Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prompt 1 - Marcuse/Gibson

Partway through Chapter 3 of One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse enters into a discussion about the changing role of sexuality, libido, and eroticism in modern technological society. I think that this discussion illuminates certain aspects of the world that Gibson has constructed in Neuromancer, and the complex ways in which the novel reflects, exaggerates, or negates certain elements of our own world.

On page 33 of Neuromancer, Case and Molly engage in sexual intercourse, and during orgasm Case immediately has a vision: "...his orgasm flaring blue in timeless space, a vastness like the matrix, where the faces were shredded and blown away down hurricane corridors, and her inner thighs were strong and wet against his hips." Here Case is experiencing images of technology, violence, and sexual pleasure all at the same time. I think that this demonstrates that eroticism, in Gibson's world, has in some ways returned to the pre-modern mode of sublimation that Marcuse describes. Rather than the "de-eroticized" modern space in which sexual drives relate only to themselves and are no longer sublimated into a "landscape" or "field of libidinal experience," Gibson's world is characterized by constant black market activity (what Case calls "biz") which subsumes all other activity into itself.

The Panther Moderns exemplify another form of this sublimation. They are the latest expression of what Case thinks of as a "ghostly teenage DNA" (p. 58) which is constantly reconfiguring itself as a series of new fads, trends, and underground groups in the Sprawl. They are "nihilistic technofetishists" (p. 59) basically intent on engaging in terrorist activity purely for its own sake, "divorce[d] from its original sociopolitical intent" (p. 58). Tellingly, Case characterizes the social group he (and the Moderns) exist within as an in-between state which is somewhere between crime and art. In other words, cyber-terrorism is what Marcuse calls the "truly avant-garde" of Gibson's world. The Moderns release their libidinal energy in high-risk, massively destructive pranks, exemplifying the sublimated eroticism of the romantic artistic vision, while also communicating the "break with communication" by abstracting terrorism from any actual political message or goal. Each Panther Modern prank is in itself a kind of surrealist artwork that releases the prankster's libinal energy in order to express the "refusal to behave" (Marcuse).

On the other hand, none of this implies that the world of Neuromancer is the kind of world that Marcuse is trying to hypothesize in his writing. Obviously the Sprawl is a location riddled with violence and addiction, and the average person is essentially at the mercy of local crime lords and his or her own ability to stay alive in the constant flux of the black market. However, I think that Gibson has offered us, within the limits of the extreme, hyper-capitalist, dystopian world he has created, some possible paths of resistance which relate to the criticisms Marcuse has of our own world.


Amy Friedenberger said...

I thought this was a nice initial reading of Marcuse and Gibson. I think you did a good job at continually interweaving Marcuse into Gibson, not allowing Marcuse to fad away from your essay.

As soon as I read your last sentence, I thought, "yes, this is it." How exactly is Marcuse trying to relate this to our world? You used examples from Gibson, but I think that if you want to open up the door to how Marcuse commentates on the now, you can provide some analysis that is related to our day and age. This will answer that "why should I care to read this?" question.

Also, it might be worth strengthening your thesis for this to answer the question about what your goal of your argument is.

Overall, I think you've got a great setup going on so far.

Adam said...

Pushing your argument slightly farther, you're almost arguing that the black market becomes nature, or replaces nature, in the novel (Night City as jungle!). It's an interesting, challenging idea, but I think you need to approach it through more than just the single sex scene - which, after all *is* a sex scene, and hardly proves in itself that the world-as-world is erotic - we need to look at the portrayal of world-as-world, *outside* of the context of actual sexual intercourse, to make that claim.

Approaching this problem through the Panther Modenrs isn't necessarily wrong - but I think you need to do a lot more *first* to show that cyberspace or the black market functions as landscape (in the Marcusean, eroticized sense). Deal with Case's understanding of the world *first* - then move on to the engagement of secondary characters with an eroticized world.

What about Molly, too? Is there something to be done with her attempt (largely successful) to understand the world as that sphere within which combat takes place?

In short: interesting possibilities, awkwardly and incompletely explored.