Tuesday, May 10, 2011

neuropsychological experiences in Neuromancer

As Ayse pointed out, Neuromancer highlights the body (and bodily experience) as the mediator between the virtual world and the real world. Case's preferred version of reality exists in the “bodiless exultation of cyberspace” (6). In addition, his “contempt for the flesh” (6) made the removal of his abilities all the harder to take. In what amounts to be a desperate and self-destructive attempt to alleviate the burden of reality, Case turns to a variety of illicit drugs to escape the “prison of his own flesh” (6). He is also extremely aware of the physical and perceptual experiences of the chemicals he ingests; upon seeing Linda Lee in the Jarre, Case “stared at the black ring of grounds in his empty cup. It was vibrating with the speed he'd taken. The brown laminate of the tabletop was dull with a patina of tiny scratches. With the dex mounting through his spine he saw the countless random impacts required to create a surface like that” (9). Later, when trying to lose a tail, Case “felt a stab of elation, the octagons and adrenaline mingling with something else” (17).

The attention Gibson gives to these corporeal, physiological experiences reflects the importance of the body as an intersection of the virtual and the real. Furthermore, it utilizes the underground feel and counterculture behaviors associated with cyberpunk to depict reality in a way that resonates with contemporary, recreational drug use. Case's need to experience reality in a less corporeally restrictive way mirrors, for example, former Harvard Professor Timothy Leary's advocacy of psychedelic drugs such as LSD for therapy. After extensive personal indulgence in such matters, Leary spearheaded a countercultural movement during the 1960s to use psychedelics to free oneself from conventional social hierarchies, as well as to free one's mind in a spiritually transcendent way. Like Case, Leary believed that life could be far more than a mere flesh and blood experience.

Another interesting parallel between Case's desire for cyberspace and real life drug use is the physical dependency he all but develops to his virtual world. Much like chasing a high he might never experience again, Case continually alters his body neurologically in an attempt to make his corporeal imprisonment more bearable. His return to the matrix further captures his complete, psychological addiction to cyberspace: “And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the desk, tears of release streaking his face” (52).

I talked briefly about virtual realities, gaming, and consequence in my week 11 post about eXistenZ. Case's need for cyberspace also mirrors a novel form of addiction that is becoming quite prevalent in some populations: the addiction to virtual realities such as SecondLife or even massively social online games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft. These alternate, cyber-lives effectively free people from the limitations of their physical bodies. They even provide realistic consequences to drive consumer involvement; Starcraft players are ranked in ladder matches, Warcraft heroes are measured in worth by level and loot, while SecondLife characters experience consequences that directly reflect those experienced in reality. By incorporating the body into the psychological experience of reality, Neuromancer explores the naturally addictive desire for a reality unlimited by physical and genetic restrictions.


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