Thursday, February 21, 2019

Dr. Adder by K.W. Jeter | Cyberpunk and Boundary Transgression

K.W. Jeter's Dr. Adder

K.W. Jeter's Dr. Adder, originally written in 1974, prefigures Cyberpunk fiction by nearly a decade and does so thoroughly, giving characters mobility through using underground sewer space usually off limits, using a primitive form of cyberspace to extend the individual beyond his normal reach, and viewing the body as meat to ignore, abandon, or enhance. Like later Cyberpunk, drug use also figures into Dr. Adder. Drugs allow for immediate psychical mobility, altering perceptions and thoughts, taking individual consciousness far beyond the normal experience.

Cyberpunk Tropes


Dr. Adder's plot follows E. Allen Limmit, a nobody with his father's broken flashglove. Limmit's name is worth examining, especially in regard to the Cyberpunk genre. Dr. Adder contains all of the boundary-transgressing tropes that we have to expect of Cyberpunk fiction: taking drugs, entering cyberspace, moving through a physical underworld, altering the physical body, and heightened sexuality. Yes, Cyberpunk is interested in transgressing boundaries and limitations, an interest that finds its nascence in Jeter's fiction. 


Boundaries and the Flashglove

the flashglove in Dr. Adder

The flashglove is a weird, ultimate weapon provided by an absent authority figure. A desire to connect with the absent father provides the motive to transgress boundaries. Tapping into the power of the flash glove is to tap into a latent identity, to inhabit patriarchal authority, an archetypal boundary desired by boys through childhood but not achievable until physical, mental, and social maturity. Procreation itself does not allow one into the symbolic authority of the father. Like the flash glove, a mantle of fatherly authority is marked by self-sacrifice and suffering, the loss of a hand or the loss of boyhood, respectively. 

Jeter's flashglove is a Freudian symbol of the uncanny. It represents the boy's simultaneous fear of becoming a man in the aspects of physical, social, and mental maturation and also the fear of death, of losing all that one obtains. The loss of the hand figures in as the loss of male strength, of male virility. But only through loss is power acquired. Only through losing childhood does the boy discover what it is to be a man.


Transgressing the Limits / Limmits

a cyberpunk scene from Dr. Adder

In Dr. Adder, Jeter's focus on weird sex connects to transgressing limits. Sex requires breaking through barriers, physical, social, and psychical. And weird sex transgresses cultural norms.

Limmit mucks around in a sewer for a long time, an apt place for a book so dirty. The sewers represent Limmit's ability to freely move through physical space. Sure, the sewers are gross, but they also connect everything in the city grid. The sewers have no barriers from one section of the city to the next. The underground system homogenizes city space, linking everything. From the sewers, all space is accessible, but when all space is accessible, all space is devalued. Value is a function of supply and demand. Thus limitation is important to value. This connects the Cyberpunk ethos of accessing all areas and making information free. The backdrop of Cyberpunk is neo-marxism philosophy, a digital socialism that holds the multinationals and the zaibatsus of the world accountable for the economic exploitation of populations. The economic boundaries that rich corporations have created are transgressed in Cyberpunk narratives as an update to the Robin Hood story.

Limmit's motorcycle is another image of delimitation. The motorcycle is capable of quick, unharried travel. Plus, motorcycles are inexpensive as compared to other vehicles, yet they still offer riders independence, and, with gas mileage superior to passenger vehicles, the motorcycle gives riders easy mobility. In traffic jams, the motorbike can wind around stalled traffic and go. Like the cybernaut, the motorcycle rider navigates his own path.


Mind and Body


Cyberpunk writers are particularly invested in going beyond the limits of the human mind and body. Cyberspace narratives consider the amplification of the human mind's communication abilities, allowing for simultaneity, multiplicity, memory amplification, and technological prosthesis. To this end, in Dr. Adder, Limmit even enters a matrix-like alternate reality.


Cultural Limitations


Cyberpunk and Dr. Adder are also focused on breaking out of cultural limitations. Dr. Adder's enemies, the MoFos or moral forces, represent social limitations. The MoFos physically beat Limmit, stomping and kicking him near to death. The MoFos reify our abstract understanding of how the strictures of society limit us to particular thinking and behavior.

So, cyberpunk is about challenging authority. If it isn't about taking over authority, it is at least about displacing the powers that be, demonstrating that the guarded borders have plasticity, showing that everything is subject to hacking and repurposing.


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