Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Through a Mirror Shade Darkly: The Subtle Sublime of Cyberpunk part 06

The element of the metaphysical in cyberpunk is an example of the literary sublime, not as “the powerful and cataclysmic aspects of physical nature” as Jack Voller writes, but as “at its heart, a tradition of spiritual inquiry, an aesthetically grounded quest to recovering intimations of the divine” (18). In “Snake Eyes”, Aleph has an aspect of the sublime to it, since it possessed “several thousand voices” (18) and “is constituted by an infinite regress of awarenesses…” (17). The snake as well is spoken of in transcendent language, relating to the sublime, for it “cannot be reached through language—it exists in a prelinguistic mode…” (23). In Bear’s “Petra”, the sublime is revealed when the canvases drop, and a “burst of light” which was “more than simple sunlight” throws the Cathedral’s smoky world into clarity, astounding “all who beheld them” (118-9).

As Jack Voller observes, the sublime nature of infinity is “relocated, interiorized, and manifested as cyberspace” in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Likewise in Snow Crash the Metaverse is an example of the sublime simply based on its massive size of “65,536 kilometers around”, but gains a spiritual sublimity in that it is also compared to the spiritual world (208).

For each of these examples, the words of Colonel William Hawley in James Patrick Kelly’s “Solstice” are true; “The more we dig, the more the mystery appears to deepen” (79). If the mystery is taken from the reader, then the mystery ceases to hold its attraction. In the matrix, the spiritual quest embodied in the sublime is made explicit, but the mysteries it seeks after retain their ambiguous nature. Every time a question is answered, another emerges. Neo’s ability to transform reality does not diminish the sublime nature of the matrix universe. Rather, if anything, it enlarges it.

Cyberpunk’s spiritual path is not an altruistic one. Not all cyberpunk contains spiritual imagery—it is not one of the defining features of cyberpunk. However, insofar as it does express a sense of transcendence, it is often encoded behind the movement’s penchant for anti-authoritarianism. Behind that veneer however, often exists a deep yearning for something beyond the seen, for sublime metaphysical possibilities.

Like the mirror shades that are the totem of the movement, what is reflected on the surface leads us to believe there is an absence of soul. However, in addition to giving a true picture of what is immediately before them, mirror shades also hide the eyes, the gateways to the soul, protecting the “sun staring visionary” (Sterling, ix), permitting them to look into the face of glory without coming away blind and in the dark.

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