Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music, Electric Flesh


177 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-920393-35-7
DDC 973.92




Reviewed by Geoff Cragg

Geoff Cragg is a tenured instructor in the Faculty of General Studies,
University of Calgary.


Spasm is a “theory-fiction” in which Arthur Kroker discusses the
emerging popular culture of America in the light of French postmodern
theory, most notable Baudrillard’s. The text and accompanying CD deal
primarily with the three cultural issues identified in the title: the
virtual nature of postmodern culture; the virtuality of music created
exclusively from digitally processed sampled sounds; and the recombinant

The author’s central argument is that postmodern culture is
technology, and that as we become increasingly mediated our life
experiences partake of the nature of digital reality. Life becomes a
mediascape where every fragment of the cultural archive (and our
subjectivity with it) can be resequenced at will, reconstituted (thus
recombinant) into an endless combinatorial of media effects.

As reality becomes increasingly virtual, the role of the body
changes—it becomes part of the virtual environment. To carry out his
plan, Kroker relies on the work and collaboration of several artists,
most notably Steve Gibson, who contributes not only the CD but also a
chapter on its creation and rationale; and Linda Dawn Hammond, whose
portraits of “body outlaws” are vital to the discussion of the
recombinant body.

This ambitious project is not without its problems. The form of the
text discourages analysis and requires immersion; the resistant reader
will easily become frustrated. The central examples of digital culture
are powerful, but can be readily challenged in terms of their
representativeness or prophetic power. The CD is much more a “theory
anagram” than any kind of popular music; some will find it
unlistenable. Hammond’s photographs are certainly powerful, but
whether they portray a significant or transitory approach to embodiment
is unclear. A number of issues, such as technological determinism and
regulation, are not dealt with.

Spasm will not appeal to the timid or the entrenched, but others will
be attracted by its scope and by its provocative fusion of cultural
practice and postmodern theory.


Kroker, Arthur., “Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music, Electric Flesh,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,