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.

Catechism of the authentic human

What is one of the questions which most interests Philip K. Dick?
What constitutes the authentic human being?

How does Blade Runner address the issue of the authentic human?
Through the speculated existence of replicants and extrapolation therefrom.

What is the significance of the replicants?
The existence of artificial humans which are, on many levels, indistinguishable from real humans forces one to reassess their ideas about what a human is.

What is the Voight-Kampff machine?
Device which measures in an individual the degree of empathic response to carefully worded questions and statements in an individual.

According to the Voight-Kampff machine, what constitutes the authentic human being?
Feelings; emotions; empathy. An inauthentic human demonstrates measurably less compassion and empathetic concern.

Does this definition have precedents?
Early myth (autistic children were once considered the work of demons or faeries who stole the authentic children and replaced them with emotionless doppelgängers), monster stories (Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Beowulf), and 1950s science fiction films (The Thing from Another World, Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) all postulate that humans have feelings, while non-humans do not.

Why is this definition problematic?
It allows for replicants to be authentic humans and humans to be inauthentic humans: a direct contradiction of conventional thought. This is especially problematic since the definition’s purported purpose is to distinguish between humans and replicants.

What is an example of replicant shown to be authentic human?
Although initially only self interested, Roy Batty, on the brink of his own death, is able to genuinely empathize with Deckard.

Does Roy’s development have precedents?
Roy demonstrates empathy at the end of his four year life. Human children develop a “theory of mind“, the neurological foundation of empathy, around four years of age. Maturity from inauthentic to authentic human can be considered a normal part of human development.

What is an example of human shown to be inauthentic human?
Philip K. Dick discovered diaries by SS men stationed in Poland. One sentence read, “We are kept awake at night by the cries of starving children.” According to Dick, “There is obviously something wrong with the man who wrote that. I later realized that … what we were essentially dealing with was … a mind so emotionally defective that the word ‘human’ could not be applied to them.”

Why does Deckard empathize with the replicants?
One or more of the following: he doubts his ability to distinguish them from humans; he doubts their distinction from humans; he recognizes their developing humanity; he doubts his own humanity; he himself is a replicant; he shares with them an alienation from his fellow humans; through studying and dispatching them he has come to understand them better than he does his fellow humans; Deckard does not empathize with the replicants.

What use, if not to identify replicants, is the Voight-Kampff definition of the authentic human?
To distinguish friendly from hostile. Frankenstein’s monster sought a place in society among humanity; Dracula sought only to prey on it. Frankenstein’s monster could have become an equal member of society, Dracula could only be a utilitarian tool of society—if he could be controlled—or an enemy, if he could not.

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:

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 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.

In Search of the Continuous Monument (or, the grid as speculative architecture)

In the late 1960’s, a group of radical Florentine architects by the name of Superstudio proposed to wrap the world in an endless grid – producing a series of fantastical renderings depicting a hulking, crystalline superstructure built over everyday environments.

Called The Continuous Monument, it put to question Modernist doctrines of the 20th century, acting as a hyperbole of the movement’s ahistorical aesthetic as well as its uptopic ambitions. Overlaying real landscapes, the Monument becomes one of disillusionment and acculturation, minimalism and functionality – simultaneously tracing the faults of Modernism while finding within it some ideological platform upon which Superstudio could further develop its own praxis of radically re-imagining architectural production.

In this spirit of critique and co-opting, I want to try and understand the Continuous Monument as a structure that crosses the boundaries of the world it was originally rendered in, and think of it instead as a structure traversing a range of other fictional landscapes. Assuming that through its own relentless fabrication it has in fact permeated ‘other worlds’ of popular fiction, how might we make sense of the Continuous Monument, what it means and how it works more broadly in considering the grid as a speculative architecture?


The grid is, above all, a conceptual speculation…in its indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality”  – Rem Koolhaas, Delerious New York

The grid is fundamentally a symbol of fabrication – an artificial structure that holds its own determinacy and potentiality. It can be thought of as denoting social convention and conservatism – The denizens of a given society (OneState, Diaspar, or Middle-Class North America for example) being ‘squares’ in a picnic-blanket grid of social strictures that expands into notions of the (social, political, electrical) power grid we are in reality both bound by and woefully dependent on. Living ‘off-grid’ then, implies the kind of transcendental lifestyle seen as both virtuously and threateningly subversive, encompassed by a range of figures from Thoreau to the Unibomber. In the quote above though, Koolhaas is referring specifically to the grid plan characteristic of modern cities. The structured, hierarchic system of blocks supersedes the natural landscape that lies beneath it, in a way that frames the grid as already unreal. The grid is set up as a kind of game-board on which the metropolis plays its own development. The city grid becomes the game-board of urbanism.

In an endless speculation of design action and user reaction, this imagined interplay frames the grid as a place of strategy and competition, in line with an array of parameters (economic, social, political etc.) that define the grid itself as a quintessential game space. This brings us to what is arguably the most iconic gridscape in recent science fiction:

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Tron’s light cycle arena enables something like an object-lesson on the dynamics of interaction in strategic situations – a hugely oversimplified, albeit relevant sketch of game theory. Simply put, the grid becomes a not only a mental construct, but a structure with innate theory and parameters as well – all visibly demarcated in its ruled and intersecting lines.

In this light, the grid takes on a more autonomous expression – as a thing or entity unto itself – coming to delineate meaning through its own geometrical language. This is another way of saying the grid becomes weirder. When juxtaposed with the banal and familiar, the grid seems auratic, even sentient, as is the case in the final scenes of 2001 A Space Odyssey:

The backlit grid is ideologically opposed to the surroundings it upholds; densely traditional neoclassical designs – the furnature, the paintings, the ornament etc. – become objectified and suspended as mere incidentals in a far more abstract and alien environment. Kubrick has the protagonist traverse the area as an astronaut, taking advantage of the suit’s visually and aurally hermetic perspective, while further adding to the sense of this place as being somehow outside or beyond comprehension. The grid essentially sets the room up as a frontier populated by the trappings of domesticity and tradition – a disruptive, incongruent depiction that works to interrogate and subvert ideas of convention and normality. The grid itself is the prototype for understanding the arbitrariness of the normal when juxtaposed upon a surface of total possibility.

This brings us to what is likely the most abstract manifestation of the grid – and one that was at first comprised a fictional environment before drifting into the banality of the (hyper)real: Cyberspace. Coined by William Gibson, and popularized in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, the word is now ubiquitous (probably to the point of cliché) as a synonym for the internet. the descriptions of it being a “consensual hallucination” of “disembodied consciousness”, Cyberspace to Gibson is structurally characterized by its now-infamous description as a “grid-space” or “matrix” full of “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colourless void” – outlining an abstract space as imagined through an iconography of the grid. Gibson goes so far as to evoke, in full circle, images of the urban grid in his conception the internet, colliding and equating the two geographies:

“Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”


Its funny the way that tangents work; while perhaps speaking more to the meanings of the grid in general, I think these extrapolations enable a re-conception of Superstudio’s provocative work as well, where the Continuous Monument can begin to be understood through associations of the grid in its many permutations, fictional and otherwise.

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.

Neuromancer and the City

Unreal City, /
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, /
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, /
I had not thought death had undone so many […]
(T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland)

The Unreal Life

Like the biological, eroticized bodies of Case and Molly, the claustrophobic, choking cities that surround them embody the paradox of simultaneous materiality/immateriality. All the detritus and garbage of humanity piles up and threatens to subsume the future landscapes that peep through Gibson’s world. All the while, digital technology allows the signification of something more sublime in its overlaying of beautifully abstracted maps of data-traffic over-top of the ugly and, by extension, the real.

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. (Gibson, p.43)

The disease and decay, mounting crime rate, and unmistakable nostalgia for times past (shurikens, in particular) all mark the corporeal, material cities of Neuromancer as dying. The unreal- the abstracted data being exchanged at the speed of light, gives the formerly dead a fresh pulse, breathing new life where there was none- an unreal life.

Escape Through the Unreal

Spiritual void. This is what all the technology junkies and cyberspace cowboys are trying so desperately to fill when they escape into the unreal. The body is only so much meat, to be treated with contempt and rebuilt when it fails to meet the tasks we set for it. While Case lives for the release that the Net provides, the readers live for the dystopian underpinnings of the cities that ground him in reality. Two things define the city as dystopian: ecocide and the sprawl of late-capitalism.

In Neuromancer, nature has been banished- too unwieldy, messy and random for future cities. Night City, Japan; the Sprawl, U.S.A.; and Freeside, all places of the entirely synthetic. Nature is gone, but the longing remains as the artificial ecology of Freeside demonstrates. Why? The city hurts your brain. ( It is telling that the humans who designed Freeside achieved the marvelous effect of being surrounded by a docile, flaccid, controlled nature that does absolutely nothing, according to contemporary neuroscientists and psychologists, for the brain in terms of calming it down from the sensory overload that is the city. Our brains need true, primal nature for its curative effects. This primal urge to return to the water and the trees of the past plays itself out in startling ways for Case. He finds himself for the first time in true nature, paradoxically, while flat-lining in the matrix:

There seemed to be a city, beyond the curve of beach, but it was far away. (Gibson, p. 233)

This is an unreal escape from the city. It is, for Case, most startlingly punctuated by the brand vacuum left by its de-corporatized space:

The sky was a different silver. Chiba. Like the Chiba sky. Tokyo Bay? He turned his head and stared out to sea, longing for the hologram logo of Fuji Electric, for the drone of a helicopter, anything at all. (Gibson, p.233)

The sprawl of Neuromancer is the sprawl of late-capitalism. The nightmare-future-dream, in which the bloated, monstrous, spider-bodies of the multinational corporations straddle the continents and sate themselves on the life-blood of the consumer, is terrifyingly realized. (Okay. Maybe this is a bit hyperbolic.) It is their brands that mark out the territory in these future-landscapes. And it is their brands that provide the stable points-of-reference/landmarks in a city wholly consumed by its own consumerism.

Gibson’s Neuromancer, as a collision point of reality and unreality, materiality and immateriality, and the natural and unnatural, provides a natural testing-grounds for our own near-future. The seeds of ecocide, late-capitalism, and the matrix/inter-network will play themselves out in our own technological playground of the 21st century. Is Gibson our very own noir-prophet? Or just another Toffler-futurist?

Works Cited:

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1986.