Terminal Identity

The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction

Terminal Identity

Book Pages: 420 Illustrations: 30 b&w illustrations Published: May 1993

Author: Scott Bukatman

Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Scott Bukatman's Terminal Identity—referring to both the site of the termination of the conventional "subject" and the birth of a new subjectivity constructed at the computer terminal or television screen--puts to rest any lingering doubts of the significance of science fiction in contemporary cultural studies. Demonstrating a comprehensive knowledge, both of the history of science fiction narrative from its earliest origins, and of cultural theory and philosophy, Bukatman redefines the nature of human identity in the Information Age.
Drawing on a wide range of contemporary theories of the postmodern—including Fredric Jameson, Donna Haraway, and Jean Baudrillard—Bukatman begins with the proposition that Western culture is suffering a crisis brought on by advanced electronic technologies. Then in a series of chapters richly supported by analyses of literary texts, visual arts, film, video, television, comics, computer games, and graphics, Bukatman takes the reader on an odyssey that traces the postmodern subject from its current crisis, through its close encounters with technology, and finally to new self-recognition. This new "virtual subject," as Bukatman defines it, situates the human and the technological as coexistent, codependent, and mutally defining.
Synthesizing the most provocative theories of postmodern culture with a truly encyclopedic treatment of the relevant media, this volume sets a new standard in the study of science fiction—a category that itself may be redefined in light of this work. Bukatman not only offers the most detailed map to date of the intellectual terrain of postmodern technology studies—he arrives at new frontiers, providing a propitious launching point for further inquiries into the relationship of electronic technology and culture.


Terminal Identity is a landmark book that should be read by all serious scholars of contemporary SF and postmodern culture. In his wide-ranging study, Bukatman does a much-needed job of synthesizing numerous studies of postmodernism and of SF literature and film to give us a new perspective on changing representations of the human subject in the electronic age. . . . Terminal Identity is well worth reading and impressive for its range of reference and synthesis of ideas.” — Andrew Gordon , Science-Fiction Studies

Terminal Identity offers a definitive formulation of science fiction within a philosophical framework of techno-culture. . . . Bukatman has designed a kind of map of the technological unconscious which constitutes a surrealist discourse on the fusion of bodies and machines.” — Catherine Russell , Canadian Journal of Film Studies

“A wide-ranging excavation of cyber-culture. . . .” — Steve Beard , Arena Journal

“Illuminating. . . insightful in its range of theories and fictions. . . .” — Erik Davis , Voice Literary Supplement

“Bukatman’s book fills an important gap.” — Norman Fischer , Extrapolation

“This is ‘the book’ on science fiction and cyber technology—there is just so much information here it is mind boggling. . . . If you plan on buying any theoretical book this year, make it Terminal Identity.” — Terra X

"Terminal Identity gathers together an extremely impressive . . . array of post-modernist attempts to assess ‘the narration of new technological modes of being in the world.’ " — John Clute , TLS

"Groundbreaking. . . . Terminal Identity has a valuable theoretical contribution to make to the burgeoning para-literature on cyberpunk and its related cultural tropes. Besides that, it’s a tremendously well-informed science fiction source-book which covers everyone from Brian Aldiss to Pamela Zoline. Destined to become a seminal text." — Steve Beard , I-D

"A major addition to the critical study of science fiction. . . . [Bukatman's] analyses of the tropes and metaphors found in recent SF illuminate key areas of concern for postmodernism generally." — Larry McCaffery, editor of Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction

"Scott Bukatman is a smart man who has been thinking hard and paying a lot of attention. People should listen to him." — Bruce Sterling, author of The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

"This book should appeal to . . . anyone in the humanities disciplines working within the discourses of postmodernism. The scholarship is absolutely superior." — Vivian Sobchack, author of Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film


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Scott Bukatman is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University. He is the author of Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction, published by Duke University Press.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1340-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1332-8
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