Wires are the New Filth: The Rebirth of Dickens’ London in Cyberspace

in Cityscapes of the Future
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When Charles Dickens composed Bleak House, a novel which depicts London as an organic network of bodies, it is doubtful whether he imagined a future technology that would recreate these pathways of biological information that are the basis of his city-organism. Over a century later, the invention of virtual reality, a technology which effectively removes the spatial constraints of interaction between individuals, has inevitably created a space whose structure mimics the topological design of Dickens’ London. Dickens’ network structure undermines the privileged position of human agency through the erosion of the distinction between individual and collective body. His city-organism functions as an ecological system, a by-product of the accumulative waste excreted by its inhabitants which entraps them in an interstitial medium of filth capable of conducting biological information in the form of disease. In the internet age, the medium of filth of the material city-network is restored by the introduction of wired connections, through which information that is uploaded to the network can be transmitted. Thus, contemporary science fiction representations of the city-as-network, along with their implications for the inhabitants of these cities, have much to learn from Dickens’ observations on the process of urbanisation. In this chapter I will demonstrate the degree to which these contemporary works rediscover a Dickensian sensibility in their exploration of the effects of cyberspace on individuality.

Cityscapes of the Future

Urban Spaces in Science Fiction

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