Uncovering the apocalypse : narratives of collapse and transformation in the 21st century Fin de Siècle

Carstens, Johannes Petrus (Delphi) (2013-12)

Thesis (PhD)-- Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation examines the idea of apocalypse through the lens of science fiction (sf) written during the current fin de siècle period. I have dated this epoch, known as the information era, as starting in 1980 with the advent of personal computing and ending in approximately 2020 when the functional limits of silicon-based digital manufacturing and production are expected to be reached. By surveying the field of contemporary sf, I identify certain trends and subgenres that relate to particular aspects of apocalyptic thought, namely, conceptions of the ‘terror of history,’ the sublimity of accelerated techno-scientific advance, the ‘affective turn’ in media-culture and posthuman philosophy. My principal method of inquiry into how the apocalypse is imagined or ‘figured’ in sf is the concept of hyperstition – a neologism (combining the words ‘hyper’ and ‘superstition’) coined by the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU). Hyperstition describes an aesthetic response whereby cultural fictions – principally, ideas relating to apocalypse – are imagined as transmuting into material realities. I begin by scrutinizing two posthumanist works of theory-fiction (theory written in the mode of sf) by the CCRU and 0rphan Drift which anticipate immanent human extinction and imagine the inception of a new evolutionary cycle of machine-augmented evolution This sensibility is premised on the sociallydestabilising cycles of exponential growth that characterise information-era technological developments, particularly in the digital industries, as well as the accelerated human impact on the natural environment. Central to my argument is the romantic materialist philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari and their concepts of accelerationism, schizoanalysis and Bodies without Organs (BwO’s). Their ontology is constructed around the idea that exponential rates of development necessitate a new aesthetic paradigm that ventures beyond philosophies of human access. The narrative of apocalypse, approached from this perspective, can be interpreted in catastrophic or anastrophic terms; either as a permanent ending or as the beginning of something radically new. Using hyperstition, I also investigate the sf of Russell Hoban, Michael Swanwick, Brian Stableford, Charles Stross, Dan Simmons, M. John Harrison and Paul McAuley to see not only how these authors interpret the concept of cultural acceleration, but also to identify common threads. Countering the catastrophic ‘death of affect’ postulated by theorists such as Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio with the anastrophic rejoinder of cyberdelic information-era countercultures, I conclude by investigating the new ‘affective turn’ in contemporary media theory. The works of theoretical fiction and sf that I investigate are informed, as I demonstrate, by the Situationist techniques of psychogeography, dérive and detournement, as well as by the literary tropes of 18th and 19th century fin de siècle Gothic and dark Romantic fiction.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie proefskrif ondersoek die idee van apokalips deur die oogpunt van wetenskap fiksie (wf) soos geskryf gedurende die huidige ‘fin de siècle’ tydperk. Ek dateer hierdie epog, bekend as die inligtings-era, as die tydperk wat in 1980 begin met die koms van persoonlike rekenaars en nagenoeg eindig in 2020, wanneer die funksionele limiete van silikon gebaseerde digitale vervaardiging en produksie na verwagting bereik sal word. Deur die veld van kontemporêre wf in oënskou te neem, identifiseer ek sekere neigings en sub-genres wat vergelyk met sekere kenmerke van apokaliptiese denke, naamlik: begrippe soos die ‘verskrikking van geskiedenis’, die verhewendheid van versnelde tegno-wetenskaplike vooruitgang, die ‘emosionele omkeer’ in media-kultuur en post-humanistiese filosofie. My primêre metode van ondersoek van hoe die apokalips voorgestel of ‘beskryf’ kan word in wf, is die begrip van hiper-bygelowigheid - ‘n neologisme (samevoeging van die woorde ‘hiper’ en ‘bygeloof’) soos geskep deur die Kubernetiese Kultuur Navorsings-Eenheid (KKNE) en Nick Land, medestigter van die KKNE. Hiper-bygelowigheid beskryf die proses waarvolgens kulturele versinsels - hoofsaaklik opvattings met betrekking tot apokalips – in materiële realiteite omgeskakel kan word. Ek ondersoek ek twee post-humanistiese werke van teorie-fiksie (teorie geskryf volgens die wf metode) deur KKNE en 0rphan Drift, wat inherente menslike uitwissing verwag en die ontstaan van ‘n nuwe evolusionêre siklus van masjien-toename voorstel. Hierdie proses is gebaseer op die sosiaal-destabiliserende siklus van eksponensiële groei wat kenmerkend is van die inligtings-era se tegnologiese ontwikkelinge, veral in die digitale industrie, sowel as versnelde menslike impak op die natuurlike omgewing. Die kern van my beredenering is die goties-materialisties-teoriese standpunt soos deur Land ingeneem, sowel as die romanties-materialistiese filosofie van Deleuze en Guattari. Hierdie gevalle van neo-materialistiese (of objek-georiënteerde) filosofië word toegelig deur ‘n apokalipties-teoretiese basis bekend as akseleerasionisme. Hierdie uitgangspunt is ontwikkel rondom die idee dat die eksponensiële tempo van ontwikkeling ‘n klimaks sal bereik in ‘n evolusionêre ‘wipplank punt’ en dat ‘n nuwe estetiese paradigma nodig is wat dit bokant die filosofie van menslike vermoë kan waag sodat daar oor hierdie waarskynlikheid geteoretiseer kan word. Die beskrywing van apokalips, soos vanuit hierdie oogpunt beskou, kan vertolk word in beide katastrofiese of anastrofiese terme of as ‘n permanente einde of as die begin van iets wat radikaal nuut sal wees. Deur gebruik te maak van die hiperbygelowigheidsteorie, wat ‘n onderafdeling is van akseleerasionisme, ondersoek ek WF van Russell Hoban, Michael Swanwick, Brian Stableford, Charles Stross, Dan Simmons, M. John Harrison and Paul McAuley ten einde vas te stel hoe hierdie skrywers die konsep van kulturele akseleerasie interpreteer, maar ook om gemeenskaplike leidrade te identifiseer. Met teenargumentering ten opsigte van die katastrofiese ‘dood van affek’ gepostuleer deur teoretici soos Jean Baudrillard en Paul Virillio met die anastrofiese samevoeging van kuberdeliese inligtings-era-kontra-kulture, ondersoek ek die nuwe ‘gemoedsomkeer’ in kontemporêre mediateorie. Die werke van teoretiese fiksie, sowel as baie van die ander gevalle van wf wat ek ondersoek en soos deur my gedemonstreer, word toegelig deur Situasienistiese tegnieke van psigo-geografie, dérive en detournement, sowel as deur die literêre menigtes van die 19de eeu ‘fin de siècle’ donker Romantiese en Gotiese fiksie.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/85700
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