Dr. Graham J. Murphy, a prof in the Cultural Studies and Department of English at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, has written a swell academic paper about my novel Eastern Standard Tribe. The essay, “Somatic Networks and Molecular Hacking in Eastern Standard Tribe,” was originally published in Extrapolation Vol.48, Issue 1 (2007), from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. Graham and his publisher have given me permission to put a PDF of the article up, too!
Art’s Tribal activities as an agent-provocateur are obviously Doctorow’s
satirical critique of a wired marketplace that regularly has the end-user tied to the whims of a hostile corporate culture. Admittedly, Art is initially part of the end-user problem because his loyalty to the ESTribe requires his work at V/DT to be founded on maximizing end-user hostility. It is not until he is in the sanatorium that he has an epiphany that his life has been wasted. After roof-Art has been hurt while trying to escape off the roof, he is introduced to Dr. Szandor, a medical doctor who stands diametrically opposed to the sanatorium’s psychiatrists. Unlike the mental-health practitioners who have repeatedly ignored Art’s claims of wrongful incarceration and have opted to put him on medications that leave him in a drugged stupor, Dr. Szandor actually talks to Art and learns a great deal about the man. A key topic of discussion is the problems with mental-health facilities. During those discussions Art begins to sketch out potential alternatives to the sanatorium system that has him caged, a theoretical facility he dubs HumanCare. Dr. Szandor is noticeably impressed with Art’s acute vision of HumanCare while Art feels “a familiar swelling of pride. I like it when people understand how good I am at my job. Working at V/DT was hard on my ego: after all, my job there was to do a perfectly rotten job, to design the worst user experiences that plausibility would allow. God, did I really do that for two whole goddamned years?” (179). Art comes to recognize that the last two years of his life at V/DT have been a waste because his agent-provocateur mission, founded on end-user hostility and corporate stagnation, has stifled what amounts to his innate skills as a molecular hacker.