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nettime: Escape Velocity - An e-mail conversation with Mark Dery (#1)
Geert Lovink (by way of Pit Schultz <pit {AT} contrib.de>) on Thu, 28 Mar 96 00:16 MET


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nettime: Escape Velocity - An e-mail conversation with Mark Dery (#1)


Mark Dery, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (US:
Grove, February 1996; UK: Hodder & Stoughton, April, 1996).

An e-mail conversation with Mark Dery (the first round)
by Geert Lovink (february 1996)

GL: Do you think that the europhia around internet and multi-media will
be over soon? What kind of critique on new media will then come up? Is
the western frontier mentality in the US an endless source for desires,
dreams and projections or will we face a 'net recession', once people
wake up?

MD: The rhetoric of the technological sublime is the handmaiden, in
this country, of technological development because of a long history of
Puritan teleology, capitalist dogmas (of progress and unbounded
frontiers and inexhaustible resources), and a uniquely American faith
in the Deus Ex Machina of technology, considered as a Machine Age
deity. That thread, woven as it is through the woof and warp of the
American psyche, will doubtless be embroidered for some time to come by
laissez-faire futurists, New Age technophiles, and other millennial
carny barkers. At the same time, the rise of a two-tiered, _Blade
Runner_ society characterized by the criminalization of the poor, the
explosion of the carceral industry, the shredding of the social
contract, the widening of the gulf between the disenfranchised middle
class and a footloose and fancy-free technocratic elite who feel no
sense of social responsibility, safely bunkered in their walled,
surveilled, privatized suburban enclaves, dramatizes the ruinous logic
of the _Wired_ fantasy of better living through trickledown
info-capitalism. Somehow, the sweetness and light of cyberhype must be
reconciled with the deteriorating conditions of our material lives.

GL: The first impression I had, after reading your Escape Velocity a
comparison with Howard Rheingold's Virtual Community, which sold very
well and set a standard in the whole international discourse on the
rise of the Net. I say this because you do have a similar journalistic
touch.

MD: I am somewhat surprised by the Rheingold comparison.  While I'd be
delighted to have the financial success and cultural impact you suggest
he's had, I was slightly disconcerted by the juxtaposition, since while
I've always considered Rheingold to be a bright generalist, our writing
styles couldn't be more unlike.  He writes in a post-New Journalism,
tie-dyed style, while I aspire to a mordant, acid-etched, Ballardian
voice. I _am_ journalistic to the extent that I believe in tethering
my airier philosophizings to scene-setting details, narrative
development, and biographical fact (where necessary), but I'm
simultaneously cultural-critical in my abiding obsession with the
wiring of power just beneath the deck plates of cyberculture, and the
secret, semiotic stories we tell ourselves, as a society.  I'm
slouching, however ineptly, toward a polymathic, syncretic amalgam of
journalism, cultural criticism, subcultural sociology, cultural
anthropology, and philosophy anchored in the _Ding an sich_.  You're
right to the extent that I have no interest whatsoever in pure
philosophy that deals entirely in the abstract; rather, I'm interested
in the cultural object critically beheld, and fractally mirrored in an
infinitude of intertextual connections.

GL: Sometimes I felt that others were forcing you to cool down, explain
everything for outsiders and thereby holding you off from the real
matter.

MD: No, I was merely trying to render the esoteric (Baudrillard,
Haraway, Bataille, and the other theorists whose ideas I bring to bear)
exoteric. Escape Velocity is intended to be penetrable to any
culturally literate, erudite reader willing to do a little heavy
lifting and scholarly spadework; to that end, I explain and define
where an academic author would merely presume foreknowledge.

GL: Still, there is the problem of the (articifial?) distance I felt
you were creating between you and the artists and their work. Sometimes
it's clear that you're involved and like the works or ideas. Were you
afraid to express their ideas, while writing about those things as the
first person who is taking this serious? To what extend it is possible
to be a cyber theoretician and a cyber critique?

MD: I'm not quite sure what you mean by this. If you're wondering why I
didn't insert myself into my critique, as Rheingold does, I would
simply say that I find the first person singular aesthetically
unappealing and philosophically abhorrent; I like to vanish from my own
narratives, into the talking text, like De Landa's science fictional
robot historian.

GL: I felt that something kept you away from spreading your (wax?)
wings. Is it the lack of intellectual culture that is taking serious
the shifts we see happening?

MD: Again, this is somewhat troubling, not to mention dispiriting.  I
had the impression, perhaps illusory, of "spreading my wings" in my
critique of Haraway, my analyses of NIN's "Happiness in Slavery" and
_T2_ and _Tetsuo_ and _Videodrome_ and _Crash_, my deconstruction of
technopaganism and biomechanical tattooing and cultural pathologies
swirling around death, sex, and technology, but perhaps I ended up on
the runway in a pile of nuts and bolts. That's for you, the reader, to
judge. Unfortunately, this is my full wingspan; I don't fly any
higher, I'm afraid.

GL: Apparently you're not in the academic world, neither am I. You kept
a very save distance from that. Also from Paris by the way. That's a
major achievement and at the same time deeply tragic (for Paris and the
world). Baudrillard, Virilio etc. are not giving us any longer the
tools necessary to analyse nienties cyberculture. They are being
conserved in a boring academic ghetto. And there isn't much new coming
from Paris at the moment...

MD: With all due respect, this is an error of fact; French
theoreticians are cited throughout Escape Velocity, among them
Baudrillard, Barthes, Bataille, Foucault, and Derrida. Consult the
index.

Propaganda for the book:

An unforgettable journey into the dark heart of the Information Age,
_Escape Velocity explores the high-tech subcultures that both celebrate
and critique our wired world: cyberpunks, cyber-hippies, technopagans,
and rogue technologists, to name a few.
The computer revolution has given rise to a digital underground---an
Information Age counterculture whose members are utilizing cutting-edge
technology in ways never intended by its manufacturers.  Poised, at the
end of the century, between technological rapture and social rupture,
between Tomorrowland and _Blade Runner, fringe computer culture poses
the fundamental question of our time: Will technology liberate or
enslave us in the coming millennium?

In jacked-in, matte black prose, Mark Dery takes us on an electrifying
tour of the high-tech underground.  Exploring the shadowy byways of
cyberculture, we meet would-be cyborgs who believe the body is obsolete
and dream of downloading their minds into computers; cyber-hippies who
boost their brain power with smart drugs and mind machines; on-line
swingers seeking cybersex on electronic bulletin boards;
techno-primitives who sport "biomechanical" tattoos of computer
circuitry; and cyberpunk roboticists whose _Mad Max contraptions duel
to the death before howling crowds.
In a market flooded with "cyber-" titles, many of them a breathless mix
of New Age futurism and gadget-happy cyberhype, _Escape Velocity stands
alone as the first truly critical inquiry into cyberculture.  Shifting
the focus of our conversation about technology from the corridors of
power to disparate voices on the cultural fringes, Dery wires it into
the power politics and social issues of the moment.  Timely, trenchant,
and provocative, _Escape Velocity is essential reading for everyone
interested in computer culture and the shape of things to come.



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