Science Fiction and the Cultural Logic of Early Post Postmodernism
”We live science fiction.”
— Marshall McLuhan
“Thus, instead of belonging to ‘the tiny genre of feminist science fiction films’ (as Dave Kehr of the New York Times so dismissively and condescendingly put it), [Lynn Hershman Leeson’s film] Teknolust is actually part of a rich tradition of feminist works on technology and the body.”
— Marsha Kinder
The quintessential and most highly publicized post postmodern occurrence took place on September 21, 2005 when malfunctioning nose gear caused a JetBlue plane to circle Los Angeles for three hours before landing safely.1 According to the New York Times, the plane’s passengers watched the drama unfold on cable news, thanks to television monitors in their seatbacks. Although the screens were turned off shortly before landing, passengers were, eerily, viewers of their own potential tragedy. What would Marshall McLuhan say?” (“Reality” 2). McLuhan might say that the Global Village includes the stratosphere: both airborne and the earthbound viewers enjoyed equal access to the same “hot media” cable anchor data-filled commentary. “The medium is the message” is most applicable to the JetBlue incident in terms of post postmodernism, however. As McLuhan explains, the “effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinion or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance” (1965: 18). The JetBlue passengers’ altered sense ratio, not the content of the cable broadcast which appeared on seatback screens, provided the most noteworthy cultural aspect of the incident. Air travelers always know that mechanical failure can endanger them. People on the Jetblue flight, experiencing no mundane event, received messages about their situation while interacting with a new medium: real time in-flight television broadcasts. They became one with Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise crew members who routinely watch their multitudinous impending demises on the Bridge viewing screen.
So much for what McLuhan might say. I say that McLuhan provides a basis for my claim that the JetBlue incident, an event made possible by new electronic media capability enabling a former science fiction scenario to become real, epitomizes post postmodernism. Post postmodernism involves the hitherto science fictional impact of technology, especially electronic media, on society and culture. This social manifestation occurs when what was once science fictional comprises the very definition of reality. McLuhan gives us postmodern analyses of printed words, telephones, cameras, and televisions as discrete entities. Paul Levinson, in Cellphone: The Story of The World’s Most Mobile Medium and How It Has Transformed Everything!, gives us a post postmodern analysis of how the cellphone, a former Star Trek accoutrement, combines printed words, telephones, cameras, and televisions. The newly transformed medium conveys a new message: post modernism has given way to post postmodernism; or, technological innovation causes what was once comfortably defined as science fiction suddenly to become real.
First, I explore the relationship between literary theory and my understanding of post postmodernism by exploring how theorists of postmodernism represented science fiction. Then, I provide examples of the cultural logic of how post postmodernism manifests itself in politics and art. In terms of politics, I position George W. Bush and his handlers as being analogous to malevolent science fiction writers who purposely cause science fiction to go awry; they adversely impact reality by situating science fiction outside fiction’s demarcated boundaries. In terms of art, I conclude that Lynn Hershman Leeson,2 an artist and film maker who places feminist science fiction at the heart of her work, is the post postmodern artistic practitioner par excellence.
1. Theory: Robert Scholes, Explainer of the Need to Avoid Being Painted Into a “Cul-de-sac”
My understanding of post postmodernism supports Carl Freedman’s claim that there are overlaps between critical theory and science fiction and that science fiction is one of the most theoretically informed areas for literary study. Other theorists of postmodernism, however, have failed to give science fiction its due. Yes, Brian McHale, in Postmodern Fiction, did bring science fiction to bear upon his understanding of postmodernism: “Science fiction… is to postmodernism what detective fiction was to modernism: it is the ontological genre par excellence (as the detective story is the epistemological genre par excellence)” (16). McHale is also helpful in distinguishing between postmodernism and post postmodernism. He states that postmodern writers have “absorbed” or “borrowed” motifs and topoi from science fiction (65); I explain that post postmodern literature depends upon technology which once was only actualized within science fiction literature’s pages. For McHale, postmodernism emphasizes “social and institutional innovations” rather than “technological innovations” (66). Post postmodernism, in contrast, cannot exist independently of technological innovations.
Roger Luckhurst, in his article “Border Policing: Postmodernism and Science Fiction,” shows how McHale’s appreciation of science fiction was insufficient. Luckhurst describes how postmodern theory impacts upon science fiction critics who are fated to be “ensnared” as they negotiate the boundaries between the “mainstream” and the “ghetto” in literature: “McHale’s theory of postmodernism does not place the effacement of the high/low distinction at the center of his thesis, but it remains a haunting presence” (Luckhurst xx). The ghost of marginalization Luckhurst points to prevents science fiction from once and for all penetrating the wall separating high and low. Theorists of postmodernism, while they did not exclude science fiction, ultimately failed to respect it. Luckhurst calls upon Fred Pfeil to support this contention: “SF may have gained a new visibility outside its own coterie in the discourse of postmodernist theory, but the old distrust, the old embarrassment of being associated with the genre still has its traces in these critical texts” (Pfeil 1990). What I have called “textism”3 haunts postmodern theorists’ attitudes toward science fiction. Textism, the old “distrust” and “embarrassment” which manifests itself when postmodern theorists mention science fiction, evokes vintage television advertising language which to my ear equates science fiction with the need for deodorant and “the heartbreak of psoriasis.”
Luckhurst wants to maintain the separation between “mainstream” literature and the science fiction “ghetto”: “The movement has traditionally been to find an entry for SF in the mainstream, a move which of its nature leaves the mainstream intact and necessitates the distortion of SF texts. But it is not a question of evacuating sites. The specificity of SF, its forms, temporality, and modes of enunciation, must be retained in order to say anything meaningful about it. Its generic status cannot be evaded” (365). Luckhurst does not allow for change. The old “ghetto”/”mainstream” distinction trap which “ensnared” science fiction critics is still set with open steel jaws ready to snap. My understanding of post postmodernism finally opens the trap. Technological innovation resituates science fiction as the mainstream, a move which impacts upon the mainstream and does not distort the fundamental essence of science fiction texts. The submarine Jules Verne described in his science fictional undersea world is not compromised when television viewers watch The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and see a real oceanographer boldly going twenty thousand leagues under the sea.
Clones were once absolutely science fictional. When Dolly the sheep appeared, the essence of definition of the word clone was not distorted; a clone had simply been made newly real. A clone is a clone is a clone — whether it is described by Ursula Le Guin or Pamela Sargent, or whether it bleats in a real barnyard. Dolly does not evade the generic status of science fiction. Rather, she exemplifies how seamlessly the formerly science fictional eases its way into reality. Science fiction is quite simply taking over reality. All who can access technological innovation now inhabit the old science fiction ghetto which has become the new mainstream. This new reality, a “super genre” (Eric S. Rabkin’s term), includes these subgenres: the old reality, generic science fiction, and elements of generic science fiction which — while at once retaining and transcending their original definition — have become real. Post postmodernism springs fully formed from this super genre.
The cellphone exemplifies the simultaneous transcendence and retention I describe. The cellphone/camera/internet portal is instantly recognized as being analogous to Captain James T. Kirk’s communicator. But when Kirk uses his communicator to ask Scotty to beam him up, he does expect it to enable him to take a picture or access the internet. The formerly science fictional cellphone, then, is a copy of something which never existed in science fiction narrative. The existence of a copy without an original evokes Baudrillard’s ideas.
In “Simulacra and Science Fiction” Baudrillard states that “the ‘good old’ SF imagination is dead, and that something else is beginning to emerge (and not only in fiction, but also in theory). Both traditional SF and theory are destined to the same fate: flux and imprecision are putting an end to them as specific genres” (1991a: 309). The something else that is beginning to emerge from the death of the good old science fiction reality is the inception of the reality super genre I describe. Good old science fiction is now one of the new reality’s tripartite subgenre components. Like science fiction and reality, theory is also in flux. Robert Scholes, at the 2004 Modern Language Association Meeting, stated in his Presidential Address that theory has painted itself into a cul-de-sac and the profession needs to find a new direction: “[T]heory… took a wrong turn and ended in a cul-de-sac… When you get in a cul-de-sac, the only thing to do is to go back until you find the right way and continue from there…. Over the years, I have found students eager to learn how language works, how texts work, and how culture works. These are the matters that we have to study and teach” (Scholes 2005: 732). These are the matters which post postmodern theory informed by science fiction can teach. One way to point toward the necessary new direction outside the “cul-de-sac” Scholes describes is to ask cultural theorists to direct their attention to the ever more rapidly emerging “something else” which constitutes the new reality super genre. Once upon a time (circa a decade ago), due to the textist “distrust” and “embarrassment” Pfeil mentions, theorists of postmodernism held their noses when they placed science fiction within their arguments. Currently, theorists of post postmodernism defined as I see it must roll out a red carpet for science fiction. The new super genre real, after all, is the par excellence “space for ideal or critical projection” (1991a: 309).
Baudrillard states that it is necessary “to reinvent the real as fiction, precisely because the real has disappeared from our lives” (1991a: 311). The real is newly reinvented in terms of science fiction’s role as a subgenre in the super genre which now constitutes the real. The super genre real incorporates “SF which is no longer SF… In point of fact, SF of this sort [the hyper reality which Baudrillard says replaces fiction and reality in Ballard’s Crash] is no longer an elsewhere, it is an everywhere” (1991a: 312). In point of fact, Baudrillard articulates a version of my view that the specific theory which denigrates science fiction by defining it as a lowly everywhere is presently nowhere, a dystopian endeavor.
Theorists ignore McLuhan’s (1964) observation that “[w]e live science fiction” at their own risk. Baudrillard, when he addresses a vision of machines and languages, takes note of McLuhan: “From Marx to McLuhan, one sees the same instrumentalist vision of machines and of language: relays, extensions, media-mediators of a Nature destined ideally to become the organic body. In this ‘rational’ view, the body itself is only a medium” (Baudrillard 1991b: 313). When science fiction becomes reality, the body literally becomes a medium which no longer communicates its original biological message. Face transplant, as the film Faceoff reveals so well, was the stuff of science fiction. No longer. In November 2005 the first successful face transplant operation was performed in France in a manner which at once resembles and differs from the scenario Faceoff depicts. The real face transplant recipient, whose new face differs from both her original face and her donor’s face, has become a copy of an original which never existed. Her body has become a new medium for a new post postmodern message.
Both Baudrillard’s “Simulation and Science Fiction” and the new bio-medical face transplant capability are applicable to Eugene Thacker’s essay “The Science Fiction of Technoscience: The Politics of Simulation and a Challenge for New Media Art.” Thacker’s questions pertain to science fiction’s place in post postmodern reality and theory: “In a domain in which the science-fictional future of bio-technology has always already arrived, what functions does or can science fiction have?… [I]f science fiction can no longer play its traditional role of imagining a future (because technological advance has already virtualized the future for us), what happens to science fiction in the scene of simulation?” (Thacker 156f). Since the science fictional future has become the post postmodern present, and this present is a scene of simulation, Carl Freedman’s aforementioned call for the centrality of science fiction in relation to theory is becoming ever more crucial. Science fiction must be placed at the core of theoretical endeavor, a move which would enable theorists to escape from the cul-de-sac Scholes so eloquently describes. To the theorists of post modernism who held their noses when including science fiction I say this: you must act otherwise in the face of post postmodern reality, the bio-technical reality which enables a face transplant recipient to receive a nose that is not her own.
Thacker concurs with Freedman’s emphasis upon the importance of science fiction to theory: “science fiction can serve a critical function, and it can do this by creating mobile zones whose primary intention is to comment upon, and intervene in, the ‘history of the present’… The challenge put forth to new media art and net.art is thus to take up this critical function of science fiction and re-insert it back into the discourse of contemporary technoscience” (Thacker 158). The contemporary technoscience which is no longer science fictional places science fiction at the forefront of theory. Science fiction, as my discussion of Hershman Leeson will indicate, is integral to contemporary artistic production. Her work exemplifies Thacker’s point that “[w]hereas literary science fiction was limited to describing technologies in extrapolative, near-future scenarios, new media and net.art contain the capacity to actually embody and utilize these ‘future technologies’ in radically new ways… [S]uch projects are science fiction in as much as they utilize the strategies of science fiction to ask important questions concerning the future of the human-machine relationship” (158). Science fiction is integral to theories of the post postmodern; post postmodern art is derived from science fiction.
2. Politics: George W. Bush and His Handlers, Science Fiction Super Stars
Senator Barbara Boxer, former National Security Chief Richard A. Clarke, and indicted miscreant Scooter Libby have published novels. The make-believe presented in Boxer’s A Time to Run, Clarke’s The Scorpion’s Gate, and Libby’s The Apprentice remains safely ensconced between the novels’ pages. Boxer, Clarke, and Libby do not lie to the American people by claiming that their fictions are mirror images of reality. Even Nixon’s lies were reality based; he lied about a break-in which did in fact occur. Clinton lied about a real close encounter. No one died as a result of Watergate and Monica. This is not to say that presidential lies have never caused death. The bombing of North Viet Nam War began as a result of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (1964). The Incident involved lying about attacks against American destroyers. Although the attacks never took place, it is within the realm of possibility that they could have occurred since American destroyers were, in truth, located in the Gulf of Tonkin. Weapons of mass nuclear destruction were not in the hands of Sadam Hussein’s regime when the Bush administration said otherwise. It is impossible for a regime which does not possess nuclear weapons to cause mushroom clouds to appear over the United States. The Bush administration’s lies differ from past presidential lies in that they generically exist outside “the reality based community”; Bush administration lies are unreal narratives which alter and become reality. The history of early twenty-first century America (such as the war in Iraq) is based upon lies involving technology and the nature of what is real. It is based upon post postmodern fictions.
The Bush administration’s lies are audacious to the extent that the Hollywood community, not the Washington community, is best equipped to recognize them. Hollywood people “flourish in a world of make-believe… They were willing to accept… that the president’s story about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was too richly timed… and they understood that once a storyteller began to tinker with facts, there was no end to the scenarios he might invent that he might dubiously claim to be ‘based on a true story.’ Hollywood was so out of touch with what seemed like reality that it was, in fact, entirely in touch with what the new political ethos of Washington, where facts are elasticized in pursuit of box-office approbation” (Bai 24). The Hollywood community is equipped to recognize that the Bush administration — in the manner of Boxer, Clarke, and Libby — creates fiction. But while the fictions Boxer, Clarke, and Libby author are safely confined between book covers, Bush administration fictions are designed to break out from within the category fiction to become and influence reality. When he appeared with Tony Kushner to discuss the relationship between art and historical truth, E.L. Doctorow said that “[o]ur justification [for including real historical events and figures in fiction] is that people know we’re liars… The kind of genre-blurring done by the president of the United States is quite different. He is a storyteller, a fabulist, and presents as truth and facts stuff that is totally fictive” (Liptak B7, 13). Robert Scholes would call Bush’s discourse “fabulation.” The Iraq conflict is America’s first post postmodern war, the first war to be justified in terms of fabulation about the existence of technology which, in truth, does not exist within a specifically designated country.
Frank Rich evokes McLuhan when he emphasizes that the Bush administration rationale for war is based upon fiction: “The medium is the message. This administration just loves to beguile us with a rollicking good story, truth be damned. The propagandistic fable exposed by the leak case — the apocalyptic imminence of Saddam’s mushroom clouds — was only the first of its genre… Our troops and their families have too often made the ultimate sacrifice for the official fictions that have corrupted every stage of this war” (2005a: 12). Rich makes it clear in no uncertain terms that President Bush is a fiction writer as surely as Boxer, Clarke, and Libby are fiction writers. Who except Hollywood would have thunk it: the presidential medium, the revered bully pulpit, articulated a lying message. Rich goes on to make the case that President Bush articulates fictions presented in the guise of realities: “the White House had to cook up not only the fiction that Iraq was about to attack us, but also the fiction that Iraq had already attacked us, on 9/11… ‘We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons, and deadly gases,’ he [President Bush] said [in October 2002]. It was the most important, if hardly the only, example of repeated semantic sleights of hand that the administration used to conflate 9/11 with Iraq” (2005b: 12). “Bomb-making, and poisons, and deadly gases, and mushroom clouds oh my,” said the American people as they heard Bush the great and powerful wizard spin his sleight of hand stories.
Even though Republican conservatives have indeed caused something to be the matter with Kansas, we are not in Kansas anymore. The Bush administration’s lies, no innocuous fantasies, are science fictions which adversely impact reality. Lies about the specific existence of such technology-based entities as bombs and deadly gases come straight out of genre science fiction. In other words, consider this sentence: “there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” It as science fictional as the claim that bird flu is killing humans in the United States. (At the time of this writing, such is not the case.) Weapons of mass destruction do not exist in Iraq; no one in the United States has died from bird flu. The alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is as science fictional as Kurt Vonnegut’s protagonist Billy Pilgrim being housed in a zoo in the planet Tralfamadore. President Bush used a science fiction story about nonexistent technology to start a war. Doctorow calls Bush a fabulist; Scholes’ The Fabulators and Structural Fabulation, and my Feminist Fabulation, are about science fiction. I will carry this conversation about fabulation one step further: Bush and his handlers are the most influential science fiction writers of the twenty-first century. I nominate George W. Bush for the Science Fiction Writer’s Association Nebula Award which recognizes achievement in science fiction writing! One small step for stepping outside the “cul-de-sac.”
As I have done in other venues,4 I situate Bush’s discourse as being informed by science fiction tropes. I turn to Rich to explain why I make this claim. He stresses the fictitiousness of Bush’s verbiage: “The demons that keep rising up from the past to grab Mr. Bush are the fictional W.M.D. he wielded to take us into Iraq… ‘Mission Accomplished’ was fantasy… [T]he White House clings to its discredited fictions even though their expiration date is fast arriving” (Rich 2006: 15; italics mine). Bush’s fictions and fantasies belong to a specific science fiction subgenre: alternative history, a dramatic point of departure from real history. In reality, the W.M.D. are as fictional as the claim that the South won the Civil War. In reality, describing the Iraq War as “Mission Accomplished” is as fanciful as imagining that the Spanish Armada was successful. The imaginings of Bush and his handlers are analogous to those of Harry Turtledove (the best known and most popular science fiction alternative history author) or to H.G. Wells announcing that the Martians are coming, the Martians are coming. The Bush administration started the Iraq War by stating that, with Saddam Hussein’s supposed W.M.D., the mushroom clouds are coming, the mushroom clouds are coming. Hussein’s ability to generate mushroom clouds was as unreal as Eleanor Cameron’s classic The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. There are no Martians and mushroom planets; there are no W.M.D. in Iraq. Throughout the history of the genre, science fiction writers never purposefully blurred the boundary between their fiction and reality. The Bush administration crossed this boundary. They function as malevolent science fiction writers who cause science fiction to go awry, to escape the confines of the obviously fictitious and to adversely impact reality.
No one would assume that Richard Clarke’s novel about Baghdad in the year 2010 exactly represents reality. Much of the American public, with the exception of Hollywood film community members and weapons inspectors, assumed that Bush’s story about Iraq’s culpability regarding September 11, 2001 exactly represents reality. Richard Clarke’s 2010 addresses but does not reproduce Bush’s 2001. Richard Clark’s 2010 is clearly fiction; Bush’s 2001 has been revealed to be prevarication. It is a copy without an original. Bush and Richard Clarke produce fictions which belong to different genres: respective lies and a novel which is not intended to reproduce truth. Not so for the literary genre affinity Bush shares with another writer surnamed Clarke. In addition to Turtledove, Bush is a generic compatriot of the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The Hollywoodesque shock and awe spectacle Bush unleashed in the Baghdad sky exemplifies the aforementioned instance “where facts are elasticized in pursuit of box-office approbation” (Bai 21). The spectacle is also a post postmodern version of Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. George W. Bush outdid Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction writers blatantly announce themselves as story tellers. Bush and his handlers, in contrast to science fiction writers, are liars. Bush is a post postmodern disgrace.
3. Art: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Post Postmodern Artist Par Excellence
I turn from the Bush administration operatives who author destructive science fiction about technology to post postmodern artists whose creations depend upon formerly science fictional technology. The ethnic Mongolian novelist He Xingnian is one such artist in that his Outside the Fortress Besieged is China’s first novel to be made into a film transmitted to cellphone subscribers in short installments. Outside is a post postmodern message made possible by a new technology medium.5 While He’s work provides a good example of post postmodern fiction, it is the American artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s pioneering feminist contributions in the use of interactive and video technology which best epitomizes post postmodern art.
Hershman Leeson feels that because her ideas have been ahead of their time “her contributions to Conceptual and video art have been under recognized or misunderstood” (Golonu 27). The reason for this response: the still maligned feminist science fiction genre forms the crux of her work. Textism oozes out from the reviews of her feminist science fiction films. Dave Kehr says that Teknolust ”has a lot on its mind but little on the ball when it comes to transforming thematic notions into dramatic concepts… (Kehr E13). According to Steven Holden, Conceiving Ada is replete with an “overall air of woodenness and shrill didacticism. Ada [Byron King, Lord Byron’s mathematically talented daughter] is painted as a feminist martyr whose work, just like Emmy’s [Emily Coer, a fictitious contemporary computer “wiz”], is threatened with co-optation by an envious and less intelligent male collaborator” (Holden E11).
How many times have feminists been called “shrill”? How many science fiction works replete with staggeringly brilliant ideas have been faulted for being “much better at throwing out ideas than at telling a story or at creating compelling characters” (Holden E11)? Enough already. The reviews fail to recognize that Hershman Leeson’s art is so provocative precisely because it is grounded in, and actualizes, feminist science fiction. As she explains, “I’m always trying to do something that doesn’t exist yet… Anyone can have a sci-fi imagination and daydream about what is possible, but not everyone has the doggedness and determination to make it happen” (Finkel 35). Hershman Leeson uses new technology to make feminist science fiction happen in the real world. Her alleged “minor addition[s] to the tiny genre of feminist science fiction films” (Kehr E13) picture her major contribution to post postmodernism for the world to see. This digital media artist — whose work explores such questions as “Does a robot have its own personality? [and] Does a clone have its own identity?” (Finkel 35) — is the post postmodern feminist science fiction artist par excellence.
Her work presents feminist revelations about women’s relationship to technology. For example, “TV Legs” (from Phantom Limb series, 1986) depicts a cyborgian juxtaposition of woman’s body and television set in which high heeled female legs are suspended from a television screen broadcasting the upper mouthless portion of a female face. What would McLuhan say? Hershman Leeson’s answer: she depicts women’s body as the medium for the patriarchal message. The Phantom Limb series is a precursor to her later cyborg woman, her feminist signifying female robots (such as DiNA — 2004 — “an artificially intelligent bot running for the office of telepresident” who is “able to process Internet content in real time, allowing her to respond to current events as they are unfolding throughout the world” — Hershman 2005a: 211). DiNA, who exerts real agency in the world, is certainly an improvement over the subservient cybernetic female entertainer William Gibson imagines in Idoru. Through what she calls her “synthetic female agents” (such as DiNA), Hershman Leeson, one of the first female artists to use technology to create post postmodern feminist science fiction art, updates McLuhan: “In her eyes, we are all cyborgs… and it is up to us to decide whether this fusion will make us more robotic, or, perhaps, more poetic” (Slater 118). Her interactive fusions between women’s voices and bodies and technology produce feminist science fiction robots who are the mediums for post postmodern feminist poetics.
These post postmodern technological fusions counter Fredric Jameson’s conception of the relationship between technology and the cultural logic of late capitalism. Jameson wishes “to avoid the implication that technology is in any way the ‘ultimately determining instance’ either of our present-day social life or of our cultural production.” He continues: “Rather, I want to suggest that our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely, the whole world system of a present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating not so much in its own right but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp: the whole new de-centered global network of the third stage of capital itself” (37f). This view of technology smacks of sinister world system power grids replete with fault, distortion, and elitism, technological power and control beyond the confines of daily human interaction and interpretation. Hershman Leeson humanizes and makes accessible the whole de-centered global technological network which Jameson positions as power and ability beyond the purview of individual experience. She quite simply states that “[o]ur task is to make friends with them” (where “them” refers to the “newly formed digital technologies [that] will be autonomous and unpredictable, with minds of their own, just like the best of us corporeal beings” — Hershman 2005a: 212). While Jameson describes distancing people from technology and the power it commands, Hershman Leeson juxtaposes the political and technological with the mind and the body. She sees technology and the people involved in symbiotic relationships pertaining to identity enhancement, not dehumanizing power dynamics: “The political as well as the psychic states of what they [newly formed digital identities] represent and how they relate to who we are are urgent, compelling and inescapable” (ibid.). Feminist science fiction technology made real becomes Hershman Leeson’s medium to imbue Jameson’s message of technology and alienation with a friendly human — female — face. In other words, she turns the dark mechanizations of the military industrial complex Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld control into something analogous to Maureen Dowd’s female-centered articulations of their secret malevolence unmasked in the guise of “Vice” and “Rummy.”
Interaction forms the crux of Hershman Leeson’s recasting of alienated postmodern positioning of technology into a kinder gentler feminist post postmodern technology. Her synthetic female agents — such as the aforementioned DiNA, The Dolly Clones (1995-1998), and Agent Ruby (1991-2004) — place technology and identity in a mutually dependent relationship communicated by the female voice and the female gaze: “These works expand the possibilities of singular identity into a networked trajectory composed of flowing data that eats itself, cannibalizing in the process the information that mutates and is re-expressed in unpredictable ways. Individual interaction results in both immediate response as well as in re-patterned cultural demographics that reveal cultural patterns” (Hershman 2005a: 209). She positions data as a feminist self consuming artifact ingested as a result of interaction. While Jameson argues that technology ultimately does not determine social life or cultural production, Hershman Leeson reconfigures social demographics by allowing humans and machines to create new culture via socializing with each other. Her cultural logic of post postmodernism is about how to make friends with technology and influence people. Instead of separating people from technology, she enables people literally to become a part of technology. For example, The Dolly Clones: “By looking at the world through the eyes of the telerobotic dolls, viewers become not only voyeurs but also virtual cyborgs because they use the dolls’ eyes as vehicles for their own remote and extended vision” (ibid.). Viewers become living dolls who see the world anew via a female-centered technological lens feminist science fiction made real enables.
Hershman Leeson’s synthetic female agents all spring from a flesh and blood entity: the body and mind of Lynn Hershman Leeson herself: “The film version of Ruby [the computer bred clone cyborg in Teknolust] gave birth to a web portal… which gave birth to the DiNA robot… And, of course, Roberta, that early experiment in artificial intelligence and self-replication, could be considered the mother of them all” (Finkel 35). Feminist science fiction art imitates female life. Teknolust is about how a female biogeneticist uses her own DNA to create three computer-bred clones, of which Ruby is one; all of Hershman Leeson’s robots, such as the extended performance called Roberta Breitmore which Hershman Leeson enacted in 1972, emanate from her own body. (For example, Hershman Leeson explains that the interactive network installation CybeRoberta — 1995-1998) — “is a visual replica of Roberta Breitmore… Roberta’s clothing was precisely remade in miniature for CybeRoberta, and they have identical sunglasses and hair ornaments” (Hershman 2005b: 87).
It is as if Hershman Leeson, in terms of reproduction, articulates a resounding “no” to Maureen Dowd’s question which forms her book title Are Men Necessary? Mirroring the parthenogenesis which forms the procreation method of feminist separatist utopias (such as Suzy McKee Charnas’s Motherlines and James Tiptree Jr’s — aka Alice Sheldon — “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?), Hershman Leeson’s female art forms give birth to other female art forms purely on their own accord — and in terms of their own understanding of reproduction resulting from “teknolust.” She at once turns the onerous technological specter Jameson describes into every day experience and produces performance art, the simulated personality Roberta Breitmore, which literally emanates from what was her everyday experience: “Roberta was a personality at once artificial and real… On paper, she looked more real than Horsham Leeson herself, complete with psychiatric records ands a full credit history… At first, Hershman Leeson had been assuming the identity of Roberta Breitmore, dressing in a blonde wig, dark glasses… but later Roberta became a multiple played by several different women” (Golonu 27). Roberta Breitmore, the mother of all of Hershman Leeson’s post postmodern feminist science fiction art, is a Jewish “mother” replete with an appellation as immediately recognizably Jewish as Joan Rivers’ character Heidi Abromowitz. In contrast to Jameson’s rendition of sinister ‘informatics of domination,” Hershman Leeson’s technological self-consuming feminist artifacts are engendered by Roberta Breitmore, someone who would logically produce matzo balls as cultural productions. While role playing the part of Roberta, Hershman Leeson re-cast herself as a living version of Joanna Russ’s protagonist in The Female Man, Joanna, the fictitious version of Joanna Russ. In the manner of The Dolly Clones, Russ and Hershman Leeson are connected feminist science fiction sisters. They are Jewish feminist science fiction artists of the same generation who complain about what Portnoy’s Complaint epitomizes — the whole sexist imaginative world male artists create. In the early twenty-first century, Hershman Leeson enables reality to include the feminist science fiction characters Russ and her fellow mid twentieth century feminist science fiction writers could only imagine. Hershman Leeson’s art is the female man — the feminist science fiction appropriation of the cultural construction of late capitalism. What else can be said about Synthia Stock Ticker (2000-2002), one of Roberta Breitmore’s multiple offspring, an interactive networked installation who at once has a life of her own and responds to the real-time status of financial markets? Synthia consumes financial market information and turns it into the stuff of her own life. Synthia‘s particular female-centered cultural logic of late capitalism: “If the market goes up, she shops at Hermes or Dior” (Hershman 2005a: 211). Such is the female artistic essence of “Hershmanlandia,”6 a gate to women’s real formerly feminist science fictional brave new feminist technological country which springs from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland.
Agent Ruby, the aforementioned descendant of Roberta Breitmore, addresses the dynamic self-engendering characteristics of post postmodern feminist science fiction art: “Agent Ruby is Hershman’s most successful realization, since Roberta Breitmore, of an animated other (self). Already she breeds and grows. Eventually, she will learn enough to cross the threshold into fleshy reality and become almost human, as we have become almost cyborg” (Dietz 198). Agent Ruby, because the feminist science fiction at the foundation of her creation has become real, epitomizes the cultural logical of post postmodern feminist capitalism: Feminist science fiction technological art toys “R” us — and we are poised to become them. Lynn Hershman Leeson is the definitive articulator of the feminist post postmodern science fiction condition. Her work defines feminist post-postmodernism as using technology to re-vision the old, biological patriarchal gaze: the technological innovation which causes science fiction to become real enables feminist subjectivity — the I, feminist, no Stepford wife I, robot — artistically to fashion new feminist electronic eyes. New feminist electronic eyes are so many woman-made surveillance cameras which at once monitor and re-see patriarchal imperatives.
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1. Alexandra Jacobs, an editor at the New York Observer who was a passenger on the JetBlue flight, used the term “post-postmodern” when she described her ordeal to CNN’s Anderson Cooper : “We couldn’t believe the irony that we might be watching our own demise on television. It just seemed a bit post-postmodern, if you will.”
2. In her foreword to The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson Secret Agents, Private 1, Robin Held explains her references to the artist’s name. I follow the form Held explains. Held says, “I refer to the artist as Lynn Hershman Leeson throughout my essay, although visual art and film audiences might know her best as Lynn Hershman. She added “Leeson” to her name following her 1991 marriage to George Leeson, and this is how her film credits have subsequently appeared; however her art works are still often exhibited under the name Lynn Hershman (Held xviii).
3. I define “textism” as “a discriminatory evaluation system in which all literature relegated to a so-called subliterary genre, regardless of its individual merits, is automatically defined as inferior, separate, and unequal” (Barr 2004: 430).
4. See Marleen S. Barr , “Bush’s Missile Shield Is A Science Fiction Fantasy, Newsday, December 2, 2001; “American Science Fiction; or ‘What Happened to the Flying Cars?’: Science Fiction/Millennia/Culture, in Envisioning the Future; Science Fiction and the Next Millennium, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003, ix-xxi; and “Katrina Storms the Reality Studio: Seeing the Hurricane With a Science Fiction Eye,” Stanford University Committee on Black Performing Arts Black Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2006, 9, 13. For a discussion of my point about the analogy between Bush’s missile shield proposal and science fiction, see Eric Mason,”Remediating the Magic Kingdom: Notes Toward a Poetics of Technology,” Currents in Electronic Literacy, Fall 2004, 8, www.cwrl.utexas.edu/currents/fall04/mason.html.
5. See “Beijing’s First SMS Novel to Be Made into Film,” China Daily, September 9, 2004 www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-09/20/content_376042.htm. The article explains that He Xingnian’s work is “a 4,200-character, 60-chapter novel that has been sent out to cellphone subscribers in short installments.” In addition, the novel “is being made into a film that will also be transmitted to cellphones and on the Internet.”
6. The first comprehensive United States survey of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work, organized by the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, is called Hershmanlandia: The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson (November 5, 2005-February 5, 2006).