Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
A spectre is haunting contemporary technoculture: the spectre of Singularity. Ten years into a century thus far characterized chiefly by the catastrophic failure of global economic and political systems, deepening ecological anxieties, and slow-motion social crisis, the only sector of our collective cultural myth of Progress still vibrantly intact is the technological - a project which, in vivid contrast to the systemic failure that seemingly prevails at nearly every other level, continues to charge forward at breakneck speed. Since the late twentieth century, prompted by the all-but-exponential growth of machine intelligence and global information networks, and by the still largely obscure but increasingly profound-seeming implications of emerging nanotechnology, futurists and fabulists alike have postulated an imminent historical threshold whereupon the nature of human existence will be radically and irrevocably transformed in a sudden explosion of technological development. This moment of transcendence, it is supposed, is at most only a few years off; indeed, some say, it may have already begun. The "Singularity" - a term coined in 1986 by the mathematician and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, and subsequently adopted throughout technocultural discourse - is at present the primary site of interpenetration between technoscientific and science-fictional figurations of the future, an area in which the longstanding binary distinctions between science and SF, and between present and future, are rapidly dissolving. As much as the Singularity thesis implies a total reorganization of society and of the self - which posthumanist cultural studies and cyborg theory have already begun mapping - it also poses a daunting existential challenge to the enterprise of SF itself, to the extent that the Singularity imposes what Vinge has described as "an opaque wall across the future," an impenetrable cognitive obstacle beyond which the extrapolative imagination cannot glimpse. For a genre long defined by its efforts to assert, through the narrative technique of extrapolation, a meaningful continuity between present and future, the Singularity presents a thorny problem indeed, demanding both a reevaluation of SF's conception of and orientation toward the future, and a new narrative model capable of grappling with the alien and often paradoxical complexity of the postsingular.
This study is an inquiry into the properties and problematics of Singularity across fictional and nonfictional discourses, and as such it operates on two levels. Reading Singularitarian literature against a broadly articulated context of fringe-science and transhumanist movements, consumer culture, political and economic theory, and related areas of contemporary cyber- and technoculture, I examine how the metaphor of Singularity structures and signifies the aspirations and anxieties of late-twentieth and early twenty-first century technocivilization. As a project of literary criticism specifically, the study works to identify and theorize a grouping of texts that is emerging from cyberpunk and postcyberpunk tendencies in contemporary SF, organized around the premises of Singularity and the posthuman, and classifiable primarily in terms of an attempt to mount a response to the formal and conceptual problems Vinge has identified. Primary readings are drawn from a wide-ranging selection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century technocultural fiction, with emphasis on SF works by Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, and William Gibson.
Copyright 2010 Joshua Thomas Raulerson