Released in 1999, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ is a reflection on the new technologies of postmodernity—information, communication, and biotechnologies and new interactive media—a reflection in the twofold sense of speculation (theory) and specularization (techne) of the effects they produce in human reality, the social imaginary, and individual fantasies. Under the guise of the science fiction genre—a mere pretext, as the futures of science fiction have become less and less distant from the present of writing—the film documents, both thematically and formally, the history of its (our) present. It shows us the cinema in its twofold aspect of virtual reality and biotechnology.
Teresa de Lauretis is professor in the department of the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Soggetti eccentrici (1999), The Practice of Love (1994), and several other books in English and Italian. She is currently working on Basic Instincts, a book of essays on Freud’s theory of drives.
The case of Hawking is interesting insofar as it seems to reconcile two contrasting research traditions. On the one hand, he appears to be the very incarnation of Cartesian dualism, with his genius constructed in the popular media around the mind/body dichotomy. Thus, because of his handicap he is no longer distracted by the daily and worldly occupations shared by the rest of humanity; he can therefore devote himself entirely to thought.4 According to Barthes, the mythology of Einstein is that his thoughts are materialized as a brain working like a machine; in the case of the wheelchair‐bound Hawking, the opposite is true, for here mythology operates to entirely disincorporate his genius. In this sense, Hawking embodies the mythical figure of a genius capable of grasping the ultimate laws of the universe with nothing but the strength of his reasoning.
Hélène Mialet is assistant professor of science and technology studies at Cornell University. She is presently working on two book‐length manuscripts on questions having to do with subjectivity, singularity, and creativity in science: the first is an empirical philosophical study of invention in a large applied research laboratory, the second is on Stephen Hawking.
What, then, is the meaning of this hybrid animal, partly fraudulent and partly genuine, partly mechanical and partly (ostensibly) chemical, partly transparent and partly ingeniously opaque? Consider the points of emphasis in Vaucanson’s description. He is careful to say that he wants to show, not just a machine, but a process. But he is equally careful to say that this process is only a partial imitation. He wrote, “I don’t pretend to give this as a perfect Digestion.… I hope no body would be so unkind as to upbraid me with pretending to any such Thing.”
Jessica Riskin is an assistant professor of history at Stanford University. She is the author of Science in the Age of Sensibility: The Sentimental Empiricists of the French Enlightenment (2002) and is currently working on a history of artificial life and intelligence circa 1730–1950.
“What I never had is being torn from me. / What I did not live, I will miss forever.”1 With these lines from the poem Property (1990) Volker Braun conveys the loss that attended the end of “real existing socialism” in Germany. Today, more than a decade after the Berlin Wall was reduced to rubble and swept away, there lingers the sense that something was lost with the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc—something more than the Trabant automobiles and Lenin statues, more than employment guarantees or the threat of environmental ruin. As the two Germanys unify into one, the customs and culture of the Western half are eclipsing those of the former GDR. After the postcommunist turn, or Wende, museum curators have begun to sort through the wreckage of East Germany’s industrial debris and Marx’s wasted ideals. But what do they want to find?
· 1. Volker Braun, “Das Eigentum,” in Von einem Land und vom andern: Gedichte zur deutschen Wende, ed. Karl Otto Conrady (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), ll. 8–9, p. 51. For an analysis of melancholia in Braun’s writing, see Wolfgang Emmerich, “Status Melancholicus: Zur Transformation der Utopie in der DDR‐Literatur,” in Literatur in der DDR: Rückblicke, ed. Heinz‐Ludwig Arnold and Frauke Meyer‐Gosau (Munich, 1991), pp. 232–45, and Horst Domdey, “Volker Braun und die Sehnsucht nach der Grossen Kommunion: Zum Demokratiekonzept der Reformsozialisten,” Deutschland Archiv 11 (Nov. 1990): 1771–74.
Charity Scribner organized Platforms I and II for Documenta 11 in Vienna, Berlin, and New Delhi. She is an assistant professor of European studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her first book, Requiem for Communism will appear in 2003, and her current research examines terrorism and militancy in European culture of the 1970s and 1980s.
Jacqueline Stewart is an assistant professor of English, cinema and media studies, and African and African American studies at the University of Chicago. Her book Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity will appear in 2003. Her current project is a study of race film aesthetics during the sound era, focused on the work of actor/director Spencer Williams.
Harlem audiences could not rewrite films at the moment of reception any more than black migrants could rewrite the often disappointing social and political conditions they found in the urban North. But unlike the accusatory Chicago Broad Ax editorial, or even recent cultural studies work performed in an effort to restore black agency, Hughes, Ellison, and Baldwin embrace the contradictions that characterize black spectatorship and couch them in terms of a collective, urban experience. Much historical and theoretical work remains to be done on black spectatorship in its many historical and geographical contexts (beyond the urban North). If we begin to acknowledge more systematically the multiple modes in which black spectatorship has been practiced and represented, we can more fully describe how it has been elaborated within and between numerous spheres—private and public, personal and interpersonal. Between passive complicity and vocal critique, between Harlem’s laughter and Pauline’s pain, between the segregation of Chicago theaters in the teens and the Unborn Child’s animation of distant urban scenes, black spectatorship has been an important, longstanding exercise in articulating black subjectivities in the face of a host of hostile and hegemonic institutional conditions. As a developing cultural practice, black spectatorship bears the contradictions of the multiple modes of modernity that gave rise to it.
Robert Morris’s recent exhibitions included: (1) American Beauties & Noam’s Vertigo, 2002 at the Joseloff Gallery, University of Hartford. This installation utilized projected, rotating images, large mirrors, and an eight channel sound track. (2) The Lemma Leads shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York City, 18 Feb.–29 Mar. 2003.
So the dictum that time was the dominant of the modern (or of modernism) and space of the postmodern means something thematic and empirical all at once: what we do, according to the newspapers and the Amazon statistics, and what we call what we are doing. I don’t see how we can avoid identifying an epochal change here, and it affects investments (art galleries, building commissions) as much as the more ethereal things also called values. It can be seen, for example, in what has happened to what used to be called the système des beaux arts or the hierarchy of the aesthetic ideal. In the older (modernist) framework, the commanding heights were those of poetry or poetic language, whose “purity” and aesthetic autonomy set an example for the other arts and inspired Clement Greenberg’s paradigmatic theorization of painting.
Fredric Jameson is professor of French and comparative literature at Duke University. His recent works include The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983–1998 (1998), Brecht and Method (1998), and A Singular Modernity (2002).
We would like to announce that Anne H. Stevens has replaced Robert Huddleston as manuscript editor. A long‐time and valuable member of the staff, Robert will be missed, but we look forward to working with Anne, who comes to us from New York University.