GABBLER RECOMMENDS: “‘Westworld’ Season 3 Finale Recap: Choosing Beauty” by Scott Tobias

“The end of David Fincher’s 1999 provocation “Fight Club” and the end of this week’s Season 3 finale of “Westworld” are essentially the same moment, one mapped onto the other like a Dolores pearl dropped into another host’s body. After a revolution deliberately premised on bringing anarchy to a well-ordered, antiseptic world, a man and a woman can only watch helplessly as the bombs detonate in high rises and chaos engulfs the city.

In an up-and-down season where “Westworld” never quite found itself — and seemed to stop looking — Engerraund Serac’s scheme was the one consistent bit of intrigue because his intentions always complicated his villainy. He did all the terrible, manipulative things that villains are supposed to do, right up to a torture scene with Dolores that recalls the ever-so-slow laser beam in “Goldfinger.” And yet there’s no mustache-twirling malice to any of his decisions, even when he’s taking a life. Serac and his brother saw the apocalypse coming and took the necessary steps to keep it from happening — or at least to keep it from happening as soon as it projected. If that meant eliminating free will and the occasional troublemaker, then so be it.

 

One of the paradoxes of the season is that Dolores intended to free the human world, not destroy it, but there may be no actual difference between the two. The thin shred of hope is that anomalies like Caleb will lead mankind to the anomalous destiny of survival, but those final shots are not optimistic. “Change is messy, difficult,” Dolores tells Caleb as they sidle through violent street clashes, but she never seems to be looking ahead to where that change might lead. That’s the privilege of being an immortal android: The planet doesn’t have to be inhabitable for her to inhabit it, so it costs her nothing to roll the dice for humanity. Serac may have been a snooty trillionaire, but he knew the stakes.”

 

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘We’re on the Brink of Cyberpunk’ by KELSEY D. ATHERTON

The 2020s are, in a real, tangible sense, the conclusion of The Long 1980s. Writing in the 1980s, foundational cyberpunk authors were watching as leaders on both sides of the Atlantic pursued a set of political reforms collectively known as neoliberalism. Prioritizing competition in the market above all else, these reforms were fundamentally a political project, aimed at shrinking the public sphere and undoing many of the commitments to social welfare that had been made in the wake of the chaos, upheaval, and deprivation of the first half of the 20th century. The neoliberal turn was a project of unmaking the state for individuals and communities and remaking it for capital.

Cyberpunk conjured a world at this end state of neoliberal reorganization. Islands in the Net features drone warfare launched against data havens at the behest of corporations. In Blade Runner, the profit considerations of multinational companies determine worker personhood. There is more than a little of the Tyrell Corporation’s prudent life expectancy design in how Amazon responds to worker protest over a lack of personal protective equipment. Today, cyberpunk’s anticipated neoliberal end state is nothing more fanciful than life as we know it.

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘What Ever Happened to Steampunk?’ by John Brownlee

‘“The elements of steampunk are all about exposing the inner workings of technology,” explains Jake von Slatt, proprietor of the Steampunk Workshop and perhaps the best known of the steampunk designers. “It’s about using design to make the working of technology scrutable through an object’s aesthetic. So many of the objects in today’s world are black boxes, and what happens inside them is totally invisible. So steampunk was all about revealing those inner workings, and empowering people to understand technology again, even if it was only fictitiously.”

In other words, steampunk is a bit of a power fantasy: not of the technologist, but of the maker, the tinkerer, the engineer. The guys who can rebuild an engine from scratch, but who are as powerless to fix the iPhone that they just dropped in the toilet as the rest of us.

The crunchy emo Victorian aesthetic of steampunk also worked against it, argues Beschizza. “The specificity of its look — it was often kitsch and self-referential — limited steampunk’s appeal to people with less esoteric interests,” he says. “And the younger generations of geeky, imaginative, expressive folk coming online in the 2010s interrogate culture more aggressively than earlier generations ever did. Steampunk had to contend with the historical truth of its own ironies, its fetishistic relationship to an age of imperialism, colonialism, and sexual and racial inequality. Like Lovecraft, it didn’t really come out the other side of that interrogation — we absorbed what was good and moved on to new old things.”

And what was good? Divorced of their gear-cog trappings, the best parts of steampunk live on as a wide-scale design and political movement known as Right to Repair. This movement, which is picking up steam among state legislatures (and vehemently opposed by major tech companies like Apple), is ostensibly about combating forced obsolescence and breaking the modern consumer electronic upgrade cycle, through legislation that forces companies to make their products repairable by the end user. In other words, it’s about empowerment and transparency: the right to understand the technology you depend upon.’

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“Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.”

artwork of girl with keyboard feline on her head - imagery for circo del herrero blog “The last beachheads of uniqueness have been polluted if not turned into amusement parks–language tool use, social behaviour, mental events, nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal. And many people no longer feel the need for such a separation; indeed, many branches of feminist culture affirm the pleasure of connection of human and other living creatures. Movements for animal rights are not irrational denials of human uniqueness; they are a clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture. Biology and evolutionary theory over the last two centuries have simultaneously produced modern organisms as objects of knowledge and reduced the line between humans and animals to a faint trace re-etched in ideological struggle or professional disputes between life and social science. Within this framework, teaching modern Christian creationism should be fought as a form of child abuse.

The second leaky distinction is between animal-human (organism) and machine. Pre-cybernetic machines could be haunted; there was always the spectre of the ghost in the machine. This dualism structured the dialogue between materialism and idealism that was settled by a dialectical progeny, called spirit or history, according to taste. But basically machines were not self-moving, self-designing, autonomous. They could not achieve man’s dream, only mock it. They were not man, an author to himself, but only a caricature of that masculinist reproductive dream. To think they were otherwise was paranoid. Now we are not so sure. Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and art)ficial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.

Cyborg writing must not be about the Fall, the imagination of a once-upon-a-time wholeness before language, before writing, before Man. Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.

The tools are often stories, retold stories, versions that reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities. In retelling origin stories, cyborg authors subvert the central myths of origin of Western culture. We have all been colonized by those origin myths, with their longing for fulfilment in apocalypse. The phallogocentrie origin stories most crucial for feminist cyborgs are built into the literal technologies – teehnologies that write the world, biotechnology and microelectronics – that have recently textualized our bodies as code problems on the grid of C3I. Feminist cyborg stories have the task of recoding communication and intelligence to subvert command and control.

Cyborg imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”

 

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GABBLER RECOMMENDS: Netflix’s Altered Carbon

What people are saying:

Morgan traces the genesis of Altered Carbon to an argument he had with a Buddhist at a party. “We got talking about karma and the idea that if you’re suffering in this life it’s because in a previous life you did something shitty. I’ve got a lot of time for Buddhism. Among the predominant faiths, it’s the one that’s the least full of bullshit. But I pressed him: ‘So I’m suffering and I can’t remember what I did to earn this suffering? That’s not right, is it, because I’m not that person?’ And he said: ‘It’s the same soul.’ I said: ‘It doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is whether you, as an experiential being, remember it. Otherwise I’m being punished and I don’t know why. That’s the height of injustice.’”

The everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach also extends to the show’s dizzyingly convoluted mystery plot, though critic Beth Elderkin points out that the show is actually easier to follow than its source material, the novel Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. “If you can believe it, some character stories were combined into single characters,” she says. “So it’s even more convoluted when you’re reading it in the book.”

But the show certainly has its defenders. As a science fiction author himself, Daniel H. Wilson found the show’s excesses oddly encouraging.

“It gives me hope,” he says, “because all the science fiction I write has too much stuff going on, too much exposition. So I hope this does well, because it gives me hope that you can create a really complex world and tell a cool story and get away with it.”

As a bleak dystopia, “Altered Carbon” cops flak for being a lesser “Blade Runner”. But on the diversity front, Lachman thinks “Altered Carbon” is superior.

“In ‘Blade Runner’, there’s sanskrit and Japanese and Chinese writing on all the buttons and everything, and not one person who looked like they could read it.”