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The Production of Subjectivity in «The Diamond Age» by Neal Stephenson


Sarah Jonckheere

The book brings to light Neal Stephenson’s answer to the technologically induced crisis in identity. The author of this book analyses the ethnocultural, technological, and ideological skeins that make up the biopolitical production of the self. The coming-of-age novel «The Diamond Age» reflects the processes surrounding the emergence of conscience. Through his inspired recycling of cultural traditions, Stephenson’s ethico-aesthetic engagement with technology, mass media, and literature advocates an epistemological change in being. This essay’s use of affect theory shows how a specific work informs literary theory and thinking, and how literature goes beyond reflecting the «zeitgeist» by offering creative ways to apprehend technology.

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Part I: The Ill Affective Turn; or, the Machinic Production of Self and Ideological Apparatuses


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Part I The Ill Affective Turn; or, the Machinic Production of Self and Ideological Apparatuses

If, in Thorstein Veblen’s analysis, the diamond is a paragon and the symptom of class consumerism and of “conspicuous consumption” (The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899)10 that enables one to assert and make blatantly visible his/her social superiority over the rest of society, the diamond in The Diamond Age has incurred a severe devaluation. No longer a sign of luxury and prosperity, it is used as a construction material that is, for all intents and purposes, assimilated to uncrystallised, chemically-fused and amorphous glass: the walls of the molecular disassembly line known as the Diamond Palace, located at Source Victoria off the coast of New Chusan, are made, not out of glass, but out of “solid diamond, which was cheaper” (DA 8, emphasis added). Similarly, the ballroom floor in one of the “geodesic11 seeds” (12) that is the airship Æther, which transports the party of stately guests attending the grandiose birthday party of Princess Charlotte, ← 23 | 24 → is a flat, thick, non-chiselled “slab of transpicuous diamond” (14, emphasis added). The unrefined “slab” of the diamond-floored airship is of as obscure an origin as the etymology of the word itself (i.e. “slab,” whose origin is utterly unknown), as if it were to be assumed or inferred that the diamond that makes up the floor was not unearthed, but a man- and/or mass- produced item. Tumbled down from its adamantine...

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