Artificial Intelligence finds itself explicitly thematized in the next work I want to discuss, Johanna Drucker's Simulant Portrait (1990). Like Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" (1985), Drucker's Simulant Portrait is an "ironic political myth," one that is "faithful to feminism, socialism, and materialism." Unlike Haraway's manifesto, Drucker's artist's book is also a performative text, a hybrid assemblage of visual and textual forms. Simulant Portrait is in fact one of the single most dramatic embodiments of a cyborg aesthetic I have encountered in print media, and while Haraway's now-famous essay is not the only context for its reading, the similarities, or affinities, between the two works are too striking to ignore. That Simulant Portrait is not mentioned (for example) in any of the forty essays that make up The Cyborg Handbook (Routledge 1995) is perhaps due to its limited availability in an edition of 350 copies from Drucker's own Druckwerk press. Still, there is no question that the book represents a major intervention in both cyborg critical theory and feminist science fiction, and that it succeeds as such not least because it operates as much within the horizon of the visual arts as within the conventions of formal literary technique.
Simulant Portrait is offset printed on Warrens lustro dull paper, hand-sewn in a volume measuring 8 3/4" by 7 1/4" and composed of forty-eight pages. The book's predominant colors are black, white, and a pale, pea green; the typography is a mixture of roman and italic fonts, both serif and sans serif, and of varying point sizes. On the cover we see the head and neck of an androgynous figure, rendered from multiple angles which are each superimposed one over another. This "portrait" is drawn of pale green lines, and set within a white field overlaid by a black matrix or grid, which is then in turn is set against a background of the same shade of green used in the line drawing. The book itself is organized into seven chapters which follow a preface and other front matter, and each chapter is in turn composed of six pages which repeat the same sequence of layouts and graphic arrangements from chapter to chapter. One of the most striking things you'll immediately notice is that the configuration of the text and image blocks resembles nothing so much as the Windows desktop on a PC or Mac.
There is a narrative here, but it is not one that follows the analogue progressions of linear cause and effect. Simulant Portrait is presented as the "auto/bio/mono/graphy" of Sim-one, the prototype of a phylum of artificial life known as the "Sims." It is a portrait of, in the words of Sim-one's biographer - who is one of several textualized presences embodied by the book- " an unlived life . . . versions of a life she thought she'd lived, written out by herself, almost." Or, "a life lived as information," as the book has it elsewhere, for unlike the Generics before them, Sims are possessed of a personal memory and identity. Sim-one's consciousness consists of a vast matrix of data sets, suspended in parallel, "collaged from the real," documents and images and histories and all manner of fragmentary remains of a material existence. The story that is culled from this distributed array is essentially a bildungsroman, beginning with Sim-one's reconstructed childhood, and following her rise to fame in the mass-media, her adoption of a sexuality, and her eventual downfall. It is teleological work, but not really at the level of plot; rather, its teleology inheres in its material form, for the book itself becomes a highly aestheticized incarnation of the information-base from which it is supposedly abstracted. But of course that incarnation is itself only another fiction, for there really is no unseen data or undisclosed information behind the bound pages. Simulant Portrait's multiple voices on multiple tracks, its play of images and texts, its skewed layouts and typographic static - all seemingly iconic of the hypertext the book wants to be - are, instead, the condensed artifice and artifact of an otherwise virtual subjectivity. Or in the words of Sim-one's "biographer":
"And the blank space of the past, from which she had been, of course,
conspicuously absent, reverberated with the strange insertion of her consciousness
into its strictures and orthodoxies. That was what we had not counted on
- that of course the entire of history would change, reorganize, shift
with the domino effect of copy in the file suffering the entry of new material
on its early pages. Alignments altered radically. The paper clips and rubber
bands fell from the files. Her literal body burst into view. The metaphors
of weave, texture, warp and woof all strained to the limits and finally