HomeIntroducing CybercultureBook ReviewsCourses in CybercultureEvents and ConferencesFeatured LinksAbout RCCS

View All Books

Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance

Author: Alan N. Shapiro
Publisher: Berlin, Germany: Avinus Verlag, 2004
Review Published: October 2006

 REVIEW 1: Radim Hladik

I think that Radim Hladik's review of Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance is very good. I thank both him and David Silver. Radim has achieved a rather thorough understanding of my book, and he engages with its ideas on a very high level. His assessment of the book is mainly positive, so I have no complaints about that. Instead I will comment on three criticisms that he makes, and either attempt to refute them or use them as a jumping-off point for new reflections.

First criticism: Radim concludes his review with the assertion that I do not offer clear-cut advice on the issue of praxis. My vision for praxis is summarized in the book's final paragraph, from which Radim himself quotes:

    American culture is at present showing an ugly face to the world. Faced with the Spectre of the Gun, the cowboy President has not the slightest hint of moral ambivalence. As Americans concerned with the globalization of American culture, and the relationship between America and the rest of the world, it is up to us to explore the reservoirs of symbolic exchange within American culture, including radical technological creativity, that contest the dominant consumerism and militarism that the world has unfortunately come to know only too well. Star Trek is one of these resources, but there are others. Mais il y en a des autres.
The book itself is a demonstration of my belief that all the materials for "changing the world" (praxis according to Marx's Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, Debord's "Report on the Construction of Situations," or Gramsci's organic revolutionary popular culture) are already there in front of our noses, yet elusively just out of our reach. Media theory and "radical technological creativity" are two of the fields in which one can pursue this praxis. I will say something below about radical technoscience projects. Regarding television or film theory (I cannot really comment here on new media theory), I go beyond the McLuhan-Baudrillard position that "the medium is the message" to a new appreciation of the radicality of content that might take as its slogan "the message is the medium." But one only attains access to this radicality of the message-content when one (a) has a deep knowledge of theory that one however forgets or "brackets" at the outset of the research, (b) existentially immerses oneself in the "virtual" or "real-time" experience, and (c) allows the theory to emerge slowly and immanently from the experience (or embedded textuality, one might say). For each TV show or film thus studied "in its own terms," an innovative exercise of the medium embodied in the singular radical artistic expression is revealed. I transcend Baudrillard's downplaying of the message through cultivation of the very sensitivity to the medium that I learned from him. This new "phenomenological" method of media studies is explained in considerable detail in the Introduction to Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance. It is, of course, intended to be practiced in writings about many other TV shows, films, and even video games. Once a community of "radical mainstream" fan-theorists producing high-quality authentic works in this mode is established, it will become possible to imagine forging an alliance with the most creative and progressive Hollywood directors and actors for the purpose of changing America. In true Gramscian fashion, the culture industry could be radicalized from within via the infusion of strong intellectual and aesthetic concepts.

Second criticism: Radim claims that I take a "dismissive" stance towards previous radical leftist, feminist, and other academic humanities studies of Star Trek, and wonders if I am too quick to discard their relevance. The actual fact is that I comment favorably on the contributions of 13 humanities scholars who have written about Star Trek: Camille Bacon-Smith, Karin Blair, Anne Cranny-Francis, Chris Gregory, Michael Heim, Elyce Rae Helford, Henry Jenkins, Martin Kasprzak, Constance Penley, Thomas Richards, Joan Marie Verba, and Jon Wagner and Jan Lundeen.

I take a mixed view -- combining appreciation and criticism -- of the contributions of 6 scholars: Ilsa J. Bick, Rosi Braidotti, Scott Bukatman, Mark Dery, Tama Leaver, and Robin Roberts. I admit that the sentence that Radim quotes that begins "For these and countless other radical leftist and feminist theorists, Star Trek is nothing more than ..." is off by one bit. I should have written "... is often nothing more than ..." Nonetheless, what I am discussing in the paragraph from which this sentence is excerpted are the interpretations of the Borg made by Braidotti, Bukatman, and Dery -- and I have five sentences of endorsing recapitulation and praise before I go on to elucidate what I think is the limit of their (essentially shared) reading.

There are 6 theorists/critics whom I am entirely negative about (regarding what they have written about Star Trek): Daniel Bernardi, Carl Freedman, Richard Hanley, Walter A. McDougall, Janet Murray, and Rhonda V. Wilcox. I have, however, come to see that my critical paragraph on Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck is one-sided and unfair. That is certainly a book with a great deal of merit. I take this opportunity to apologize in public to Professor Murray.

Third criticism: Radim also suggests that I am perhaps overly "dismissive" of the plethora of books and articles that address the question of the "Science of Star Trek" availing themselves of the tried-and-true methodology of measuring Star Trek science by the standards of actually existing science. This is, I think, meant by Radim less as a criticism than as the beginning of an interesting exchange of ideas. But yes, I think that all those books on the "Science of Star Trek" beg the question because significant paradigm shifts in science (Thomas Kuhn) will quite simply have to take place in the course of inventing futuristic technologies like Artificial Intelligence or Warp Drive. Now I am switching the context to my activities as a software developer and technologist, and the question of what researching and writing a 350-page book on Star Trek technologies has meant to my own work. As much as any other Trekker, I want to see these technologies invented and deployed. But, unlike most Trekkers, I am deeply worried about the many potential ethical ramifications, as I write about in my chapter on the Transporter. So I will proceed cautiously and provide a lot of resources in our Radical Technology, Media, and Alternative Renewable Energy Company to the Department of Moral Philosophy. I will go out on a limb here and actually say that I now believe that all of the major Star Trek technologies discussed in my book can and will be realized before the end of the twenty-first century. The first of these that my friends and I will bring to fruition is Artificial Intelligence. We will achieve this breakthrough using an approach based on holistic biology that is totally different from all other approaches currently being employed in mainstream techno-scientific AI ventures. The astute reader will note that, in the preceding four sentences, I have reentered the discursive style belonging to the literary strategy carried out in Star Trek: Technologies of Disappearance -- what Radim calls my ambiguity, what some who are familiar with this tradition of writing might call pataphysics, but which I call "deadpan irony." The reader has no immediate way of knowing if I am on the level or joking when I write in such elaborate detail about the new science and real design of supposedly fictional technologies. But there are two ways to find out which it is. Either you have to get to know me better or, barring that, you all will have to just watch what I do.

Alan N. Shapiro


©1996-2007 RCCS         ONLINE SINCE: 1996         SITE LAST UPDATED: 12.10.2009