The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet

Margaret Wertheim, Author W. W. Norton & Company $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-04694-6
In this serious and intriguing, if far-fetched, study, Wertheim (Pythagoras' Trousers) argues that cyberspace gives us ""a technological substitute for the Christian space of Heaven."" She explains that early Christians hoped to trade ""the troubled material world"" for the next one, where bodies would be perfected or disappear and ""injustice and squalor"" would vanish. Internet partisans make similar claims: in cyberspace everyone's equal and nobody's ugly. Christian theology, as espoused by medieval art and literature, imagined a place for bodies (this world) and a place for minds and souls (the next world). But modern science and modern thought (the Renaissance invention of perspective; Copernicus, Newton, Einstein) have explained and demystified physical space, leaving ""no place more special than any other,"" nowhere for us to imagine that souls can be. Wertheim discusses hopeful fictions of ""hyperspace,"" from H.G. Wells to Cubism to Star Wars, before turning (in chapter 6) to the Net, whose denizens--especially users of MUDS (multiple-user dungeons)--have, she contends, found a space for the soul online. This is, she adds, cause for both celebration and worry, since the ""cyber-utopians"" haven't found a clear way to make cyberspace stand (as Heaven did) for an ethics. Wertheim is intent on explaining the Net's meanings, not its workings. If her book belongs to one particular field, it's the minuscule--but mushrooming--one in which literary and cultural critics consider Net phenomena. As such, it's both provocative and worthwhile. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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