Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gibson and Marcuse (Prompt 1)

Gibson’s dystopian society relies heavily on black market cyber technology and the Matrix as a means of “immediate gratification” and escape from reality (and death). In this world, technology, for those who can participate, is also an incentive for individuals who cannot, which is essentially a form of social control. Macruse would see people’s desire to escape reality for cyberspace as an artistic depiction of humans as processes, where there is no desire or time “to think, contemplate, or feel” (Marcuse).

Case, who defines himself “by what he does,” loses his identity when he cannot participate in the Matrix since he cannot find pleasure in his reality. He uses drugs and alcohol to escape the reality of the grungy and dangerous Chiba City, but “still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly…he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void” (Gibson 5). We see technology, used to prolong the life of the person, to experience the individual satisfaction of a disembodied consciousness that should “transcend everyday experience” (Marcuse). What began as an expression of individuality, a unique experience that once stood in “contradiction to the status quo, thus is now flattened out” (Marcuse). Gibson depicts the Matrix like a drug that leaves non-users crippled, but of course, the paradox is that those who do use, lose the ability to find pleasure in reality and suffer the fate of the unhappy consciousness. This leaves no other choice but to work enough to attain access to the Matrix because not even human contact can compare to a lost connection with one’s body and the unlimited pleasure of cyberspace.

When Case experiences euphoria like he experiences when projecting on to the Matrix, it is during his sex scene with Molly, when “the images came pulsing back, the faces, fragments of neon arriving and receding” (Gibson 44). It is alarming to the reader that Gibson’s description implies that Case finds a more emotional connection with cyberspace technology than with a real live human being. By illustrating the lack of connection between cyborg Molly and Case, we see what Marcuse would call “desublimation,” in which Molly functions as a form of controlled, sexual satisfaction, the same way the Matrix is used to find pleasure in a reality in which normal human beings cannot function without technological dependence. Gibson’s book intends to reveal this dependence through language that alienates the reader, exploring emotionality and individuality that our world is missing by a drastically depicting of a society in which the desire for satisfaction takes precedence over individual needs, resulting in submission and a lack of protest in the face of disillusion. No need for physical bodies, no need to care for reality, no need to forge any human connections. We’re meant to see Molly and Case’s interaction as mechanical rather than erotic, another form of instant gratification in the form of technology, not quite the same as human companionship.

In this sense, individual alienation translates to dependency, and every day feels, like Gibson’s prose, alienating and hard to imagine. The first sentence of the novel merges reality with this mechanical world of cyber identities in which people are defined by their “system.” Marcuse references Brecht in chapter three and his desire for his art to "represent the contemporary world in theater" by estranging the reader from the world of his art the same way modern society distances or detaches the individual from reality (or emotion or eroticism). Marcuse would take Gibson's detached prose as a form of negative thought, a depiction in which technology is the only way to attain satisfaction, an extreme version of our already sex/greed-driven society. Gibson’s text intends to confuse and alienate readers with descriptions of an untouchable, dispassionate world because he wants to make readers appreciate reality. Like Brecht, he is using “[t]he ‘estrangement-effect’… literature’s own answer to the threat of total behaviorism—the attempt to rescue the rationality of the negative” (Marcuse). Gibson refutes “desublimation” in Neuromancer by using a subversive “linguistic structure, [implying] a subversion of the experience of nature” (Marcuse), and by showing his characters as slaves of technological satisfaction, unable to find happiness individually or even naturally because of this dependency.


Adam said...

This is good work throughout, which I want to foreground above all. I couldn't reasonably ask for much more in a weekly assignment - so this is heavily skewed to thinking about possibilities for revision.

I am very open to your reading of the pivotal sex scene as being mechanical (other people have been writing, e.g., about bodies as commodities - which could be integrated into your reading, incidentally), but I want to see you *do* more of the reading. Show us how the language mechanizes them, or commodifies them. You are, in general, stronger on intuitive readings than on going through the details of why *we* should agree with you.

Your return to Marcuse-on-Brecht, and Marcuse on the structure of language, is already somewhat compelling, at least to me - but for it to really work, you need to analyze that structure in detail. What's alienating? What's mechanizing? The structure of his sentences or paragraphs? His word choice? You are making the claim that Gibson's language - as opposed to his characterization or plot - is alienating.

Prove that, and you've probably gotten a revision (and it would doubtless take several pages of close reading to justify your claims).

Robin said...

I really like your point about how individual alienation lead to dependency. In this post, though, you are talking about three different things. To start off, you discuss why people join cyberspace, and the identity that goes with doing so. Then, you are talking about instant gratification and finally alienation. All of these are really good and valid points, you just do not show that they are related, beyond the tenuous cyberspace link. Work on this link for a stronger argument. As it is now, you have no conclusion—I know that when I am writing a short response, I tend to just have a sentence or two at the end of my last paragraph; unfortunately, more is usually needed. Also, you wrote ‘the first sentence of the novel merges reality with this mechanical world of cyber identities in which people are defined by their “system,”’ but you do not explain how it does this. Throughout the entire post, you do a good job of integrating Gibson and Marcuse.