Thursday, January 30, 2014

Humans as Standing-Reserve in Neuromancer

        In Neuromancer, the mentality of human society has become entranced by the essence of technology as defined by Heidegger. In Gibson's world, humans barely manage to stay in control of the constantly advancing modern technology as the essence of technology threatens to commoditize humans entirely. As Heidegger defines it, standing-reserve is anything "ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so it may be called upon for a further ordering" (Heidegger 7-8). Gibson's universe shows how in many instances, from Tessier-Ashpool's business practices to Molly's body modifications to Wintermute's full control of Armitage, that in this world humans have become entirely standing reserve in line with Heidegger's definition.
        Tessier-Ashpool uses humans as a pure commodity. They seem to have become masters of Heidegger's concept of Enframing, that is "the way on which the real reveals itself as standing reserve" (Heidegger 12). They have entirely embraced the unconcealing that "comes to pass in conformity with which the work of modern technology reveals the real as standing-reserve" (Heidegger 10). The Tessier-Ashpool family freeze, clone, and breed themselves to keep the power of their corporation, turning their very lives into standing-reserve to keep the power of their corporation intact. The Finn went so far to speculate about Tessier-Ashpool's cloned ninja: "Probably got him on ice. Thaw when needed" (Gibson 76). This description of a human being is exactly that of standing reserve, "stockpiled; that is, on call" (Heidegger 7) to be used whenever Tessier-Ashpool requires its services.
    Augmentations like Molly's also add humans to the standing-reserve, commoditizing them in subtler ways than Tessier-Ashpool. Molly has chosen to incorporate technological systems into her body to make herself more effective at her job. In Heidegger's terms, Molly has adopted the ordered revealing of technological advancement. However, according to Heidegger, "[o]nly to the extent that man for his part is already challenged to exploit the energies of nature can this ordering revealing happen" (Heidegger 8). Molly is not only bending technology to her needs, but she is being bent by the society that embraces this technology to embrace it herself. Another example of this is Smith, the art dealer that the Finn knows. "With half a dozen chips in his new socket, Smith's knowledge of the art business was formidable, at least by the standards of his colleagues" (Gibson 73). Because Smith had "gone silicon" he was able to compete in the art dealing world. Both Molly and Smith elected to become dependent on technology, but that dependency made them better at Heidegger's ordering revealing.
    Armitage, or Corto, has become a complete commodity, almost losing all of his humanity to the control of Wintermute. Corto had initially been a soldier, part of the literal standing-reserve of the military (Gibson 82). As Corto is eventually taken over by Wintermute by a chip in his brain, he loses his free will and becomes an instrument for Wintermutes plans (Gibson 120). Armitage's entire purpose becomes acting as a vessel for Wintermute, and as an extension the essence of technology, to continue the process of unconcealment and enframing that moves technology forward.
    Wintermute, and the other AI like it, are showing signs of an opposite trajectory to that of humans.  It wants Case to free it from the human restrictions that have been placed upon it. As Dixie puts it, "the minute, I mean nanosecond, that [an AI] starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing'll wipe it" (Gibson 132). This struggle between man and technology is significant to society because "the will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control" (Heidegger 2). If AI like Wintermute are symbolic of the essence of technology in Neuromancer, then we see why humanity attempts to limit them so definitively and why they are being shackled to keep them in the standing reserve. Humans fear free AI, and gain security knowing they are restricted because "[whatever] stands by in the sense of standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object" (Heidegger 8). The AI try to take ordering into their own hands, ultimately subjecting humans to their fate as pure standing-reserve.
    Neuromancer shows a world in which humans are being made standing-reserve through modern technology. Tessier-Ashpool, Molly, Armitage and Wintermute are examples of the Enframing that Heidegger warns to be wary of. In this world, humanity has become almost completely relegated, as Heidegger warned, to the standing-reserve.

Works Cited

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "Question Concerning Technology." Question Concerning Technology. N.p., May 2008. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.


Adam said...

I'm only ok with your introduction. It could do more, or else be shorter.

I like your observations about the Tessier-Ashpool family putting themselves on ice. Rather than stopping there, I wonder if you could have focused the essay more thoroughly on them (more focus being almost always better than less). You could have written about their relationship with / creation of the AIs; you could have written about their use of Hideo; you could have written about the metaphor of the hive which circulates around them. It's a promising beginning - why stop there?

Is dependence on technology the same thing as making oneself into standing-reserve? Obviously Heidegger is tough, and that's not an insane thing to suggest, but I think it oversimplifies what the standing-reserve is. Turning oneself into an energy source isn't quite the same (although certainly related to) making oneself dependent on technology.

Are the AIs representative of the essence of technology? It's a really, really good idea - but you don't really follow through on it. This is something to be argued, not something to be casually assumed as the basis for another argument.

Overall: I might be a little tough on the components, but really I'm very happy here. Your use of Heidegger is effective, despite the difficulty of the material, and while I'd argue that really you have the start of the three good essays here rather than one polished essay, that's a perfectly tolerable state to be in for a rough draft. If you revise, the obvious thing to do is to take the idea of *one* of the body paragraphs and develop the final argument from that. The other material might then be integrated (at least in part) into that argument, but you'd be able to get the sort of detail that you want instead of rushing through everything that way.

Kristen Welsh said...


First I want to apologize for the late response. I had written out my critique in word and then forgot to actually post it to the blog. Anyway, better late than never, so hopefully I can still help you out.

I really like the direction that your essay goes. I did not tackle this prompt, because the Heidegger article was too confusing for me. However, you actually managed to make me understand the concept of “standing-reserve” more thoroughly, so that in itself should say something. I specifically like the how you describe Molly as willingly embracing the technological world. The fact that this isn’t simply happening, but someone is CHOOSING to modify their bodies with advanced weaponry speaks wonders. You also integrate quotations well into your sentences, and do not “quote drop”. This makes the reading easier and more effective.

If you are looking to expand your essay, I suggest that you work on your conclusion. Compared to the rest of your essay, your conclusion seems weak and rushed. You re-iterate what the essay is about, which is good, but you should expand it to contain more holisitic statements. Leave the world of the book and ask yourself how this influx of technology truly relates to our lives. Is humanity in danger because of it? I realize you do what I am asking in the paragraph before the end, but bringing some of that information into the conclusion will give more closure to the essay and leave the reader with a lasting impression of your argument.

Overall, great job on the essay!