Mark Dery

shovelware

Mark Dery (b. 1959) is an American author, lecturer and cultural critic. He writes about ‘media, the visual landscape, fringe trends, and unpopular culture.’ From 2001 to 2009, he taught media criticism and literary journalism in the Department of Journalism at New York University. In 2000, he was appointed Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow at the University of California, Irvine. In 2009, he was awarded a scholar-in-residence position at the American Academy in Rome.

He identifies his politics as ‘unrepentantly leftist’ and his religion as the parodic Church of the SubGenius. Dery’s books include ‘The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink’ and ‘Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century.’ He edited the anthology ‘Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture’ and wrote the monograph ‘Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signs.’ His essay collection ‘I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams’ was published in 2012.

An early writer on technoculture, Dery helped inaugurate cyberstudies as a field of serious inquiry with ‘Flame Wars’ (1994). The project spurred academic interest in cyberfeminism and ‘Afrofuturism,’ a term Dery coined in his essay ‘Black to the Future’ (included in ‘Flame Wars’) and a key theoretical concept driving the now-established study of black technoculture. In it, he interviews three African-American thinkers—science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany, writer and musician Greg Tate, and cultural critic Tricia Rose—about different critical dimensions of Afrofuturism in an attempt to define the aesthetic. The essay is in part based on Henry Louis Gates’s assertion that ‘[t]he Afro-American tradition has been figurative from its beginnings. How could it have survived otherwise?’

Dery is also known for the 1993 essay in which he popularized the term ‘culture jamming,’ a form of ‘tactical media,’ or guerrilla media activism, with roots in Situationism, ’60s street theater, the agit-prop photomontages of John Heartfield, pirate media, punk zines, and the media pranks of Joey Skaggs. Widely republished in print and on the Web, ‘Culture Jamming’ helped spark the guerrilla media activism movement associated with ‘Adbusters’ magazine (to whom Dery, as a columnist, introduced the concept). It remains the definitive theorization of this subcultural phenomenon.

His other key theorizations include the notion of the ‘pathological sublime,’ which he defined on his blog ‘Shovelware’ as ‘an aesthetic emotion that is equal parts horror and wonder, inspired by works of art (or nature) that hold beauty and repulsion in perfect, quivering tension. The pathological sublime is the sensation Emily Dickinson had in mind when she wrote, ”Tis so appalling—it exhilarates…’ Dery has written extensively about the British sci-fi author J. G. Ballard, whom he reads as a preeminent philosopher of the postmodern. His obituary for Ballard was published by ‘The L.A. Weekly’ and on the fansite Ballardian.com.

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