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    Cyberpunk’s not dead: the enduring relevance of technological and spiritual motifs in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy

    Yadav, Siddharth (2023) Cyberpunk’s not dead: the enduring relevance of technological and spiritual motifs in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    Abstract

    In ‘Cyberpunk’s not dead: The Enduring Relevance of Technological and Spiritual Motifs in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy’, I argue for the contemporary relevance of the cyberpunk genre using William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, which consists of Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). The trilogy, particularly Neuromancer, has been heralded as a corner-stone of the genre by scholars like Veronica Hollinger and Fredric Jameson. However, since the 1990s, the Sprawl trilogy has occupied an awkward position in science fiction studies given that it is a foundational text of a supposedly obsolete genre. In 1991, science fiction author Lewis Shiner declared cyberpunk dead in a New York Times article and stated that cyberpunk motifs had become clichéd. Twenty five years later, in The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature, literary scholar Elana Gomel repeated that sentiment. Gomel’s statement was followed by an analysis of the technological metaphors presented in the Sprawl trilogy to conclude that cyberpunk is no longer a thematically distinctive genre. I disagree with these assessments because, as this thesis will show, currently developing technologies like Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse project and the Neuralink brain-computer interface being developed under Elon Musk signal a convergence between cyberpunk and the techno-cultural zeitgeist in the West. Furthermore, popular cultural products like the video game Cyberpunk 2077 (2020), the animated series Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022), and the live-action adaptation of Gibson’s Neuromancer for Apple TV+ announced in November 2022 (currently in the casting stage of development) clearly demonstrate the enduring distinctiveness of cyberpunk narratives and aesthetics. I address the claim of cyberpunk motifs being clichéd and outdated by exploring the oft-overlooked spiritual subtext of the Sprawl stories that brought cyberpunk motifs to the cultural mainstream in the 1980s. This allows me to contextualise the trilogy by establishing its continuity with the technological and spiritual discourses taking place in the West from the early twentieth century till the 1980s. It also highlights cyberpunk’s relevance by providing a unique perspective to analyse the current cultural fascination with technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, gene editing technology, and synthetic biology. The thesis is arranged thematically, tracing technological metaphors across three chapters which will shift from the birth of cybernetics to genetic engineering to transhumanist notions of technologically mediated transcendence. Particular attention will be given to the linkages between Gibson’s fiction, the quasi-spiritual principles of the transhumanism as highlighted in the writings of figures like Ray Kurzweil and Max More, and the spiritual framework presented by the French Jesuit and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the first scientist to use the term ‘transhuman’. I use Chardin’s work to highlight the spiritual foundation of the Sprawl trilogy and argue that the aforementioned technologies and metaphors are deeply spiritual, which raises crucial questions regarding their real-life applications. Analysing the spiritual nature of cyberpunk motifs in one of the genre’s foundational texts provides a unique entry point to evaluate ongoing discourses about dualisms like nature/culture, sacred/secular, and human/non-human. Doing so establishes cyberpunk metaphors as not only relevant, but necessary for understanding the increasingly symbiotic relationship between humans and technology in the twenty-first century and onwards.

    Metadata

    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2023 15:47
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 16:08
    URI: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/51099
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.18743/PUB.00051099

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