seems to be par excellence the domain ruled by postmodern
ideas. Much like the Western World for free-market ideology and
the Eastern one for Marxist Modernism, cyberspace provides postmodernism
a laboratory for experimentation and testing. Unlike Newtonian
space, cyberspace is not a pre-existing void to be filled with
moving (and living) particles of matter and thought, subjected
to the universal laws of science and philosophy. It is rather
an entity on the make, an unending surface of intersecting, but
not necessarily interacting discourses, each developed according
to its own assumptions and rhetoric.
main figures of cyberspace--the cyber-surfer who explores the
Web, the cyber-smith who builds up its places and founds its institutional
sites, and the cyber-evangelist who promotes ideas, invites attention,
and lures passers-by--are no longer the stable, coherent and rational
selves of the Modern School, but the petulant, playful, multicentered,
disembodied 'spirits' of postmodernism. They do not recognize
such thing as 'universal truth' and reject the belief that reason
and science offer a stable foundation for knowledge and ethical
knowledge dispensed by the Web-based discourses is more often
than not prudently considered as the product of partial and perhaps
erroneous points of view. Science, as exposed on the Web, lacks
the authority it used to detain as the paradigm of all knowledge.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that the information acquired
while navigating cyberspace corresponds to anything true or real.
Whether true or false, no form of cyber-knowledge is deemed neutral,
but partial and self-serving.
to some postmodern critics, including Foucault and Lyotard, the
discourse of truth represents only a highly effective means of
exercising power. Henceforth, the truth of claims made in the
name of knowledge is validated contextually, according to the
rules and premises of a particular language game. According to
Moscovici's striking formulation, postmodern criticism tends thus
to translate the discourse of truth into relations of power and
claims about reality into theories of representations (Moscovici,
Claudia, Perusals into (Post) Modern Thought. University
Press of America,R Inc., Lanham, New York, Oxford, 2000, p. 41).
Consequently, when going cyber, the narratives naturally shifted
“from discovery to invention, from coherence to complexity, and
from poetics to politics” (Currie, Mark, Postmodern Narrative
Theory. St. Martin Press, New York, 1998, p. 2).
(including all types of audio-visual signs) is the stuff that
cyberspace is made of. Thus, this 'space' conforms to the postmodern
claiming the primacy of text over reality. As a matter of fact,
all we know about the world is based on more or less creditable,
more or less reliable, and more or less deceiving accounts. The
language these accounts are developed in, rather than denoting
a commonly perceived reality, often refers merely to itself (Cf.
Moscovici, op. cit., p. 5). Particular words are explained in
terms of other words from which they are distinguished or to which
they are compared (Moscovici, op. cit., p. 7).
to Saussure's well-known theory, a sign generates its meaning
not by pointing to an entity in the world, but rather by pointing
to other words in the language system: the meaning of a sign is
thus defined negatively, as different from other signs. 'Reality'
is an effect actively generated by language rather than a pre-existing
state passively reflected by signs (Currie, op. cit., p. 35).
This conception finds its favorite environment in cyberspace,
where the only reality is textual. The links provide multiple
connections between 'signifiers' and 'signifieds,' in an endless
process of signification. One must beware not to confound linking
with zapping. While the latter offers the possibility to switch
from one discourse to another, basically equivalent in their apparent
variety, the first opens a new ramification in the tree of knowledge,
providing, behind a concept, a story, beside a statement, an explanation,
beyond a platitude, a metaphor.
the postmodern realm of cyberspace no 'grand' narratives, all-encompassing
stories, or over-pervasive myths either impose their guidance
or legitimate specific approaches. We do not encounter in cyberspace
such good old stories as the dialectic of the Spirit, the hermeneutics
of meaning, the emancipation of the rational/working subject,
or the creation of wealth. It is true that the WELL virtual community
and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that emerged from it tried
to impose such a grand story, based on the myth of The New Frontier.
It was meant to be a story of conquest and civilization, according
to which cyberspace would be populated by nerds and geeks the
way the West was colonized by cowboys, settlers and pioneers.
However, the imperialist overtones of this narrative, together
with the suggestion it bore of a Western cultural offensive in
cyberspace prevented its diffusion and acceptance. Moreover, this
story was already told and cyberspace deserved better than a Westward,
ho! cliché. The 'grand' story, if it were ever to be developed,
will be original or not at all.
'little' local narratives of cyberspace are mainly personal stories,
attempts to explain one's peculiarity, one's unique experiences,
one's persistent terrors. In cyberspace, one does not exist except
in one's story or, as Currie (1998) says, “the only way to explain
who we are is to tell our story, to select key events which characterize
us and organize them according to the formal principles of narratives”
(Currie, op. cit. p. 17). Such local personal essays are articulated
in the vast web of the omnipresent and over-pervasive hypertext.
© 2000 Adrian Mihalache All Rights Reserved.
Mihalache is a writer currently living in Bucharest, Romania.
He is a regular contributor to *spark-online.
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