This post-modern movement grew out of the work of Jacques Derrida with the
publication of three books in 1967:
Deconstructionism is basically the belief that there is no inherent truth to a text. Any work of fiction or non-fiction is subject to multiple interpretations and deconstructions. Deconstructionism refutes the "correspondence theory" of language which holds that the name and the thing named are reflective, that they have a direct correspondence. Here's how Derrida views the instability of language:
"In Derrida's view of language the signifier does not yield up a signified directly, as a mirror yields up an image. There is no harmonious one-to-one set of correspondences between the level of the signifieds in language. Signifiers and signified are continuously breaking apart and reattaching in new combinations, thus revealing the inadequacy of Saussure's model of the sign, according to which the signifier and the signified relate as if they were two sides of the same sheet of paper." (Madan Sarup)
"Deconstructionism...goes...well beyond right-you-are-if-you-think-you-are. Its message is closer to wrong you are whatever you think, unless you think you're wrong, in which case you may be right -- but you don't really mean what you think you do anyway." (Walter Truett Anderson)
This philosophy of fun-house mirrors has had a great effect on literary and cultural criticism, law, architecture, and the arts.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari are members of a younger generation of post-structuralists. In their 1977 book Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, they explore the three basic concepts of "desire," "production," and "machine" from Freud and Marx and conclude that we are "desiring machines." To them, there is no separation between the person and political, the individual and the collective. They identify a "libidinal economy" as the form of energy exchanged in both in the realm of politics and within the psychology of the individual. Libido and politics are interpenetrative.
They, like many of the post-structuralist thinkers before them, have been greatly influenced by Nietzsche. His denunciations of the "illusion" of truth and static notions of meaning, his belief in the will to power, and his affirmation of the Dionysian way of life, have all been incorporated into their work.
Short for: "detournement of preexisting aesthetic elements." Detournement is a technique that the Situationists used in combatting the trance-inducing powers of mass media and advertising. They took images and text from popular culture and recombined them to make socio-political statements. This technique is now used extensively in collage art, popular music, and the underground zine and mail art network.
Drugs are veined throughout cyberpunk literature. A drug-free cyberpunk novel would seem silly.
Cyberpunks favor drug prohibition - the illegal drug industry is an ideal source of tax-free income for those who are already living outside the borders of mainstream society.
Cyberpunks not only sell drugs, they take them - more often as a tool to get the job done, rather than for kicks or to touch the cores of their souls.
The two classes of drug-taking encountered most often in cyberpunk literature are psychedelics and amphetamines. Psychedelic drug users are sometimes called "heads" because they are as interested in the universe located within their craniums as the one outside it. LSD, DMT, psilocybin, and mescaline-like compounds can be used to jack-in to the most powerful computer in existence. They can be used as a debugger, allowing the users to climb inside their nervous systems to examine the bio-machine language and operating systems there.
It's only natural that a certain faction of the acid-head set would gravitate towards cyberpunk literature. Cyberspace denizens are disconnected from their meat, giving their minds the freedom to flow through wires and waves at the speed of light. In cyberspace, the universe becomes the minds of its inhabitants who can manufacture and share shmoo-and-flubber like virtual tools that further expand and accelerate the mind's functioning. With the right combination of minds, a virtual universe could become powerful at an ever increasing rate. Who knows what dreams could be realized, what monsters unleashed?
If psychedelics prepare and tune the data-hackers' minds, speed takes care of their bodies, which come in two styles. There's your cola and twinkies freak with enormous buttocks hanging over a stamped metal chair that strains and squeaks every time she shifts haunches. Then there's your skeletal-kid who swore off time-wasting real food years ago. Though hackers like to think that they can forget about their skinbag bodies of flaccid muscles and straining organs, the hard truth is that the brain relies on the body to manufacture and deliver a steady stream of glucose and oxygen. In order to provide this service, the body needs to rest periodically. Cyberpunks do not like their bodies telling them what to do, especially when they're in the middle of a 72-hour hacking run, so some resort to chemically jump-starting the meatbag when it starts complaining. Jolt Cola, jumbo 7-Eleven coffee and Slurpees may do the trick for shorter sessions, but cheap trash speed, and plenty of it, is the choice of the more reckless hi-tech lowlifes. WARNING: Speed DOES NOT contain energy, it merely opens the metabolic throttle and drains the body of its reserves. Long-term use turns cyberpunks into cyberzombies.
Many Cyberpunk novels contain descriptions of bizarre designer drugs. Rudy Rucker, one of the druggiest of the c-punk authors has developed several interesting fictional substances: Seeweed - a mutant strain of marijuana that grows in buckets of urine, Merge - a DNA-uncoiling drug that causes people to melt into puddles, and Dreak - the synchronicity drug ("it tasted like orgasm, dope rush, drunken bliss, supernal wisdom, and the joy of creation.") Even robots take drugs in Rucker's universe.
"I've been in California for almost two weeks, deep in the psycho-silicon jungle, and I've met enough of its denizens to know that the "enemy" in the war on drugs includes quite a few of our country's best minds and leading scientific innovators. (Jobs, for example, is a self-confessed former acidhead.) If a massive nationwide raid were held today, it would net mathematicians, inventors, technicians and a multitude of free-lance visionaries" -- From "Valley of the Nerds," by Walter Kirn, Esquire Magazine,July 1991
A term used in cybernetics to refer to additive or corrective information in a dynamic system. Negative, or self-corrective, feedback is achieved by feeding the results of past actions back into the system. This allows the system to maintain homeostasis. Positive, or escalating, feedback is additive and will build to a climax (a runaway) if left unchecked.
Cyberpunk and other "negationist" strategies for social change (industrial music, performance art, punk) are often thought of as attempts at feeding the "noise" back into the system as a way of "correcting" it.
Fractal geometry is the study of self similar images that have a fractional, or "fractal" dimension. A twisting coastline has a theoretically infinite length and can be considered to be some kind of entity that is more than a line yet less than a plane, hence it is a fractal. The Mandelbrot set, discovered by IBM mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrot, is perhaps one of the most famous examples of fractal geometry. The Mandelbrot set is infinitely complex, yet can be fully described with a 10-line computer program. Fractals are being used as conceptual tools by scientists and artists who use them as models for physical entities and processes.
The Gaia Theory, originated by independent scientist James Lovelock and micro-biologist Lynn Margulis, argues that the Earth is a single self-regulating (cybernetic) organism. Throughout Earth's evolution, since the emergence of Life, conditions on the planet have been cybernetically regulated to optimize that Life. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the biota are component parts, nested ecosystems, of one total feedback system. The Gaia Theory is outlined in numerous books, beginning with Gaia: A New Look at Life (Lovelock and Margulis) and The Ages of Gaia (Lovelock). Although the Gaia Theory doesn't have direct bearing on cyberpunk, it is the most exciting recent application of cybernetics. The idea of a Gaia-like sentient planet is explored in Asimov's later Foundation books.
Sometimes called "the science of conflict." Game Theory refers to a mathematical process for determining an optimum strategy in a given situation where players have limited and fixed options. When Game Theory was popular (in the 60's), its proponents thought that it could prove useful in such fields as business, military planning, and in strategizing economic behavior. Ultimately, it has not been very useful in these areas since there are few situations with consistently limited variables. Game Theory was helpful, however, in the development of less rigid games, simulations, and models. (see The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod for some interesting examples of how game theory and other game/simulation techniques have been successfully applied.)
The twenty-something "baby bust" generation that grew up on Reaganomics and Three's Company. Generally cynical and bored with the "peace, love, and understanding" jive they got from their hippy parents. "GenX" (Generation X) is the hot new marketing demographic as Madison Avenue scrambles to figure out how to sell to this nes generation of consumers.
William Gibson is the author of Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, which together are unofficially referred to as the "Sprawl" series. More than any other book, Neuromancer defined the purview of the cyberpunk genre and was influential to legions of imitators and a whole real-world subculture. Gibson's conception of cyberspace, the global electronic matrix linking the world's databases was a powerful influence on researchers working on the development of 3D computer environments.
Gibson has also written The Difference Engine with Bruce Sterling, Virtual Light, and Burning Chrome, a collection of short stories.
In Japanese, the word gomi means rubbish, junk, dirt. Gomi is extremely undesirable. Second-hand clothes and other belongings are frowned upon. "New" is fashionable in Japan. But, this constantly generated old tech offers many possibilities for use on the bottom rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
In William Gibson's sprawl series, gomi is what the street cultures thrive on. The world is saturated by yesterday's commodities which can be retro-fitted for the purposes of the moment. Junk and art, junk and adornment, junk and technology are all fused. This approach to gomi-tech and retrodesign has become a hallmark of cyberpunk. It is evident in many cyberpunk novels and films. Blade Runner, Brazil, and Max Headroom offer the best visual examples.
In the early days of computing, the word "hacker" was used to refer to a hardcore computer enthusiast. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates were early hackers. In the 80's, the decade of Kevin Mitnik, Robert Morris, and the Chaos Computer Club, "hacker" became synonymous with computer criminal. Within the hacker community numerous attempts have been made to reinstate the more benign definition, but the media and the culture at large seem set on the idea that hackers are all malicious (mostly) young people. Several alternatives have been suggested in referring to computer criminals, namely crackers and dark-side hackers. So far these haven't caught on.
Hacker or hacking is also being used more and more to refer to any type of high-tech, do-it-yourself ingenuity, such as: "a gene hacker" or "hacking a VCR."
"Of greatest significance to me has been the insight that I attained as a fundamental understanding from all my LSD experiences, that what one takes as "the" reality, by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous -- that there is not only one, but that there are many realities, each comprising a different consciousness of the self."
(1906 - ) Albert Hofmann graduated from the University of Zurich and joined Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in 1927. In 1938, he synthesized many different variations of LSD (d-Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) from a fungus that grows on diseased rye kernels, ergot (Known as a traditional abortifactant, and as the cause of St. Anthony's fire, a disease which causes fingers and toes to blacken before falling off.) The sample batches of LSD were shelved and their psychedelic properties went undiscovered for seven years until April 16th, 1943 when the 37-year-old Hofmann accidentally absorbed a miniscule amount of the 25th variation of LSD through his skin. He felt slightly dizzy and figured that he was coming down with a cold, so he took the day off and went home, where he experienced a psychedelic reverie - "An uninterrupted stream of fantastic images of extraordinary plasticity and vividness and accompanied by an intense kaleidoscopic play of colors." Three days later, at 4:20 pm, Hofmann purposely ingested 250 micrograms of LSD-25 to confirm that it indeed was the substance that produced the profound changes in his consciousness. His life (and millions of others) was changed forever on that day. Hofmann has been studying psychedelics and consciousness ever since.
ICE is an acronym for "Intrusion Counter-measure Electronics" first coined by Tom Maddox. It was later popularized by William Gibson in his Sprawl series.
In Gibson's books, ICE is a form of security software that attempts to kill (flatline) an intruder who has a direct neural connection to the targeted computer. Icebreakers are counter-ICE programs that can defeat ICE security.
Although ICE as described above is completely theoretical, it can be used loosely to refer to any computer security program.
(also "Code Kids" or "Kode Kidz") A term of derision for people who steal phone credit card numbers to make free long distance calls. Kode Kids go through garbage cans, mail, and scan cellular phones looking for these numbers. Lists are also traded through electronic boards. Most hackers (and even crackers) look down on this activity because the Kode Kids are usually young, irresponsible, and not very interested in phreaking, only in a cheap rip-off.
Marc Laidlaw is the author of Dad's Nuke and The Neon Lotus. During the late Eighties, he was also the "spokesperson" for Freestyle, a temporary post-cyberpunk micro-genre inspired by freestyle surfing. Rudy Rucker, Richard Kadrey, and Pat Murphy were also associated with this "movement."
Several things grew out of this period, including Probability Pipeline, a collaboration between Rucker and Laidlaw (reprinted in Rucker's Transreal!); Laidlaw's Kalifornia (unpublished); and Rucker's Autodesk program Freestyle CA.
Jaron Lanier is the founder and CEO of VPL Research, Inc. and the developer/marketer of such VR tools and equipment as the DataGlove, the BodyGlove, EyePhones, and several VR software development packages. He is also a controversial and oft-quoted spokesperson for the potentially world-changing possibilities of VR. He lives in Palo Alto, California.
Dr. Tim is by far the best known of the psychedelic explorers of the Sixties. His exploits at Harvard, his Millbrook days, his "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," were all inspirational to legions of hippies and reality hackers who realized, as Tim did before them, that they could have "fun with their heads." He called it "Hedonic Engineering."
Leary is one of those rare people who seems to aggravate and enlighten at the same time. His opportunistic airs, his flashy showmanship, and his penchant for rattling off sweeping generalities about EVERYTHING, may turn you off, but his ideas, as they trickle down to earth and are picked up by others, are often compelling and always thought-provoking. For instance: In the Seventies, Leary proposed a scheme for space migration, called S.M.I2.L.E. (Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension). As the first step in this plan, he proposed that a group of would-be space dwellers lock themselves up in a mock space-hab on Earth to practice living and working together. People giggled about him being fried on too many chemicals, but as usual, he was simply ahead of his time. Only several weeks ago, the "Bionauts" of the Biodome II project locked themselves away just as Leary had imagined. The long-term goal of the group who built the domed habitat is to be the first civilian colony on Mars!
In the Eighties and Nineties, Leary has turned his interests to cyberpunk, cyberspace, and the computer augmentation of the brain. He has developed several software products and continues to write and lecture on the ever-changing menu of choices available to today's "Hedonic Engineers."
Some books of interest:
The Libertarian Party ranks a distant third (typically garnering approximately 1% of the vote in elections) in the USA's political party hierarchy. Libertarians believe in the privatization of almost all "services" currently being (mis)managed by the US government. They see the only function of government as being a defender of an individual's right to do anything he/she pleases (as long as she doesn't interfere with another's right to do the same). Their basic motto: Mind Your Own Business.
Libertarians are despised by the left-wing for their laissez-faire attitude about business and by the right for their zealous support of civil liberties. Anarchists consider Libertarians to be "Republicans who take drugs" and fools who would replace "Rule by the State" with "Rule by the Corporation."
Libertarianism is a catch-all term for freedom-freaks of all kinds, ranging from banner toting, party-line, "Big-L" Libertarians to "small-l" libertarian minarchists, low-tax liberals, and anarcho-capitalists (to name a few mutations).
For more information check out The Directory of Libertarian Periodicals (a listing of approximately 150 libertarian magazines and newsletters). $3 from Jim Stumm, Box 29, Hiler Branch, Buffalo, NY 14223.
Some readers may wonder why we are including people like Lilly, Hoffman, Leary, and Crowley in our glossary coverage of people who have influenced either fictional or real-world cyberpunk. These people have all been modern pioneers in the amplification of human capabilities through chemical augmentation. Just as virtual reality, brain toys, and information networking hold the promise of electronic amplification, these researchers spent their lives exploring the possibilities of "wetware" reprogramming and mind expansion.
John Lilly invented the isolation/sensory deprivation tank in the 1950's. Later, in the 60's, he combined LSD usage with tank emersion as a way of exploring the inner territories of the mind unencumbered by external distractions. The movie Altered States was loosely based on Lily's deep-tank experiments. Lilly was one of the first people to view the human brain as a biological computer whose programming could be manipulated by the user. His book Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer explores his theories on this. Things get decidedly stranger in Lilly's semi-autobiographical The Scientist. If Programming was written under the influence of LSD, The Scientist was written under the influence of "Vitamin K" or Ketamine, a wildly hallucinatory and disembodying drug. Lilly claims that while under this drug, he contacted extraterrestrials and the collective mind of the Whale! (shades of P. K. Dick).
Lilly's other books include: