Chapter 1 (Part 1)
Spasm is the 1990s
A decade that stretches before us like a shimmering uncertainty field in quantum physics: its politics intensely violent, yet strangely tranquil; its culture conspiracy-driven, yet perfectly transparent; its media seductive, yet always nauseous; its population oscillating between utter fascination and deep boredom; its overall mood retro-fascist, yet smarmingly sentimental.
Spasm is a book about virtual reality, android music, and electric flesh. Refusing to stand outside virtual reality (which is impossible anyway), this is a virtual book, half text/half music. A floating theory that puts in writing virtual reality's moment of flux as that point where technology acquires organicity where digital reality actually comes alive, begins to speak, dream, conspire, and seduce. Here, virtual reality finally speaks for itself through a series of stories about a floating world of digital reality: floating tongues, noses, sex, skin, ears, and smells.
Spasm, therefore, as a theory of virtual reality: its mood (vague), its dark, prophetic outriders (three android processors: a sampler musician, a recombinant photographer, and a suicide machine performer), its ideology (the fusion of biology and mathematics as the command language of recombinant culture), and its cultural horizon ("scenes from recombinant culture"). Implicit to Spasm is its attempt to articulate a critical cultural strategy for travels in VR: a strategy of double irony, involving ironic immersion (in the real world of data) and critical distancing (from the power blast of the information economy). Consequently, Spasm is a virtual theory of those organs without bodies that come to dominate the electronic landscape of digital culture.
Spasm: The Vague Generation
There are no longer any necessary connections between culture and politics; it is now possible to be culturally hip, yet politically reactionary. Lifestyle has fled its basis in the domain of personal ethics, becoming an empty floating sign-object - a cynical commodity - m the mediascape. Consequently, the persistent question asked by the newly subscribed members of what Michael Boyce has named the vague generation: "How did you get your lifestyle?" The vague generation can be so sharply analytical in their diagnosis of the growing epidemic of conspiracy theories because their mood runs to the charmed atmosphere of floating reality: floating conspiracies, floating bodies, floating moods, floating conversations, floating ethics. But then, maybe we are all members now of the "vague generation" riving under the fatal sign of double irony: floating between reality which is equivocal because our bodies are being dumped in the electronic trashbin, and our attempts at withdrawal which are always doomed because technique is us. Virtual reality is about organs without bodies.
Or as Clinton, the perfect hologram of the manic-buoyancy phase of the American mind, said recently:
This is an expressive land that produced CNN and MTV. We were all born for the information age. This is a jazzy nation, thank goodness for my sake, that created be-bop and hip-hop and all those over things. We are wired for real time.
-The New York Times
But then, all conspiracy theories are true. But for those who refuse to kneel to the rising sun of liberal fascism, who refuse to assent unequivocally to the vision of technology as freedom, not degeneration, another hypothesis might be suggested. The electronic cage is that point where technology comes alive, acquires organicity, and takes possession of us. Not a seductive experience, but an indifferent one flipping between the poles of narcissism and cruelty. Not a cold world, but one that is heated up and fatally energized by the old male dream of escaping the vicissitudes of the body for virtual experience. And "wired for real time?" That's virtual reality, the ideology of which could be triumphantly described by Marvin Minsky of MIT's MultiMedia Research Lab as the production of cyber-bodies with the soft matter of the brains scooped out, and skulls hard-wired to an indefinite flow of telemetry.
Heidegger was wrong. Technology is not something restless, dynamic and ever-expanding, but just the opposite. The will to technology equals the will to virtuality. And the will to virtuality is about the recline of western civilization: a great shutting-down of experience, with a veneer of technological dynamism over an inner reality of inertia, exhaustion, and disappearances, and where things are only experienced in the "real time" of recycled second, third, and fourth-order simulations. And everyone has got into the act. Even that Berlin fireman who was caught recently videotaping, instead of fighting, a 4-alarm blaze for Germany's Reality TV.