in order to emphasize the urgency with which trends such as globalization and corporatization may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet. While McCallum notes important parallels between virtual and real space, she does not explicate how organizational conventions of race, gender, nationality, class, etc are re-inscribed in the “Metaverse” of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which I hope to further expand on in my own paper.

With respect to the novel, McCallum importantly demonstrates how the boundary between reality and cyberspace is destabilized. Hiro can move not only in between these two realms, but also through both at the same time, he “can remain hooked into the Metaverse while traversing the real” (366). Unlike McCallum who sees this as a reliance of the virtual on the real, I argue that this moment reveals the potential of this convergence to enhance human agency, where technology can be used to affect change. Therefore, while McCallum concludes her article with the assertion that cyberpunk protagonists do not offer any viable means of resisting or critiquing the corporate culture and that our best hope is to become adept at maneuvering through this reality, in my paper I hope to challenge her defeatist position.

As a slightly unrelated point, McCallum also discusses in her article, the difficulty of localizing transnational corporations in Snow Crash, which not only operate in multiple locales throughout the world but also virtual spaces in the “Metaverse.” This is a particularly interesting point from which to examine current implications of corporate globalization.