William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984)
This book was ahead of its time and not because it’s a science fiction novel set in a near future. You can read the 1980s technologies that seem out of place in a futuristic novel. After all, why are they using cassettes in the novel? Some people get bogged down on items like out-of-place technologies or questions on whether or not such-and-such technology is possible. Unfortunately, those concerns limit one’s appreciation of the complexity of social science fiction (or of any text). Try your best to interpret the novel from a critical thinking perspective that reads between the lines for what the story comments on socially.
- The Finn
- 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool
- Marie France Tessier-Ashpool
- Dixie “Flatline”
- Case broken and wasting away on skid row–Chiba City.
- Deal to renew himself and be whole again.
- Break into the bizarre corporate headquarters on Tessier-Ashpool, SA.
- Free the AI Wintermute+Neuromancer to become something bigger.
See, it’s a pretty simple plot…well, there’s just a few concerns about how all this is going to get done. Case is a cowboy, and it’s on data that he rides. He’s a thief of a kind, so he’s wanted–wanted, dead or alive. The book is from the 1980s, so a Bon Jovi reference is germane to the discussion.
Cyberspace, the matrix: It’s what we call the Internet, but Gibson envisioned a global network computer system that could be accessed through a GUI (graphic user interface) before the World Wide Web was invented. Yes, the Internet has been around since the 1960s. It’s personal consumer evolution didn’t occur until the early 1990s with GUIs that allowed users to surf in non-text-based environments. In the 1980s, home users with personal computers and very slow modems accessed bulletin board systems to transfer information. If they had graphics, they were very limited. Gibson has Case “jacking into” this system, so his body is outside the matrix, but his mind enters the matrix and can move around.
Love in Neuromancer
Case had dreams (or had alternate realities induced) about Linda Lee. He remembers being in love with her, and she tells him she does, but there’s something odd about their relationship (besides the fact that it’s in an AI’s construct). Whatever Case used to feel about Linda is gone. Sure, if he stays in Neuromancer’s realm, he’ll die, but, just like Cobb* letting go of the guilt he feels for Moll, Case decides to leave the beach and return to Villa Straylight to finish the job (p. 244).
*Cobb is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception (2010).
Here are some questions to ponder:
- Why did Neuromancer create this world for Case? After all, Linda stole from him, so why would he want to be with her?
- At the end, he sees a vision of Neuromancer, Linda, and himself (p. 271).
- How can we interpret this situation where they’re together if only in virtual reality?
Illusion of Love
This topic draws us a little far away from the rhetoric of technology, but it’s completely on point for a cultural studies approach. Several of you are having difficulty being inspired by the novel to think critically and make connections. This section (and the next of “Philosophy of Illusion”) is here to help you think critically. I figure you have a thinkg or tow to say about love, so this should help model ways of interpreting texts.
Think about all those love songs and romantic comedies out there. It’s easy to sing about “love” for 3-4 minutes or watch a grotesque love story for 90-120 minutes. Songs, films, TV shows, etc. are just short pieces of relationships that can easily show love exists. However, they usually don’t get into the difficult parts or contradictory issues of love. In fact, love stories are often used as a psychological release and indulgence into a fantasy of a construct–both social and self–that readers or viewers enjoy. If the reader/viewer can’t have ideal love, they can, at least, have the fantasy to get them through.
The argument above is that “love” is an illusion or, at best, a socially constructed assumption that drives people to couple up. Love songs and romantic comedies hold love up as an ideal and usually want good to come out of the union of two people. Smarter texts complicate love and show how it doesn’t always work out. Neuromancer has a pseudo-love story, but it doesn’t follow the trite, sappy formula of mainstream texts. Please note, this argument is supposed to get you to think about making an argument and being inspired by the text. The novels for this class are science fiction, but they can inspire thought about similar things that happen in the real world.
Philosophy of Illusion
Two things make it difficult to accept (or, at least, consider) the argument I’m making about stories and myths: 1) we don’t want to think we’re being bamboozled, and 2) we don’t often scrutinize our core assumptions–they’re just givens. For your post this week, I’m asking you to reflect on cores assumptions you have, so don’t forget to post a 250-word reflection on Canvas by Friday night.
The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche noted that people live under a “tissue of lies.” Members of a culture have to “buy into” the stories and myths circulating in society just like they buy into the value of currency, which is a representation of value. The texts we’re reading relate to this theme because they have characters entering alternate realities and questioning what’s real and what’s not. Cyberspace isn’t just a technology that acts as a setting for a text; it’s also a metaphor for our being immersed in Information Technologies we use everyday. Do those tools shape our realities? They don’t change values but certainly affect our behaviors.
To continue on the theme of love, what are the “tissues of lies” surrounding Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” (1980)? One stanza is particularly important:
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true /
Or is it something worse
Whoa! Let’s listen to the song and try to understand it’s meaning and how it can complicate ideal(ized) illusions of love–especially young love.
Finally, in the words of Axl Rose (Guns and Roses “Locomotive”):
You can use your illusion /
Let it take you where it may.
Keep up with the reading. Don’t forget to do the Canvas Post for this week, and your 9-page Social Construction of Technology essay draft is do on Wednesday! Turn it on on Canvas.