María Ferrández San Miguel is assistant professor at the Department of English and German Studies (School of Education, University of Zaragoza). Her current research interests lie in contemporary US fiction and ethics, with special attention to issues of trauma and the posthuman in speculative fiction. Maria’s most recent publications include Trauma, Gender and Ethics in the Works of E.L. Doctorow (Routledge, 2020) and “Appropriated Bodies: Trauma, Biopower and the Posthuman in Octavia Butler’s ‘Bloodchild’ and James Tiptree, Jr.’s ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’” (Atlantis, 2018).
Resilient Cyborgs: Trauma and the Posthuman in Pat Cadigan’s Synners
This discussion has been copied from the Discord server, names have been reduced to first name, discussion threads have been grouped and edited for better readability.
Aiden: Loved this talk Maria – great bit of work to get across in only 10 minutes! I now must go and read Cadigan…
Maria: Thanks a lot! It’s my first 10-minute paper—I’ve always done 20-minute ones, so that was a challenge!
Carmen: María! So sorry I missed this—had a meeting to attend. But I LOVED your talk, just so you know! … Oh! It’s on now! My bad! Gonna get a quick bite and will be back for this chat
Maria: Thanks a lot Carmen!!
Larisa: Hi Maria. I have lived for a while with this text when I was translating it into Russian. So was glad it is discussed in more detail here as one of the seminal texts
Maria: I love that you used that expression–lived with the text… I think it defines the experience really well!
Steven: I enjoyed the talk a lot (all the more so since, for totally unrelated reasons, I just reread Synners a few weeks ago)
Carmen: I read this book ages ago (I think maybe when I was a teenager?) and haven’t re-read it since. But it would make for a good book to read during a pandemic… That virus!
Carmen: Ok I just checked and it was published in 91 so yeah, a teenager. Can’t believe it was written that long ago!
Maria: As Lisa Tuttle writes in the Introduction to the 2011 reprint, “read Synners now, before it happens”
Carmen: The thing is that if I remember correctly (and I don’t trust my memory: I do trust my teenager self who was smarter than I am) the technology in the book would be kind of dated now, right? Not that this makes your fascinating ideas any less fascinating, María, of course. But it’s kind of “difficult” now to relate to “wired” connections in our wireless world. I do realize this is a much more general comment on how classic cyberpunk was, in a way, destined to be seen as out of date soon: ideas may sound still relevant and contemporary, but often the technology isn’t and it may take away part of the “newness” and “be careful of the future” experience we had when we were reading things as they were published
Maria: Yes, I guess you are right. But I’d say that although the technology might be dated, the ethical issues that the novel rises are not
Carmen: Exactly! That’s what I found fascinating in your talk. I was just wondering whether I would have been as impressed reading Synners now as I was back in the 90s
Steven: it is not just wired/unwired though. Cadigan didn’t forsee moblie devices (none of the early cyberpunk writers did), but we still don’t have the sort of immersion that exists in the novel. Even if Gabe’s full bodysuits are clumsy, they are still better than what we can manage today
Carmen: Yeah, I may be misremembering/generalizing. It was much more of a general observation about how classic cyberpunk is dated, at least in the technology presented (if not in other ways). But I don’t want this to distract our attention from María’s points in her presentation!
Lars: Hi Maria, thanks for your presentation. I liked the view of trauma as part of the cyborg experience … this might be interesting to take a look at with Altered Carbon where resleeving is immediately shown as traumatic from the beginning …
Maria: Yes! I agree that it would be interesting
Sasha: I really liked your analysis of resilience in Synners and your argument about the need for a viable model for a posthuman engagement with technology, along with your juxtaposition of Gabe and Gina’s attitudes towards technology.
Steven: I wanted to ask about the idea of resilience at the end of your talk. I think you are right, that this is what we get. But I have also recently read several critiques of the idea of resilience, on the grounds that it is saying, we can’t do anything to stop the catastrophes, we just want you to bounce back from them… (it might be that the ending slightly annoyed me, because I didn’t think Gabe was good enough to deserve Gina going back to him)
Sasha: Yes, I like Synners a lot, but the ending has always struck me as too heterosexual and individualist, particularly when parts of the text are quite queer!
Maria: Yes, I see your point, but in I way I think it’s true, we can’t do anything to stop the catastrophes from happening, and that’s sort of the idea that I get from Synners
Steven: Makes sense to me. I mean it is gratifying that the evil corporate people get fried, but we know the corporation will still be around to dominate the world (part of why Gabe retreats off grid)
Larisa: Heterosexual people exist too, even in queer environment. Gina and Gabe are kindred creative spirits in the exploitative world which matters the most. Earnestness among pretense, possibility to attune and go side by side matter and overweigh other considerations
Sasha: I think what I meant was, that within Synners, in the diverse community they assemble to stop the virus/spike, there’s a potential exploration of collective and multiple community. And then the novel’s final chapter moves away from that towards what feels like a very nuclear relationship.
Rachel: I wonder if Cadigan was pressured to formulate a tidy / normative ending.
Maria: To be honest, the romantic subplot has always bothered me a bit…and, Rachel, yes, tidy is the word
Larisa: as far as I know from her own words – she was not pressurized to do that. And I don’t see any conventionality in Gina and Gabe relationship but finding the way to work together for the common relief on the one side, but also to work out their own insecurities and actions based on conventional acquiescence on the other. They are a very logically included part of the diverse group capable to work together. Another hint – remember Gabe’s relations with Sam – a litmus test for very untraditionality.
Rachel: Maria, thanks for your thoughtful presentation! I’m particularly interested by the notion of appropriation that you offer toward the end.
Maria: Thanks! For me it’s connected with the search of a posthuman form of agency, an understanding of agency that does not rely on the humanist understanding of it
Rachel: Do you see this as an alternative to “change for the machines”?
Maria: Definitely! Appropriate the technology and embrace the machinic in you
Emily: Hi Maria – Really enjoyed your paper. I was wondering if you could comment on the following thought. It seems to me that the big distinction between cyberspace (social media) as it exists now and the cyberspace of cyberpunk narratives is the division between public and private. The cyberpunk utopian aspects stem from a sense of freedom, of reinvention and through reinvention a kind of privacy – conflict is created when that privacy is invaded. The reality is that social media is in fact a very public medium and exposes us to trauma more than we initially thought it would. It does not provide a comforting ‘private’ escape but a harsh confrontation with the realities of, well, twitter wars and political dogma. It seems to me that Synners reflects this public/private space conflation, from what you have said.
Maria: Thanks! Yeah, I think the novel does focus on the public/private zones, but I’d say that what is being done is rather blurring the limits between both. The public space and the private space (outside vs. inside) metaphorically become one, as the mind is no longer a private zonet, but one that is now open to others in a very physical manner