Annotation: Johannes Hauser’s “Structuring the Apokalypse” (2006)

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Hauser, Johannes. “Structuring the Apokalypse: Chaos and Order in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. Philologie im Netz. 37 (2006): 1-32. Print.

In this essay Hauser asserts that Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange exhibits apocalyptic features as a narrative “of a world on the brink of border-defying chaos” (3). He calls attention to the literal topographical shifts in the novel that destroy national boundaries, re-erecting them in new locales. But in spite of this seeming chaos, Hauser argues that Yamashita presents a very structured novel. “Chaos and order” are therefore “not only opposing poles; they are parts of the representation of a reality” where readers must grapple with an aesthetic of instability, constant movement, and transformation, which are characteristic of the contemporary globalized world (4).

For the purposes of my own research Hauser’s discussion of “Technological identities” is particularly relevant (6). Hauser asserts that Emi adopts an anti-identity politics where she anxiously attempts to present herself someone as far from a stereotypical Asian American female as possible. Yet Hauser notes that her extreme anti-identitarian stance only reinforces her “veritable fear of ‘falling’ into any category” (6). He suggests that Emi turns to “modern computer and communication technologies” in her attempt to fashion a non-ethnic identity (7). But Hauser emphasizes that she merely emerges as an “ethnic cyborg,” where “her behavior is simultaneously deeply invested in paradigms of ethnic ascription and of technological progress” (7). He goes on to describe how Tropic of Orange presents a world run by “[i]nformation technology,” where the media scrambles to report exciting news and people rabidly consume that information as they are continuously bombarded with more updates (8). Hauser accentuates that despite Emi’s efforts to fashion a “non-identitarian identity” by relying on information technologies, that media “is not free of ideological content, its potential to distribute contents on a mass scale allows it to spread engendered and racializing categories globally” (7, 8). He asserts that because of her hatred for the corporate multiculturalism that ethnically brands her, Emi is compelled to establish an almost organic, biological relationship with media technologies which places her in an even more precarious situation as she becomes “defenseless against their contents, be it a multinational marketing campaign, the accentuation of consumerism, or abusive ethnic and racial stereotypes” (10).

In contrast to Emi, Hauser notes how Gabriel exhibits a kind of “ethnic nostalgia” (11). He notes how Gabriel attempts to construct a vacation home in Mexico, which he imagines to be an exotic space that simultaneously connects him to his ethnic roots. But Hauser emphasizes that Gabriel actually establishes a kind of colony in Mexico, introducing foreign trees to an environment that will not support their growth. He ultimately suggests that “Gabriel’s nostalgia creates spaces which are as unreal – and as compromising – as Emi’s technophilian cyberspace’ (12). Hauser significantly notes how Gabriel eventually gets drawn into virtual reality all together by the end of the novel.

Hauser goes onto describe the magical realist elements of Yamashita’s narrative, suggesting that “Magical realism defines a highly complex spatial representation in the novel… It breaks up causal linearity which sets this narrative mode into analogy with the moving tropic and the transition in geography” (14). He also makes a provocative observation about the magical realist moment where “Rafaela meets Bobby in her dream” in which the “vision, the situation and the scenery bear a resemblance to cyberspace in their barren emptiness and the cyber-sexual implications” (14).

In his essay Hauser not only describes how Yamashita blurs the borders between transnational and local spaces but also the distinction between the biological and technological. He notes how human beings are presented as machine-like workers, while the organ trade treats human organs as spare mechanical parts. Hauser asserts that this “blurring of the boundary between organic life and man-made technology” is both a reflection of the effects of globalization as well as popular works of science fiction and cyberpunk. He calls attention to some potentially problematic discourses and representations, suggesting that “[i]f machines are like organic beings, human beings can also be treated like mechanical objects” (17). Hauser then goes on to describe Manzanar’s vision of LA as an organic, “cyborg city, partly human, partly machine” (25).

He finally concludes his essay with a pointed discussion of how the structure of Yamashita’s novel, which deliberately encourages “reflective activity on the part of the reader” (28). Hauser asserts that Hypercontext Grid at the beginning of the narrative is a kind of map Yamashita gives her readers “with which to ‘drive’ in the book” (28).

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Annotation: Bruce Sterling’s “Slipstream”

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This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Sterling, Bruce. “Slipstream.” www.eff.org, n.d. Web. 4 April 2010.

In this article Sterling discusses the supposed “death” of science fiction in contemporary society, claiming that while SF used to offer “some kind of coherent social vision” and resonated with what was “actually ‘happening,’… in the popular imagination,” today it is essentially devoid of meaning. He denounces what SF has become, “a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure” that capitalizes on “category marking” and the confidence of having its own prescribed “bookstore rackspace.” Although Sterling’s tone is perhaps too glib and undermines the work of contemporary SF authors, he does point to a significant shift in public attitudes away from traditional science fiction texts to those that occupy a strange in-between space, “writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel.” Sterling labels these works as “slipstream,” a body of literature with its own unique characteristics that, he claims, are “essentially alien to… SF’s intrinsic virtues.” Throughout the article Sterling attempts to identify what the specific qualities of slipstream may be, but the closest he comes to a definition is the assertion: “It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know. These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life.’” By demonstrating how slipstream involves a different kind of fantasy making, one that is inextricably intertwined with mundane, “everyday life,” Sterling proposes an interesting lens for me to examine Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange. In addition to analyzing the text as a representative of slipstream fiction, I want to demonstrate how its structural and stylistic intertwining of the bizarre and the mundane also serves as a commentary on the blurring of bodies and boundaries in globalization.

Annotation: Mike Davis’ “Fortress L.A.” (1992)

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This annotation is for a paper I am currently writing for my ENGL 391W course at Queens College on Science Fiction. I will be conducting an analysis of the science fictional and magical realist elements in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and the novel’s implications on contemporary discourses about globalization. See my prospectus here.

Davis, Mike. “Fortress L.A.” City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

In “Fortress L.A.” Davis examines the “destruction of accessible public space” in Los Angeles, asserting that traditional Olmstedian views of parks and open areas as essential for social and cultural mixing have been replaced by violent efforts towards privatization (226). Analyzing various architectural structures, from libraries and malls to new bus benches, he claims that “democratic space is all but extinct” (227). Instead, what we witness in LA and other major cities is a militarization of the streets that seeks to confine racial minorities and members of the working class to dilapidated neighborhoods, thereby protecting the privileged upper classes from mingling with the “unsavory” masses of urban poor. Davis’ essay provides an important glimpse into LA’s intensely hierarchical and divided society and therefore allows me to better picture the complex cultural and political environment from which Yamashita writes Tropic of Orange. However, in addition to offering significant background information about the city, the language Davis employs throughout “Fortress L.A.” evokes science fictional imagery, which becomes most evident in headings such as “From Rentacop to Robocop” or “The L.A.P.D. as Space Police” (244, 250). In the opening to his essay, Davis even explicitly remarks that “Hollywood’s pop apocalypse and pulp science fiction have been more realistic, and politically perceptive” in portraying the violent destruction of LA’s public spaces than “contemporary urban theory” (224). This article therefore provides another important link between science fiction and “reality” that I hope to explore further in my analysis of Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.

Prospectus: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992)

Below is my prospectus on Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) and a working list of the references I have consulted so far. I recognize that one of the major challenges in my project so far is historicizing my discussion of the Internet. I also plan to look more deeply into discourses about “techno-orientalism” and the “posthuman” so any constructive criticism about my topic or suggested reading will be greatly appreciated. thanks ^^

Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash offers a means of understanding the complex relationship between human beings and cyberspace, which emerges as simultaneously a tool to further ends that will facilitate and improve one’s existence in the real world, as well as a distinct realm where another life can be lived and a new identity fashioned. Stephenson presents the Metaverse as a futuristic model of today’s Internet, combined with video game RPG (role-playing game) technology, where individuals can log on and interact with one another through personal, digitized avatars. In the novel the main character, Hiro Protagonist, spends a lot of time in this “computer-generated universe” working as a hacker who sells information to finance his living expenses in Reality (24). But the Metaverse does not simply provide Hiro with a job; it also offers him an entire “universe” through which he can lead an alternative life as a “warrior prince” (63).

The novel ultimately calls attention to some of the major tensions surrounding discourses about the Internet and its role in society today. For Hiro, cyberspace becomes a means of escaping the discomforts of the real world, such as his bland 20-by-30 U-Stor-It apartment to enjoy the comforts of his mansion in the Metaverse. Some critics assert the endless possibilities of this physical dissociation, positing the Internet as a fully democratic space, where all individuals can have equal access and will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, class, gender, or nationality because these elements do not have to be transmitted and therefore bear no import in virtual reality. Stephenson dramatizes this notion of cyberspace as a site where the free and multifarious experimentation of the self can happen: “Your avatar can look any way you want it to, up to the limitations of your equipment. If you’re ugly, you can make your avatar beautiful… You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse” (36). But while he accentuates how individuals can assume virtual identities entirely dissociated from their real physical appearance and human biology, in the same moment he deeply troubles the notion of free and equal access by asserting that the quality of one’s avatar is limited by one’s “equipment.” Unlike Hiro, who possesses the privileged means to design a high-tech, personal computerized representation of himself, other users are forced to rely on commercialized Brandy and Clint avatars that have a limited range of facial expressions and therefore appear less human, while those who can only manage to log into the Metaverse from “cheap public terminals” materialize in the form of “grainy black and white” avatars (41).

In this paper I am interested in examining how the Internet offers a false sense of liberation from real world oppression by problematically obscuring structural inequalities and the ways in which race, gender, class, and nationality continue to organize and assert their haunting presence in cyberspace. “The Black Sun,” for example, emerges as an exclusive virtual space, where “Everything is solid and opaque and realistic. And the clientele has a lot more class—no talking penises in here (55). Stephenson suggests that “The Black Sun” is realistic because of its high-definition graphics, but we realize that this realism also stems from familiar acts of exclusion. Despite the previous assertion that individuals can assume any desired computerized form, this space does not welcome “talking penises” or any avatar that lacks “class.” In her essay “Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction,” E. L. McCallum asserts that while works in this science fictional genre have been traditionally analyzed for their innovative representations of virtual spaces, characters still deeply rely on the real material world and it is only through physically traversing this realm that important narrative ends can be accomplished. McCallum emphasizes that by shifting the critical focus to “real” space, we can see how “old” colonialist systems and oppressive power structures continue to organize the apparently “futuristic” virtual realities presented. But while she concludes that contemporary cyberpunk fiction “map the same old world” and are ultimately conservative in presenting a future that relies “on the division between first and third worlds, demarcated by race and ethnicity,” I argue that rather than a failure of artistic innovation, works such as Snow Crash endeavor to expose familiar oppressions and heighten the urgency with which they may be severely perpetuated into the future through more insidious means such as the Internet (352).

I will particularly rely on the theoretical framework Lisa Nakamura presents in Cybertypes where she examines the Internet as a highly racialized space. Her discussion of avatars as a problematic means through which people of color can “pass” as white or are assumed to be white without certain pronounced racial indicators is especially relevant to my research. I argue that Stephenson captures this notion of “passing” through the character of Hiro who possesses a hybrid racial identity. His mother is “Korean by way of Nippon” and his father is “African by way of Texas by way of the Army” (20-21). Yet in the novel Hiro’s blackness and Korean-ness are disturbingly repressed while his Japanese-ness is highly accentuated as he is presented as a “black kimono wearing,” katana equipped, ninja-like figure (36). I intend to explore the problematic moments where this racial complexity surfaces, such as the incident in The Black Sun where a Japanese businessman interrogates Hiro’s mixed appearance and essentially his right to carry a katana. This is an especially urgent topic for analysis because of the troubling manner in which many critics have perpetuated the repression of Hiro’s complex racial identity by entirely glossing over his Korean and African roots. In his essay “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash,” David Porush, for example, entirely misrepresents Hiro as “a Japanese-American hacker living in L.A.” (561). While my paper will rely on theories of techno-Orientalism, I will also problematize how these discourses may perpetuate stereotypical representations of the web as a “white” and “yellow” space at the expense of more nuanced racial complexity

Works Consulted

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “Orienting Orientalism, or How to Map Cyberspace.” AsianAmerica.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 3-36. Print. (Annotation)

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Posthuman Body: Inscription and Incorporation in Galatea 2.2 and Snow Crash.” Configurations 5.2 (1997): 241-66. Print. (Annotation)

Huang, Betsy. “Premodern Orientalist Science Fictions.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 23-43. Print.

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

Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

–. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.

Niu, Greta Aiyu. “Techno-Orientalism, Nanotechnology, Posthumans, and Post-Posthumans in Neal Stephenson’s and Linda Nagata’s Science Fiction.”Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 73-96. Print.

Ow, Jeffrey A. “The Revenge of the Yellowfaced Cyborg Terminator: The Rape of Digital Geishas and the Colonization of Cyber-Coolies in 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior.” Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Cyberspace. Eds. Rachel C. Lee and Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong. New York: Routledge, 2003. 249-266. Print. (Annotation)

Porush, David. “Hacking the Brainstem: Postmodern Metaphysics and Stephenson’s Snow Crash.”Configurations 2.3 (1994): 537-71. Print. (Annotation)

Sohn, Stephen Hong. “Alien/Asian: Imagining the Racialized Future.” Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 33.4 (2008): 5-22. Print. (Annotation)

Wisecup, Kelly. “‘Let’s Get Semiotic’: Recoding the Self in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992).” The Journal of Popular Culture 41.5 (2008): 854-77. Print.