“Virtual Reality” (VR) is a term increasingly recurrent today and perhaps the most contested word in contemporary global technology. My discussion brings virtual reality within the space of the American novel in order to distinguish some of the issues in postmodern and postcolonial expression. In his 2000 novel Plowing the Dark, Richard Powers portrays a “too perfect” utopian world of VR in parallel with the dystopian psychology of a kidnapped blindfolded American in a basement in Beirut (34). Characters in the VR plot delight to reproduce an idealist space of artistic paintings such as Henri Rousseau’s The Dream (1910), Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles (1888), and ultimately Hagia Sophia. Powers’s strategy of using this aesthetic world of VR in parallel with the plot of an imprisoned American in the time of the Hostage Crisis in Iran (1979) is interesting. Edward Said, in his Orientalism, argues that the electronic postmodern world reinforces the stereotypes by which the Orient is perceived and represented (91). In this sense, the fictional world of the Cavern will be discussed as means to illustrate how the “late-postmodern” West views his future culture and that of the Other (Green 1). I try to discuss the aesthetics of imagination shown in the Cavern as a metaphor for the future of Western civilization and of the World Order. In elaborating on ideology, the cultural critic and philosopher Slavoj Zizek considers cyberspace as one of its “active agent(s)” (The Plague of Fantasies 118). As I discuss Powers’s Orientalist discourse expressed through VR, I eventually demonstrate cyberspace as a materialist and a hegemonic enterprise that seeks to create a subjective world order. My research findings, by applying Edward Said’s Orientalist theory and Slavoj Zizek’s idea of ideology, will finally maintain Powers’s narrative of Virtual reality as a narrative of power.
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