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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 II: The Accumulation of Affect


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Part II The Accumulation of Affect

The post-cyberpunk model – in stark opposition with the cyberpunk model which stages characters that selfishly self-estrange themselves from the herd through corporeal appropriation of technology – restores interiority and co-subjectivation, most notably in The Diamond Age by reintroducing the figure of the child and by depicting characters that are remarkably integrated in the world they live in. This does not mean that the protagonists – regardless of their age, gender, and/or profession – do not seek or attempt to challenge and redesign the system, contrariwise. But, rather than to follow a consequentialist, Machiavellian logic according to which the ends would justify the means – an axiom from which hackers and other such space cowboys can conveniently derive their rule-breaking code of conduct – the protagonists in post-cyberpunk fiction interiorize these rules and learn to code and decode them, thereby allowing them to tweak and twist these rules in order to subterraneously give rise to alternative modes of being and of being in the world.

Hence, the post-cyberpunk project presupposes that those involved in it learn and repeat the patterns of old (such as the mores of the Victorians) which have come to regiment and regulate the wor(l)d, with, however, an added, imaginative and experimental twist which bespeaks of a personal subjectivity and of a binding and ties-forging commitment to the creative act. In a bid to further add layers of meaning to create interconnectedness, Neal Stephenson also inscribes the...

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