Mapping the System, Completing the Circuit: The Hacker Figure as Techno-Interface in Contemporary Novels of Speculation and in Popular Films

Edward John Ardeneaux IV, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Over the last forty years, no force has driven cultural change more than the rapid expansion and improvement of digital technologies. In my project, I argue that a thorough examination of the hacker figure in fictional texts reveals our aesthetic understanding of technological change through such hybrid, posthuman figures. Such figures act as a bridge between human users and digital technologies. More so than non-fiction or other forms, novels employ hacker figures to connect readers with complex representations of technology. Charting genre mutations through this period, I argue that the hacker figure enacts a promising trajectory that folds into a failure narrative, which the novel form provides a unique landscape to capture. Hacker figures across a range of fictional forms participate in a version of Jameson’s cognitive mapping, allowing us to navigate and better understand the complex systems represented in novels that also map their presents in the matrix of globalization and late capitalism. Through an examination of novels and films from the 1980s, 1990s, and post-9/11—especially works by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, and Daniel Suarez—I reveal how the rise and fall of utopian energies relating to the hacker figure assist in mapping postmodern culture.