Your last episode prompted me to consider the question of what constitutes a Cyberpunk canon or how it could be extended. The problem I came across is that Cyberpunk—as such—only has a few, readily-known works that could be pointed to as canonical, and they’re mostly crap.
I walked around, I listened to the podcast, I thought about it.
So, ded genre? Does the inability of Cyberpunk to create new memories for itself mean that Cyberpunk only ever reflected a particular moment in the history of 80s and 90s sci-fi? Does it mean that any attempts to add to the Cyberpunk genre must figuratively or literally Go to Mars and become part of the body of generalist sci-fi—Space Travel, Virtual Reality, and First-Person Shooter Elements—before being retrospectively claimed as our own by virtue of the presence of spiky haircuts, tattoos, cyber turtles, and leather jackets?
And yet… It’s true that Cyberpunk persists and endures in spite of the fact that we have already surpassed its major bullet points (as you pointed out): the pervasiveness of personal/private—as opposed to collective—technology, the abdication of the state in the face of capital, the debasement of the nation in favour of the megacity, the move away from stable, historically rooted personal identities to identities based on combination, flux, modification, rejection…
In other words, why is the idea of Cyberpunk still appealing? What anxieties is it allowing us to work through even though we already live in a Cyberpunk reality? (Albeit one that is still actively being negotiated.)
Well, ultimately I think this reflects some of the theoretical work that was happening between about 2003 and 2008 on culture and music. By accident, spurred by my own blurting out of “Derrida” somewhere on this board, I remembered this body of work. Derrida—particularly his Specters of Marx—seems to have been the target man in this movement, but I’ll admit my memory from this period is hazy. Good keyword to start with, anyway.
In Cyberpunk, the End of History has not yet been reached, as it has for us here in 2017. In Cyberpunk, the yet-to-come continues to irrupt into the present moment; Cyberpunk’s present is characterized by radical and unknowable changes which seem about to occur, in contrast to our own cultural present which is characterized by the flattening of the lived experience of time— what the theorist Mark Fisher has called “the slow cancellation of the future.” In other words endless franchise reboots, retro music fads, video game sequels, and the ultimate insolubility of the miserable geopolitical state at the end of the long, long, long, long twentieth century.
Cyberpunk is a work of mourning, not a work of futurism, Fisher would probably say, but he died earlier this year so it’s impossible to ask him. It represents, probably, our desire to pine for lost, failed, already-deprecated futures in texts instead of inventing new ones. Why does Cyberpunk seem to be able to imagine a future for itself, whereas our own perpetually narrowing cultural and political present cannot?
So what I think is that Cyberpunk is ultimately closer to an affect than a set of conventions. To consider what counts as “Cyberpunk,” we would probably have to look sideways and somewhat rhizomatically at other sets of works that also contain within them this sense of a lost future.
It’s a starting point.