Thursday, February 16, 2012

Repressive Desublimation and Case

Kira Scammell

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.)


Dana Edmunds said...

Hi Kira,

A strength of this essay is your understanding of Marcuse (despite his dense writing!), particularly on the concept of eroticism. Plugging into the Matrix, and Case's drug-use, are good examples of desublimation in Neuromancer, but I think you could include more examples from the novel: what other ways do these characters influenced by repressive desublimation? Body-modification, work as an identity? I also think you should look at the scene when Case is having sex with Molly and is thinking of the Matrix. You might be able to further your comparison of Marcuse's "transcendence of libido" and what Gibson might be saying about desublimation and Case's need for immediate gratification from the Matrix. You have a strong comparison here to start with, so now just build up your argument with more examples from Neuromancer.

Adam said...

Possibly I'm just being a jerk here, but does the first paragraph serve any real purpose?

Your choice of Marcuse passages is interesting. It's unclear what you're going to do with them, but I've always found them to be pivotal as well, and they're useful in teaching, too - this is Marcuse at his most (sort of) accessible.

I think you have things reversed (maybe just a typo?). Sublimation is association with the polymorphous libido; desublimation would be associated with localization of desire.

YOu're confused about Case and the mycotoxin, although it's kind of insignificant. First, he's damaged by the toxin (which then is gone from his body); then, he's out of cyberspace for a year; then, he's healed, but has a mycotoxin "time bomb" set up within him, to burn him out again. But those are minor details, really.

Now, we come to the interesting, messy end of your essay.

"His desire to enter the matrix could very much be considered desublimation." I am confused about whether you mean sublimation here or desublimation. I *think* you mean sublimation, which I believe you have incorrectly (but registering some confusion about it along the way) associated with localization. So if you are merely using the wrong word, I follow what you're saying.

Regardless, to go back to Marcuse, you're arguing either that Case's entry into cyberspace is (or is not) the "self-transcendence of libido." This seems like a good apporach - but you've done a certain amount of beating around the bush, rather than either trying to *prove* that this is what's happening, or to say more about why it matters.

It's a great focus, and a great way of bringing Marcus and Gibson together. Your confusion re: the terminology is a problem, which slows down the development of your argument - if you revise, this whole section could be cut roughly in half, with vastly more attention paid to both the details of why you read Case's entry into cyberspace this way, and why it matters.

To follow up on our conversation further - while I think that there are problems with the execution of this essay, your interaction with Marcuse is 100% improved.