and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the
Age of Fiberoptics
Hui Kyong Chun
The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
360 pp. illus. 62b/w. Trade, $37.50
Reviewed by Martha Patricia Niño
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana
This enjoyable book examines the paradoxes
of freedom in the age of fiber optics.
The notion of light as knowledge, clarification,
surveillance and discipline is interwoven
by networks of light tubes, giving way
to a literal materialization of enlightenment
and at the same time serving as a metaphor
of reality. There is a somewhat extreme
but interesting discussion about concepts
that we take for granted, such as freedom
and liberty. Her position is akin to Zizeks.
There is no better way of enslavement,
no better way to live a non-reflective
existence than living in a free society,
a free world, a free market with a free
circulation of information and democracy.
For him, enlightenment means "Think
as much as you like, and as freely as
you like, just obey!." Freedom is
different from liberty. The act of liberation
from an oppressive circumstance is linked
to liberty while freedom is related to
mobility. If in the past people longed
for "liberty, equality, and fraternity"
now we speak of "freedom, democracy,
and free enterprise". Freedom in
our society is more a characteristic of
capital than individuals, regardless of
how bourgeois they are or even exactly
because of that very same condition, as
Marx stated. This social shift towards
a control and power society is not necessarily
better or worse than a disciplinary society.
These models will always have at some
point internal contradictions such as
the tension between liberty and equality.
Chun also implies the impossibility of
full democracy in a technocratic society
in which the so-called "digital divide"
has not disappeared, and will not disappear
since it is what companies use to sell
themselves as "the solution".
It introduces new liberating and enslaving
forces such as the emerging digital sweatshops.
Within the text you can encounter information
about widely discussed topics but still
very relevant such as when we sacrifice
important rights, such as privacy in order
to have security and to reinforce control
as happens with militaristic approaches
and the post September 11th
terrorist paranoia. She also notices that
paranoia is not pathological anymore but
something that we perceive as logical.
Justifying fear has become quotidian and
Although there is a list of technologies
and descriptions of software and hardware,
the core of her analysis is not based
on technology or military strategies,
and she clearly states that control and
paranoia form part of bigger political
problems that cannot, under any circumstance,
be reduced to technological ones. For
that reason, the research is focused,
instead, on the roles of race and sexuality
in the rich and complex interactions between
freedom and control. These discourses
are symptomatic of larger changes in bio-power.
Internet is sometimes advertised as an
utopist place in which there is no gender,
age, infirmities, or other ways to be
excluded. This is problematical, in particular,
when it is portrayed as a race-free utopia
because it ends up solidifying the stereotypes
that they claim to erase. New media constructs
notions of race that as Mongrel states
are more than simple indexes of biological
and cultural sameness, sometimes the ethnical
conflicts are also carefully constructed.
Race is a complex mental image that sometimes
depicts the fear of otherness since sometimes
it is built upon harmful stereotypes that
dont even exist. Some of the constructions
about others also have colonial and conquest
strategies. The chapter entitled Orienting
the Future is particularly insightful
in that it has interesting criticism
of nerd-cool cyberpunk literature, such
as Neuromancer, a narrative with
high-tech orientalism that projects exotic
and erotic fantasies that highlight the
anxieties about the "impotence"
of Western culture. It is not surprising
that the main character, Case, is a primitive,
emasculated, and suicidal cyber-cowboy.
In a similar way, cyberspace is a sensuous
an addiction so powerful that one turns
to drugs to get over it. For Burroughs,
just as for Norbert Wiener, all language
is all about commands in order to control
people but also implies free will. Burroughs
own addiction made him the perfect visionary
of an age in which the body is the main
battlefield. In a similar way, sexuality
has been associated with relationships
of power, viruses, and pornography, all
discourses that dominate descriptions
of networked contact to the point of talking
The study in orientalism also includes
Mamoru Oshiis Ghost in the Shell,
always taking into account the construction
of both identity and otherness. Through
interesting complex examples as, for example,
how Neuromancer and Ghost in
the Shell create an "East"
in order to create cyberspace. One difference
is that U.S. cyberpunk depicts a Japanese
future in order to register a forthcoming
time gotten worse, inhospitable, dangerous,
and thrilling. Meanwhile, cyberpunk anime
perpetuates Japaniod (not actually Japanese
but a created stereotyped image) in order
to place the blame for the futures
problems on U.S. multinationals.
The book has many very relevant comments
that will be too long to list in this
review about investigations and inquiries
regarding the important and contemporary
issues of control, freedom, and paranoia
from a fresh and intelligent perspective
that make us also reflect upon subjectivity
and identity. Useful information can be
found at http://www.controlandfreedom.net/.