Medieval Transcendence and Postmodern Cyberspace

One of the more interesting entries from the book Internet Culture is Jeffrey Fisher’s “The Postmodern Paradiso: Dante, Cyberpunk, and the Technosophy of Cyberspace.” In this essay, Fisher exaimes the parallels between the medieval religious notion of transcendence and the postmodernist discourse of virtuality. In medieval transcendence, there is a movement from presence to absence of memory:

The body is left behind, but the memory of it may indeed persist until the last judgement, when the resurrection and glorification of the body completes the dialectic in a synthesis sublating the body into the glorious presence of God. Here, in this paradise, memory is wiped away in the double movement of the glorified body reunited to the soul, on the one hand, and the excess of the total presence of absolute memory on the other. (118)

In the postmodern desire for virtuality, this narrative of transcendence is conceived in technological terms. Immortality or ahistoricity finally becomes possible in the ability to save memory in digital archives or online spaces: “Cyberspace is socially constructed as the postmodern paradise, and all our hopes for virtuality express our desire to escape the limitations of our bodies and the ills of our society.” (122).

And just as religion is described by Marx as the opiate of the masses by making the working classes’s worldly woes more bearable, the postmodern version of medieval paradise encourages us to forget and escape from social realities. The ultimate end of medieval transcendence – the union of God and the corresponding erasure of memory of body, pain, and injustice – also finds its equivalent in the latter:

The archival instinct is the drive to tame memory, to contain it by institutionalizing it. But this rendering memory permanent is in fact the death of memory because memory itself is transcended by an excess of remembering – memory and history become dead information. (112) ■


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