• • •  revue d'art en ligne : arts médiatiques & cyberculture

Living in a Bath

Antonio Caronia

Introducing William Gibson's COUNT ZERO

Joseph Virek is a very rich man, perhaps the richest man in the world. Joseph Virek can meet his guests where he likes: at the Parc Güell of Barcelona on the background of the dreaming ceramic tiles by Gaudí, in a brasserie under the glass pyramid of Louvre, in a shuttle flying from Paris to Tokyo. And every time he can wear a different suit: a soft overcoat, a white shirt, cotton trousers rolled up under the knee. He will always be the same person. And always a different one. Because that large face with cut short grey hair and the round glasses glim without frames doesn’t correspond any more, probably, to any physical face, ever since the cells of Virek’s body have decided to go each one a different way and the little common life they can still live may be lived only in a bath full of nourishing liquid, lying in a whatever hateful suburb of Stockholm (or perhaps of hell). Joseph Virek, therefore meets his guests only in a “sensorial connection”, that is in very sophisticated environments of virtual reality that deceive the senses as if they where physical environments, and he does so wearing, inside these simulations, the look and the clothes that he likes best.

Count Zero, William Gibson

We are in the world of Count Zero 1, the second novel by William Gibson, published in 1986, and the virtual bodies of Virek are maybe the first avatar of science fiction literature. The term will come only in 1992, with Snow Crash 2, the novel that revealed Neal Stephenson, the most gifted among the cyberpunk writers “of the second generation”. The cyberspace of Stephenson is named “Metaverse”, and is, in some way, more “organized” then the one of Gibson. There are streets (actually only one, The Street), houses, pubs and plenty of people. “[In Metaverse] people are software called avatar. They are audiovisual bodies that people use to interact in Metaverse. (…) Your avatar may have the look that you prefer, within the limits given by the instruments at your disposal. If you are ugly, you may have a beautiful avatar. In Metaverse you can have the look of a gorilla, of a dragon or of enormous speaking penis.” There are standard avatars, all alike, “brico-avatar” from which you can obtain personalised models, linking together different part, and exclusive avatar made to measure. It only depends on the money you can spend. And so, in Stephenson’s Metaverse the physical look immediately shows the income and therefore the social class.

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash

The avatar 



1 W. Gibson, Count Zero, Ace, New York 1986.

2 N. Stephenson, Snow Crash, Bantham, New York 1992.

3 M. Perniola, Il sex appeal dell’inorganico, Einaudi, Torino 1994.

4 S. Turkle, Life on the Screen, Simon & Shuster, New York 1996.

5 A. Dumas pére, Les trois mousquetaires [1844].

6 W. Dunham, Journey Through Genius, John Wiley and Sons, New York 1990.

7 P. Fabbri, Nous sommes tous des agents doubles, in “Le genre humaine”, février 1988, “La trahison”; reprinted in Elogio di Babele, Meltemi, Roma 2000.



Antonio Caronia enseigne la Sociologie de la Culture et Communication multimédia à l’Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts Brera de Milan, et l’Esthétique des Médias à NABA (I). Il est également Director of Studies del M-Node del Planetary Collegium de Plymouth (UK). Il étudie les effets sociaux de l’innovation technologique, les problèmes de la communication, la philosophie du langage. Il est notamment publié Il cyborg. Saggio sull’uomo artificiale (1985-2008), Il corpo virtuale (1996), Houdini e Faust. Breve storia del cyberpunk (avec D. Gallo, 1997), Philip K. Dick: La macchina della paranoia (avec D. Gallo, 2006), Universi quasi paralleli (2009). Il a dirigé avec G. Spagnul Un'ambigua utopia: fantascienza, ribellione e radicalità negli anni 70 (2009), et avec A. Tursi Filosofie di Avatar (2010).


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Cette publication a été rendue possible grâce au soutien financier d'Hexagram, du groupe de recherche des arts médiatiques (GRAM), de la Faculté des arts de l'UQAM, de la Chaire du Canada en esthétique et poétique de l'UQÀM (CEP), ainsi qu'à une subvention, pour une quatorzième année consécutive, du Conseil des arts du Canada (CAC).