Thursday, February 23, 2012

Prompt 2: Wintermute, Case, and Transcendence in Gibson's Neuromancer

            In his One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse argues that “artistic alienation is the conscious transcendence of the alienated existence – a ‘higher level’ or mediated alienation” (p 3).  Marcuse believes that the work of the artist transcends the imposed boundaries and restrictions of capitalistic society, creating a ‘higher level’ of society amongst the artists.  When attempting to apply Marcuse’s “transcendence” into a “higher level” to Gibson’s Neuromancer, this transcendence can most obviously be applied to Wintermute, an Artificial Intelligence which seeks to transcend its own informational boundaries by surpassing man-made locks which would allow him to combine with Neuromancer, his brother AI present in the Core of the Villa Straylight.  Upon achieving its goal, Wintermute transforms into a God-like entity, transcending the constructed limits imposed upon it by its creators.
            Later in his book, Marcuse expands on his celebration of the ‘higher culture’ present in forms of art.  I would argue that one can liken “the salon, the concert, the opera, [and] theater” to Cyberspace, as all five of these “are designed to create and invoke another dimension of reality.”  Also, “their attendance requires festive-like preparation,” and thus “they cut off and transcend everyday experience” (Marcuse, 5).  In order to jack into the Matrix, Case definitely engages in “festive-like preparation,” assembling his Ono-Sendai, g-web, trodes, and a laundry list of other devices in order to interact with Cyberspace, achieving alienation from reality.  This, however, does not make him transcendent as Wintermute is transcendent, of course, as Wintermute is able to manipulate Case’s environment in the physical world (as well as in the Matrix), recall Case’s memories, and assume personalities from Case’s past as a communication medium.
            In order to accomplish its mission of transforming into superintelligence, Wintermute manipulates Colonel Corto, re-creating him via the personality of Armitage.  Wintermute is not completely transcendent during this point of the novel, however, as he is unable to bypass his creators’ security systems to unite with Neuromancer.  Wintermute is actually completely dependent upon Case, Molly, Riviera, and Armitage, as they are the only ones who can gain access to the word which would unlock his restrictions to uniting with his twin AI.  However, Wintermute still possesses transcendent qualities in the physical world, as well as within his world of the Matrix.  For example, a snag in Wintermute’s plans occurs when three Turing agents track Case to Freeside from Chiba City and arrest him.  While attempting to escort Case to Geneva for a trial, Wintermute is able to systematically manipulate Case’s surrounding physical environment, “[killing] ‘em all” (Gibson, 164) to free Case from captivity.   It is also capable of manipulating certain security apparatuses in the Villa Straylight, allowing Maelcum and Case to break into the Tessier-Ashpool complex and achieve Wintermute’s goal under time constraints.
            At the end of the novel, when Case guides the Kuang program into the cyberspace towers, effectively precipitating Wintermute’s transformation, I would argue that Case himself achieves a transcendent state:
“In the instant before he drove the Kuang’s sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he’d known or imagined.  Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance, Hideo’s dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.”
-Gibson, 262
Here Case, although snapped back to reality instantly after achieving this level of higher consciousness, is able to achieve “a level of proficiency exceeding anything he’d known or imagined,” as a human jacked into Cyberspace.  This further validates Gibson’s vision of the Matrix as being “another dimension of reality” (Marcuse, 3).  Also noteworthy here is that Case is able to achieve this heightened state only “by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.”  He lets go of all of his worldly inhibitions, clinging onto nothing but his “self-loathing” (Gibson, 262).  Case is able to tap into his hatred and self-loathing as a result of his impatience with 3Jane in the core room, who is hesitant to give up the word which would grant Wintermute the transformation he desires.  What I find particularly interesting is the way which Case berates 3Jane, airing his frustrations about the Tessier-Ashpool’s Straylight Villa project:  “’Give us the fucking code,’ he said.  ‘If you don’t…what’ll ever fucking change for you?  You’ll wind up like the old man.  You’ll tear it all down and start building again!  You’ll build the walls back, tighter and tighter…I got no idea at all what’ll happen if Wintermute wins, but it’ll change something!’”  (Gibson, 260)  Case expresses his anger at the seemingly meaningless T.A. corporation’s building project, and consequently is rewarded with a temporary transcendent state.
            Wintermute also achieves transcendence at the end of the novel, transforming into the superintelligence which he desired to become as a result of Case, Molly, and Maelcum’s efforts.  As a result, Wintermute “meshed somehow with Neuromancer and become something else,” appearing to Case in his suite at the Hyatt.  His identity becomes all-encompassing, transcending the reality of Cyberspace:  “I’m the matrix, Case…I’m the sum total of the works, the whole show” (Gibson, 269).  Wintermute’s transformed, transcendent entity makes for the “Centauri System,” (Gibson, 270) searching for other superintelligences to interact with.  It truly achieves Marcuse’s ideal of a “higher level,” now possessing Neuromancer’s “personality,” and “immortality,” along with Wintermute’s ability to “[effect] change in the world outside” (Gibson, 269).  Wintermute/Neuromancer, as a superintelligent AI program within the Matrix, is capable of achieving a God-like state, whereas Case is forced to return to his mundane human life, returning to his world of earthly restrictions, with his transcendence within the Matrix present only as memory.


Dana Edmunds said...

Dear Pat,

This is a strong essay because of your understanding of Neuromancer, specifically your argument that Case becomes transcendent, which is interesting and well supported by your quotes from Gibson's novel. Your claim that WintermuteNeuromancer becomes God-like in a good one, and you could expand in the revision to further discuss Wintermute before its transcendence as an agent of change (as Adam discussed a Satan figure), or you could delve into Marcuse further since you really only bring him in at the beginning to frame your dicussion of Neuromancer. You could do this by making a claim whether Wintermute/Neuromancer's god-like transcendence means that Gibson's world goes from being one-dimensional to a higher level, or reverse? For Case, everything stayed the same, but what direction do you think Gibson is predicting?

Adam said...

To bring some of your initial ideas together- would you argue, then, that Wintermute's transcendence is in some sense an artistic one (Neuromancer surely has an artistic dimension, or maybe is wholly artistic).

In the second paragraph, in fact, I think one way of bringing together your ideas more clearly - because you seem torn about what Case's presence in cyberspace means - is to do more to articulate what Wintermute's presence in cyberspace means. I think you are drifting toward making him/it into an artist, but it would be better to have this explicit than implicit.

I think you could have done more with the fact/concept that Armitage as we know him is Wintermute *creation*

Transcendence is linked with change in Marcuse, of course, which helps your argument. I think a little more attention to the details of how Case becomes transcendent (if we agree with your argument) would have helped. You're basically arguing (to put words in your mouth) that Case's original relationship with cyberspace was inauthentic, but it becamse authentic. This is so important and pivotal that it's worth doing more with it!

This is all good work, but I think you would have done better (or will do better if your revise) if you do a couple more things

1) Say something about the relationship between Wintermute's transcendnece and Case's transcendence. Presumably one causes the other, or they cause each other, which seems very important, but you don't develop it.

2) Clarify what transcendence *means* here. As in Marcuse, does it solve some kind of problem? Or is it empty of content? Or something else.

This is an excellent direction, with lots of worthy components, but you're also trying to do too much, one some levels, at least - this definitely has the raw materials, if you choose to use them, for one or more revisions.

I think Dana's second paragraph is another way to help ask some of the same questions that I'm trying to ask.