Narrative and Technology
February 16, 2012
Prompt #1, Neuromancer Far From Sublime
The title of the third chapter in Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man is called “The Conquest of the Unhappy Consciousness: Repressive Desublimation.” Marcuse is hard to read, the writing is dense, and many words are created from his own vocabulary. I struggled to define what repressive desublimation was for the entire chapter. Switching back and forth between this chapter and Gibson’s Neuromancer, I tried to find meaning behind those two big words.
Marcuse’s example of libido and eroticism provides a somewhat clear explanation of repressive desublimation:
Compare love-making in a meadow and in an automobile, on a lovers’ walk outside the town walls and on a Manhattan street. In the former cases, the environment partakes of and invites libidinal cathexis and tends to be eroticized. Libido transcends beyond the immediate erotogenic zones-a process of nonrepressive sublimation. In contrast, a mechanized environment seems to block such self-transcendence of libido. (Marcuse, Chapter 3)
Nonrepressive sublimation is something that allows someone to transcend without repression. However, thinking of the psychological definition for sublimation, this is not a true statement, but Marcuse goes on to further explain by saying that “Impelled in the striving to extend the field of erotic gratification, libido becomes less “polymorphous,” less capable of eroticism beyond localized sexuality, and the latter [sublimation] is intensified” (Marcuse, Chapter 3).
Sublimation being a localization of desire, meaning that we refocus our desires to fit within norms, would indicate that desublimation is the opposite. In that case we are freeing ourselves of everyday oppression and are giving into our true desires. But wait, Marcuse’s chapter title is about repressive desublimation. So what does this mean? We are encouraged to indulge but in a repressive manner?
Although contradictory, this concept makes sense in the context of Neuromancer. The protagonist of the novel, Case, is first introduced to us as a junkie that’s on his way to the grave because of a mycotoxin poisoning his system. He can’t access the “matrix” because he screwed over the people he used to work for and as a result became addicted to drugs and is waiting for the mycotoxin to kill him, but then almost out of nowhere he is saved by Armitage and Molly.
Essentially the trade off, as I understood it, was whoever Armitage and Molly work for will pay for the mycotoxin to be flushed out of Cases system, repair his liver to ensure that even if he takes drugs, they won’t affect him, and in exchange for Case to go into the matrix and help this company. Case does not want to be cured and tells Armitage “Thanks, I was enjoying that dependency” (Gibson, 35), to which Armitage replies “Good, because you have a new one.... You have fifteen toxin sacs bonded to the lining of various main arteries, Case. They’re dissolving, very slowly but they’re dissolving. Each one contains a mycotoxin.”
Case’s experience could be described as being one of repressive desublimation. Before he was “cured” of his addiction and thought he was going to die, he very much wanted back into the matrix, but could find no way to do it after burning the bridge with his job.
His desire to enter the matrix could very much be considered desublimation. In the very first pages of the novel, we see that case is suffering from withdrawal from being unable to access the matrix.
A year and he still dreamed of cyberspace hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’s taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and he’s still see the matrix in his sleep, bright latices of logic unfolding across that colorless void. (Gibson, 4)
He no longer needs his drug addiction as a distraction from death or the inability to be in that other realm. He has what he really wants again. Repressive or not, it is evident that every time Case enters the matrix a feeling a desublimination washes over him.
(I tried not to make any "case" puns. It was really difficult.)