Saturday, February 15, 2014

Neuromancer Revision

Salvation of the Trans-Human
Through the course of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the development of trans-humanity is found in the main characters of Wintermute and Case as they, in a sense, merge with the Matrix. Salvation for this trans-human breed is achieved through this bond with the Matrix which is the exemplification of the all-powerful. These near-supernatural entities achieve their ultimate salvation through the power of the Matrix to become something more than human.

            Neuromancer’s Matrix is held in undeniable reverence, bordering on Heaven-like, from the descriptions that it is attributed. This fundamental aspect of the Matrix is necessary for comprehending the salvation of Wintermute and Case. From the awe-inspired descriptions of many of the characters, it is clear that the Matrix represents something magical in the novel. Case, our narrator and chief worshiper of the Matrix, provides readers with a paradoxical description of the Matrix. It is given an unsettling description of “pale” and “neon”, “infinite space” and “tight grid”. Given this visualization, the Matrix’s spiritual nature is emphasized (Roberts, 173-174). Further, the “consensual hallucination” description of the Matrix, that emphasizes that it is a realm in which users transcend, “Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness” (Gibson, 5), more relates the realm to Heaven. It also demonstrates the development past a “corporeal sense of identity” (Sponsler, 643). In a Gothic sense, the supernatural implications of Cyberspace help to imply its grandeur, and make it the central setting of the Post-Gothic suspense (Melani, 1).  As Roberts says of the culmination of the supernatural descriptions, “The effect is presumably to elevate Cyberspace into a near-magical realm, a realm where humanity is humanity freed from flesh,” (175).  Aside from the heavenly description of Cyberspace, the raw power of the device must be recognized to understand the derived powers of Case and Wintermute. The Matrix power, derived from “A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system,” (Gibson, 69), is equivalent to the power of all humanity. With this firmly established supernaturalism of the Matrix, connections with the Matrix must be viewed as some connection with higher power. The connections that Wintermute and Case make and the powers they manipulate are especially relevant in demonstrating the salvation achieved as a result.

            Case’s connection to the Matrix is a unique one for a human to have. As a console cowboy, his colleagues and mentors, especially Dixie Flatline, are the only comparable disciples of the Matrix. Case, who appears to have surpassed the prowess of his mentors, is able to disable the most advanced security systems through his own ability to use Cyberspace. And to him, nothing of “meat” could equal the possibilities that the Matrix inspires. He has profound disinterest in “company job, company hymn, company funeral” (Gibson, 37) and his natural cohesion with the Matrix allows him to advance beyond the limits of the average citizen worker. In the Neuromancer world, the “zaibatsu” is the superficial dictator of the world economy and those who play a role in it. But as Case shows, when one can overpower the supposed supreme entity, their impose will and rule is undermined. This point is supported by the heist of the Dixie construct from Sense/Net (orchestrated by Wintermute and made possible especially by Case) and the infiltration of the Tessier-Ashpool ICE. All this implies that “jacking in” in the definition of power in this world, and the inability to do so is to be “impotent” (Wahl, 22-23). This power comes from the Matrix resulting as an infinite network of relations between all humanity and its constructs. By this definition of power, Case is, necessarily, the most powerful human that exists.  Achieving that level of power over humanity allows Case to be delegated as a trans-human, or an angelic being to the heaven that is Cyberspace. When considering this delegation Case, it is vital to realize the results that his power enables when collaborating with another superior being, Wintermute.

            Wintermute, as seen through the eyes of the narrator, Case, is introduced as an entity that very likely portrayed to be a post-human entity. The Artificial Intelligence has many and more capabilities that humans have, while lacking an attribute of personality. To understand Wintermute’s salvation through the Matrix, it is essential to understand that It is already able to arguably exceed the limits of humanity. It is capable of reproducing memories, thinking creatively, and predicting the behavior based on previous actions (Gibson, 157). The Wintermute entity also has the capability of controlling Cyberspace, “empowered to govern the mentalities of those moving within it, replacing, for instance, real-life individual memories with manipulated ones made up from electronic brain recordings,” (Pordzik, 148-149). In parallel to the example of Case, control over the Matrix is the key to having power over humanity and all its power.  Assuming that the traits that Wintermute possesses demonstrate a trans-human entity, its salvation must also be that of something that exceeds humanity.

Needing to satisfy the deficiency of personality is the driving force of the AI’s actions. To become a more whole being, it must form a bond between two lobes of a brain (Gibson, 157). It is only through this realization of a more whole individual, a surprisingly human desire, that the Wintermute-Neuromancer salvation is possible. Where the salvation difference from a human salvation is that, upon its completion, a fundamentally perfect being is created by linking all the collaborative power of people. The science fiction novel resolves with the explaination to Case that the combined forces have become the matrix (Gibson, 350), or as Pordzik explains, “the sum total of all computer networks globally interacting to sustain the tightly woven web of human communication,” (149).  In this salvation, an entity becomes all of the force of people, all of a supernatural, heavenly realm, and necessarily, a god-like being. Justification for this assertion is based on the all-powerful concept of Cyberspace. The Wintermute-Neuromancer being has achieved immortality, and instructs all the collective power that mankind possesses. However, as Linton points out, the entity’s “Interest at the end of the novel seems to be the feminine concern for relationship rather than the patriarchal concern for control,” (6). This refers to the conversation the entity has with Case in the Coda of the novel as It says “I talk to my own kind” and continues to explain that it is speaking to another god-like entity from recording from previous cyber generations, yet it is the Wintermute-Neuromancer presence that allows the communication with the other Cyber-gods (Gibson 351).

After an ascent of a god, Case’s salvation seems minor, however it is as significant as a trans-human may have while trapped in the body of a human. Being defined as a being who has become more than man, his salvation must still be something unattainable by any other person. As the most essential element in the scheme of Wintermute, Case has realized a salvation by being the key to that very ascension of a god of the realm of the Matrix. Case is able to have been the instrument of creating god-hood. In turn, Case has become the first disciple of the god that is the Matrix and the entity that has integrated with the Matrix. Cases sudden acceptance of a “common” life by meeting a girl, taking a job, and replacing his pancreas provide evidence to his acceptance of  his “meat” life after his ultimate satisfaction (Gibson 351-352). But his life through the prison of his body appears to be for the sole reason to continue to uploading to the Matrix. He, as a being of the matrix, will forever be “enabling his body to purify itself by merging into the big Other as represented by the AI Wintermute-Neuromancer," (Pordzik, 151) And, like the disciple that he has become, still punches through the fabric of the Cyberspace which his work now has dominion over. The final point of the novel may be to hint that Case completely uploads himself to be immortal in the matrix among some of the his dead comrades in a scene that appears uncannily similar to descriptions of entering Heaven (Gibson 352).

            The collaboration between two beings, Case and Wintermute, have, in an age of domination by Cyberspace, achieved the greatest possible marvel:  creation of an all-powerful god. An event of this magnitude was only possible in Neuromancer because a superior Artificial Intelligence is able to recruit the skills of, in a sense, the most powerful human.  The unifying force and all-encompassing power of the Matrix is the source for each of these entities’ power, thus the Matrix has created a god for itself.

1.)     Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2004. Print.
2.)     Linton, Patricia. "The "Person" in Postmodern Fiction: Gibson, Le, Guin, and Vizenor." Studies in American Indian Literature. 5.3 (1993): 3-11. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
3.)     Melani, The Gothic Experience. N.p., 24 Oct 2002. Web. 30 Jan 2014.
4.)     Pordzik, Ralph. "The Posthuman Future of Man: Anthropocentrism and the Other of Technology in Anglo-American Science Fiction." Utopian Studies. 23.1 (2012): n. page. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
5.)     Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. London: Routeledge, 2000. Print.
6.)     Sponsler, Claire. "Cyberpunk and the Dilemmas of Postmodern Narrative: The Example of William Gibson." Contemporary Literature. 33.4 (1992): 625-644. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
7.)     Wahl, Wendy. "Bodies and Technologies: Dora, Neuromancer, and Strategies of Resistance." Postmodern Cultures. 3.2 (1993): n. page. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Even in the introduction, I would like to hear more about what this concept of salvation means. Is it serious? Sarcastic? Does it have resonance for you? Etc.

Your discussion of the supernatural dimensions of the Matrix is very good, with a range of well-integrated citations. The one thing that bothers me is that while you do acknowledge the ultimately commercial (but also governmental) origins of the Matrix, you don't seem inclined (at least not yet) with what it means for heaven to be rooted in (to exaggerate only slightly) banking computers. Also note that some people - e.g., Molly - do not feel the pull of the matrix, supernatural or not. What do you do with that?

"By this definition of power, Case is, necessarily, the most powerful human that exists." This is an interesting line of though. On the one hand, it shows the depth of your insight into Case (mostly) and Wintermute (to some extent). On the other hand, it ignores the possibility (represented by characters like Molly & Riviera) that there are real, competing understandings of what power is & does. It's fine to focus on Case & take Case's side in the debate, but we should at least understand that you're doing so, and why. Why is Case's understanding of power, for instance, what we should ultimately use, rather than focusing more upon Molly?

Note: do you agree with the assessment that Wintermute/Neuromancer has been feminized at the end? It's an interesting notion, and I was curious why you dropped it instead of running with it. After all, in most religions the concept of God and of power tends to be explicitly patriarchal. Is Neuromancer pushing against that tendency?

I don't entirely understand what you're saying about how Case is both saved/transcendent and simultaneously more accepting of his "meat" life. You're moving in a good, productive direction, I'm just not entirely sure that I quite get the nuance of this part of the argument. It could have used some clarification, maybe even expansion.

Overall: This is focused, generally well-written, and makes effective use of research. Your understanding of Case & Wintermute is pretty compelling and well-argued. My primary difficulty is that you don't show any interest, really, in alternative ways of understanding power. It might be that Molly's insistence on remaining in the "meat" and her indifference to Cyberspace is wrong, but the "perfected" version of this essay would need to think that through, I think. I'd also love to have a better understanding of the balance that Case has seemingly achieved at the end.