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.”
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.