Marcuse defines the “great refusal” as “a protest against that which is,” and how I read it in context with the rest of his book, is particularly a refusal of acceptance of what society deems acceptable, particularly materialistically. Neuromancer, on the other hand is a representation of how the people within a society can lose their individuality with materialistic, capitalistic aspects driving their society. The only reason I can see Marcuse’s theory applying to Neuromancer thus far is by using Gibson’s novel as an example of what happens when people do not “protest” against a materialistic society and instead submit to it.
The characters are defined by their stapled inauthentic body parts and what they do rather than who they are characteristically speaking. Essentially, they are defined, and choose to define themselves purely by the materials which they take ownership of or which take ownership of them. We see this from the very beginning on page 5 as Case is described as having once worked for a data stealing company and was fired from his position and rehired by another employer simply because of his abilities to manipulate materials, that being the data he stole.
While we can make some parallels to our society for being fired and hired on the basis of our ability to succeed in a specific field that is meant to contribute to the larger society, the manner in which they are emotionally and socially disconnected is dramatically more severe. This is also seen well on page five as Case was once described as having “operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into consensual hallucination that was the matrix.” This disconnect from reality and emotions and almost purely simulated experiences with them from a distance with the “disembodied consciousness” in turn can create not only a desire, but a reliance on constantly escaping that which is undesirable. And this notion of not being able to deal with one’s reality and emotions ties directly in with Marcuse’s enforcement of “the great refusal.” By separating ourselves from that which materialistically detaches us we are allowing ourselves to think independently, a concept nearly unheard of in Chiba City.
Yet this capitalistic society in Neuromancer, although possibly not originally produced completely intentionally (although that’s hard to believe), was maintained intentionally out of necessity and fear more than anything else. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” The government in Gibson’s novel maintained a capitalistic society out of necessity to maintain a simulated balance in society. In convincing the citizens that they are reliant on their material goods, they distracted them from thinking too deeply into the holes in their society and in turn, distracted them from the injustices in their society. Marcuse’s theory, I believe, was not necessarily stated for the purpose of improving a government directly, but rather by improving the individuals who could then create a community to improve the government and/or society.