Friday, 14 September 2007

Myspace and Legendary Psychasthenia


We have barely begun to consider the importance of Roger Caillois’s 1935 claim that ‘from whichever side one approaches things, the ultimate problem turns out in the final analysis to be that of distinction’ (1).

Caillois’s essay, ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia’ is a remarkable, unclassifiable masterpiece. From a reflection on insect mimicry, Caillois develops an entire surrealist-naturalist metaphysics, linking entomology, sorcery and abnormal psychology in a unique vision whose implications, one gradually realises, extend far beyond its apparent subject matter to encompass the whole field of social relations, personal identity and corporal existence. Building from the smallest things – from the physiology and behaviour of insects – it’s an essay that expands out to fill and explain our own world. Celeste Olalquiaga, thought so. In her 1992 book Megalopolis she recognised the value of Caillois’ concept of psychasthenia for understanding our relation to and experience of the contemporary urban environment (2). But Caillois’ reflections on space and identity find another, perhaps more powerful and disturbing, illustration today in the our relationship to cyberspace and in particular the world of online social networking. This is what I want to explore here. I want to suggest that Myspace, Facebook and their ilk represent, not a flowering of self and individuality but its psychasthenic absorption, renunciation and loss.

Of all the distinctions that organise our life the most clear-cut, Caillois argues, is ‘that between the organism and its surroundings’. Or at least, he says, ‘there is none in which the tangible experience of separation is more immediate’. It is this topic that brings him to insect mimicry – to the morphological and behavioural adaptation of a living form to resemble and simulate its environment. All current explanations for mimicry are inadequate, he suggests. The limits of mimicry as self-defence are obvious, for example, when one realises that inedible species are also mimetic; that predators are not fooled by the tactics, happily ingesting camouflaged insects, and that the protected species risk being eaten by each other. In the sad case of the Phyllia, for example, insects ‘browse among themselves, taking each other for real leaves’. Caillois’s initial explanation focuses on sympathetic magic, on mimicry as ‘an incantation fixed at its culminating point’: as a spell that has ‘caught the sorcerer in his own trap’, leading the insect into ‘an assimilation to the surroundings’. It is this last point that interests him most. How does this assimilation to the surroundings occur? Caillois’s explanation is astonishing: it is, he says, ‘a real temptation by space’. In some way the organism itself is overcome by its surroundings – is less than its surroundings.

The visual nature of mimicry also leads Caillois to suggest that it has to be understood from without, as ‘a disturbance in the perception of space’. Within a perceived and represented space the mimetic organism is lost. Dispossessed of its privilege it ‘no longer knows where to place itself’: 'The feeling of personality, considered as the organism’s feeling of distinction from its surroundings, of the connection between consciousness and a particular point in space, cannot fail under these conditions to be seriously undermined; one enters then into the psychology of psychasthenia, and more specifically, of legendary psychasthenia'. Psychasthenia can be defined, therefore, as a disturbance in the relations between personality and space, and, more specifically, as a ‘depersonalisation by assimilation to space’.

Janet’s writings on schizophrenia shed light on this process for Caillois. For the schizophrenic, he says, ‘space is a devouring force’: ‘space pursues them, encircles them, digests them in a gigantic phagocytosis’. The insect experience of their environment and the schizophrenic’s experience of space are, therefore, linked. Each is assimilated and in each too this process is accompanied by ‘a decline in the feeling of personality and life’. The mimetic process occurs in one direction, Caillois says, as, ‘life takes a step backwards’, towards an earlier organic and even non-organic state. Thus ‘the generalisation of space’ takes place ‘at the expense of the individual’. Bewitched and overwhelmed by the greater power and the temptation of the environment the individual organism is lost. Caillois’s conclusions are Freudian: ‘alongside the instinct of self-preservation, which in some way orients the creature towards life, there is generally speaking a sort of instinct of renunciation that orients it toward a mode of reduced existence’. The ‘attraction by space’ leads to a thanatophilic movement blurring the frontier between the organism and their milieu.

Although Caillois’s essay has attracted its own form of fascination upon generations of readers, few have yet recognised its significance for understanding our contemporary electronic media. Perhaps the closest media theory has come is Jean’s Baudrillard’s prescient analysis of our wired and networked lives first put forward in his 1983 book, Fatal Strategies and appearing also in his 1987 text, The Ecstasy of Communication (3). Baudrillard’s entire theory is built upon a critique of contemporary mediated relations as merely simulations of human communication (or what he calls ‘symbolic exchange’) (4) and this is expanded in this text as he describes the implosion of the private and public spheres and its implications.

We simultaneously suffer, Baudrillard says, a ‘forced extraversion of all interiority’, as everything once private unfolds upon the screens of the world and a ‘forced introjection of all exteriority’ as the world’s events and people and places penetrate the private realm. Writing years before the rise of the internet as a public medium Baudrillard describes the development of a ‘private telematics’ in which the individual is ‘promoted to the controls of a hypothetical machine, isolated in a position of personal sovereignty … in the same position as the astronaut in his bubble’. Electronic technologies, therefore, transform our habitat ‘into a kind of archaic closed-off cell, into a vestige of human relations’ whilst we interact by remote control. Interior space ceases to be the stage of the self and its drama but instead becomes ‘a receiving and operating area’ and we are reduced to being merely ‘terminals of multiple networks’.

Baudrillard admits that this is close to ‘science fiction’. It is perhaps closer than he realised: E.M. Forster had already suggested this in his 1909 short story, ‘The Machine Stops’ which depicted a world of individuals closed off in their rooms away from all real contact, all connected by a web-like communicational machine (5). The rise of the internet as a popular, everyday medium, however, casts a new light on these ideas. Baudrillard’s 1980s vision of the path of a society where ‘everything becomes immediately transparent, visible, exposed in the raw and inexorable light of information and communication’; where a ‘pornography’ of the real dominates is now all too easy to recognise. Like Caillois Baudrillard also draws upon the figure of the schizophrenic to explain the impact of all this. Ours is ‘a new form of schizophrenia’, he says. The emergence of ‘an immanent promiscuity and the perpetual interconnection of all information and communication networks’ leads to ‘a state of terror which is characteristic of the schizophrenic’, that of ‘an over-proximity of all things’: 'In spite of himself the schizophrenic is open to everything and lives in the most extreme confusion. He is the obscene victim of the world’s obscenity. The schizophrenic is not, as generally claimed, characterised by his loss of touch with reality, but by the absolute proximity to and total instantaneousness with things, this overexposure to the transparency of the world'. Stripped of a stage, Baudrillard concludes, the schizophrenic ‘cannot produce the limits of his very being’: ‘he becomes a pure screen, a pure absorption and resorption surface of the influent networks’. In Baudrillard we find, therefore, an electronic fulfilment of Caillois’s psychasthenia. Integrated and assimilated into the networks of communication and crossed by their content and output the individual self physically and mentally disappears.

It’s not surprising that these ideas have rarely been related to the emerging world of online life and communication. The dominant voices within the literature on cyberculture and new media have been those that have granted the reality of online relations, the potential offered by the net for self-expression and play and the genuine communities that they give rise to. Sherry Turkle recognises the contemporary culture of simulation but has famously argued for the psycho-therapeutic possibilities of online identity play. The ‘self’ she valorises may well be ‘multiple’ and ‘distributed’ rather than a natural real-life given, but her conclusion that the online world is a space of self-expression and an aid to greater ‘self-knowledge’, ‘personal transformation’ and ‘growth’ clearly indicates that for her the self is strengthened by its virtual connections (6). Harold Rheingold follows a similarly McLuhanist path in emphasising the reality of online relations. ‘To the millions who have been drawn into it, the richness and vitality of computer-linked cultures is attractive, even addictive, he wrote in 1994 (7). The ‘hunger for community’ inevitably leads to the building of online communities, he argues, replacing those public spaces lost in real life. The online world, therefore, is restorative: it is a tool restoring sociality and allowing the full expression of public, individual life.

Rheingold was writing at an early stage in the development of virtual communities. Many people at the time of the book’s publication had not even heard of the World Wide Web and its regular experience was popularly limited. Since the explosion of the net, of domestic installation, of high-speed access and the spread of basic computing skills the ‘social web’ has rapidly developed beyond the early bulletin board systems, forums and discussion groups Rheingold discussed. The most famous contemporary form of ‘social networking’ is that typified by websites such as Myspace and Facebook. Their success is due to their combination of hosting facilities and functions that were either previously difficult for non-specialists to produce (personal web pages) or spread across several systems (email, messaging, photo hosting, blogs etc.), combined with their word-of-mouth growth through real-life networks. At the heart of Myspace and Facebook is the personal profile: the potentially global expression and promotion of the self.

The first thing we see when we look at a Myspace or Facebook page is the profile: each page is a constructed, promotional self. Writing in an age when the media disconnection of the two was clearly limited, Caillois saw the sense of self as depending upon a connection between consciousness and a point in space; when that was lost, psychasthenic absorption occurred. On an obvious level the experience of cyberspace is the experience of that disconnection as the self surfs an electronic network divorced from one’s point in space. With personal webpages and social networking profiles that self no longer even returns to its user, remaining behind as we log off. The self is set free as a profile, fixed to another point – to a non-space existing only as proprietal code within an electronic network – and subsequently lost to us. And we do this voluntarily: just as Caillois writes of the ‘temptation by space’ so the popularity of social networking sites tempts and traps each new user. And each new user, confident in their control as they construct and daily manipulate their promotional self, is, like Caillois’s insects, caught by its own spell, trapped by their own incantation.

But more important than this loss of self to the virtual world is the loss of self – the loss of any trace of individuality – in one’s assimilation to cyberspace and incorporation into the network of near-identical profiles. The schizophrenic experience of space as an overwhelming force is realised online: cyberspace devours the individual and their individuality.

Insect mimicry provides the best way of understanding this as it is fundamentally a morphological issue. Morphology in biology is the outward form – the shape, colour, structure, pattern and appearance of the organism, as opposed to physiology which is the study of the physical, mechanical and biochemical functioning of the organism. In cyberspace morphology dominates. Online, it is appearance that constitutes reality and this is especially true for social networking sites. What counts is the personal profile – the appearance of the self rather than the functioning of the actual being. The physiology of cyberspace, like the physiology of the organism is hidden: what we interact with is the outward form, the polished websites and functions that make up the network rather than the underlying, internal source code.

Social networking sites exemplify this. Once the construction of a personal webpage required some degree of programming expertise. Today the social networking user merely interacts with, manipulates and fills-in pre-programmed templates and applications. What they produce is a template self : their choice of templates, their provision of information to fill out and give shape to their profile and the applications they add and accumulate in a further process of ‘personalisation’ constitutes their online self and its social identity. Thus, just as the Phillidae and the Phasmatodea morphologically conform to the templates of nature – the leaves, sticks, branches and bark of their environment – so the networking users morphologically conform to the world they inhabit, simulating and assimilating themselves to its structures, colours and patterns.

The result, following Caillois, can be defined as a depersonalisation by assimilation to cyberspace. Each new profile adds to the pages, the scope and the social power of the networking environment, not to the sum of individuality. Each new profile represents not another flowering of a unique and special self but its capture and diabolical conformity to its devouring environment. As in Caillois, therefore, cyberspace is generalised at the expense of the individual. Each added page renders all the others more and more alike. Each friendship creates a sliding metonymic movement along the link to another individual whose difference is negligible, and each link followed to another self reduces that individuality still further. The more profiles you surf the less individuality you experience.

Each new profile adds, therefore, not to self-distinction, but to the background. Each user becomes, not as they assume, a self distinct from the background but only a background for every other user: their mimetic incorporation is so complete that other users can hardly make them out. Just as the Phyllia, seeing only themselves, browse among an indistinct background of their own taxonomic cousins and real leaves, so each unique and distinct user is only the background that others browse and feed on.

At the heart of mimicry is similitude and simulation: a mode of resemblance to the model and the efficacious production of this resemblance. In social networking this mimetic process takes several forms, from the voluntary incorporation of the self into the environment, to the forced conformity to the profile templates and the choice of applications that, more often than not, follows and mimics those that ones’ ‘friends’ have added and recommended. What this produces is a resemblant self: a self that resembles not its originator but instead all the other virtual selves. What one constructs has a far close morphological relationship with all other profiles than it does with the being outside who constructs it.

The result is a remarkable similarity in every profile. On Facebook, for example, the simplified and pre-set background, colour scheme and page layout makes each profile a minor –and insignificant – variation on all others. Down the right-hand side one finds one’s status, personal details, min-feed to oneself of personal ‘news’ about what you yourself have done, followed by one’s ‘information’. Here the user constructs lists that signify their self and its unique tastes and personality: one’s activities, interests and favourite books, film, TV programmes and music.

Each user’s list is different to every others and yet each user’s list is indistinguishable. What appears is not one’s innermost core of meaning, memory and experience, but only a seemingly-random collection of popular cultural products displaying, like a Borgesian classificatory scheme, no apparent meaning for any outside observer. As we move from one profile to another, each list merges into the next and the banality of all inputted information becomes obvious. Asked what one ‘likes’, there is nothing of significance in any reply. Regardless of the personal meaning one attaches to one’s choices and even the cultural connotations implied by them, all are nullified by their appearance. Preferences become merely references that take their place in a personal list linked, through one’s profile, to all other lists in the network and every choice becomes no different to any choice. Ultimately the over-production of ‘information’ fuels an implosion of meaning. Again, therefore, every new list added to the network represents not a flowering of individuality but its assimilation and renunciation. Individuality reverses into anonymity. Distinction disappears and depersonalisation follows.

One’s photographs too are indistinguishable. Again these are added to personalise the profile and to represent those unique and individual experiences and moments that comprise one’s life. In practice there is little to choose between any of them. Images of yourself; images of yourself posing with friends; images of yourself out in the evening; images of you and your friends partying; images of yourself holding a drink; images of yourself and your friends holding drinks; images of you and your friends laughing; images of you and your friends at home; images of you and your friends on holiday, relaxing or chilling. Each image takes its place within a set of predictable conventions and connotations and each ‘album’ of images conforms to the totalitarian social dictates of the network in its desperate attempt to over-signify one’s personality; one’s pleasures and one’s centre of an aspirational scene or set of experiences. Like the profile applications and lists of likes, the user’s photographs blur and merge into a generic, imagic background. What one hopes will add to one’s distinction only adds to ones depersonalisation: how many images of friends posing with drinks are there already on Facebook? And there is no hope here of resistance. Even the refusal to post a photo, the use of alternative images or attempts at an artistic subversion of the form merely take their place within a pre-coded representational system as part of the normal range of allowed responses.

All of this contradicts common sense. Received wisdom sees social networking as a defining contemporary means of expression of the self, an outpouring of individuality and a remarkable display and cataloguing of difference and unique experiences and tastes. All of this should signal ‘distinction’. The obviously competitive nature of the profile and its choices and images as each user attempts to display themselves, their personality and life should lead us to conclude, following Veblen and Bourdieu, that a remarkable symbolic struggle for status and recognition is happening here. Never before has personal ‘identity’ been so vigorously and completely displayed. But the self that is constructed and displayed remains a simulation, a ‘personalisation’, as Baudrillard argued in The Consumer Society in 1970 (8) that is only a conformity to and adoption of a pre-programmed set of differences from which one chooses one’s self. It is a semiotic process in which pre-set differences are chosen and combined to construct the self as a fashioned sign-object. This semiotic labour is never over. Networking users condemn themselves to a perpetual labour of virtual self-grooming, updating, communicating, adding, removing, informing, displaying and saving their changes. For years to come they will be found sending each other an octopus and starfish, writing on each others walls, commenting on each other’s blogs, tagging their photos, changing their musical tastes and updating their status. The rest of their lives may be spent serving their own simulacrum, renouncing their life as they invest it into their virtual self.

This brings us back to Caillois’s most controversial claim: that this assimilation to space represents a thanatophilic process. ‘Life takes a step backwards’, he suggests, towards an earlier, less evolved and conscious form in a self-renunciation producing a ‘reduced existence’. The very experience of the internet confirms this. The exhaustion one feels after a period of time online is not physical strain but something more: an exhaustion with one’s interests and with one’s interest in life itself. If you look at profile after profile, list after list and application after application, your own self begins to renounce its spirit. And if you spend your life daily logged-in to social networking, checking your notifications, updating your self, responding to wall comments and playing with one’s own applications – adding to the force of the environment, not the force of distinction – you spend less and less time away from the screen.

In his 1995 book, Open Sky, Paul Virilio describes the rise of this ‘terminal citizen’ (9), a concept with an intentional double meaning. On the one hand he employs the term for the transformation of humanity into an electronic terminal, an ‘interactive being’ who is both a transmitter and receiver of information. His second meaning is more theological. For Christianity to be alive and to be human is to possess a soul, or anima. Movement and life have always been correlated. The traditional Christian explanation for when the moment of life originates has been the moment when the baby’s movement was first felt – the moment of ‘the quickening’. This moment when the movement of the foetus was first detected was thought to be the moment when the soul had entered the body. Anima and animation, therefore, are interlinked. For Virilio, to be without animation is to be without anima. The loss of movement as we voluntarily plug ourselves into a network to become a ‘static audiovisual vehicle’ and our ‘behavioural inertia’ as we interact with a virtual rather than with our proximate environment constitutes, for him, a loss of life: a thanatophilic renunciation. ‘Doomed to inertia, the interactive being transfers his natural capacities for movement and displacement to probes and scanners which instantaneously inform him about a remote reality, to the detriment of his own faculties of apprehension of the real.’ This, Virilio says, is ‘a catastrophic figure’, who has ‘lost the capacity for immediate intervention along with natural motoricity’. This is the Myspace and Facebook user.

We return at the end, therefore, to Caillois’s beloved Phyllia and Phasmatodea. Read through Baudrillard’s schizophrenic man and Virilio’s terminal man, we can see the immobile networking user spasmodically twitching at their keyboard is like the Phyllia twitching in the wind, simulating a leaf in the breeze. Renouncing real-life for the screen, blending perfectly into the background, their mottled profiles and uncannily similar applications rendering them invisible, the cyberphillia sit frozen: tempted and ultimately paralysed by cyberspace, losing their self and their life. ‘The ultimate problem turns out in the final analysis to be one of distinction’, Caillois wrote. With every page added to social network sites and every individual’s capitulation to the profile the species as a whole loses its morphological struggle for distinction from its environment.


(2) Olalquiaga, C. (1992) Megalopolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.

(3) Baudrillard, J. (1990) Fatal Strategies, New York: Semiotext(e); (1988) The Ecstasy of Communication, New York: Semiotext(e).

(4) See Merrin, W. (2005) Baudrillard and the Media, Cambridge: Polity Press; and Merrin, W. (2006) ‘“On the Horizon of a Programmed Reality”: Baudrillard and New Media’, at:

(5) Forster, E. M. (1909) ‘The Machine Stops’, at:

(6) Turkle, S. (1996) Life on the Screen, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

(7) Rheingold, H. (1994) The Virtual Community, at:

(8) Baudrillard, J. (1998) The Consumer Society, London: Sage.

(9) Virilio, P. (1997) Open Sky, London: Verso.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 11

11. 1010011010 – The Number of the Beast? Technology, A.I.s and Digital Apocalypticism

‘We don’t know who struck first – us, or them. But we know that it was us that scorched the sky… Morpheus (The Matrix)

For some, contemporary technological advances, the pace of change and its visible effects are a disturbing force. Alongside developments in technology runs a cultural discourse of fear, warning of apocalyptic consequences to come from its path of development. The aim of this lecture is to explore some of these extreme responses to the contemporary world, covering techno cults such as ‘Heaven’s Gate’; individual terrorist responses such as the Unabomber’s campaign and his anti-technological manifesto; ideological responses to technology such as anarcho-primitivism and radical environmentalism, as in the work of John Zerzan and Daniel Quinn; fears of human conflict over the future choice of path, as in the ideas of De Garis, and popular cultural fears of the consequences for human life of evolved machinic life, such as in The Matrix and The Terminator series.


Obviously much of the reading for the weeks covering The Matrix, posthumanism, and machinic evolution and A.I, is relevant here too. More specificially look at:

On the Unabomber:

‘FC’ – (2005) Industrial Society and its Future (‘The Unabomber Manifesto’) Fliquarian Publishing [1995], available online at:

Katz, J. (1998) ‘The Unabomber’s legacy I’, at:

(1998) ‘The Unabomber’s Legacy II’ at:

‘Theodore Kaczynski’ on Wikipedia, at:

Kaczynski, T. (2002) ‘Hit Where it Hurts’, at:

‘Interview with Ted Kaczynski’:

‘An Interview with Kaczynski’:

On John Zerzan and Anarcho-primitivism:

Zerzan, J. (1996) Future Primitive and Other Essays, New York: Semiotext(e)

Zerzan, J, (2002) Running on Emptiness. The Pathology of Civilisation, Los Angeles: Feral House.

Zerzan, J. (2005) Against Civilisation. Readings and Reflections, Los Angeles: Feral House.

Zerzan, J. (1999) Elements of Refusal, Columbia, MO: Cal Press.

Zerzan, J. ( ) ‘Future Primitive’, at:

Zerzan, J. (2002) ‘Why Primitivism’, at: and

Zerzan, J. () ‘Whose Unabomber?’ (pre-1995), at;

Zerzan, J. (2003) ‘No Way Out’, at:

Zerzan, J. (2006) ‘Seize the Day’, at:

John Zerzan’s website, at:

Green Anarchy. An Anti-Civilisation Journal of Theory and Action, at:

For other influences upon this movement see also:

Freud, S. (2004) Civilisation and its Discontents, London: Penguin [1930].

Ellul, J. (1973) The Technological Society, New York: Random House [1954].

Marcuse, H. (2002 ) One Dimensional Man, London: Routledge [1964].

On Hugo De Garis:

De Garis, H. (2005) The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans, Etc. Publications

On Machinic Life and A.I War:

See the reading on The Matrix for week 3 and watch:

Cameron, J. (2003) The Terminator, MGM [DVD 1984]
(2003) Terminator 2: Judgement Day, MGM [DVD 1991]

Wachowski, A. and L. (1999) The Matrix, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Animatrix, Warner Bros [DVD] – especially ‘The Second Renaissance, pts I and II’)
(2003) The Matrix Reloaded, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2004) The Ultimate Matrix Collection, Warner Bros [DVD] 10 disc set.

Proyas, A. (2004) I Robot, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment [DVD]

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 10

10. Turn on, Log-in and Switch off: Forster, Huxley, Bradbury, Baudrillard, Virilio

Most of the authors we have covered in the module have been optimistic about the benefits for human life and relations of contemporary technological advances. From Rheingold and Turkle’s view of the reality of virtual relations and community, to the valorisation of networked crowds, to proponents of cyborg technologies and posthuman prophets, the underlying faith in our media and its future is palpable. But new media also has its critics and in this lecture we explore how science fiction and media theory have offered similar warnings about developments in technology. The critique of technological development is obviously a major theme in science fiction but I want to focus here on three texts. We begin with Forster’s 1909 vision of a future of individuals cocooned in boxes, never meeting anyone in person and communicating instead through tele-technologies (coordinated through a single web-like machine) that bring the world to them; Huxley’s 1932 vision of pleasure-seeking masses bought off through drugs and entertainment (by virtual reality ‘feelies’) and Bradbury’s 1954 vision of a society that voluntarily gave up books and knowledge due to their love of easy information and entertainment and the new technologies of immersive television rooms, ear-shell audio devices, plot-less reality-TV shows, live television police chases, TV fakery, popular quiz shows and television childcare… Whilst each of these fictions remains very much of their time (ultimately reflecting the ideas of their own age about technology and its organisation and effects) they share a critical position, each warning of the danger inherent in the path of technology of a disconnection from the world, from human relations and from reality. Contemporary media critics Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio explore the same ideas, seeing electronic media as realising these warnings. Both have developed an extreme social theory of the effects of technology and the losses it entails. Their critique is simple – perhaps even at its core simplistic – but in their work new media finds its most implacable critics.



Forster, E. M. (1909) ‘The Machine Stops’, at:
Huxley, A. (1932) Brave New World, available at:
Bradbury, R. (1954) Fahrenheit 451,

On Baudrillard:

My own paper offers the easiest way into Baudrillard’s media theory and critique of new media:

Merrin, W. (2006) ‘“The Horizon of a Programmed Reality: Baudrillard and New Media’, at:

For a related overview of his broader career and critique look at:

Merrin, W. (2007) ‘“Speculation to the Death”: Jean Baudrillard’s Theoretical Violence’, in Edwards, T. (ed.) Cultural Theory. Classical and Contemporary Positions, London: Sage.

As regards work by Baudrillard, I’d recommend focusing upon the following:

(1988) ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’, in The Ecstasy of Communication, New York:
Semiotext(e) [1987].

(1997) ‘Aesthetic Illusion and Virtual Reality’, in Zurbrugg, N. (ed.) Jean Baudrillard. Art and Artefact, London: Sage, pp. 19-27.

(1996) ‘The Automatic Writing of the world’, in The Perfect Crime, London: Verso, pp. 25-34 [1995].

(2000) ‘The Murder of the Real’, in The Vital Illusion, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 59-83.

(2002) ‘Screened Out’, in Screened Out, London: Verso, pp. 176-80 [2000].

(2005) ‘Violence of the Virtual and Integral Reality’, in the International Journal of
Baudrillard Studies
, Vol. 2., No. 2. at:

(2005) ‘Integral Reality’, ‘The Mental Diaspora of the Networks’ and ‘Virtuality and Events’, in The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, Oxford: Berg. (the events chapter is also available online as ‘Virtuality and Events: The Hell of Power’ at:

These will give you an overview of his comments on new media and virtuality. This then needs to be placed in the context of his broader media theory. My book offers a detailed summary of this:

Merrin, W. (2005) Baudrillard and the Media. A Critical Introduction, Cambridge: Polity.

For a basic understanding of Baudrillard’s own comments upon media the following are the best points of entry:

(1996) ‘Conclusion: Towards a Definition of Consumption’ in The System of Objects, London: Verso, pp. 199-205 [1968].

(1998) ‘The Consumed Vertigo of Catastrophe’, ‘The Orchestration of Messages’, ‘Medium is
Message’, ‘Pseudo-Event and Neo-Reality’ and ‘beyond the True and the False’, from The Consumer Society, London: Sage [1970].

(1981) ‘Requiem For the Media’, in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, St Louis: Telos Press, pp. 164-84 [1971].

(1993) ‘The Order of Simulacra’, in Symbolic Exchange and Death, London: Sage, pp. 50-86 [1976].

(1983) In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, New York: Semiotext(e) [1978].

(1990) ‘Stereo-Porno’, from Seduction, Montreal: New World Perspectives, pp. 28-36 [1979].

(1994) ‘The Precession of Simulacra’, ‘The Implosion of Meaning in the Media’, ’Holocaust’ and
‘Absolute Advertising, Ground-Zero Advertising’, in Simulacra and Simulation, Michigan: University of Michigan Press [1981].

(1993) ‘After the Orgy’, in The Transparency of Evil, London: Verso, pp. 3-13 [1990].

(1995) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, Sydney: Power Publications [1991].

(2002) The Spirit of Terrorism, London: Verso.

(2005) ‘War Porn’, in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, at:

If you want to look at the other secondary works on Baudrillard for more detail and different interpretations try the following (but avoid any student cultural theory etc. textbook – most of these have too simplistic and often just plain wrong discussions of his work). The best known critiques of Baudrillard are found in Kellner, D. (1989) Jean Baudrillard. From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond (Cambridge: Polity) and Norris, C. (1992) Uncritical Theory (London: Lawrence and Wishart). More positive analyses of his work can be found in Gane, M. (1991) Baudrillard’s Bestiary (London: Routledge), (1991) Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory (London: Routledge), and (2000) Jean Baudrillard. In Radical Uncertainty (London: Pluto). Easier student books include Lane, R. J. (2000) Jean Baudrillard (London: Routledge) and Hegarty, P. (2004) Jean Baudrillard. Live Theory (London: Continuum). Genosko, G. (1999) McLuhan and Baudrillard. The Masters of Implosion (London: Routledge) is useful for more advanced students as are the essays in the online International Journal of Baudrillard Studies at .

On Virilio:

The best text to read for this lecture is Virilio’s 1995 book:

Virilio, P. (1997) Open Sky, London: Verso.

Further reading by Virilio is easy to find – he has published many books and most are now available in translation. The following is a list of his major works. Not all are entirely relevant for the lecture, though most contain chapters, sections or ideas that relate to the lecture themes. Be warned that Virilio’s style of thought and writing is complex and highly compressed and this can be a problem for many students. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or confused, just focus on the ideas in Open Sky.

(1994) Bunker Archaeology, New York: Princeton Architectural Press [1975]

(1986) Speed and Politics, New York: Semiotext(e) [1977]

(1989) War and Cinema, London: Verso [1984]

(1991) The Lost Dimension, New York: Semiotext(e) [1984]

(2005) Negative Horizon [1984]

(1995) The Vision Machine, London: BFI [1988]

(2000) Polar Inertia, London: Sage [1990]

(2002) Desert Screen, London: Continuum [1991]

(1995) The Art of the Motor, London: University of Minnesota Press [1993]

(1999) Politics of the Very Worst, New York: Semiotext(e) [1996]

(2000) A Landscape of Events, London: MIT Press [1996]

(2000) The Information Bomb, London: Verso [1998]

(2000) Strategy of Deception, London: Verso [1999]

(2003) Art and Fear, London: Continuum [2000]

(2002) Crepuscular Dawn, New York: Semiotext(e)

(2002) Ground Zero, London: Verso

(2005) City of Panic, Oxford: Berg [2004]

(2007 ) The Original Accident [2005]

(2005) The Accident of Art, New York: Semiotext(e)

(2007) Art As Far As the Eye Can See, Oxford: Berg

You could also look at:

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘“A Century of Hyperviolence”: Paul Virilio: An Interview’, in Economy and Society, Vol., 25, No. 1, pp.111-26.

Armitage, J. (ed.) (2001) Virilio Live, London: Sage

Der Derian, J. (ed.) (1998) The Virilio Reader, Oxford: Blackwell

Redhead, S. (2004) The Paul Virilio Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Secondary texts and commentaries on Virilio include:

Armitage, J. (ed.) (2000) Paul Virilio: From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond, London: Sage.

James, I. (2007) Paul Virilio (Routledge Critical Thinkers), London: Routledge.

Redhead, S. (2004) Paul Virilio. Theorist For an Accelerated Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.

Rose, J. (2007) Paul Virilio: Live Theory, London: Continuum (forthcoming for a long time).

Kellner, D. (no date) ‘Virilio, War and Technology: Some Critical Reflections’, at:

On the net look at:

Virilio, P. (1994) ‘Cyberwar, God and Television’, interview with Louise Wilson, at:

Virilio, P. (1995) ‘Speed and Information. Cyberspace Alarm!’, at: also available as ‘Red Alert in Cyberspace’, at:

Virilio, P. (1995) ‘The Art of the Motor’, at:

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘The Silence of the Lambs. Paul Virilio in Conversation’, interview with Carlos
Oliveira, at:

Virilio, P. (1996) ‘Speed Pollution’, an interview with James Der Derian, at:

Virilio, P. (1997) Interview with James Der Derian, at:

Virilio, P. (2000) ‘The Kosovo War Took Place in Orbital Space’, interview with John Armitage, at:

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘The Game of Love and Chance. An Interview With Paul Virilio’, interview with Jerome Sans, at:

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘Future war. A Discussion with James Der Derian’, at:

Virilio, P. (no date) ‘A Crash of Strategic Thought’, at:

Special online issue of Speed (1997, issue 1.4) devoted to Virilio, at:

MS-352 Virtual Life week 9


So far in the module we have considered the human relationship to technology and machines and the possibility of using technology to improve or transcend the human body and its limits. In this lecture we’ll look in detail at another important issue –the evolution of machines themselves, the possibility of a robotic future and of evolved intelligent machinic life. In week two we explored issues around vitalism and the view of machines as organic, as life and even as evolving. The starting point here is that vitalistic perspective, especially as it’s described in Butler’s 1872 satirical novel Erewhon which includes a remarkable analysis of machinic evolution. From there we’ll explore the history of robotics and debates around artificial intelligence to ask whether the dreams of science fiction authors over the last century might, after all be more than fiction.


Begin with Butler, S. (1974) Erewhon, London: Penguin Books, chs., 23-25, ‘The Book of the Machines’, at:

Then look at:

Brooks, R. (2002) Robot. The Future of Flesh and Machines, London: Penguin.

Perkowitz, S. (2004) Digital People. From Bionic Humans to Androids, Washington: Joseph Henry Press.

For further reading on robotics and on A.I., in practice or in theory, try:.

Boden, M. A. (1990) The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Copeland, J. (1993) Artificial Intelligence. A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell

Hayles, N. K. (2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22 (1): 131-151.

Capps, R. (2004) ‘The Humanoid Race’, in Wired, July, at:
(2006) ‘The 50 Best Robots Ever’, in Wired, January, at:

Carter, M. (2007) Minds and Computers. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Dreyfus, H. (1992) What Computers Still Can’t Do. A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, London: MIT Press. (see also What Computers Can’t Do, 1972 and 1979 editions and his article
‘Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence’ from 1964 if you can find it).

Kelly, K. (1994) Out of Control, London: Fourth Estate Ltd.

McCarthy, J. (2004) ‘What is Artificial Intelligence’, at:

Minsky, M. (1988) Society of Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster
(2006) The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial intelligence and the Future of the Human Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Richards, J. W. (ed.) (2002) Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press.

Searle, J. (1980) ‘Minds, Brains and Programs’, (the ‘Chinese Room’ argument),

Turing, A. (1950) ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’, (his original article),

Warwick, K. (1997) March of the Machines, London: Century Press.

Bear in mind that robotics and A.I. is a continually developing field. Keep up with the latest developments in robotics on the news and technology websites. Look up robots on my blog for stories over the last year and search for developments up to 2006 online.

MS-352 Virtual Life week 8

8. ‘BETTER … STRONGER … FASTER …’: Becoming Cyborg

Alongside debates on identity and community, one of the most important issues in contemporary cyberculture is the status and experience of the body. The question of embodiment and the place and role of the body in the on-line world is one that has attracted much attention, especially as many are arguing today for its active transmutation or even jettisoning in favour of the ‘posthuman’. We’ve already considered embodiment in relation to virtuality and virtual worlds online and this lecture will develop the debate around the body and new technology by focusing upon the concept of the ‘cyborg’ – a cybernetic organism that combines the biological and the mechanical, either to restore or to enhance human functions. This is an idea with a long practical and fictional history. Experiments in prosthetic devices date back to the Greeks and today new developments in cyborg technologies – in limbs, in organs and in sensory replacements – are being regularly reported. Many are uneasy with this interpenetration of human and machine. Our literature, television and cinema warns us continually of the dangers of cyborgs and the loss of humanity (whether in cybermen of the borg), though other representations point to an improvement that is aspirational (children in the 1970s grew up with their bionic man dolls wishing they had bionic sight and strength…). This lecture will examine the history of the cyborg, the real developments in cyborg technology happening today and our cultural reaction to this implicit collapse in distinction between human and machine.


For a broad introduction to the question of the body in cyberculture start with:

Bell, D. (2001) ‘Bodies in Cyberculture’, in An Introduction to Cyberculture, London:
Routledge, pp. 137-62.

The best student discussion of the cyborg and its history can be found in:

Perkowitz, S. (2004) Digital People. From Bionic Humans to Androids, Washington: Joseph Henry Press.

Stelarc is one of the most famous proponents of the cyborg-augmented body. Find his homepage at: Read his manifestos about the body and its fate and then look at:

Atzori, P. and Woolford, K. ‘(1995) ‘Extended Body: Interview With Stelarc’, in CTheory, at:

Fernandes, M. (2002) ‘The Body Without Memory. An Interview With Stelarc’, in CTheory,

Stelarc, (2005) ‘Prosthetic Head: Intelligence, Awareness and Agency’, at:

(2005) ‘From Zombie to Cyborg Bodies: Extra Ear, Exoskeleton and Avatars’, at:

Smith, M. (2007) Stelarc. The Monograph, London: MIT Press.

Then explore the following:

Haraway, D. J. (1991) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The reinvention of Nature, London: Routledge, pp. 149-81, plus in many different readers, see for example, Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 291-324. It’s also on-line at

Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, Essays by Landsberg and Terranova, pp. 190-201; 268-79, and the whole of Parts 6 and 7, pp. 471-624: in particular the essays by Balsamo, Stelarc and Dery, pp. 489-503; 560-576, and 577-587.

Hables Gray, C. (ed.) (1995) The Cyborg Handbook, London: Routledge.

Hables Gray, C. (2002) Cyborg Citizen, London: Routledge.

Hayles, N. K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman, London: University of Chicago Press.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton, chs 4 and 6.

Featherstone, M. and Burrows, R. (eds.) (1995) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk, London: Sage.

Geary, J. (2002) The Body Electric. An Anatomy of the New Bionic Senses, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

O’Mahony, M. (2002) Cyborg. The Man Machine, London: Thames and Hudson.

Warwick, K. (2002) I, Cyborg, London: Century Books.
(2005) ‘Professor Kevin Warwick’, Homepage, at:

‘The Cyborg’, at:

Other texts that you might find useful on fictional and popular cultural representations of the cyborg include:

Cavallaro, D. (2000) ‘Cyberpunk and the Body’, in Cyberpunk and Cyberculture, London: Athlone Press, pp. 72-108.

Napier, S. J. (2000) ‘Doll Parts: Technology and the Body in Ghost in the Shell’, in Anime: From Akira to Princess Mononoke, London: Palgrave.

Bukatman, S. (1993) Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, chs 4 and 5.

Recommended Viewing includes clips of the Daleks and Cybermen from BBC TV’s DR Who (from the classic series look at The Daleks, The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of the Cybermen and Invasion and from the new series look at the series 2 episodes, The Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel), Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man, and the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation (Q Who, The Best of Both Worlds, parts 1 and 2 and I Borg) – see the new box-set, Star trek. Fan Collective: Borg, Paramount Home Entertainment (UK) (2006)) and Star Trek: First Contact. Films include:

Cameron, J. (2003) The Terminator, MGM [DVD 1984]

(2003) Terminator 2: Judgement Day, MGM [DVD 1991]

Shirow, M. (2003) Ghost in the Shell, Manga Entertainment Ltd. [DVD 1995]

(2006) Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Manga Entertainment Ltd. [DVD 2004]

Tsukamoto, S. (2002) Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Kaijyu Theatre [DVD 1989]

(2002) Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer [DVD 1991]

Cronenberg, D. (2002) Videodrome, Universal Studios {DVD 1982].

(1999) Crash, Columbia Tristar [DVD 1996].

Keep up with the latest developments in mind-machine interfaces and robotics at the BBC News site and other technology sites. My blog links to many of the most important publicised developments over the last year, and before that I’d recommend the following stories that I quote in class:

BBC News (2003) ‘Monkey Brains Control Robot Arms’, BBC News online, 13th October at:

(2005) ‘“Thoughts Read” Via Brain Scans’, BBC News online, 7th August, at:

Sample, I. (2005) ‘Chip Reads Mind of Paralysed Man’, in The Guardian, 31st March, pp. 1., at:,,1448835,00.html

(2005) ‘Meet the Mind Readers’, in The Guardian, Life, 31st March, pp. 4-5., at:

MS-352 Virtual Life week 7

7. ‘ shortly after, the human era will be ended…’: TRANSHUMANISM, POSTHUMANS AND ‘THE SINGULARITY’

Over the last few decades a new philosophical movement has gained attention. New technologies, their rapid development and their potential to transform our world have inspired the emergence of ‘transhumanist’ or ‘posthumanist’ thought. The terms themselves are often treated identically as describing the broad position that technology will propel a new evolution of our species beyond the traditional definition of the human, although sometimes the terms are distinguished, with transhumanism representing a movement pushing for the evolution of the human into the ‘posthuman’. At the heart of the transhumanist’s hopes are a range of technologies, in the short term these involve advanced computing power and cyborg technologies but in the long term they look forward to the cumulative impact of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering. This GNR revolution (genetics, nanotechnology and robots) will, according to thinkers like Kurzweil, propel the human into realms and worlds and experiences and possibilities that we can currently only dream about. The point at which these technologies begin to impact on each other, pushing each other forward exponentially is known as ‘the spike’ (as its path is represented on a graph as an upward curve) and the point at which everything will have changed is known as ‘the singularity’. For the transhumanists we can’t even imagine now what will happen after that: it is the limit point of our present thought. This lecture will build on our discussions of transhumanist ideas so far (such as in debates around virtual reality and the work of thinkers such as Moravec) and critically introduce and explore the transhumanist philosophy.


On ‘the singularity’ and ‘the spike’

Broderick, D. (2001) The Spike, New York: Tom Doherty Associates LCC.

Vinge, V. (1993) ‘The Technological Singularity’, lecture at VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Centre and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, 30-31st March, at:

On posthumanism:

Bostrom, N. – homepage of Nick Bostrom at: with a lot of transhumanist resources.

(2005) ‘A History of Transhumanist Thought’, at:

(2003) ‘Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?’ at:

Bostrom, N. and Pearce, D. (2002) ‘The Transhumanist Declaration’, at:

(2005) ‘World Transhumanist Association’, Homepage, at:

Drexler, E. (2005) Engines of Creation, at:

FM-2030 (2005) ‘FM-2030’, at:

Joy, B. (2000) ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’, in Wired, 8.04, at:

Kelly, K. (1995) Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World, New York: Perseus Books.

Kurzweil, R. (1999) The Age of Spiritual Machines, London: Orion Business Books.

(2005) ‘Human 2.0’, in New Scientist, 24th September, pp. 32-7. See also:

(2005) ‘’, Homepage, at:

(2005) The Age of Intelligent Machines, at:

(2005) The Singularity is Near, London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd.

(2003) ‘Human Body Version 2.0’, at:

Mazlish, B. (1993) The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines, London: Yale University Press.

More, M. – Max More’s personal webpage at:

(1994) ‘On Becoming Posthuman’, at:

(1997) ‘Beyond the Machine’, at:

(2003) ‘The Principles of Extropy’, Version 3.11, at:

(2005) ‘Extropy Institute’, Homepage, at:

Naam. R. (2005) More Than Human. Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, London: Broadway Books.

Richards, J. W. (ed.) (2002) Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press.

Stock, G. (2003) Redesigning Humans. Our Inevitable Genetic Future, New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Vinge, V. (2001) True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, pp. 241-330 [1981]. Available at:

Vita-More, N. – Natasha Vita-More’s webpage at:
(-) ‘The Transhumanist Culture’ at:

Really, this is just the beginning of what’s available on the net. I’d advise sticking to the idea s of the most famous transhumanists – Moravec, Kurzweil, Bostrom, the Mores etc. as recognised thinkers in the movement and be careful of the fringe commentary on this fringe movement… For a critique of transhumanism/posthumanism look to the work of Davis, Dery, Fukuyama and Hayles:

Davis, E. (1988) Techngnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fukuyama, F. (2002) Our Posthuman Future, London: Profile Books.

Hayles, N. K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman, London: The University of Chicago Press.
(2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22 (1): 131-

Look up news stories over the last few years on nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, prosthetics, cyborg technology and neuroscience for more information about posthuman developments.

MS-352 Virtual Life week 6

6. DIGITAL TRANSCENDENTALISM: De Chardin, McLuhan, Moravec

We began the course by considering different western philosophical views of reality. One strand – idealism – suggested that the physical world was not the primary reality: that the true reality was a higher realm of divine spirit, reason or mind. The implications of this were that the physical reality could be left behind, or that we only really existed as mind. Although usually associated with theological positions the same ideas reappear in the hopes and dreams of many contemporary new media theorists and advocates. Here, though it is materialist science itself (technology and new electronic media) that is seen as providing the means to connect humanity and link them together in a single unit, to connect them to the divine, or to let them pass beyond the physical world and its limitations. This lecture looks at three examples of digital transcendentalism: Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s belief in the emergence of an electronically connected mind; McLuhan’s belief in the cosmic destiny of an electronically linked humanity, and Hans Moravec’s posthuman dreams of downloading consciousness and the future minds and intelligences that it will lead to.



Davis, E. (1988) Techngnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail.

On De Chardin:

Begin with the Wired article that relates him directly to developments in new media. Theall’s essay is also useful in parts (though ranges beyond De Chardin into a detailed discussion of Joyce…)

Cobb Kreisberg, J. (1995) ‘A Globe, Clothing Itself With a Brain’, in Wired, 3.06, June, at:

Theall, D. (2002) ‘Becoming Immedia: The Involution of Digital Convergence (on Teilhard De Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man), in Tofts, D., Jonson, A. and Cavallaro, A. (eds.) Prefiguring Cyberculture, London: MIT Press.

De Chardin, P. T. (1976) The Phenomenon of Man, London: Harper Perennial [pub. 1955, written 1938-40].

Cunningham, P. J. (1997) ‘Teilhard De Chardin and the Noosphere’, in Computer Mediated Communication Magazine, March, at:

There are many web pages (obviously…) devoted to De Chardin, but be warned, his work moves towards some strange ideas and picks up much strange commentary. What you choose from this to look at is your decision. Evaluate commentaries and essays from an academic viewpoint and use them academically.

On McLuhan

My own paper on McLuhan is a good starting point:

Merrin, W. (2008) ‘McLuhan’ in New Media: Key Thinkers, Cambridge: Polity. (available on

Then dive into McLuhan! You’ve already covered him in MS200 so some of you will have already read him. If not, then begin with:

McLuhan, M. (1995) ‘The Playboy Interview’, in McLuhan, E. and Zingrone, F. (eds.) Essential McLuhan, London: Routledge, pp. 233-69 [1969]. Available on-line at

(1994) ‘Part One’, in Understanding Media, London: MIT Press [1964]. – followed by the rest of the book …

(1989) ‘Laws of the Media’, in Sanderson, G. and Macdonald, F. (eds.) Marshall McLuhan. The Man and the Message, Golden, Col: Fulcrum Inc, pp. 205-09 [1977].

McLuhan, M. (2002) McLuhan Unbound (Volume 1), Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press.

McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. (1996) The Medium is the Massage, San Francisco: Hardwired.

Benedetti, P. and Dehart, N. (eds.) (1997) Forward Through the Rear-View Mirror. Reflections On and By Marshall McLuhan, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

After that consider the following applications of McLuhan:

De Kerckhove, D. (1995) The Skin of Culture: Investigating the New Electronic Reality, Toronto: Somerville House.

Levinson, P. (1999) Digital McLuhan, London: Routledge.

McLuhan, E. (1998) Electric Language: Understanding the Message, Toronto: St. Martin’s.

Theall, D. (2001) The Virtual Marshall McLuhan, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Important Discussions of the themes of this lecture may also be found in:

Genosko, G. (1999) McLuhan and Baudrillard. The Masters of Implosion, London: Routledge.

Horrocks, C. (2000) Marshall McLuhan and Virtuality, Cambridge: Icon Books.

Huyssen, A. (1995) Twilight Memories, London: Routledge.

Kroker, A. (1995) ‘Digital Humanism: The Processed World of Marshall McLuhan’, in Ctheory, Articles, A028,

Marchessault, J. (2004) Marshall McLuhan, London: Sage.

Wolf, G. (1996) ‘The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool’, in Wired, 2.01, January, pp. 44-9 [available on-line at ]

If you want to explore other things McLuhan wrote, the following might be tracked down (but some will need ordering):

Carpenter, E. and McLuhan, M. (eds.) Explorations in Communication. An Anthology, Boston: Beacon Press.

McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

(1966) ‘The All-at –Once World of Marshall McLuhan’, in Vogue, August, pp. 70-3, 111.

(1966) ‘Cybernation and Culture’, in Dechert, C. R. (ed), The Social Impact of Cybernetics, London: University of Notre Dame Press, pp.95-108.

(1967) Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations, New York: Something Else Press Inc.

(1967) ‘Television in a New Light’, in Donner, S. T. (ed.) The Meaning of Commercial Television, London: University of Texas Press, pp. 87-107.

(1968) ‘The Reversal of the Overheated Image’, in Playboy, December, pp. 131-4, 245.

(1974) ‘At the Moment of Sputnik the Planet Becomes a Global Theatre in Which There Are No Spectators Only Actors’, in Journal of Communications, Winter, pp. 48-58.

(1976) ‘The Violence of the Media’, in Canadian Forum, September, pp. 9-12.

(2003) Understanding Media, Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press [new critical edition].

McLuhan, M. and Carson, D. (2003) The Book of Probes, Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press.

McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. (1997) War and Peace in the Global Village, San Francisco: Hardwired.

McLuhan, M. and McLuhan, E. (1988) Laws of Media. The New Science, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, M. and Parker, H. (1969) Counter-Blast, New York: Harcourt Brace and World Inc.

McLuhan, M. and Powers, B. (1989) The Global Village, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The following are contemporary discussions of McLuhan that are now hard to find but might be ordered off the internet:

Crosby, H. H., and Bond, G. R. (eds.) The McLuhan Explosion. A Casebook on Marshall McLuhan, New York: American Book Company.

Duffy, D. (1969) Marshall McLuhan, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Finkelstein, S. (1968) Sense and Nonsense of McLuhan, New York: International

Miller, J. (1971) McLuhan, London: Fontana/Collins.

Rosenthal, R. (ed.) (1968) McLuhan. Pro and Con, London: Penguin.

Stearn, G. E. (ed.) (1968) McLuhan. Hot and Cool, London: Penguin.

Theall, D. (1971) The Medium is the Rear View Mirror. Understanding McLuhan, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

And the following are other texts that apply McLuhan to the contemporary era or discuss his relevance:

Cavell, R. (2002) McLuhan in Space; A Cultural Geography, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lanham, R. A. (1995) The Electronic World: Democracy, Technology and the Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Meyrowitz, J. (1985) No Sense of Place, New York: Oxford University Press.

Moss, J and Morra, L. M. (eds.) (2004) At the Speed of Light There is Only Illumination, Ottowa: University of Ottowa Press.

Patterson, G. (1990) History and Communications. Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, the
Interpretation of History
, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Powe, B. W. (1995) Outage. A Journey Into Electric City, Toronto: Random House of Canada.

Finally, other important McLuhan-related items include:

Genosko, G. (2004) Marshall McLuhan. Critical Evaluations. Vols. 1-3, London: Routledge.

Gordon, W. T. (1997) Marshall McLuhan. Escape Into Understanding, New York: Basic Books.
(1997) McLuhan For Beginners, London: Writers and Readers Ltd.

Marchand, P. (1989) Marshall McLuhan. The Medium and the Messenger, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

McLuhan, E. and Zingrone, F. (eds.) Essential McLuhan, London: Routledge.

Molinaro, M., McLuhan, C., and Toye, W. (eds.) (1987) Letters of Marshall McLuhan, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moos, M. A. (ed.) (1997) Marshall McLuhan, Essays. Media Research, Technology, Art, Communication, Amsterdam: G+B Arts International.

Sanderson, G. and Macdonald, F. (eds.) Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message,
Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Inc.

Willmott, G. (1996) McLuhanism, or Modernism in Reverse, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

As for web-sites, try – - the McLuhan program in culture and technology. – lots of McLuhan links (though some are dead) - McLuhan ‘probes’ - Journal of McLuhan studies – more links to other sites
(As usual please note that all sites used are quoted, referenced and correctly listed in the bibliography of your essays. Don’t assume that because it’s not listed in this booklet it can’t be found).

And to round it all off, consider looking at:

McMahon, K (Dir.) McLuhan’s Wake, Primitive Entertainment Ltd. [DVD]

The Video McLuhan Archive [VHS] – in our library now.

On Moravec:

Begin with my own overview:

Merrin, W. (forthcoming) ‘Hans Moravec’, in Merrin, W. (ed.) New Media: Key Thinkers, ambridge: Polity (available on blackboard).

Then look at his own writings. The good news is that much of Moravec’s best work is available on line. Start by reading ‘Dualism Through Reductionism’ (see below) then look at essays such as ‘Pigs in Cyberspace’ (oldies will spot The Muppet Show reference!), ‘The Age of Robots’, ‘The Senses Have No Future’ and ‘Simulation, Consciousness, Existence’. To find them, go to his own web page – Follow the ‘Publications’ links and look at the following. Ignore the more scientific papers he has written in favour of those which touch upon the theme of the lecture. The following are probably his best essays.

(1977) ‘Intelligent Machines. How to Get There From Here and What to Do Afterwards’, Informal report, September 3rd,

(1979) ‘Today’s Computers, Intelligent Machines and Our Future’, Analog, Vol. 99, No. 2, February, pp. 59-84,

(1987) ‘Dualism Through Reductionism’, in Truth, Vol. 2,

(1989) ‘The Robot as Liberation From Human Nature’, in Interactions: 10, December, pp. 32-42,

(1990) ‘Open Letter to Roger Penrose’, at:
(1991) ‘The Universal Robot’, in Hattinger, G. and Weibel, P. (eds.), Out of Control: Ars Electronica 91, Landesverlag, Linz, Austria, pp. 13-28,
(1992) ‘Pigs in Cyberspace’, in Miller, B. and Wolf, M. (eds.), Thinking Robots, an Aware Internet and Cyberpunk Librarians: the 1992 LITA President’s Program, Library and Information Technology Association, pp. 15-21,

(1994) ‘The Age of Robots’, in More, M. (ed.), Extro 1, Proceedings of the First Extropy
Institute Conference on Transhumanist Thought, April 30-May 1st, Extropy Institute, pp. 84-100,

(1997) ‘Hans Moravec’, interview with Nova, October, at:

(1998) ‘Interview – Hans Moravec’, with Carlo Bertocchini, 28th November, at:

(1998) ‘The Senses Have No Future’, in Beckmann, J. (ed.), The Virtual Dimension: Architecture, Representation and Crash Culture, Princeton Architectural Press, pp. 84-95,

(1998) ‘When Will Computer Hardware Match the Human Brain?’, in Journal of Transhumanism, Vol. 1., March,

(1999) ‘David Jay Brown Interviews Hans Moravec’, in Mavericks of the Mind, 13th March.

(1999) ‘Simulation, Consciousness, Existence’, in Intercommunication, 28, Spring, pp. 98-112,

(1999) ‘Rise of the Robots’, in Scientific American, December, pp. 124-35,

(2000) ‘Ripples and Puddles’, Web publication,

(2001) ‘Kubrick’s AI and Mind Children’, June 25th, at:
(2002) ‘Robots Rising. Hans Moravec’, interview with Roy Christopher, at:

(2003) ‘Robotics’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, July,

(2003) ‘Robots, After All’, Communications of the ACM, October, pp. 90-97,

Moravec, H. and Pohl, F. (1993) ‘Souls in Silicon’, in OMNI, Vol. 16, No. 2, November, pp. 66-76,

If you prefer to be physically and intellectually stimulated by crushed and dried plant fibres stained with vegetable and mineral-derived dyes and attached together with a biological glue of dubious composition, probably involving animals, then look at the following:

Moravec, H. (1988) Mind Children. The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, London: Harvard University Press, especially ch. 4, ‘Grandfather Clause’.

(1994) Robot. Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other on-line Moravec interviews and related resources include: - frontwheel drive interview

Platt, C. (1995) ‘Superhumanism’, in Wired, Issue 3.10, October, at: – on downloading - on transhumanism - Journal of Evolution and Technology

For a critical discussion of Moravec look at:

Davis, E. (1988) Techgnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail, ch. 4.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Burns. A. (1997) ‘Moravec’s Dangerous Idea’, in Disinformation, at:

Hayles, N. K. (2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 131-51.

For fictional representations of downloading go and find:

Rucker, R. (1987) Software, New York: Avon Books [1982]

Egan, G. (2000) Permutation City, London: Orion Books, especially the ‘prologue’ [1994].
(1998) Diaspora, London: Gollancz.

Sladek, J. (1970) The Muller-Fokker Effect, London: Hutchinson.

MS-352 Virtual Life week 5

5. Hive Minds, Collective Intelligence, and Wise Crowds with Long Tails

Media studies began with mass media. It was a product of and response to the broadcast era, emerging in the 1920s as the study of the effects of radio and cinema broadcasting, newspapers, and, in retrospect, the Post-Gutenberg era of mass-produced print culture. The ‘mass’ of mass media was seen as a problem. Crowds, masses and mobs were usually thought of as large, unintelligent forces, capable of unpredictable behaviour and easily roused into irrational action and aggression. In an era of mass media and deliberate propaganda this danger was multiplied as the size of the mass increased to national levels and as modern persuasive techniques overcame the defences of ordinary citizens. In many ways this view of the mass audience came to fruition in the era of television in the idea of a nation of passive ‘couch potatoes’. By then media studies had begun to question this concept of the passive mass audience, emphasising instead its activity and strategies of resistance but it did so by moving away from the concept of the ‘mass’ and ‘the masses’, retreating into a study of smaller units and individuals. As such ‘the mass’ retained its negative connotations.

And then came new media. New media were contradictory. On the one hand they offered new means of individual empowerment, allowing the expression of individual feeling, ideas, arguments, opinions and identity, giving rise, through wikis, blogs, interactive feedback and comments, podcasts, forums, video-hosting sites, chat rooms and social networking sites, to a remarkable wave of me-casting or my-casting. On the other hand they simultaneously aggregated their audiences and users into a potentially global mass, unparalleled in human history. And then we began to rethink this mass. Instead of being dumb; instead of being worse than rational individual behaviour and expert individual opinion, it became clever. It became collectively smart and often better than and more significant than the individual. We began to read about collective intelligences, wise crowds, long tails of consumption and collective problem-solving…

What we saw was the application of a whole panoply of linked ideas to the web and to the connected, networked masses of the new media era. Ideas from cybernetics and systems theory; from A.I. theory (Minsky’s Society of Mind), the philosophy of mind and consciousness and neuroscience; from the physical sciences (from chaos theory and its discussions of emergence and complexity) and the study of physical and biological systems and phenomena (such as water-flows, flocking birds and ant behaviour); from the developing science of networks; from sociological social-network theory, and from the business world (in free-market ideas of the emergence of order from the actions of independent, self-interested, self-organising individuals and self-governance of phenomena by the ‘invisible hand’) all came together as part of an emerging contemporary paradigm about the production of complex, intelligent wholes from simple, connected parts. This paradigm has had a huge influence in new media and cyberculture in helping us understand the power and potentiality of the global masses it creates. This lecture will offer an overview of the history of the mass and the new ideas of mass behaviour and collective intelligence the net is giving rise to.


This is a big topic and a diverse reading list. So what to actually look at? Levy’s book provides the theoretical overview of our age of connected, collective intelligence. I’d recommend Surowiecki’s book for the best contemporary explanation of today’s ‘wise crowds’ – read in the context of the net and Levy’s arguments, its relevance becomes obvious. Johnson’s book is perhaps the easiest to read on the idea of emergence and complexity arising from simple processes. Anderson, Tapscott and Benkler are all strong on how connected, collective behaviour in the new media world transforms the market and production (either supporting or undermining traditional capitalism). The rest you could dip into as your interest takes you, but it’s difficult to recommend anything more specific on a topic that ranges over science, business, new media, artificial intelligence, sociology and psychology… Doing justice to all this is, quite honestly, a difficult task so only choose this as an essay if you like reading and thinking…

Cyberculture and new media books:

Levy, P. (1997) Collective Intelligence, Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Books.

Anderson, C. (2006) The Long Tail, London: Random House Business Books.

Tapscott, D. (2007) Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, London:
Atlantic Books.

Benkler, Y. (2006) The Wealth of Networks, London; Yale University Press.

Minsky, M. (1988) Society of Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster.

O’Reilly, T. (2005) ‘What is Web 2.0?’, available at:

Kelly, K. (1994) Out of Control, London: Fourth Estate Ltd.
(2005) ‘We Are the Web’, available at:

Weinberger, D. (2007) Everything is Miscellaneous, New York: Times Books.

Marville, P. (2005) Ambient Findability, New York: O’Reilly.

Wright, A. (2007) Glut. The Deep History of Information Science, New York: Joseph Henry Press.

Allen, C. (2004) ‘Tracing the Evolution of Social Software’, in Life With Alacrity blog, at:

Donath, J. (2004) ‘Sociable media’, at:

Popular science books on emergence, collective behaviour and consciousness:

Johnson, S. (2001) Emergence. The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, London: Penguin.

Gleick, J. (1997) Chaos. Making a New Science, London: Vintage Books.

Hofstadter, D. (2000) Godel, Escher, Bach. An Eternal Gold Braid, London: Penguin Books.

Dennett, D. C. (1993) Consciousness Explained, London: Penguin Books.

Popular science/psychology/business books:

Surowiecki, J. (2004) The Wisdom of Crowds, London: Abacus

Gladwell, M. (2000) The Tipping Point, London: Abacus

Levitt, S. and Dubner, S. J. (2006) Freakonomics, London: Penguin Books.

The Science of Networks:

Watts, D. J. (2004) Six Degrees. The New Science of Networks, London: Vintage Books.

Barabesi, A. L. (2003) Linked. How Everything is Connected to Everything Else, London: Plume Books.

MS-352 Virtual Life week 4

4. ‘ A Place For Friends …’: Self, Identity and Community in Cyberspace

The development of cyberspace has, many argue, produced an entire, other realm of human communication, interaction, and knowledge. Building on our discussion of virtuality and cyberspace this lecture explores online relations and communities, the recent rise of social networking sites and the production and display of the self online. As we’ll see, debate on these issues is heavily polarised between those who see the internet as a space for the construction of and play with new identities and as opening the possibility of the formation of new communities, restoring this dimension to an increasingly anomic post-industrial social life, and those who are more critical of the modes of communication and interaction that have developed on-line. This lecture will critically explore the theoretical arguments taking the currently fashionable social networking sites Myspace and Facebook as case studies .

Key Readings

The most famous writers on community and identity are Sherry Turkle and Harold Rheingold:

Turkle, S. (1994) ‘Constructions and Reconstructions of Self in Virtual Reality: Playing in the MUDs’ also in in Druckery, T. (ed.) Electronic Culture, New York: Aperture, pp. 354-65.

Turkle, S. (1996) ‘Aspects of the Self’, in Life on the Screen, London: Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 177-209 [1995] – plus the rest of the book.

Rheingold, H. (1994) The Virtual Community, London: Harper Collins, also available on-line at

Rheingold, H. (2003) Smart Mobs. The Next Social Revolution, London: Perseus Books.

Turner, F. (2005) ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New economy: The Well and the Origins of Virtual Community’, The Society for the History of Technology, at:

Key Websites

For an overview of the issues surrounding identity and community look at:

Bell, D. (2001) ‘Community and Cyberculture’ and ‘Identities in Cyberculture’, in An Introduction to Cyberculture, London: Routledge, pp. 92-112; 113-36.

Lister, M. et al (eds.) ‘Networks, Users and Economics’, in New Media: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, pp. 164-218 (especially, 164-182).

Dibbell, J. (1994) ‘A Rape in Cyberspace’, in Dery, M. (ed.) Flame Wars. The Discourse of Cyberculture, London: Duke University Press, pp. 237-61.

Plus look at the links at: and - Turkle features in Wired

MS-352 Virtual Life week 3

3. ’6pm. Today’s Special: Virtual Reality TV Presents “The Kennedy Assassination”…’ : Virtual Realities, Virtual Worlds, Virtual life

"6pm. Today’s Special. Virtual Reality TV presents “The Kennedy Assassination”. The virtual reality headset takes you to Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963. First you fire the assassin’s rifle from the Book Depository window, and then you sit between Jackie and JFK in the Presidential limo as the bullet strikes. For Premium subscribers only – feel the Presidential brain tissue spatter your face OR wipe Jackie’s tears onto your handkerchief." J. G. Ballard, ‘A Guide to Virtual Death’ (1992)

We begin our consideration of the impact of new media upon humanity by looking at the concept of ‘virtuality’ and our production of virtual experiences, virtual worlds and virtual reality. Although early precedents can be found (such as in Huxley’s Brave New World) it is in the postwar period that the idea of an electronic virtual reality begins to attract attention. By the 1960s sci-fi authors such as Daniel Galouye and Philip K Dick are exploring the idea of a full, immersive electronic reality and its impact upon our experience and knowledge of the real. Vinge’s 1981 novella ‘True Names’ developed the idea of a realm globally accessed by individuals through personal computers but it was William Gibson’s coining of the term ‘cyberspace’ and his description of it in his 1984 book, Neuromancer, that popularised the idea. Television and cinema have also explored virtual reality, from ‘the matrix’ that appeared in Dr Who in 1976, through Tron, Lawnmower Man, Strange Days, Existenz, The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix, producing some of the most famous explorations of the concept. Real virtual reality, however, remains at a limited stage of technical and commercial development, although advances in processing power and simulation still hold out the possibility of its eventual take-off. In the meantime what has taken off are a range of other virtual experiences, from the ‘3D realism’ of videogames and online virtual worlds such as WOW and Second Life, through to the ordinary online experience of the virtual world of ‘cyberspace’ and the ‘hybrid’ realities we see on everyday media such as television (in the development of ‘virtual newsrooms’ and their graphic presentations combining different modes of realism and animation). At the heart of these ideas of virtuality is the simulation of modes of experience (whether possible or fantastic). Thinking about these processes and their possible future and its implications returns us to the questions of reality, knowledge and embodiment posed in week one and allows us to begin to think more deeply about the new media world we experience.

On Human-Computer Interaction:

Wiener, N. (1965) Cybernetics, London: MIT Press [1948]
(1988) The Human Use of Human Beings, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press [1950]

Licklider, J (1960) ‘Man-Computer Symbiosis’, at:

Licklider, J. and Taylor, R. (1968) ‘The Computer as Communication Device’, at:

Engelbart, D. (1962) ‘Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework’, at:


Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

Daniel F. Galouye, (1964) Counterfeit World [Also known as Simulacron – 3], the story The Thirteenth Floor was based upon – this world exposed as VR 35 years before The Matrix!

Philip K Dick (1959) Time Out of Joint
(1963) ‘The Days of Perky Pat’, short-story
(1964) The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (the ‘perky pat’ layouts)
(1966) ‘We Can Remember it For You Wholesale’, short-story
(1968 ) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the empathy box)
(1969) Ubik
(1969) ‘The Electric Ant’, short-story
(1970) A Maze of Death
(1980) ‘I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon’, short-story

James Tiptree (Karen Sheldon) (1975) ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’, in Warm Worlds and Otherwise, New York: Ballantine.

Vernor Vinge (2001) ‘True Names’, in Frenkel, J. (ed.) True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, pp. 241-330 [1981]. An on-line version is available at -and it is essential reading!

William Gibson (1995) Burning Chrome, London: Harper Collins [1986], including ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, Johnny Mnemonic’, ‘New Rose Hotel’ and ‘Burning Chrome’.
(1995) Neuromancer, London: Harper Collins [1984]
(1995) Count Zero, London: Harper Collins [1986]
(1995) Mona Lisa Overdrive, London: Harper Collins [1988]
(1994) Virtual Light, London: Penguin [1993]
(1997) Idoru, London: Penguin [1996]
(2000) All Tomorrow’s Parties, London: Penguin [1999]

Neal Stephenson, (1993) Snow Crash, London: Penguin, especially chs 3 and 5, pp. 18-25; 33-41 [1992]. The defining cyberpunk novel of the 1990s.

Jeff Noon, (1993) Vurt, London: Pan Books. A major headf… Trainspotting Meets Neuromancer. Manchester druggies get off on vurt feathers which transport them into a virtual reality somewhere between a filmic and game experience. Just go and read it …

Vendetti, R. and Weldele, B. (2006) The Surrogates (Graphic Novel), Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.


Dr Who ‘The Deadly Assassin’, Dr Who, BBC TV (1976)

Rusnak, J. (1999) The Thirteenth Floor, Columbia Tristar [DVD]

Cronenberg, D. (1999) eXistenZ, Alliance Atlantis [DVD]

Bigelow, K. (2001) Strange Days, Universal Studios [DVD]

Wachowski, A. and L. (1999) The Matrix, Warner Bros. [DVD]

Leonard, B. (2002) The Lawnmower Man, Prism Leisure Group [DVD 1992]

Lisberger, S. (2002) Tron. 20th anniversary Collector’s Edition, Buena Vista Home
Entertainment [DVD 1982].

On Virtual Reality:

Bukatman, S. (1993) ‘Terminal Space’ and ‘Terminal Penetration’, in Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, pp. 103-82; 185-240.

Lister, M. et al (2003) ‘New Media and Visual Culture’, in New Media: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, pp. 97-163 (especially 107-138)

Heim, M. (1993) ‘The Essence of VR’, in The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 109-28.

Rheingold, H. (1992) Virtual Reality, London: Mandarin.

Zizek, S. (1996) ‘From Virtual reality to the Virtualisation of Reality’, in Druckery, T. (ed.) Electronic Culture, New York: Aperture, pp. 290-95.

There’s much available on the web about VR though make sure it’s what you want – it can vary from technical and factual information about the systems available and contemporary research to wild theorising about its potential. Try the following as good ways in - a good page with simple information and many links, and - lots of links, many of them useful on the technical side.

On Cyberspace:

Davis, E. (1998) ‘Cyberspace: The Virtual Craft’, in Techgnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail, pp. 190-224.

Heim, M. (1993) ‘From Interface to Cyberspace’ and ‘The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace’ in The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 73-82; 83-108.

Mitchell, W. J. (1997) City of Bits, London: MIT Press.

Wertheim, M. (1999) The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, London: Virago.

Benedikt, M. (2000) ‘Cyberspace: First Steps’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 29-43.

Robins, K. (2000) ‘Cyberspace and the World We Live In’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 77-95.

On The Matrix

There’s obviously a huge literature by now on The Matrix and its representation of VR so here’s a sample reading list should you want to follow up on this.

Clover, J. (2004) The Matrix, London: BFI Publishing (BFI Modern Classics)

Couch, S. (ed.) (2003) Matrix Revelations: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to The Matrix Trilogy, London: Damaris Publishing.

Condon, P. (2003) The Matrix Unlocked, Contender Books.

Corliss, R. (1999) ‘Popular Metaphysics’, in Time Magazine, April, Vol. 153, No. 15, 1999,

Faller, S. (2004) Beyond The Matrix: Revolutions and Revelations, London: Chalice Press.

Garrett, S., Garrett, G., and Seay, C. (eds.) (2003) The Gospel Reloaded. Exploring Spirituality and Faith in The Matrix, Pinion Press.

Haber, K. (ed.) (2003) Exploring “The Matrix”. New Writings on The Matrix and the Cyber Present, iBooks.

Horsley, J. (2003) The Matrix Warrior. Being the One, Gollancz. (absolute Rubbish but still significant …)

Irwin, W. (ed.) (2002) The Matrix and Philosophy. Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Open Court Publishing Company.

Kapell, M. and Doty, W. G. (eds.) (2004) Jacking Into The Matrix Franchise: Cultural Reception and Interpretation, London: Continuum.

Lawrence, M. (2004) Like a Splinter in Your Mind. The Philosophy Behind The Matrix Trilogy, Oxford: Blackwell.

Lloyd, P. B. (2003) Exegesis of The Matrix, Whole-Being Books.

Merrin, W. (2003) ‘“Did You Ever Eat Tasty Wheat?”: Baudrillard and The Matrix’, in Scope – An Online Journal of Film Studies, April,

Baudrillard, J. (2003b) ‘The Matrix Decoded’ (translation of interview in Nouvel Observateur, 19th June 2003),

Campbell, D. (2003c) ‘Matrix Films Blamed For Series of Murders by Obsessed Fans’, in The Guardian, May 19th, (accessed February 2004),,3604,958840,00.html

Yeffeth, G. (ed.) (2003) Taking the red Pill. Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix, Chichester: Summersdale Publishers Ltd.

Wachowski, A. and L. (1999) The Matrix, Warner Bros [DVD]
(1999) The Matrix Revisited, Warner Bros. [DVD]
(2000) The Art of The Matrix, London: Titan Books.
(2001) The Matrix. The Shooting Script, New York: Newmarket Press.
(2003) The Animatrix, Warner Bros [DVD] – especially ‘Matriculated’
(2003) The Matrix Reloaded, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Matrix Revolutions, Warner Bros [DVD]
(2003) The Matrix Comics, London: Titan Books.
(2005) The Matrix Comics. Volume 2, London: Titan books.
(2004) The Ultimate Matrix Collection, Warner Bros [DVD] 10 disc set.

On William Gibson:

Neale, M. (2003) No Maps For these Territories: On the Road With William Gibson, New York: New Video Group [DVD], script on-line at

Bukatman, S. (1993) Terminal Identity, London: Duke University Press, chs. 2-3.

Butler, A. M. (2000) Cyberpunk, Herts: Pocket Essentials.

Cavallaro, D. (2000) Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson, London: Athlone.

Clark, N. (1996) ‘Rear-View Mirrorshades: The Recursive Generation of the Cyberbody’, in Featherstone, M., and Burrows, R. (eds.) Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk, London: Sage, pp. 113-33.

Fitting, P. (1991) ‘The Lessons of Cyberpunk’, in Penley, C. and Ross, A. (eds.) Technoculture, Oxford: University of Minnesota Press.

Kellner, D. (1995) ‘Mapping the Present From the Future. From Baudrillard to Cyberpunk’, in Media Culture, London: Routledge, pp. 297-330.

McQuire, S. (2002) ‘Space for Rent in the Last Suburb (On William Gibson’s Neuromancer)’, in Tofts, D., Jonson, A., and Cavallaro, A. (eds.) Prefiguring Cyberculture: An Intellectual History, London: MIT Press, pp. 166-78.

Olsen, L (1992) William Gibson, Starmont: Mercer Island (available on-line at: )

McCaffery, L. (ed.) (1991) Storming the Reality Studio, London: Duke University Press.

Sterling, B. (1988) ‘Preface’, in Sterling B. (ed.) Mirrorshades. The Cyberpunk Anthology, New York: Ace Books [1986]. [reprinted in McCaffery].

Tomas, D. (2000) ‘The Technophilic Body: On Technicity in William Gibson’s Cyborg Culture’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. M. (eds.) The Cybercultures Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 175-89 [1989].

I’d recommend the following on-line: - Begin with Gibson’s official site and follow the links. - ‘The Works of William Gibson: Articles and Resources;, including his first six books and his short story collection on-line. - ‘William Gibson’ - especially good for Gibson articles and for the interviews I discuss in class. - ‘Study Guide For Neuromancer’. - the ‘Virtual Matrix’. – the William Gibson Web Ring, giving access to lots of Gibson sites.

On Video Games and Virtual Worlds:

Castronava, E. (2005) Synthetic Worlds, London: University of Chicago Press

Carr, P. and Pond, G. (2007) The Unofficial Tourist’s Guide to Second Life, London: Boxtree.

Dovey, J. and Kennedy, H. W. (2006) Game Cultures, Open University Press.

Guest, T. (2007) Second Lives. A Journey Through Virtual Worlds, London: Hutchinson.

Taylor, T. L. (2006) Play Between Worlds. Exploring Online Game Culture, New York: MIT Press.

Poole, S. (2000) Trigger Happy. The Inner Life of Video Games, London: Fourth Estate.

Marshall, P. D. (2004) New Media Cultures, London: Arnold, ch 5.

Wolf, M. J. P. (ed.) (2002) The Medium of the Video-Game, New York: University of Texas Press.

Wolf, M. J. P. and Perron, B. (eds.) (2003) The Video-Game Theory Reader, London: Routledge.

Newman, J. (2004) Video Games, London: Routledge.

Krzywinska, T. and King, G. (eds.) (2002) Screenplay: Cinema, Videogames, Interfaces, London: Wallflower Press.

Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N., and De Peuter, G. (eds.) (2003) Digital Play, New York: McGill-Queens University Press.

Atkins, B. (2003) More Than a Game. The Computer Game as Fictional Form, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

DeMaria, R. and Wilson, J. L. (2002) High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, New York: McGraw Hill.

King, L. (ed.) (2002) Game On: The History and Culture of Video-Games, New York: Lawrence King Publishing.

Kent, S. L. (2002) The Ultimate History of Video Games, New York: Prima Life.

Burnham, V. (2003) Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age, 1971-1984, New York: MIT Press.

Herz, J. C. (1997) Joystick Nation, New York: Little, Brown and Co.

On the Prehistory of VR: Panoramas, Phantasmagoria and Stereoscopes - A History of Immersion…

Merrin, W. (2005) ‘Buckle Your Seat-Belt Dorothy: Cause Cinema’s Goin Bye-Byes’, in Furby, J. and Randell, K. (eds.) Screen Methods. Comparative Readings in Film Studies, London: Wallflower Press.

Merrin, W. (2006) ‘Skylights Onto Infinity: The World in a Stereoscope’, in Visual Delights II: Exhibition and Reception, Luton: John Libby Books.

Oettermann, S. (1997) The Panorama. History of a Mass Medium, New York: Zone Books (read the introduction and chapter one).

Comment, B. (1999) The Panorama, London: Reaktion Books (chapters 1-5 give the history; chapters 6-14 discuss the form).

Mannoni, L. (2000) The Great Art of Light and Shadow, Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Schwartz, V. R. (1998) Spectacular Realities, London: University of California Press.

Heard, M. (2006) Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern, Hastings: The Projection Box.

Robinson, D., Herbert,, S., Crangle, R. (2001) Encyclopaedia of the Magic Lantern, London:
The Magic Lantern Society.

Crompton, D., Franklin, R. and Herbert, S. (eds.) (1997) Servants of Light. The Book of the Lantern, London: The Magic Lantern Society – read Thomas Weynants’ essay, The Fantasmagoria’.