Friday, October 23, 2009

Cyberculture Seminar Description

ENG 7035—CYBERCULTURE (Richard Grusin)

This seminar will study cyberculture as a historical phenomenon, dating roughly from the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) until the late 1990s. For purposes of the course, we will define cyberculture as the cultural response to the introduction of networked personal computers, particularly in the US and Canada, but with attention to European and Japanese responses as well. We will begin with the emergence of cybernetics in the mid-20th century, then proceed to sketch out the connections between the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence of cyberculture in the 1980s. We will study a variety of print, audiovisual, and networked media forms, including cyberpunk fiction and film and online cyberculture. The seminar will conclude with a survey of the academic development of cyberculture studies in the 1990s.

By studying cyberculture historically we will attempt to identify its cultural, medial, and theoretical particularity—not only as it differs from our current understandings of mobile, socially networked digital media, but also as it shares with and in some sense premediates our current media practices and theories. Cyberculture emerged according to what Jay Bolter and I characterize as the double logic of remediation—a logic of immediacy in which individuals interact with each other through immersion in cyberspace, free from the mediation of bodies, language, or institutions, and a logic of hypermediacy which celebrates the hybridity of the cyborgian human-machine interface. But cyberculture can also be seen to mark an early formation of what I have since 2003 been describing as our current era of premediation, in which print, televisual, and networked media are increasingly concerned not with the remediation of the past, or the immersion in the present, but with the pre-mediation of the future. For in addition to exemplifying the double logic of remediation, cyberspace articulates a logic of premediation in its insistent preoccupation with the future of digital, networked computing.

Several questions will govern our work in the seminar, beginning with “Whither cyberculture?” Was cyberculture a passing historical formation? Or like the counter-culture of the 1960s, has it largely been incorporated by postmodern capitalism into mainstream media culture? Put another way, is cyberculture dead or has it morphed into a new social media formation, perhaps becoming the latest form of participatory media in an age marked by premediation?

In addition to regularly scheduled face-to-face seminar meetings, we will experiment with forms of synchronous and asynchronous communication that helped to vitalize cyberculture and cyberculture studies in the 1980s and 1990s. Students will be expected to write regular short pieces leading to a final seminar project on some aspect of cyberculture growing out of the concerns of the course.

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