70-Year-Old Cyberpunk: ‘This Interview Is a Mistake’

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: He was the co-publisher of the first popular digital culture magazine, MONDO 2000, from 1989–1993. Now as R. U. Sirius approaches his 70th birthday, a San Francisco-based writer conducts a rollicking interview for the Berlin-based Spike Art Magazine. (“I wanted to speak with someone who had weathered the shakedown of history with art, humour, and a dose of healthy delusion. Or derision. Whatever arrived first…”)

That interview itself was star-crossed. (“What came first, R.U.’s stroke or the Omicron surge? As I recovered from a bout of corona, R.U. fell ill with his own strain.. “) But eventually they did discuss the founding of that influential cyberculture magazine. (Editor Jude Milhon is credited with coining the word “cypherpunk” for an early crytography-friendly group co-founded by EFF pioneer John Gilmore.) Asked about the magazine’s original vision, Sirius says “I was pretty much diverted by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson and their playful, hopeful futurisms, their whole shebang about evolutionary brain circuits being opened up by drugs and technology.”

I needed something to get me out of bed at the end of the 1970s. I mean, punk was great – rock and roll was great – but it wasn’t inspiring any action. I remember my friends stole some giant lettering from a sign at a gas station and some of it hung behind the couch in our living room where we took whatever drugs were around and tossed glib nihilisms back and forth. The letters read “ROT”…. I couldn’t sink any deeper into that couch, so there was nowhere to go except up into outer space.
The surrealism and so forth were influences that travelled with me when I moved to California to create this new thing based on psychedelics, technology, and incorrigible irreverence that eventually became Mondo 2000.

It’s a funny interview. (“The ‘R.U. a Cyberpunk’ page from an issue of Mondo is the only thing most people below a certain age have ever seen from the magazine and we were taking the piss out of ourselves….”) They scrupulously avoid mentioning Mondo’s undeniable influence on the early days of Wired. But inevitaby the conversation comes back around to that seminal question: whither cyberpunk?

Q: The internet, which was a prime source of Mondo subject matter, is home to many eyes, rabbit holes, and agents of algorithmic manipulation. Where is cyberpunk culture alive and well in our contemporary moment? Are you still invested and engaged with cyberpunk as a means of exploring radical possibilities and ideas…?

RUS: [T]here’s not really a cyberpunk movement… Surrealism was a movement for a number of years because an anguished control freak named André Breton maintained it in various formations. We didn’t have that person, and if we had, he or she or they probably would have been laughed out of the sandbox for the attempt….
I’ll remain influenced by playful spontaneity from ancient 20th-century moments not because of any dedication, but only because that’s probably the only way I was ever going to be able to write or create. I lack rigor and once declared it a sign of death.

And Sirius jokes at the end that “usually my attitude is that the world today is bloated with people opinionizing so, this interview is a mistake!”

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