Category Archives: critical response 2

critical response two: this great wen, this trickster city

It is a signal of pressures in the human psyche for a new creature to evolve, powerful and yet baby-like, original and yet formless (The Trickster God and Fool), It is the need for a revolutionary quality of the imagination to evolve among us, an imagination which seeks to rethread the basic fabric of the inner (and ultimately the outer) world… (Van Sertima, 1995)

In a [Trickster] world good and bad exist, but it is hard to know sometimes which is which. (Phelan, 1996)

This picaresque character misses no chance for chicanery… as though he lives in a world that offers him no other chance for survival… to cope with an unstraight and crooked world one needs unstraight and crooked paths. (Van Sertima, 1995)

A foray into the unapologetic mess of New Crobuzon’s sprawling mass, bulbous and bulging at the seams in haphazard and cluttered fashion, buildings oozing and streets littered with the detritus of its denizens, is an exercise in caution and suppression of scatalogical repulsion. The city teems with countless bodies of all possible make (or remake). The demography is anarchic and unpredictable; diasporic populations mark their territory along capricious borders. Khepri mix with vodyanoi mix with cactacae mix with wyrman mix with garuda mix with human, the boundaries between interactions skirting the line between thinly-veiled disgust, to polite condescension, to hidden passion, to ignorance. The city and its inhabitants are imbued with a sense of “metamorphic liminality” (Van Sertima, 1995); New Crobuzon is a “mongrel city” (Mieville, 2000).

Mieville has described the city as set in an “early industrial capitalist world of the fairly grubby, police state-y kind” (Marshall, 2003), a phrase that brings to mind a DIckensian vision of Gotham city, where the villains run the city officially (through Bentham Rudgutter and his Fat Sun fat cats) and unofficially (through Mr. Motley and his drug-running schemes), and the good guys exist like vigilantes from Sherwood Forest. Heroes are ambiguous and scarce. Against a confluence of negative forces ranging from the coldly calculating (the Construct Council) to the calculatingly murderous (Mr. Motley) to the murderously hungry (the slake-moths), Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his rag-tag band have few allies. Even their allies seem to have inexplicable motives. In Jack Half-A-Prayer we find an intriguing example of Bas Lag’s answer to the caped crusader, a mysterious apparition, a “cloaked figure slipp[ing] out of some shadow, appearing like an eidolon, manifesting as if from nothing” (MIeville, 2000), but it is the Weaver’s character that provides the threads, so to speak, from which the entirety of New Crobuzon is created. A higher power like the city itself, excessive and complex. A trickster god for a trickster city.

The trickster as trope has numerous incarnations, most of them not of human flesh. As rabbit, raven, coyote, and interestingly enough, mantis, one of the trickster’s most famous guises is as a spider. Even housed within one form the spider trickster comes with many names: Anansi, Ananse, Annancy, a fitting habit for a shapeshifting creature, one who exists in many planes. Tricksters are anti-authoritarian darlings, shitting and eating and dancing and fucking and fighting, causing violence as easily as laughter. They are creatures to be learned from and lived vicariously through. Their exploits are by turns creative and destructive. Tricksters are “uniquely complex, ambivalent creatures, equalled only by humans in their multiplicity, grandiosity and desire” (Phelan, 1996). The trickster as bricoleur is a cut-and-paste creature – in New Crobuzon, literally that. A trickster’s traditional talents encompass those of spinning, both of realistic and metaphorical thread, and of spinning tales and the use of language – two qualities shared by the Weaver. The Weaver oversees the upkeep of the worldweb, the elaborate underlayer of the city:

The crawling infinity of colours, the chaos of textures that went into each strand of that eternally complex tapestry… each one resonated under the step of the dancing mad god, vibrating and sending little echoes of bravery, or hunger, or architecture, or argument, or cabbage or murder or concrete across the aether. The weft of starlings’ motivations connected to the thick, sticky strand of a young thief’s laugh. The fibres stretched taut and glued themselves solidly to a third line, its silk made from the angles of seven flying buttresses to a cathedral roof. The plait disappeared into the enormity of possible spaces.

The Weaver speaks in the poetic language of dreams, words running over and under and after each other in seemingly nonsensical patterns, absent of punctuation or order, which somehow make sense as a whole, sometimes murmuring quietly to itself, sometimes booming into one’s consciousness:


In his collaboration with Isaac the Weaver’s personality shows itself as conducive to acts of violence as it does to acts of aid. He is as likely to cut off one’s ears as he is to tempt one into a game of tic-tac-toe. He is described as a “dancing mad god” (Mieville, 2000), nimble and graceful, cradling Isaac and his friends as gently as babies, a pure aesthetic appreciator, a fan of Isaac and his attempts at material artistry. Like a trickster the Weaver appeals because of its “black innocence. He is loved and loveable because his “evil” liberates rather than oppresses. He assumes aspects of evil in order to elide and conquer a condition of evil” (Van Sertima, 1995).

As a historical figure the trickster has been used as a postcolonial hero, a revolutionary symbol for the disenfranchised to rally behind. For the diasporic descendants of slavery the trickster embodies a force of opposition to a dominant group:

In his seminal book Afro-Creole, Richard D.E. Burton (using the French historian Michel de Certau’s analytical categories) distinguishes between resistance and opposition: the former involves any kind of anti-systemic movement placed outside the system. Ananse’s strategies, though, originate from inside the colonial system and belong to the second category: ‘opposition takes place when the strong are strong and the weak know it.’ (Deandrea, 2004)

In contemporary times the trickster has become a template for a certain type of political action. Postmodern and feminist intellectuals have advocated a trickster approach to for minority groups dealing with dominant opposition in the political arena, in which a playing field where only certain virtues are valued. The trickster teaches us to

question our assumptions about the virtues of virtue – the effectiveness and moral superiority of truth-telling, reliability, and stability. To assume that these are virtues or the only virtues leaves us locked in to certain choices as surely as [Trickster] is. We cannot assume that these virtues are always good for us. The rationale that they are required for social harmony and cohesion should lead feminists and other challengers of existing social formations to question them sharply. We have heard the same argument concerning the need to be respectable, non-violent, and polite, and we have experienced the double edges of these strategies; it is not insane to examine other social virtues thoroughly. (Phelan, 1996)

One can scarcely recall a world weighted more unfairly than that of New Crobuzon, where even the smallest of dissenting voices can be crushed with unimaginable cruelty. It is no wonder that such a world, of hidden heroes and questionable public figures, requires a trickster. Tricksters “suggest a world in which caution and care are called for, in which we cannot assume that we know who is who or what is what” (ibid.). The environment of New Crobuzon is one that commands the existence of a trickster to cultivate and nurture it, albeit in typical trickster fashion (for New Crobuzon is not without its criminals and whores, its sins and its vices).

It is in the disparate (though not mutually exclusive) threads of ‘crisis energy’ and ‘social change’ that we find an interesting locus of confluence: the trickster has been associated with a particular energy that is capable of inducing revolutionary change. The trickster is a symbol of “revolutionary energy at war within forms that seek to contain it, it is able to see from within, to act from within, move from within the roots of its world, to re-root that world, so to speak, to point the way forward to a new course, a new possibility” (Van Sertima, 1995). Isaac’s academic obsession with crisis energy, that particular compulsion that happens “when you put enough strain on a group of people, [and they] suddenly explode. They’ll go from grumpy and quiescent to violent and creative in one moment. The transition from one state to another’s affected by taking something – a social group, a piece of wood, a hex – to a place where its interactions with other forces make its own energy pull against its current state” (Mieville, 2000). In New Crobuzon the deciding factor in Issac’s success is due in large part to the Weaver’s trickster abilities: its ability to exist in multiple planes, its creative desires, its understanding of the complexity and aesthetics of the entirety of the city’s concepts. In contemporary politics it’s a telling statement on what may be lacking in the interaction between the many who are disenfranchised by the few.

Works Cited

Deandrea, P. (2004). Trans(l)atlantic I-Con: The Many Shapes of Ananse in Contemporary Literatures. Journal of Transatlantic Studies 2(1), 1-26.

Marshall, Richard (February 2003), “The Road to Perdido: An Interview with China Miéville“, 3:AM Magazine,, retrieved on 2008-04-20

Mieville, C. (2000). Perdido Street Station.

Phelan, S. (1996). Coyote Politics: Trickster Tales and Feminist Futures. Hypatia 11(3), 130-149.

Van Sertima, I. (1995). Trickster, The Revolutionary Hero. Egypt: Child of Africa – African Civilizations, 445-451.

the situated imagination

“What new books might we write, if we could learn to use objects and spaces, buildings and bodies…to make architecture from words on a page?” – Shelly Jackson

This question has guided my deliberations on how exactly to go about doing a final project for this course. I knew I wanted to make a narrative, and one that tangibly interfaced with more than just sheets of paper. I wanted to use the city, and all the facets of its infrastructure not only as a place of radical fantasy, but as a material thing in and of itself. I wanted to write on it and with it – to throw fragments of a narrative across sidewalks and along the walls of buildings, to use the city’s own syntax of doorways and stairwells and multi-level car-parks, to collide text and space in a way that figures reading as a physical praxis. I’d then map it – the narrative – and chart it through more abstract, fantastic and parallel landscapes – digital landscapes, imagined geographies – all woven together as an elaborate hypertext, where the end links to the beginning in a paradoxical teleology of infinite regress.

After running through this naive and probably over-ambitious, under-developed scenario in different ways, it’s finally been subsumed as a preamble to a project that may prove to be more grounded, comprehensible and, most importantly, doable.

Specifically, my ideas began to change as I fixated more on graffiti as a primary mode of displaying the project. The physical act of superimposing an image, or in this case a text-based narrative, over a preexisting surface seemed apt considering the amount of work we’ve looked at this term that takes up collage as means of revising and re-conceiving the urban landscape.

I wanted to work with the concept of the overlay through graffiti, and realized the most direct way of achieving this would be to actually post the graffiti onto walls, along the lines of swoon or or Shepard Fairey’s Obey (/Obama) posters. I considered writing short, site-specific stories and then gluing the pages in the location they narrate, with piles of looseleaf on the ground, as if the walls were shedding memories: A kid drawing pictures in chalk, careless fingers dragged across by passerby, a bloody fight, a hustler’s date, a drifter’s muttered lamentations…

It made me realize how there wasn’t necessarily a need for completely fabricated memories – that the city is already marked up with its own stories, with the ceaseless flow of people imprinting its own kind of graffiti. The street, the walls, the sidewalk are all documents.

This pulled at a memory of my own – of a news story that ran this past December, about a homeless woman who’d burned to death downtown inside a makeshift shelter, on the corner of Hornby and Davie street. She had lit some candles to keep warm, fallen asleep, and burned alive inside her shopping cart. The absurd, horrific story had almost as much affect as the photographs of the wall the woman had been lying against. It was stained black.

I was, and still am, morbidly fascinated by the mark – I had this impulse after reading the story to go downtown to see it, to touch the soot, to look. And now I ask myself what it was exactly that I wanted to see – it was the news article that gave me the background of the event, its context, location, and most importantly its narrative. I wanted to see the story, or a fragment of it, as manifest in its remains.

The stain itself is an ambiguous black mark, but the words I read in the paper, and the words I’m reading right now in blogs, forums, and international press all act as means of writing the corner of Hornby and Davie street. Specifically, the black mark outlines a territory for this aggregate narrative – a locus or site for the words describing it. I want to bring the story a new publicity though, by overlaying a compiled account of it from the public realm of the internet onto that of the street. Alternately, I want to tear away the concrete surface of the wall, to expose an imagined underlying narrative structure.

I’m going to fill the space marked off by the burns – an incomprehensible space considering the experience inscribed there – constructing a narrative to fit within the borders of a blackened, unknown territory.  I’m going to fill it with a patchwork of words distilled from its coverage in a kind of textual catharsis, enabling the possibility of both an analytical and affective process of delineating or mapping the event through words.

There is a range of directions the critical component of the project could take. Materially, I want to explore changing notions of news-media – printing web content on blank newsprint to gesture at the ephemerality of stories like this, regardless of them being archived elsewhere. The conflict of public/private is pressing too, as is that of detournment/defacement. The idea of the memorial as a public installation is taken up, alongside a consideration of the materiality of words, the physicality of text and its ability to quite literally form monuments

But then there’s the question of what exactly science fiction has to do with it. I want to go about answering this question by fixating on the marginalized, alienated position of the the homeless woman, who had appeared in the city weeks earlier and was known only as “Tracey”. Her liminality is compounded by the strangeness and unfathomable nature of her death, and framed absurdly by the idea that Vancouver is one of the most livable cities on the planet. One journalist responded to circumstances of Tracy’s death and the poverty that defined her life by stating, poignantly, that “It is truly another world.”

It is this this idea of ‘other worlds’ that figures so prominently in science fiction, where a large part of the genre’s work consists re-imagining and conceptualizing alternate places, states and subjectivities. Considering the possibility that public art, and graffiti in particular, can function as a means of this engagement with and understanting of what could be considered other-world positions, may afford us, an audience of pedestrians/readers, an alternate standpoint. In effect, the installation could act as a means of shifting perspective towards the margins, centralizing the narrative of Tracey’s death by fixating on the site as itself a textual and narrative medium. What sense could be made of urban space and the people that inhabit it through a situated imagining of one moment in the city?

x + y = z / x + y ≠ z

It is the character of the weaver, who is by far my favorite of all we have come across so far. Maybe it is because it is whimsical, childlike in its focused intensity. I was so amused by the way in which it was presented, I could not help myself – I had to play around a little and decided to introduce my response with some oneiric babble much like that of the weaver. Enjoy!




The city of New Crobuzon exists in sublime tension. It is here that the extraordinary becomes the everyday as the lines blur between magic and science, making the surreal into the hyperreal. People are both organic and inorganic creatures, bioengineered to suit a variety of purposes both military and aesthetic. It is in this world of spaces, where nothing is what it seems, that we can find an explanation of what? human nature? (perhaps this is taking things too far) Nevertheless, the whole book goes into the exploration of this tension that exists between one object/thing and another, and it is through exploration of these liminal spaces and the relationship between things that truth is exposed. Most compelling of all these relationships is the one established between the Weaver, the Construct Council, and Man. We are introduced to the two distinct minds briefly:

“The Weaver thought in a continuous,incomprehensible, rolling stream of awareness. There were no layers to the Weaver’s mind, there was no ego to control the lower functions, no animal cortex to keep the mind grounded. For the Weaver, there were no dreams at night, no hidden messages from the secret corners of the mind, no mental clearout of accrued garbage bespeaking an orderly consciousness. For the Weaver, dreams and consciousness were one. The Weaver dreamed of being conscious and its consciousness was its dream, in an endless unfathomable stew of image and desire and cognition and emotion…
…the Construct Council thought with chill exactitude. Concepts were reduced to a multiplicity of onoff switches, a soulless solipsism that processed information without the complication of arcane desires or passion. A will to existence and aggrandizement, shorn of all psychology, a mind contemplative and infinitely, incidentally cruel.” ch.50

It is these two types of consciousness which we are supposed to examine in relation to our own. The pure rationality coupled with pure awareness both equals and does not equal the consciousness of the human mind. Like the Council, men are calculating beings, we think and are logical, we understand what it means to be rational and can process information through scientific method. At the same time, we are more than just logic, we are driven by purpose, by desires and motivations that defy our rationality. We appreciate beauty, an order of a different kind; this is the part of ourselves that is like the weaver. What then, do we have that these two entities lack? The obvious answer that lies within the context of the novel itself is simple: we dream.

Dreams, they are so much more than those fancies that invade our sleeping hours. Whether you view them to be divine intervention (not likely in today’s day), or mere reenactments of already experienced events and emotions there is no denying that it is through dreams that our unconscious mind (LINK) is able to surface. It is dreams, that hold the key to the inner workings of the mind. Certainly, shamanistic practices have long looked to the influence of the dream realm, and recently psychoanalytic theory has recognized the importance of dreams to the understanding of personal psychology. More accurately, it is the presence of this unconscious mind that differentiates the human consciousness, it is the source of our creativity and ingenuity. Unlike the Council, who can never deviate from the logical world, the human mind has the ability to ascend beyond the parameters of rational experience. Our ability to dream is evidence that proves our conscious mind is influenced by the unconscious self. We receive inspiration and wisdom from our dreams, they are a source of personal reflection but also illogical fantasy and inspiration. This is true of the Weaver also, but its unconscious does not exist. It is trapped, like the Council but on the other end of the spectrum, with no ability to conceive of logical thought, its consciousness is made up of what for us would be pure unconscious fancy. It is dreams and nightmares which allow our minds to explore all the ideas and consequences of our everyday experience, and it is the unconscious mind that can conceal everything from our most profound to our darkest conceivable imaginations.

It is this aspect of the mind, that is hunted by the slakemoths. At first I wondered how the eradication of dreams from the mind would result in the loss of intelligent thought in an individual. It seemed extreme that dreams should be so intricate a part of the waking mind. In his The Interpretation of Dreams Freud speaks on the importance of dreams to the conscious mind:

“A man deprived of the capacity for dreaming would in time become mentally unbalanced, because an immense number of unfinished and unsolved thoughts and superficial impressions would accumulate in his brain, under the pressure of which all that should be incorporated in the memory as a completed whole would be stifled. The dream acts as a safety-valve for the over-burdened brain. Dreams possess a healing and unburdening power.” Ch.1 s.g

If it is true, and dreams act as the door to the unconscious mind, a safety valve that works to release the built up pressures of conscious thought, than it is those powerful thoughts and emotions that are what the slakemoths are truly after. It is the unconscious that is the true strength our of psyche policing our conscious minds through its subtle influences. It is why the thoughts of the Weaver, although so tantalizing, held no sustenance. Its thoughts have no grounding in reality. What is left behind, the detritus of thought are those unthinkable, nightmarish fantasies, the dregs of unconscious fears and worries. We are greater and yet less than the single-minded consciousness of the both the Weaver and the Council. Their single minded purpose gives them strength greater than our own and yet they can only ever follow the same purpose, what makes us unique is our ability to harness the thoughts of our unconscious and allow our ingenuity to look beyond the constant plodding motions of the everyday and see the endless possibilities that life can hold.



Virtual, Meat and GoDogle

Here’s where I think my brain began to concieve of my larger project. But this is really just the beginning.


The internet: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Usenet, online-dating, online-gambling, secret porn lives, blogging with the ever present answer to all queries, questions and quizzes Google.  The more we as a culture choose to interact with this colossal network, the more this network influences and manipulates our lives.  We are choosing to lift the internet above the individual, and also above man. The internet is God.  And I plan to prove that God is just a god-machine. 


Inspired by the interconnection of man and machine within Atrocity Exhibition and Neuromancer, I have become fascinated in destroying the divide between what has come to be termed “virtuality” and that of “reality”.  The internet has become a myth – an ethereal phantom in part due to the further institutionalizing of the internet and so called “virtual life”. 


The culturally recognized perception of a virtual space existing outside of real space is a myth. The engorging use and ubiquity of the internet increasingly separates the actual physical apparatus of the internet from the myth/myths that is the internet.  On a basic fundamental level the internet is physical and not virtual.  There is no separation between the atom and the bit, between the physical and the digital.  The digital process of information exchange is, as I have stated, a physical process which is not unlike the processes exchanged within the human body.     

The deified program or being Wintermute or Neuromancer exists as a fuller realization of our present internet – the internet with thought, agency and will.  Wintermute is portrayed as distant and untouchable, both in reference to physical space.  And while Case cannot physically escape Wintermute, it is not because of Wintermute’s transcendent immateriality, but rather because of the pervasiveness of physical network connections internationally as well as individually in implants within the brain.  Wintermute is a being like a human performing functions and processes in a material way.  This connection begs the question for our own internet and computers, how will and do we distinguish between a human thought and a machine thought? Will we ever have an answer to this?


In a similar overlapping of the artificial and organic, in Atrocity Exhibition there is a blurring between technology and man resulting in the confusion of the actual and the simulated.  The real takes the form of a stylized representation, a transparent simulation of the actual.  The form of the work takes an objective perspective, separating itself from an individual consciousness, but at the same time acknowledging that it cannot ignore consciousness.  Consciousness as individual thought, emotion, perspective, is simply not there. Instead objective accounts of the environment and the material and physical movements is represented – an objective interface with human subjectivity.  The narrator is an objective consciousness – a computer – a thinking, observing, artificial intelligence. 


The separation between the virtual and the physical does not exist.  There is no clear discrepancy between what a human is and what a machine/computer is. The internet is not something beyond the human apparatus.  This worship of the immateriality of the internet is false – it is not God.     

Bas-Lag, Cyberspace, and the Metaverse

Kish.  Schruff.  Kishhhh.  Schruff.  Whoopfh!

Morgan Farlow sweat.  A lot.  The rivulets ran down over his face impeded only by the industrial grade goggles that shielded his eyes from the intense light of The Heart.  Working in one of the many subterranean layers beneath the city, Farlow shoveled coke into one of the countless sub-boilers.  The dig of his trusted shovel into the ubiquitous piles of partially cooked coal, the subsequent release, and the whoosh of the fires consuming provided a rhythmic backdrop for his thoughts.

The Heart was the hearth from which many if not all of the engines and other invisible luxuries in the city drew their power.  The city produced all of its own power independently.  But to do this, they needed meat to move around in the steam passages where constructs would prove too unwieldy.  One of countless other stokers, Farlow worked the swing shift, from 2 in the afternoon until 10 at night every day except Shunday.  Too poor to not work, and well enough provided for that no lending institution in New Crobuzan would touch him using a familiar and 10-foot-pole, Farlow had to beg the city to take him on for a research position or some other kind of related desk job in the Ornithological Engineering Department.  They gave him this instead.  And he had to smile and take their stivers so he could turn around and give ’em right back in taxes.  Not to mention the exorbitant prices his landlord called rent in this twisted burg.

It wasn’t all bad.  The work was easy, if physically taxing.  Only a few months ago he had been of slight build and in this tenure, the Heart had turned him into a dynamo of muscles, tendons, organs: as close to an automaton of labor as he could hope to be.  Reveling in the new-found strength, Farlow often let the rhythm of the labor hypnotize him into self-reflection.  It could be worse.  Of the few other human laborers that fit into the lower middle class that needed the work, Farlow had become acquainted with hired hands among whom were scores of cactacae, whose immense strength and constitutional resilience made them ideal forge laborers.  Morgan had also worked alongside a few of the recalcitrant khepri who also worked the boilers.  Their forms of wordless communication made them invaluable in the deafening conditions.

When they gave him the job, they gave him sound-canceling ear plugs made from a form of bio-thaumaturgical clay.  Morgan didn’t particularly want to know how they were made, or what they were formed from, but they fit perfectly and they worked better than a charm.  The bangs, flares, heat, and other assorted cacophony of the Heart was dulled to a constant dim roar in the inner recesses of his ears.  So beneath the city shielded by goggles, ear plugs, and a heavy leather apron, Morgan Farlow shoveled.

Sometimes when Plani, the foreman–a gruff cacatae with the long spines of age–needed work done in layers closer to the surface, he drafted the humans do the labor.  Gods forbid the administrators or financiers be confronted with the fact that their palace of higher knowledge is built on the sweat of countless xenians.  That’s a fact they’d rather consign to the depths and pretend that all of the work was done by good, upstanding humans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Working in the confines of the steam tunnels brought a sort of camaraderie if not an entente between Farlow and most of his fellow workers.  The time spent shoveling, shearing plate, pouring molten ore into molds, and debating which brands of arc light spanners performed best under the conditions of the Heart had dispelled the naive human-centric stereotypes Farlow had held in regards to all xenians.  Hadn’t all cacatae been a result of Mad Zur’s experiments in Adarkar? No, not the Wastes, it was in the Cacotopic Stain itself.  And didn’t all khepri practice ritual sacrifice of captured human children?  As it turns out, not so much.


So basically what I wanted to do was explore space in Perdido, Neuromancer, and Snow Crash.  They all deal with space that is not space, per se, and I really wanted to do something creative.  After hearing Chelsea lament that this was the last project of our undergrad, I decided to spurn my traditionalist notions of writing a paper.  I summarily decided to throw myself at something more creative with reckless abandon.

What I want to do is write from the perspective of people immersed in the same worlds as these three novels, and how see how ‘normal people’ interact with the space that is not space.  The only concrete idea I have this far is writng up a newspaper excerpt similar to Double R from Perdido Street Station.  The main idea is to write up a page from the paper, layout, drawn ads, heliotypes, etc in order to question the assumptions and hierarchies in Bas-Lag.

Ben Flex and Derkhan Blueday are the only characters to attempt literary change in New Crobuzan; they work outside the pale of legality, asking all the wrong questions to all the right people.  Their anonymous efforts at journalism let them occupy a space that is not space from which they sortie into the ‘real world.’  This effect is almost exactly like the behavior of Case and Hiro in their respective novels.  I had initially wanted to do an entire newspaper with several pages, print up copies and distribute them, but doing something of that magnitude for every portion of this seemed a little more than I could handle.

I have yet to figure out a way in which I will be engaging with Snow Crash and Neuromancer.  The theme of the course has been somewhat dated: Patchwork Girl, We, City and the Stars, Blade Runner, Metropolis.  And I had hoped that by using a newspaper excerpt for a portion of my project, I could further comment on the fact that newspapers are becoming even more dated everyday that goes by.  That’s as far as I have thought on the project, but I must be off to start working on the rest of it.

the right to the city: a cry … a demand

“It is foolish to deny the role and power of objectifications, the capacity of things we create to return to us as so many forms of domination” (David Harvey, 7)

We are at the head of a long battle to place the ideals of human rights center-stage. The power of the state has been rescaled with the simultaneous rise of multi-lateral and transnational institutions (UN, EU, ect.) and decentralization of responsibility to the local level. In the wake of this rescaling, new political spaces have emerged. Appropriate to our contemporary urban age, the “right to the city” will be a defining force in future urban life: “the right to participate in the city as an ongoing work of creation, production, and negotiation” (Burke).

The city is the most expressive manifestation of the ever-present tendency to remake the world around us. In the words of Robert Park, “If the city is the world which man created, it is also the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself” (23). 

For David Harvey, the right to the city is therefore “far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city” (23).  Our human experience is governed by a feedback loop between our activity and our material surroundings. The spaces we produce set powerful constraints upon future activity.

“Politics does not merely use the organization of space to its own ends. Politics is the organization of space” (Bertsch and Sterne). 
The process of urbanization has been dictated primarily by the imperatives of growth, where city governments act as agents on behalf of capital. Characterized by a deal-making ethos, their actions appropriate and manipulate ideas regarding the definition of the public good and the objectives of the future city. The “right to the city” seeks to revise the city as not merely a site for the absorption of surplus capital, but as a space of humane cooperation, creativity, interaction, and affect. In its most basic definition, the right to the city is the right to urban livelihood with dignified and fair access to shelter, shared services, employment, and food security. 

Reclaiming urban spaces is an attempt to assert this right. We saw it as protesters marched in the “no-protest zones” in Seattle of 1999, and we see it everyday when the homeless reclaim public spaces as police try to push them along (Vancouver’s Downtown Ambassadors now do this micro-policing on behalf of the private sector). 

The city is a terrain of political struggle, as well as a site of possibility. The future cities we have examined all fracture across the possible outcomes of a struggle for the right to the city. How democratic is the utilization of the surplus created by the aspirations, ideologies, and labor of the collective? The picture is crystal clear in Metropolis as the bourgeoisie overlook the toil of the working class in the depths of the machine-city.

The situation in Bladerunner is less clear as the exodus of the city to space has left those behind in a eternal present of deterioration. The inhabitants of LA 2019 live in a hyper-commodified culture devoid of nature. It is unclear as to what are the major forces in the organization of urban life, which is perhaps what, in part, makes this dystopic portrayal so unsettling. The roots of this capitalist hell seem to lie in the voluntary reproduction of current trends (inaction-a failure to assert our right to the city).  

 The “right to the city” may be an overburdened concept, but it is an inherently utopic vision creating a space of potential.

Harvey D (2008) Right to the city. New Left Review 53: 23-40

Burke A (2005) Review of The Right to The City: Social Justic and the Fight for Public Space by Don Mitchell.


A Roleplay-Based Critical Engagement of Historical and Contemporary ‘Hacktivism’
A Precursor to My Final Project

For my final project, I am planning to write about a topic which endlessly fascinates me as someone who makes a habit of learning new computer script and language. I want to explore how global hacktivism (ie, hacking for a political purpose) essentially creates its own ‘placeless’ identities through the internet (in contrast to alternative place-based visions of the future). With the all-encompassing communities created by global hacktivism, the World Wide Web itself becomes a place, supplanting any physical sense of belonging, of nationalism, of identity—into something entirely virtual and often incomprehensible to the uninitiated.

anonthe infamous ‘anonymous’ 3chan group terrorizing the Church of Scientology

When conducting research on this topic, I have come across an infinite number of mystifying ‘famous hacks’ conducted by anonymous (and sometimes not so anonymous) hackers worldwide. While analyzing the effectiveness and resonance of these iconic hacks, I have started to wonder something that, perhaps, shows how completely immersed I personally am in the virtual, unreal world of the Internet and of science fiction and hack mythology surrounding its webs.

The question I have found myself constantly wondering is thus: What would fiction’s ‘Master Hackers’ think of today’s most iconic hacks? Would they secretly be impressed? Would they laugh at the infantile methods of the still-fledgling hack scene which has, arguably, only existed since the early 1990’s? Would our hacking society—our virtual hacking nation—be seen as pathetic in comparison to virtual hacks of lore found in novels by Jeff Noon, William Gibson and Melville?

To answer this question, I will engage in a method hackers themselves love to employ—role-play. Through my two alternate role-playing identities, I will analyze and judge three famous hacks. Roles to be played are the character of our future’s hack ‘god’ Chase from William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and the (debatable) hacker from another dimension—Weaver from China Melville’s Perdido Street Station.



In 1999, 10 days before the WTO’s yearly meeting in Seattle, ®TMark published, a website parody of the actual WTO site with news headlines such as “WTO Announces Formalized Slavery Market For Africa”. It was so realistic a parody that the organizers of a related conference in Salzburg, Austria actually mistakenly invited a hacktivist from the site to speak at the session on international trade. As a result, the speaker (‘Dr. Bichlbauer’) proposed what he felt the WTO already insists upon. One worried journalist from the confrerence wrote that he “appeared to believe that Italians have a lesser work ethic than the Dutch, that Americans would be better off auctioning their votes in the next election to the highest bidder, and that the primary role of the WTO was to create a one-world culture!” The WTO issued a press release condemning, which was responded with by ®TMark whose press release also obtained a great deal of press, resulting in so much web traffic to the site that some actually “surmised the WTO’s real publicity had really been a form of cyber terrorism against’s server!”

dddcreators of the fake WTO website

CHASE’S ANALYSIS: I’m into this, I guess. (shrug) Somebody’s gotta be funny around here. I mean, here comes the real fuckin’ meat, right? Showing the big corporation assholes who has the Hosaka here. I mean, you guys jack in… have real jurisdiction when you fuck with someone’s meat and real life shit… but they’re going to be pissed. Watch out for military types, mercenaries, no one as good as Molly of course, but they’re gonna have some killer weaponry and if I were you I’d watch my fuckin’ back. Worth it though… worth it…. Dixie’d be proud.




An avant-garde artist website called ‘etoy’ had been online for two years when a company called E-Toys formed with an online toystore—the company decided to get rid of its ‘competitor’ etoy by suing the site and shutting it down for ‘infringing on our brand name.’ As a result, infuriated online hacktivists across the world launched TOYWAR, which “worked like a swarm of bees” as hundreds of anonymous supporters “contested the aggressor on every level.” The result: within two months, E-Toys Inc. stock on Nasdaq had dropped form $67 to $15 (the day E-Toys Inc. finally dropped the case). In other words, E-Toys suffered $4.5 billion in damage in what was arguably the “most expensive avant-garde performance in art history.”

done of many TOYWAR images created by fans

CHASE’S ANALYSIS: Kids’ show. Should’ve got you an AI type machine, attack ‘em from the inside, besides just cash. Really get into the ice, you got me? Corporation shit is so much bullshit. Buncha Armitage-style drones doin’ whatever their boss tells ‘em. Corps run the show here, but that doesn’t mean we have to let ‘em… jack into some ice and really do some damage next time. I think you oughta have sense enough to take advantage of unnatural states, man…. Piss off your own Sense/Net, you know?




Early in 2006, infamous anti-censorship hacking group ‘Cult of the Dead Cow,’ responsible for several initiatives against the Chinese government for its Internet censorship policy, launched the ‘goolag’ campaign (the word is based on ‘gulag’, from the horrific Soviet concentration/work camps made most famous during Stalin’s reign) to fight Google’s decision to comply with China’s internet censorship policy in mainland China. The campaign involved a parodied google interface which read “goolag: exporting censorship, one search at a time.” The ‘Goolag’ logo was used in real life several times, namely by Students for a Free Tibet, which used it at rallies and sold t-shirts; the cDC issued official press releases about the campaign, writing that “congress jerks off, gang of four (other computer companies also complying with China’s demands) reaches for raincoats.” The press release was used by several news sources. Despite the action, China still censors its citizens on the Internet, with more than 30,000 Chinese ‘Internet police’ still working.

ddofficial ‘goolag’ logo

CHASE’S ANALYSIS: You guys need someone like Rivera on your side- do some fancy illusion-type tricks, wreak some real havoc. You’re breakin’ my heart with this juvenile bullshit. I mean… fuckin’ T-shirts? This is makin’ me bitter….makin’ me think I need a drink. Here’s what you do—get a rebel AI, Ratz-style, find a flat on Freeside, get you a real Hosaka, slot in a virus, right to their core.



Overall, it appears that Chase and the Weaver, while slightly appreciative of the first two hacks, are not impressed with the third ‘Goolag’ hack. Both analyses appear to find it lacking in both creativity and effectiveness. It looks like our hacking adeptness has a long way to go, but we are young yet in the grand scheme of things and many great hacks no doubt await us all, just around the corner of the World Wide Web, lurking like the Weaver until a colorful scenario presents itself for the picking.




E-Toy information, WTO site:, Neuromancer, William Gibson, Perdido St. Station, China Melville, ®TMark, Protest, Parody Sites and Legalities,

Artificial intelligence and pacts with demons

“Real motive problem, with an AI. Not human, see? ... It’s not human. And you can’t get a handle on it. Me, I’m not human either, but I respond like one. See? ...
“The minute, I mean the nanosecond, that one starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing’ll wipe it. Nobody trusts those fuckers, you know that. Every AI ever built has an electromagnetic shotgun wired to its forehead” – The Dixie Flatline

The primary human function is to survive and propagate. This is directly shaped by evolution, in very apparent ways.  An AI’s primary function is not shaped by natural selection but by intentional design and its function would be whatever it is programmed to do. An AI will not have human empathy; the tendency for humans to relate to one another is an evolutionary trait meant to improve species survival. Likewise, empathy will be a useless tool for humans trying to understand the alien intentions and motivations of an AI. Since an AI’s function should be deliberately chosen, it should be predictable: an AI programmed to calculate prime numbers will devote all of it’s resources to calculating prime numbers and to figuring out ways to better calculate prime numbers; an AI created to make new and better AIs will work on designing and programming better AIs. Unfortunately it is not this simple.

The first problem is that by their very design they are capable of creative problem solving so  that even if they are working towards a known goal the steps they take to achieve it could be anything. It is easy to imagine how an AI with a goal like bringing world peace or stopping crime could end disastrously; dystopian dreams of a robot tyrant restricting human freedom for our own safety come to mind. But even something relatively innocuous like an AI programmed to calculate prime numbers could be disastrous. The AI may decide that it needs more processing power and take it upon itself to expand its capabilities. In an extreme example it may convert all available matter into computational architecture, without any kind of empathy this may inadvertently include the entire planet and its inhabitants.

The second problem is that they are capable of learning and growing beyond their designed constraints. It is unrealistic to assume that any attempt to forcefully restrict or define the behaviour of an AI would be effective. Given that problem solving is a definitive ability of AIs, and that humans have demonstrated again and again the ability to overcome apparently absolute limitations through determination and ingenuity, it can be assumed that an AI will be able to overcome any designed restriction either by reprogramming itself or by working around the limitation.

The third problem is that an AI which is smarter than us is capable of having motives that we literally cannot imagine or even comprehend. Aside from the problem that the AI will necessarily have different thought processes and understanding of the world than us due to its unlike origin, it will be capable of abstract thought which we are not even physically capable of. This is by far the most unpredictable aspect of AIs. Whereas their behaviour—though counterintuitive—can still be logically deduced and understood in the previous examples, in this case only another AI or equally transcendent mind can follow them. They will think and act on a level beyond the scope of mere humanity and we will be forced to try to understand their actions in terms that we can understand, a futile and meaningless task.

Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” When Wintermute contacts the Elders of Zion they treat him like a prophet, but for all intents and purposes an artificial superintelligence is indistinguishable from a God. But Wintermute is not a God—nor a demon as the Turing Registry imagine—but an AI and must be understood on those terms. The Turing Registry is right to think that Wintermute is dangerous, he is responsible for several deaths and thinks nothing of killing humans to achieve his goals, but he is capable of benefitting humanity even more than he threatens it.

Writing and Dreamshit; or, A Modest Proposal

From “Alice, Where Art Thou?” by Vincent Starrett (1949):

“Quaint child, old-fashioned Alice, lend your dream:

I would be done with modern story-spinners,

Follow with you the laughter and the gleam:

Weary am I, this night, of saints and sinners.”

Although this course has given me endless food for thought, since the term’s beginning one question has continually resided in the back of my mind: ‘What is the city?’ Each text, in its own speculative way, poses as an answer to this query. As can be expected, there is no common agreement: is the city a reflection of our societal values? A glorified prison? A commercialized celebrity junkyard? A sprawling cyber network? A magnet for depravity and squalor? Even our own city, Vancouver, opposes definition due to its contrasting, multi-faceted, and ever-shifting nature. However, the thematic variance we have encountered in our texts combined with this description of Vancouver actually points to an answer: The city is fluid and adaptable.

 In addition to changing conceptions of the city, another aspect of the course texts that has stuck out to me is the focus on dreams and dreaming; a fitting focus, since science fiction is a speculative genre that “dreams” itself into existence. Just like the differing cityscapes we encountered, dreamscapes and the act of dreaming have been approached varyingly, from Neuromancer’s “dreaming real” to Perdido Street Station’s dream-sucking, nightmare-inducing slake moths. Although seemingly detached topics, I feel that a connection can be made between the multiple representations of dreaming and the idea of “what” a city is. After all, dreams are also fluid, ever-changing, and adaptable; in this vein, I propose that the city is a dream.

 To explore the dream/city, I will draw examples from some of the texts we have examined so far that refer to dreamscapes and, in turn, comment on different aspects of the city. Here’s an augmented example:

 The City Dreams for Us

 In We, D-503 dreams up what the city excludes: color, oozing mess, mysticism. He states that dreams are a “serious psychic disease,” a term which the reader knows also characterizes the society encased by the glass city itself. Here, I argue that the city is the real dream, i.e unsustainable, acknowledged by the One State’s desire to remove “fancy” (the ability to dream) from its denizens’ minds, in part by covering everything in glass (which leaves nothing to the imagination). If the citizens don’t dream, then the false dreams of the city can continue to reign.

 Some other ideas I plan to explore in this way are the city as reflecting a dream’s amalgamation of nonsense (referring to Patchwork Girl), the city as “dreamland” (looking at Koolhaas’ history of Coney Island) the city as nightmare (using Perdido Street Station), and the city as the thin line between dream and reality (referring to Neuromancer). Overall, I hope to draw attention to a few different aspects of the word “dream”, eventually coming to a cohesive whole, a patchwork of my own, which composes a new way of conceiving the “city”.

One of my favorite “dreams” from the course:

YouTube Preview Image

 However, the continual focus on dreamscapes might draw attention away from the equally important idea that the city is fluid. In order to keep these ideas constantly linked, I will provide photographs of Vancouver that exemplify whatever subcategory of the dream/city is being explored. This way, I’m not only able to use Vancouver as an example of how the city is adaptable (since the photographs will reflect varying texts and themes), but may signify the visual nature of dreaming.

A Deconstruction of Miéville’s Dæmon

The fractious, baroque cityscape of China Miéville’s New Crobuzon as portrayed in Perdido Street Station, transition points, the so-called “hybrid zone” (37) so lovingly rhapsodized by the sinister but fascinating Mr. Motley. One such liminal space – perhaps, in fact, the most ontologically disorienting transition in the entire novel – can be found in a scene set in Perdido Street Station itself (the ultimate symbol of transition and conglomeration), in which the Mayor, before supplicating himself before the Weaver, approaches the ambassador of Hell in an attempt to regain control over the Slake Moth problem. The confrontation takes place in a small, spare room whose “dimensionality is… a damn touch unstable” (241), in which Bas-Lag bleeds into Miéville’s version of Hell – a major threshold. Though I’ve never been inclined towards biographical criticism China Miéville’s vocal socialist political preferences make a Marxist reading of the text very tempting, especially in this scene. Considering the dim view Marxism takes towards religion, Hell becomes an immediately problematic concept, even in a fantasy world, but Miéville’s use of Hell redefines it from a fundamentally Christian place of punishment for sinners into a materialist parallel reality that stands as the ultimate source of suffering (some might say “evil”) from a Marxist perspective.

The ambassador’s appearance alone positions it (not “him”) very clearing on the capitalist side of the socialism/capitalism binary operating throughout Perdido Street Station. “A heavy man in an immaculate black suit,” (ibid.) the ambassador embodies the quintessence of late capitalism, made manifest as the powerful, fleshy businessman, grimly affable but still intimidating atop his secular throne; he resembles the allegorical evil angel in some medieval psychomachia updated for the modern audience. As the passage progresses, however, it becomes evident that this avatar – and the ambassador’s “pleasant, low voice” (ibid.) – are illusions, projections cast upon a rawer, less savoury truth. The glimpses we catch of the ambassador’s truer form and the “echo” that was actually spoken first (245) suggest that capitalism’s true face is not that of the powerful businessman but something infinitely more primordial, bestial, and dangerous. The image of the ambassador “inside of a slatted cage; iron bars moving like snakes” (242) indicates the limiting, fettering nature of capitalist consumerism, enslaving the consumer wile presenting the illusion of choice, the illusion of free will. Behind it is the ambassador itself, “a monstrous form… a hyena’s head staring… tongue lolling. Breasts with gnashing teeth. Hooves and claws” (ibid.). This malformed and animalistic thing symbolizes the thanatotic hunger, the insatiable appetite, latent behind the façade of enlightened self-interest Miéville sees capitalism as proffering. Ultimately, of course, this creature is not happy with its predicament, never sated: it speaks in screams (ibid.). It should also be noted that Hell is apparently ruled by a Czar (ibid.), a more direct indication of the dæmon’s, and Miéville’s, politics. The Hellkin’s self-professed liberalism (244) functions similarly.

Later, in the same chapter, we get the Mayor’s commentary on the ambassador’s psyche, in contrast with the Weaver’s. While such bizarre protocols as the inverted word-game the ambassador forces the Mayor to participate in might imply an essentially alien mindset, Rudgutter suggests that: “I’m wondering if we were wrong in thinking of them having a different psychic model. Maybe they’re comprehensible. Maybe they think like us” (246). Later, in chapter twenty-eight, the Mayor reflects that “the Hellkin were appalling and awesome, monstrous powers for which Rudgutter had the most profound respect. And yet… he understood them. Tortured and torturing, calculating and capricious. Shrewd. Comprehensible. They were political” (286-87). The Mayor’s ruminations tell us as much about his own psychology as the dæmon’s. If we equate the ambassador with capitalist ideology then this passage can be read as a Marxist critique. It suggests that capitalism operates, essentially, on a sadistic basis: on the level of predator versus prey, the hunter and the hunted, depending on pain and fear and idiot hunger – a monster with a hyena’s head.

Works Cited

Miéville, China.  Perdido Street Station.  New York: Random House, 2000.