Death, Personified

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Finally, an episode of It’s Lit about everyone’s favourite Terry Pratchett character. Oh, and a few other versions of it from lesser authors.

Lindsay Ellis fans will have noticed similarities between this video and an earlier Loose Cannon video she did on the same topic. Worth watching both and noting what having a production budget allows for.

Death as a character reveals how we process one of life’s greatest mysteries, and there’s a lot more breadth to how the grim reaper is depicted than you might think.

It’s Lit! is part of THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Hosted by Lindsay Ellis.

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Death of the Author

The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author… or so says Roland Bathes in his essay Death of the Author. Are we talking about literally killing authors? No, this is figurative (like most uses of literally). Can Death of the Author include killing the author? Sure, but get a good lawyer first.

Let’s let Lindsay Ellis (and John Green) explain:

My take on Death of the Author is somewhat complicated. I think there is relevant information that the author has that doesn’t make it into the story (think Elvish languages from Tolkien*), but I also think that quite often if it isn’t in the story it doesn’t really exist. I think that stories are really up to the readers to interpret, as viewpoints and interpretations will change over time**, but that doesn’t mean readers always interpret correctly.

This is a hedged way of saying that Death of the Author is probably too simple a way of thinking about how stories should be interpreted. At least, that’s my interpretation of it.

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Source: Mimi and Eunice

*Let’s not get into how “relevant” I think those languages are, or a lot of that world-building from authors in general is.

**You may remember book reviews here where I’ve discussed how older books haven’t aged well due to changing societal standards. Sexism and racism are obvious changes that have happened in the last 50 years which make formerly acceptable, even progressive, moments in a story seem backward and unacceptable now.

Another thing that can occur is changes to society changes interpretations. E.g. The Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy can be summed up as an old song made references to things that we are no longer familiar with, so our interpretation changes. This makes Death of the Author a truly bad thing for any artwork that is “consumed” outside of the social and temporal setting it was made within.

Is cyberpunk dead or being revived?

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It was only recently that I read Neuromancer. In my defence, I’ve seen all the different cuts of Blade Runner, which has to count for something. Right?

Anyway, there was an interesting video essay from Just Write that I thought I’d share. It discusses the cyberpunk genre and how the aesthetic has lost its relevance.

I actually quite enjoyed the Netflix series Altered Carbon, based on Richard Morgan’s novel of the same name. There were some interesting comments about inequality and inherited wealth that is often overlooked in discussions about living longer. But I have to agree with the video’s comments about the cyberpunk aesthetic of the show being off.

Not that it didn’t fit, but that it didn’t feel that different from what we have now, as the video stated. How can we watch a troublesome/dystopian future that is essentially our now?  These aesthetic elements then undermine much of the narrative comment by reminding us that many of the plot points have already happened. It is a little bit hard to have a cautionary tale of where we are headed in the future when we have already arrived at that point (e.g. wealth isn’t made but instead it tends to be inherited unless there is some sort of inheritance tax in play or dissipation – 1, 2, 3).

So does that mean that Mr Robot and other contemporary cyberpunk stories are the way forward for the genre? Are there other ways to update the genre? Do we need another Blade Runner movie?

Some things to ponder.

Update: Future Tense/Slate published an article suggesting cyberpunk has cast a long shadow over science fiction. It alludes to some of the same points whilst trying to discuss reinvigorating sci-fi. I think the point it fails to make is that the prefix-punk genres were never going to have the same impact as cyberpunk because they were prefix genres following in the wake. If you want to reinvigorate sci-fi* you have to start with something different, not just another prefix.

Update: CuckPhilosophy has an interesting video on the philosophy of cyberpunk that is worth watching if just for the thinkers referenced.

Works Cited:

Lessons from the Screenplay. “Blade Runner — Constructing a Future Noir.”
Extra Credits. “The Witcher III: Wild Hunt – Best Detective Game Ever Made.” Taxi
Extra Credits. “William Gibson: The 80s Revolution.”
Abrams, Avi. Dark Roasted Blend. “Epic 1970s French Space Comic Art.”
Sterling, Bruce. “Mirrorshades: the cyberpunk anthology.” New York: Arbor House, 1986.
Walker-Emig, Paul. The Guardian. “Neon and corporate dystopias: why does cyberpunk refuse to move on?” October 16, 2018.
NAZARE, JOE. “MARLOWE IN MIRRORSHADES: THE CYBERPUNK (RE-) VISION OF CHANDLER.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 35, no. 3, 2003, pp. 383–404. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Karen Cadora. “Feminist Cyberpunk.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995, pp. 357–372. JSTOR
Sponsler, Claire. “Beyond the Ruins: The Geopolitics of Urban Decay and Cybernetic Play.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 1993, pp. 251–265. JSTOR
Nixon, Nicola. “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1992, pp. 219–235. JSTOR
Whalen, Terence. “The Future of a Commodity: Notes toward a Critique of Cyberpunk and the Information Age (L’Avenir D’une Marchandise: Notes Sur Cyberpunk Et L’Ere De L’Information).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1992, pp. 75–88. JSTOR
Senior, W. A. “Blade Runner and Cyberpunk Visions of Humanity.” Film Criticism, vol. 21, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1–12. JSTOR
Usher, Tom. Vice. “How ‘Akira’ Has Influenced All Your Favourite TV, Film and Music.
Giles, Matthew. Vulture. “Taxi Driver, Girls, and 7 Other Big Influences on Mr. Robot.
The United Federation of Charles. “What is Cyberpunk?
The ‘Self-Made’ Myth: Our Hallucinating Rich by Sam Pizzigati

Updates recommended reading:

On “cyber-theory” in general:
M. Featherstone, R. Burrows – “Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk – Cultures of Technological Embodiment
D. Kellner – “Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Post-Modern
By Donna Haraway:
D. Haraway – “A Cyborg Manifesto
D. Haraway – “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women
By Fredric Jameson:
F. Jameson – “Archaeologies of the Future
F. Jameson – “Cognitive Mapping
By Sadie Plant:
S. Plant – “Zeroes and Ones

*I’m not sure I accept the argument that sci-fi needs reinvigorating. Has some of it disappeared up its own butthole? Quite possibly. But that’s a whole argument and discussion on its own… Come to think of it, I’m betting there are endless articles on that topic somewhere.