Thursday, February 16, 2012

Prompt 1, Essay #4

Caia Caldwell

Capitalism, Neuromancer, and the “Great Refusal”

Marcuse defines the “Great Refusal” as a “protest against that which is” (Chap. 3). But this quick definition is lacking, and fails to adequately cover the broad category of what specifically the populace should be protesting against. In the introduction to the book’s second edition, Douglas Kellner says, “the Great Refusal is still practiced by oppositional groups and individuals who refuse to conform to existing oppression and domination…refuse to join the contemporary celebration of militarism, the forces of conservatism, and unrestrained capitalism” (Intro, xxxviii).

The argument whether Gibson’s novel Neuromancer participates in the “Great Refusal” is not an argument when it comes to capitalism. Neuromancer is absolutely a capitalist, one-dimensional society. Let me be clear in my argument—I will argue that Neuromancer fails to participate in the “Great Refusal” solely based on capitalism, without regard or consideration to any other variables.

Right from the beginning when we are introduced to Case, we see the shadowy underworld of Chiba City, located in Japan. Case describes his job as “hustling fresh capital with a cold intensity that had seemed to belong to someone else… synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing, and microbionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl’s techno-criminal subcultures” (pg. 6, 7). The world Case lives in is distinctly capitalistic, and Gibson’s use of the certain word “capital” is intentional. The body has even become a “good” to be traded, sold, and bought by the Market.

For Marcuse, the “Great Refusal” would have included the absolute defiance against being defined by products or belongings, as this is would be a “social control.” Marcuse even states: “Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil” (Chap. 1). Yet products and services define the world found in Neuromancer. Drugs, plastic surgery, guns, etc., all form a market. Even the youth is not immune; they show the culture of capitalism is not going to change. “The clientele were young, few of them out of their teens. They all seemed to have carbon sockets planted the left ear... a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear” (pg. 57).

For Case, this capitalism has become a “life of toil.” He was once a bright, “console cowboy” until he made the mistake of stealing from his employer. His employer then crippled his nervous system, essentially making him “damaged goods.” However, his hacking services were needed, so Armitage became his employee. He was essentially “bought” for his services. Humans have become the products as well as the consumer. As Case puts it, “The body was meat,” to be bought, sold, altered, and engaged for certain services (pg. 6). Even down to the prostitutes lurking at Ratz’s bar, all the characters in the novel are entwined in, and directly participating in, a capitalist system, making them acceptant of a one-dimensional society. Just based on the demonstration of capitalism in the novel, the “Great Refusal” does not apply to Neuromancer.


Patrick Kilduff said...

I really liked how you used a more specific definition of “The Great Refusal” and stuck with it throughout your post. It really shows that you have a strong opinion and a strong argument. You make a very valid point with your view on how Neuromancer is a capitalistic novel, and your basis of knowledge and your analysis is sound. The quotes you used in your post really reinforced your argument as well, and paints a very good picture for the reader on your stance. The only thing I could criticize is maybe going into more examples with other characters, such as Molly, because she is an important part of the capitalistic features of this story. But otherwise, you have an excellent grasp on Marcuse, and Neuromancer’s interesting themes.

Adam said...

In your introduction, you recognize that the Great Refusal needs additional explanation. While I find Kellner's claim optimistic (compared to what Marcuse would say), it is a good starting point, regardless of my *personal* skepticism

Question: in your second paragraph, you accurately state that Neuromancer portrays a thoroughly capitalist society. But is it impossible for a work of art which portrays capitalism to reject it? I'd argue that such anti-capitalist classics as Upton Sinclair's *The Jungle* do exactly that. I'm not actually saying that you're wrong, either - just that there's a possible level of additional complexity here.

Your third paragraph actually displays that complexity: just portraying the body as raw commodity at least opens the question of whether it *should* be a commodity.

After reading the whole thing: you have a strong, well-argued focus. The human body has become commodified in *Neuromancer*; people treat other bodies *and* their own bodies (Molly especially) as commodities. So this is great.

What I wonder, though, is whether this is an accepting portrayal of commodification, or a critical (and hence possibly refusing) portrayal of commodification? I don't know which one it is - one reason I find the novel interesting is that I'm not sure - I'd just like you to think hard about that if you revise.