Monday, June 25, 2012

Steven Shaviro: Matthew De Abaitua's The Red Men

MB: Just finished this book that I first learned about in a review by Steven Shaviro. I thought it was amazing and eerily playing out the implications of our current and future relations to/with technologies, especially those that interface with our conscious lives (or better yet consciousness).

The Red Men (Matthew De Abaitua)
by Steven Shaviro
The Pinocchio Theory

Matthew De Abaitua’s The Red Men (2007) is a literary/SF novel about digital simulation and corporate power in the new millennium. In the wake of 9/11, and with the increasing power of computing technology, the “brand age” of the late 20th century, in which we founded our identity on our favorite corporate brands, has come to an end. It has given way to the “unreal age” (64), a situation in which we find ourselves still subsisting after the apocalypse, or “after the end of the world” (175ff). In the “unreal age,” the cheery brand identification of the 1990s has been replaced by a general atmosphere of fear, anxiety, and distrust. The Red Men offers us a vision of how corporate power and exploitation continue to flourish in this new age of anxiety, and after the “irrational exuberance” of neoliberalism has collapsed along with the economic bubbles that fueled its excesses (cf. 73-74).The corporate-dominated control society now works through an eerie combination of disenchantment and mystification, low-level uneasiness and aggressive solicitation, dreary resignation and the looming threat of brute force.

The Red Men articulates all this through a combination of its general ambiance and its careful prose. The book presents a recognizable present-day world (specifically, England) whose deviations from actuality into science-fictional extrapolation are all-too-disturbingly believable. At the same time, striking aphorisms well up throughout the narration, linking the protagonist’s hair-raising experiences to larger trends. The book is smart, self-conscious, and self-lacerating: but all this in an utterly unpretentious way. On a psychological level, The Red Men combines a lucidity born of disappointment and disillusionment with a deeper understanding of how such disenchanted lucidity is itself an alibi for failure, cowardice, and complicity. And on a sociological level, it probes the ways in which we continue to mythologize an innovative future long after that future has been exhausted.

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