“…art contains the rationality of negation. In its advanced positions, it is the Great Refusal -the protest against that which is.”
In the third chapter of Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, he introduces a concept know as the “Great Refusal.” This term means rejecting society’s positive outlooks and embracing something that may be alienating which challenges society. He first applies this concept to art, saying great art displays some viewpoint that is contradictory to a society’s accepted beliefs during the time of its creation and brings this underrepresented viewpoint to the forefront. He believes that society spins famous art out of context by absorbing or ignoring the once controversial parts of a piece to raise the rest of the work to a higher “truth” or moral. As society changes and moves towards a one-dimensional viewpoint, the specific “truths” revealed in the piece may no longer apply, yet we still try to hold their teachings in high regard. The sense of rebellion and challenging our beliefs are what should be taken from great works, yet they are the first thing lost as society changes and absorbs the controversial parts.
I think William Gibson’s Neuromancer has withstood the short amount of time since its creation and still effectively challenges the reader on numerous topics. The concepts of the relationship between technology and humanity and the creation of chaos all challenge our society today. In Neuromancer, it’s normal for humans to have biological upgrades, such as Molly’s mirrored lenses or Ratz’s mechanical arm. Case is even referred to as a “virgin” for having no biological upgrades other than some fillings in his teeth. In our society, our bodies are largely unmodified. Those who engage in cosmetic upgrades, such as those with a multitude of piercings and tattoos are considered to be outcasts by many. Imagining a girl with huge mirrored lenses built into her face walking down the street in this day and age would terrify or shock the average American. The concept of using implants to become superhuman in some attribute is a tantalizing thought and challenges our preference for unmodified bodies when our technology could likely be used to improve our very being.
The Panther Moderns as a group challenge our society’s viewpoints on motivation and chaos. They are a technologically savvy group who are willing to put their talents for sale, no matter the “good or evil” of what the task may accomplish. While money is somewhat of a motivator, they are also excited by how challenging a task is. Existing in a largely religious population, we are trained to have an objective moral compass that guides the decisions that we make. To see a group that not even chaotic good or chaotic evil, but purely operates on general chaos is a challenge to our viewpoint on terrorism, as there is no motivation other than the chaos itself. While some groups display similar traits today, 30 years after Neuromancer was written, this concept is still difficult for our society to comprehend.
I think Marcuse would consider Neuromancer to be great art as it challenges the viewpoint of the society in which it was written, and continues to display concepts that are contrary to our society today that shock the reader and provoke thought. By pushing our boundaries, Neuromancer contributes towards a two dimensional society.