Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blog 4 Prompt 1--Ben Fellows

“A protest against that which is,” is how Marcuse simply defines his concept of “The Great Refusal”(Marcuse, Chapter 3). Although it is a simple definition, I feel that it captures something called “The Great Refusal” well. One might think that in such a futuristic society as is present in Gibson’s Neuromancer, aspects of this concept might be completely extinguished, considering Marcuse believes that “this essential gap between the arts and the order of the day, kept open in the artistic alienation, is progressively closed by the advancing technological society”(Marcuse, Chapter 3). I find that this is in fact not the case.

Although art certainly does change over time, in Gibson’s novel new forms of it are certainly present. One of the more blatant parallels between Marcuse’s description of art and Neuromancer is the idea that “The salon, the concert, opera. theater are designed to create and invoke another dimension of reality”(Marcuse, Chapter 3). Compare this with the passage from Neuromancer that describes Case’s access to the Matrix:

He’d 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 the consensual hallucination that was the matrix (Gibson, 5)

His access into cyberspace transcends any concept of “invoking another dimension of reality” Marcuse describes as an effect of art. Here, Case is literally entering a new world via this modern form of cyber-art. In this world Case is capable of doing what would be impossible in the real world. Although some may not agree that what Case is doing could be classified as art, one must examine what it actually means to be art. Merriam Webster defines art as “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” With that said, what Case is doing certainly encompasses this definition. It is certainly made clear that what Case is doing is limited to very few people. In the very beginning of chapter 2, Case is presented with the option of reversing the damage of the mycotoxins in order to regain his skill. Molly states, “Like he’s gonna pay these nerve boys for fixing you with the program he’s giving them to tell them how to do it. He’ll put them three years ahead of the competition. You got any idea what that’s worth?”(Gibson, 29). No one would spend the amount of money spent on Case’s operation unless there were few options as far as finding a person who can access the matrix is concerned. Case is, as Ratz would say, an “artiste”.

The next argument that appears is whether this art that Case is a part of is one which accompanies “The Great Refusal” or resists it. Although there is an argument that the society in Neuromancer is one-dimensional, what Case engages in can certainly be described as “a protest against that which is”. In this novel, Case partners with the Panther Moderns in the operation to steal the Dixie Flatline construct from the Sense/Net headquarters. The Panther Moderns are clearly a reference to the Black Panthers, a sixties movement involving civil rights in the African American community. These Panther Moderns live to cause chaos. Lupus Yonderboy states, “Chaos…that is our mode and modus. That is our central kick”(Gibson, 67). These Panther Moderns clearly are not aligned with the norm of society, and as such, one who is an accomplice of the Moderns, also must be one who goes against “that which is”.

Although this form of art is certainly one which goes with the “rationality of negation”(Marcuse, Chapter 3), there are, indeed, form of art in this futuristic society that have had the “gap between the arts and the order of the day…closed by the advancing technological society”. I feel that the alteration of one’s appearance could certainly be considered an art in this modern society. Describing Riviera, Case observes that “[he] was very beautiful; Case assumed the features were the work of a Chiba surgeon”(Gibson, 97). As this is a skill certain surgeons possess, in order to make artificial faces be distinguished as more beautiful than others, it is certainly an art. However, this art form does not appear to be a threat against the norm. It seems that anyone with enough money can manipulate their appearance to be exactly what they want. In turn, this process has become commercialized. As Marcuse would say, concerning art which has been assimilated into the society’s standards, “they become commercials--they sell, comfort, or excite”(Marcuse, Chapter 3). This, therefore also exhibits Marcusian elements, however on the opposition of art as “The Great Refusal”.

Gibson’s Neuromancer appears to be greatly influenced by Marcuse’s “Great Refusal”. It shows how productive art allows people to be taken into another dimension, and experiencing that which could not occur in the world they are engaged in most of the time. People are capable of seeing what is wrong with society and what they could potentially achieve if they set their minds to it. When this quality of art is removed, art becomes a utility of those in charge of society, rather than a tool for the individual to influence others for the better. Neuromancer itself can be considered this form of art, as it engages the reader, allowing them to enter another dimension, while simultaneously keeping ourselves conscious of our role in our own society.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Your opening paragraph is beautifully clear, raising a clear problem immediately, and exploring two difficult authors with straighforward, transparent language (which at least 95% of the time is what you should aspire to)

Your engagement with the Case-as-artist is excellent, especially since it's a subtle theme of the novel. Remember how Ratz (is that the right name?) insistently calls him "artiste"? You could really expand/develop your argument through Case's interaction with Ratz. You do mention Ratz, but you don't deal with the question of why Ratz sees/acknowledges case as an artist.

My interpretation/variation on your argument (which might help you develop/clarify yours) is that you're arguing that Case is not refusing the world because he is trying to *replace* one world with another - escaping rather than challenging.

Do you accept that the Moderns are offering some kind of authentic protest? If you do believe this, I'd consider trying to do something with their apparent relationship with Wintermute. It's an interesting idea, at least.

One subtle question: you are basically arguing that within Neuromancer, we *might* (although you're a little indefinite) see the behavior of some individuals/groups as engaging in "the great refusal"? That's good - but what does that say about the novel's relationship with us - that is, is the novel itself engaging in the great refusal, or modelling it (you might of course, approach one by way of teh other - they are clearly related, at least).

This is good, dense, and interesting.