Close readings: Neuromancer

// Post as a comment on this page a 350-word close reading of some aspect of Neuromancer.

4 thoughts on “Close readings: Neuromancer

  1. Kaitlin Robinson

    In Neuromancer, Dixie Flatline’s character explores the idea of the ‘brain in the vat’ theory; can consciousness exist by preserving a person’s mind without their body? Or is Dixie, in fact, trapped and not ‘human’ without his body? Although Flatline was once Case’s mentor and friend, his existence as a construct troubles Case, who thinks “it was disturbing to think of the Flatline as a construct, a hardwired ROM cassette replicating a dead man’s skills, obsessions, knee-jerk response” (77). Case is not initially excited to interact with the Flatline construct, instead Case appears disturbed by the idea. Case does not view the construct as having the same consciousness of his old mentor despite having his hacking skills and abilities, which asks the question if human consciousness can exist in this disembodied state for Flatline.
    The Flatline construct possesses all his old hacking skills, the ability to normally converse as a human would, and can even make jokes. However, the reoccurring image of his unhuman laughter serves as an interesting exploration of his humanity. Throughout the novel Case feels distain for Flatline’s laughter, wishing Dixie would not laugh and thinking things like “when the construct laughed, it came through as something else, not laughter, but a stab of cold down Case’s spine” (106). Case does not feel comfortable with Dixie joking and laughing, perhaps because these actions seem to belong to a more human realm and Case views the construct not as human. Also interesting is the reference to Case’s physical body reactions, how it effects his spine, because it draws an interesting link between body and mind that the Flatline construct cannot experience.
    In addition to Case’s doubts about the Flatline’s humanity, the construct itself even points to his own lack of agency and autonomy, asking Case “you gonna tell me I got a choice, man?” (79) when Case asks him to help on a hacking job. Rather than seeming like an autonomous being, Flatline is trapped as a bodiless mind, evidenced by his request of Case that “this scam of yours, when it’s over, you erase this goddam thing” (106). Dixie would rather be erased then live as a bodiless mind, unable to to act out any free will.
    Despite these limits on Dixie Flatline’s abilities, it seems in the end that the construct found some other form of existence through a deal with WINTERMUTE, because Case hears his laugh one more time in Cyberspace: “somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn’t laughter” (271). This suggests that Dixie has found a way to exist without a body and without being trapped in the program, however it’s not exactly clear what this solution is.

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  2. Hailey Hoyt

    Molly, the Posthuman

    Chapter three of William Gibson’s Neuromancer ends on a bizarre note. Finn mentions that beyond completing hardware updates on computers, he has also fitted Molly for a “broadcast rig”(53). This mechanism will allow Case to access her “sensorium,” and as Finn puts it, “find out just how tight [her] jeans really are” (53). The exchange between Case and Finn is casual and a bit crude, but follows in line of the overall tone and vernacular language of the novel. The way in which Gibson presents the scene detracts from the complexity and ethical implications of the sensorium technology, as the reader is steared to focus more on the hypersexualization of Molly’s backside and less about the mechanism planted within her. This smokescreen effect that Gibson uses acts as a method of normalization for human-computer hybrid systems.
    By implementing technology within Molly, she turns into a form of machine or computer-like system. This linkage between machine and human creates a type of disembodiment or “posthuman” experience. Since Molly’s sensory intake is being monitored and projected into a computer operating system, she becomes a type of inorganic figure because the technology modifies her internal body, leaving readers questioning the nature of a “posthuman.” Case’s ability to easily upload the most intimate human activity lessens the idea of the individual and shuts down human narcissism, making human prestige a thing of the past. The “posthuman” in the novel acts as a way to simplify life as one can just access the body via computer program, making the body a form of meat and placing value on the mind itself.
    Gibson’s decision to describe a technological relationship between human and computer not only raises concerns about posthuman society, but creates an eerie parallel by forcing readers to call to question the ability of computers to become more human-like themselves. The choice to analyze neural network processes, such as touch and smell which are associated with the human experience, is bold because it is a way to further educate computers about life. If a computer is exposed to the mere idea of what occurs within the human body, then it could use this information to pass a turing test by mocking the human experience. The scene highlights the post human experience as Molly becomes less human and the bot is enabled to become more human, signifying a changing world order.

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  3. Darya Behroozi

    Within William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the juxtaposition between the mind and the body provides an interesting parallel to Martin McLuhan’s discourse on the function of media within spatial standards. In McLuhan’s in “The Medium is the Message,” the author states:
    “In operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium– that is, of any extension of ourselves– result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology” (1).
    As he continues in his proposition, McLuhan claims that– as opposed to focusing on the content of media itself– we must first look into its container to fully understand the scope of its social impact. In summation, the true narrative of a source of media in seen through the amalgamation of the container and the contained. William Gibson happens to follow a similar route of thought within his understanding of physicality versus mentality in Neuromancer. In the novel, the mind and the body are treated as if they are two separate entities– respectively, the “matrix” and the “meat.”
    As seen within Herr Case’s disjointed sense of reality and function within Gibson’s postindustrial society, there is a question of whether there is a point of coincidence between the two identities where one accepts the other as a partner. Case relates his struggle between common ground after being removed from the cyberspace environment, explaining, “For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyber-space, it was the Fall […] The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh” (3). Case’s addiction to drugs and cyberspace further highlights Gibson’s exposition on the opposition between the container and the contained. Without the escape of either of his indulgences, Case faces the postmodern fear of singularity within metropolitan junction. He essentially becomes subject to the McLuhanite medium theory.
    Cyberspace is superficially understood to provide an environment of unthinkable complexity. However, it is the lack of a physical environment in and of itself that provides a conflict within one’s understanding of the media. Case’s reaction to his singularity is one reminiscent of an addict experiencing withdrawal. While miserable in his severance from cyberspace, Herr Case only becomes conscientious of his intrinsic and extrinsic status from his experience of sobriety. Case’s role within the setting of the novel is recognized through his understanding of the container as opposed to the content. Thus, cyberspace poses as a sedative, blurring the lines between the “meat” and the “matrix” until there is no way to bridge the gap. Case describes, “The high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh growing solid, the drug flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to think” (91). As seen within Case’s experience of addiction, the effect and content of cyberspace can only be understood when looking within its container. Case is ultimately unable to gauge the scope of his psyche until he is once again returned to his physical– “meat”– state.

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  4. Casey Coffee

    In dealing with issues of artificial intelligence and the relationships between people and technology, William Gibson’s Neuromancer inevitably shows a concern with the issue of humanity, what makes it, and where its boundaries lie. In a passage near the beginning of Chapter 17, just after Armitage, or Corto, is killed by Wintermute, Case contemplates Corto’s madness, and then Ashpool’s, and his thoughts turn to an interesting reflection on the relationship between power and humanity. Case seems to have considered power as separate from humanity, but that separation is not necessarily a technological one. Case reflects that “he never really thought of anyone like Ashpool, anyone as powerful as he imagined Ashpool had been, as human…Power, in Case’s world, meant corporate power” (Gibson 203). The main point of this reflection is Case’s surprise at Ashpool’s unexpected humanity, but what I find most interesting about this passage is Case’s, and possibly Gibson’s, conception of power as corporate, and somehow not entirely human. After all, unless machines are in charge, humans are clearly the ones that possess power, but Gibson complicates that, and his example of the “the zaibatsus” clarifies his meaning of power being inhuman.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines zaibatsu as “In Japan, a large capitalist organization, usu. based on a single family having controlling interests in a variety of companies, of a type that existed before the war of 1939-45; since 1947, a cartel or conglomerate. Also, the members of such an enterprise” (OED). Gibson’s conception seems to align with this definition, but he goes further, calling them “organisms [that] had attained a kind of immortality” (Gibson 203). In the world of Neuromancer, and increasingly in ours, power, while held by humans, is not anchored in individual, clearly demarcated, clearly human hands. It can be passed on through the “ladder” and with the help of “the vast banks of corporate memory” (Gibson 203). Gibson’s words are suggestive of a kind of hive mind approach to power, where the corporation, or the hive, holds the power, and therefore the individual, or the human, matters comparatively little.

    While Case is surprised by Ashpool’s humanity, Tessier-Ashpool seems to represent a different, possibly less common type of power that is more like family than hive. The corporate power that Gibson envisions appears almost prophetic, however, as conglomerates and monopolies become more prevalent in our time, and especially in light of the Supreme Court decision of Citizen’s United in 2010, 36 years after the publication of Neuromancer, which effectively gave corporations the rights of people, and blurred the lines even farther between human and company, and human and power.

    Works Cited

    Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York, Ace Books, 1984. Print.

    “zaibatsu, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 20 October 2016.

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