Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Take Two

Sorry this is so late, I either got a cold or developed allergies, not sure which. :\

So I know I posted a link to Digital yesterday, and I had originally intended to talk about Digital and how cyberpunk is dead (long live cyberpunk!), but I think I'm more interested in the debate about cyberspace vs reality, especially with respect to the body. So uh, enjoy Digital if you like, but don't feel compelled to play it before tomorrow (though it is an excellent game).

Instead. The physical and the virtual and the real, all mediated through the concept of the body.

Case, at the start of the book, draws a total distinction between the world of cyberspace and the world of meatspace. Gibson describes the aftermath of the mycotoxin: "For Case, who'd lived the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. In the bars he'd frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh" (6, emphasis mine). Case uses the term "meat" quite frequently as a derogatory reference to the body, as opposed to what he
prefers, the experience of "his disembodied consciousness" (5).

In response to his inability to jack in and live that disembodied life, Case develops addictions to drugs and sex. In Linda Lee, he sees "the raw need, the hungry armature of addiction" (9), and in himself, he sees "lust and loneliness riding in on the wavelength of amphetamine" (9). Drugs and sex are bound up in a ball of bodily desire, things he turns to after he can no longer access the matrix. These represent "all the meat...and all it wants" (10).

Case only imagines two extremes: disembodiment (cyberspace), or total embodiment (meatspace). Yet the novel resides in the intermediate spaces, where the physical is made virtual and the virtual made physical. These intermediaries, however, cannot exist in one person, but rather emerge from the relationships between people. The two most interesting mediating entities are the market and the corporation. Early on, Case presents the experience of living in the underworld as an analogue of cyberspace. He notes that under pressure, "it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties ... all around you the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market" (17). Later, in Freeside, Case finds himself in the underworld yet again, and realizes that "the local action", "the real thing", is "commerce" (141). In this instance, the commerce is specifically that of bodies without consciousnesses, the cubicles where women (and maybe men but we don't see it) sell their bodies.

The other mediating space is the corporation. The word corporation carries the body within it, and in Neuromancer, the corporation is alternately imagined as a hive mind and as a single body. In describing the problems with Tessier-Ashpool, the Flatline relates them to "your immune system falling apart on you. Ripe for virus" (187). Here, the term virus refers both to the infectious agent that causes disease in living things, and to the computer virus that they will use to attack the ICE of T-A. Case also imagines the zaibatsus and multinational corporations first "as organisms" (196) and immediately after, as "hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon" (196). The corporation, given a collective consciousness through computers, now has the ability to act as a true single organism, one body acting on the world around it based on disembodied data.


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