Friday, July 3, 2015

Jameson on Neuromancer at 30+

Neuromancer, William Gibson's cyberpunk classic, the novel for which "cyberpunk" was coined, was published in 1984. Fredric Jameson discusses it in Public Books. [Excerpted from The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms. Verso, 2015]

Gibson’s novel too is a microcosm of the totality: a hacker, a female ninja, a dead man, a Rastafarian, a holographic illusionist, as well as a crazed army veteran whose schizophrenic mind has been possessed by the Artificial Intelligence who turns out to be the god in this particular complex machine. It is an intensified collection of skills visited on characters who are all maimed or incomplete in one way or another, most notably the dead man whose mind has become the program in the organizing mainframe. They all thus complete each other in one way or another but insofar as their collective (and thereby utopian) act turns out to have been a ruse devised by the two mega-computers in the service of their alliance and transfiguration, this utopian dimension is thereby displaced by a more conjugal if not religious one, and its deeper content repressed (virtually by definition the destiny of any impulse as such).
Enter, meat:
The protagonist, Case, is a hacker who has been equipped with jacks that give him direct and immediate contact with the space of the new and enlarged Internet. In a sense, this is a quick and easy solution to the mind/body problem which has tormented philosophy for so many years, and yet it is an idealist one. For while serving as this conduit, he must abandon his body which he thinks of as “dead meat,” slumped lifeless in front of the computer. It is paradoxical (and rare) for idealism to express itself with such obscenity, and revealing that it must draw on a disgust with the physical as acute as anything in idealistic philosophy from Plato to Bergson in order to affirm the primacy of the “spirit” or of the realm of the opposite of matter (however that is identified), for it is clear that in cyberspace we face a whole parallel universe of the nonmaterial.
And, of course, late capitalism in its most abstracted form:
I will argue that this unrepresentable totality, which until now only science fiction has uniquely possessed the representational means to designate, is that of finance capital itself, as it constitutes one of the most original dimensions of late capitalism (or of globalization or of postmodernity, depending on the focus you wish to bring to it). This is not the place for a thorough review of the newer literature on finance capitalism today; but in order to situate the new realm of abstraction Gibson has pioneered in his representation of cyberspace, I open a parenthesis on the history of this concept, which plays only a minor part in Marx. 
My argument has been that in the face of the impasses of modernism, which proved unable to handle the new incommensurabilities of that greatly enlarged and as it were post-anthropomorphic totality which is late or third-stage capitalism, science fiction, and in particular this historically inventive novel of Gibson, offered a new and post-realistic but also post-modernistic way of giving us a picture and a sense of our individual relationships to realities that transcend our phenomenological mapping systems and our cognitive abilities to think them. This is the sense in which literature can serve as a registering apparatus for historical transformations we cannot otherwise empirically intuit, and in which Neuromancer stands a precious symptom of our passage into another historical period.

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