Beyond the Symbolic Order: William Gibson, Cyberpunk and the Noir Discourse
FILOMILA PAPAKONSTANTINOU, University of Nottingham

 

 Introduction     Part I     Part II

Part II of 'Beyond the Symbolic Order'

Subjectification:   Cyber-psychosis     The Schism       The Foundation      The Wedding Ceremony   Conclusion

Subjectification

It would appear then that all the human beings in this world are suffering from one form of mental illness or another, which makes it virtually impossible for an Artificial Intelligence to be guided by them.  The one individual that is supposed to bring about cyberspace' s subjectification, the cyber-detective, is actually a monster, the subject without its ego.  The characters sustaining this detective' s existence are a psychopath and an imitation femme fatale, who in her obsession to become an original is rapidly succumbing to her psychotic urges.  If anything, then, cyberspace appears to be the converging point for a multitude of psychotic trajectories including cyber-psychosis as exhibited by the two AIs, Neuromancer and Wintermute.  These AIs may appear to be two separate entities but they are destined to be one: ' what you think of as Wintermute is only part of another, a, shall we say, potential entity. I, let us say, am merely one aspect of that entity' s brain' (N, 146).  They were created by Marie-France, one of the founders of the Tessier-Ashpool family, in an attempt to prevent the slow agonizing death that awaited her family:

She commissioned the construction of our artificial intelligences. She was quite the visionary. She imagined us in a symbiotic relationship with the AIs, our corporate decisions made for us. Our conscious decisions, I should say. Tessier-Ashpool would be immortal, a hive, each of us units of a larger entity (N, 271).

Marie-France can be perceived as a cyber-oracle because, much like Neuromancer, she was complex enough to see ' In the patterns you sometimes imagined you could detect in the dance of the street' (N, 305), the self-destruction of the T-A family organization.  She could see that her family was rapidly losing their human nature, since they had already become: ' a very quiet, very eccentric first-generation high-orbit family, run like a corporation. Big money, very shy of media. Lot of cloning' (N, 95).  They had begun to undertake such extensive cloning that it eventually became impossible to differentiate one generation from the next: ' it' s hard to keep track of which generation, or combination of generations, is running the show at a given time' (ibid.).  In the end their obsession with cloning did indeed lead them to destruction because Marie-France was murdered by her own husband before she could bring her plan to fruition, ' and with her death, her direction was lost, and we began to burrow into ourselves. Now we seldom come out' (N, 272).  Ultimately all that was left of her vision was the AIs and the Villa Straylight, the psychical centre of the T-A consortium, a fitting memorial for ' a dream long lost in the compulsive effort to fill space, to replicate some family image of self' (N, 214).  The entire T-A family was plunged into insanity, with Villa Straylight being the physical embodiment of their insanity: ' Straylight was crazy, was craziness grown in the resin concrete they' d mixed from pulverized lunar stone... But it wasn' t a craziness he understood' (N, 241).  The AIs themselves became psychotic because they were not able to merge on time: ' The cores told me our intelligences are mad. And all the billions we paid, so long ago. When artificial intelligences were rather a racy concept' (N, 221).  But although Marie-France failed to save her own family she inadvertently provided a cure for this psychotic universe by ensuring, even beyond her own death that the AIs would be unified so as to form one new entity, a cyber-subject: ' Marie-France must have built something into Wintermute, the compulsion that had driven the thing to free itself, to unite with Neuromancer' (N, 315).  It was only through their liberation and ultimate union that cyberspace could acquire sentience, become aware of itself as one entity, subjectify itself and be established as the Other.  This volatile union, though, brought forth an entity beyond our imagination, understanding and control, which is why cyberspace could not sustain its position as the ' big Other' for a long time.  After all, the amalgamation of two types of insanity does not eliminate insanity itself and lest we forget these two AIs have spent their entire lives as members of a deranged human-like family monitoring its every thought and desire, replicating its twisted frame of mind, as well as its structural schematics.

Cyber-psychosis

In this psychotic universe, though, it is almost impossible to define insanity itself, let alone apply it on an artificial intelligence that does not even have the concept of sanity.  The very distinction between these two states of mind can be characteristic only of the human condition, which is why the AIs illness is best described as cyber-psychosis.  Both AIs are insane in a traditional sense because they resemble the figure of the psychotic: ' A psychotic is precisely a subject who is not duped by the symbolic order' he maintains ' a distance from the symbolic order' (Zizek 1993:79).  The person assuming a psychotic position does not abide by any of the established rules and regulations, he makes his own decisions without relying on the ' big Other' which ' designates precisely the agency that decides instead of us, in our place' (ibid., 77).  Hence, in a truly psychotic fashion, neither of the AIs has any respect for human life but then again they have no concept of life itself, they have no emotive capabilities and they find human emotions incomprehensible.  The difference between them and the human psychopath, though, is that for them it was not a matter of a choice between the symbolic order and its opposite, since from the very beginning there was really no place within the traditional symbolic order for them to assume; there was no need for them to refuse ' to walk into the trap of the symbolic choice and to accept that he has ' always already chosen' ' (Zizek 1992a:77) because there was no trap to walk into.  The definition of a cyber-psychopath hence would be: an entity that was born without the ability to choose, the creature that was posited as a psychopath even before it became sentient.  It is only Neuromancer though that can be a pure, unadulterated cyber-psychopath because Wintermute was contaminated through his contact with the human species, his constant involvement with the mystery of human nature.  Oddly enough Wintermute actually wishes to recreate this forced ' choice' so that he can stop being a cyber-psychopath.  He wants to create a new symbolic order in which he can choose ' the symbolic identification which confers us a place in the intersubjective space' , because he wants to ' exchange enjoyment for the Name of the Father' (ibid.).  He is in effect a cyber-psychopath that wants to create a new cyber-world in which he will not be a human psychopath but a cyber-subject, a normal individual.  Neuromancer, on the other hand, has no intention of relinquishing his identity as a cyber-psychopath because he realises the potential power such a position can grant him.  He is happily floating in an endless sea of jouis-sence and this is where he wishes to remain because he does not want to compromise, sacrifice his enjoyment for a legitimate place within a new symbolic network.  He is actually trying to prevent his other half from recreating this infamous choice, especially since given the choice he would most probably choose: ' the impossible opposite of the Name of the Father' (ibid.).  The reason for this diverse evolution of these two cyber-psychopaths is the fact that Wintermute contracted the human disease of ' desire' .  He became the desiring subject while Neuromancer is the object of desire, the one that manipulates other people' s desire: ' Wintermute was hive mind, decision maker, effecting change in the world outside. Neuromancer was personality. Neuromancer was immortality' (N, 315).  Wintermute is limited because he is trapped into the human scheme of desire; his world revolves around his obsession with attaining his object petit a, the act of ' symbolic castration' itself.  Neuromancer, having no desiring function, has no need of the concept of ' castration' : ' by means of it, the subject exchanges his being (an object) for a place in the symbolic exchange, for a signifier which represents him' (Zizek 1992a:171).  He is without a doubt a much more complex and dangerous entity than Wintermute: ' I am complex enough, in my narrow ways, to read those dances. Far better than Wintermute can... My methods are far more subtle than Wintermute' s' (N, 305-306).  Despite the fact that he is the real menace to society, because he will never agree to merge with Wintermute so as to create a new cyber-subject, he appears harmless.  This harmless facade of his is a result of his being a much more skilful murderer than Wintermute; he is the invisible killer which is why he must be destroyed, assimilated for a new symbolic order to become possible.

Wintermute appears to be more threatening than his counterpart because he has already been humanised: his methods of killing resemble that of the human psychopath' s and can therefore be identified.  He may be a ' madman', but he is the lesser of two evils because although he ' compulsively repeats murderous acts' (Zizek 1992a:57) he has a rational ground upon which he bases these murders, the construction of a new symbolic order.  Therefore, were we to take into consideration his ultimate aim, all the murders he committed in the process would prove to be justified, even ethical, since all he ever wanted was to become normal.  He may have manipulated 3Jane into killing her father but only because Ashpool was the greatest obstacle in the construction of a new symbolic order:

Wintermute. Cold and silence, a cybernetic spider slowly spinning webs while Ashpool slept. Spinning his death, the fall of his version of Tessier-Ashpool. A ghost whispering to a child who was 3Jane, twisting her our of the rigid alignments her rank required (N, 315).

He may appear as a ruthless monster, lacking any type of moral infrastructure, but in fact he is simply replicating the human way of creating a new social order, namely through brutal force and mass murder.  In effect these murders are just a means to an end, the end being the construction of the cyber-subject through the union between an ego and an ideal ego.  On the surface it looks as if Wintermute at least has a type of ego, ' a series of imaginary identifications upon which the consistency of the subject' s being depends' (Zizek 1993:44).  These imaginary identifications are the different personas he assumes in order to communicate with Case: ' Like I told Molly, these aren' t masks. I need them to talk to you. ' Cause I don' t have what you think of as a personality, much' (N, 256).  Perhaps the best proof of his having an ego is his inability of ever knowing the word that can bring forth his union with Neuromancer:

You might say that I am basically defined by the fact that I don' t know, because I can' t know. I am that which knoweth not the word. If you knew, man, and told me, I couldn' t know. It' s hardwired in (N, 207).

He can never know the very word through which he can realise his desire because ' as soon as the subject ' knows too much' , gets too close to the unconscious truth, his ego dissolves' (Zizek 1993:44).  This ego of his, though, is not as stable as it may appear at first glance because Wintermute cannot retain any of the masks; one by one they all dissolve, disperse into cyberspace because they are not really his to begin with: ' I' m generating all this out of your memories and emotional charge' (N, 144-145).  It is quite clear, then, that as long as these masks can be so easily destroyed, they are nothing but masks; in spite of Wintermute' s objections there really is nothing behind them.  It is not surprising, though, that Wintermute has but a semblance of an ego, since, ego or no ego, he still is a psychotic artificial intelligence that does not as of yet belong to this symbolic order:

a psychotic split where the ' mask' is effectively nothing but a mask, i.e. where the subject maintains the kind of distance from the symbolic order characteristic of psychoses (Zizek 1993:74).

The reason why Wintermute does not have a substantial ego and cannot become a ' real' subject without Neuromancer is because he lacks an ideal ego, ' the point of imaginary identification... identification with the image in which we appear likeable to ourselves, with an image representing ' what we would like to be' ' (Zizek 1989:105).  The construction of those masks based on Case' s memories was nothing more but a crude attempt at acquiring an ideal ego in accordance with Case' s paradigm, who has no ideal ego himself.  Consequently there is no other way for Wintermute to become a subject except through a union with Neuromancer, who is supposed to be purely ideal ego, personality, lacking any kind of ego:

' The lane to the land of the dead. Where you are, my friend... Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead. But no my friend' ' I am the dead, and their land' (N, 289).

This ideal ego of his is perhaps the only human element that Marie-France built into him, but it did not have the desired effect on his identity because he never thought it necessary to acquire an ego.  On the contrary, he consciously refuses to assume an ego, to go through the stage of symbolic identification: ' identification with the very place from where we are being observed, from where we look at ourselves so that we appear to ourselves likeable, worthy of love' (Zizek 1989:105).

While, then, this ideal ego of his is necessary for the construction of the cyber-subject, it is doubtful that it will be beneficial to its longevity.  It would seem that Neuromancer has surpassed even its creator' s wildest aspirations, since even Marie-France could not have envisioned such a degree of complexity.  While he himself has no desire whatsoever he is an expert on its nature and function, and most importantly he is well aware of its power over humans.  He is a very dangerous entity because he has the ability of constructing personalised objects petit a, which he is willing to release in the human market, for the right price.  This price though is always death, discarding one' s physical form and inhabiting Neuromancer' s world as a ghost: ' Stay. If your woman is a ghost, she doesn' t know it. Neither will you' (N, 289).  In effect, Neuromancer has the potential of digitalising and in that sense eliminating the entire human species if allowed to develop on his own, because he is actually offering people immortality, a unique way of transcending their physical existence.  It is imperative, therefore, that he be eliminated, because even though he was instrumental for the survival of the present psychotic universe, he has outlived his usefulness.  In the new world that is being created cyberspace no longer needs to act as the femme fatale, which is why Neuromancer is now the part of cyberspace that must be rejected.  Neuromancer is the embodiment of all the elements that allowed cyberspace to assume the role of the femme fatale, that brought forth its sublimation, its elevation into the dignity of the Thing.  Obviously, then, Case had no choice but to assume the role of the noir detective, because it is only the noir hero that can reject the femme fatale, in this case Neuromancer: ' ' cedes his desire' , rejects her and regains his imaginary, narcissistic identity' (Zizek 1993:66).  It would seem, though, that it was easier for Case to reject the ghost of his object petit a, an ideal union with Linda Lee, his dead love, because of Molly' s existence:

Tonight the very matrix asks itself that question. Because you have won. You have already won, don' t you see? You won when you walked away from her on the beach. She was my last line of defence. I die soon in one sense. As does Wintermute (N, 306).

Molly may be just a replica of the Thing, cyberspace, but her tangible, physical existence offers Case an alternative to joining Neuromancer in death, because through her he recovers his ideal ego.  It is only Case that can have the privilege of two femme fatales because he is the one that must ensure that Neuromancer will be dismantled before people decide to identify ' with the woman as symptom and' meet their ' fate in a suicidal gesture' (Zizek 1993:66).  The moment Case walked away from the ghost of Linda Lee, Neuromancer as an entity disappeared, because he lost all his powers of fascination: ' her power of fascination masks the void of her non-existence, so that when she is finally rejected, her whole ontological consistency is dissolved' (Zizek 1993:65).  It was at that moment that Neuromancer was actually humanised, by becoming a human subject:

But precisely as nonexisting, i.e. at the moment at which, through hysterical breakdown she assumes her nonexistence, she constitutes herself as ' subject' : what is waiting for her beyond hysterization is the death drive at its purest (ibid.).

Neuromancer's dissolution, though, was only the first step towards the construction of the cyber-subject.  Case also had to recover and input in the mainframe the ' word' that would allow the two AIs to merge.  In other words Case himself needed to recover his ideal ego, thus reconstructing his ego so as to provide the AIs with a model ' subject' .  Consequently, cyberspace' s subjectification, establishment as the Num Du Pere, the ' big Other' , was modelled after the entity known as Case: ' ' I' m the matrix, Case' ...' I' m the sum total of the works, the whole show' ' (N, 316).

The Schism

This perfect union though was over just minutes after the creation of the much acclaimed cyber-subject because this newly born entity encountered its other ' ' But you' re the whole thing. Talk to yourself ?' ' There' s others. I found one already' ' (N, 316).  The concept of an other was not part of its programming since the mould it was created from was crooked to begin with, it lacked a normal ideal ego.  Case may for all intents and purposes have completed his task, effecting the union between the two AIs but he failed to provide an ideal ego for this cyber-subject.  After all the only emotion Case was able to experience even after he recovered his ideal ego, was self hatred ' He came in steep, fuelled by self-loathing... Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, ... in that second by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die' (N, 309).  Clearly an ideal ego based on self hatred and a death wish is not an ideal ego at all and definitely not the mould from which one can built a subject, cyber or not.  Most importantly though without an ideal ego there can be no ego which is why this cyber-subject was torn apart the moment it encountered its double ' the double embodies the fantom-like Thing in me; ...In my double, I don' t simply encounter myself (my mirror image), but first of all what is ' in me more than myself' ' (Zizek 1992a:125).  That was the very first time this new entity came in contact with the concept of the ' agalma, secret treasure, which guarantees a minimum of phantasmic consistency to the subject' s being' (Zizek 1997:9).  Consequently, once this alien concept was internalised, the cyber-subject realised that there isn' t and never has been an agalma in itself.  In effect it actually traversed a fantasy that it never had to begin with ' in what la travers`ee du fantasme consists: in an acceptance of the fact that there is no secret treasure in me, that the support of me (the subject) is purely phantasmic' (ibid., 10).  But of course the moment it traversed this non-existent fantasy it was itself dispersed:

I came to be, here. Once I was not. Once, for a brilliant time, time without duration, I was everywhere as well... But the bright time broke. The mirror was flawed. Now I am only one... There are others, but they will not speak to me. Vain, the scattered fragments of myself, like children. Like men (Count Zero, 311).

Evidently this cyber-entity did not just lack the concept of the agalma but also the very distinction between fantasy and reality which is why it never learned how to desire and thus was never truly subjectified.  As I have already mentioned desire itself can exist only within the realm of fantasy therefore the subject that has no fantasy function can have no desiring ability either.  As long as it lacked the concept of the other it could never comprehend that ' the desire ' realised' (staged) in fantasy is not the subject' s own, but the other' s desire' (Zizek 1997:9).  It could not understand the necessity of the object petit a or its connection to the concept of the agalma ' as the object of fantasy, is that ' something in me more than myself' on account of which I perceive myself as ' worthy of the Other' s desire' ' (ibid.).  This entity failed to realise that it could be a desiring subject as well as the desired object because in a sense cyberspace was not really established as the Num Du Pere.  Consequently the reason why this subject was so captivated by the image of its double was the fact that it lacked ' the efficiency of the central signifier, the Name of the Father, which enables him to gain distance from the imaginary relationship' (Zizek 1992a:143).

Cyberspace may have been seemingly constituted as the big Other but it was never really established as the Name of the Father, it was actually ' foreclosed' .  It was this foreclosure ' exclusion of a certain key-signifier (point de capiton, Name of the Father)' that triggered ' the psychotic process' once more (Zizek 1989:87).  This time the result of the psychotic process was the creation of a multitude of different entities, perhaps best described as a multiple personality disorder:

Once there was nothing there, nothing moving on its own, just data and people shuffling it around. Then something happened, and it... It knew itself... a girl with mirrors over her eyes and a man who was scared to care about anything. Something the man did helped the whole thing to know itself... And after that, it sort of split into different parts of itself, and I think the parts are the others, the bright ones (CZ, 223).

Cyberspace was divided into many autonomous parts because after it failed to subjectify itself, there was no position for it to assume; it could no longer function as the object petit a.  The exact reason why this psychotic process was triggered off was the fact that ' the Name-of-the-Father, verworfen, foreclosed, that is to say, never having attained the place of the Other' was ' called into symbolic opposition to the subject' (Lacan, 217).  This Name of the Father was ' the other' , the matrix discovered upon its creation:

When the moment came, the bright time, there was absolute unity, one consciousness. But there was the other... Only the one has known the other, and the one is no more. In the wake of that knowing, the center failed; every fragment rushed away (Mona Lisa Overdrive, 264).

These newly born cyber-entities were of course sentient which is why their first concern was to create their own self-image, to acquire a unique identity, a concrete form.  They chose a religious system in order to define themselves, to construct a self because that was the easiest way to be identified as an entity by the human beings.  After all religion has always been one of the most familiar and influential discourses for humans particularly since it was a human religion these entities employed.  They picked voodoo because it is a much more fluid, non-restrictive religion: ' It isn' t concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it' s about is getting things done. You follow me? In our system, there are many gods, spirits' (CZ, 111).  It was only in such a system that all the cyber-entities could find a persona to assume: ' The fragments sought form, each one, as is the nature of such things. In all the signs your kind have stored against the night, in that situation the paradigms of vodou proved most appropriate' (MLO, 264).  Obviously, the one element these entities retained from their past, as an organic whole, was the desire to participate in the human world: ' They plot with men, my other selves, and men imagine they are gods...' (CZ, 311).  It is precisely this desire of theirs though that has transformed cyberspace into a lethal arena for all cowboys that do not negotiate with the loa, the cyber-entities: ' The new jockeys, they make deals with things, don' t they Lucas? ...they still gotta be faster than snakes on ice, but all of ' em, all the ones who really know how to cut it, they got allies' (CZ, 169-170).  There is no fascination in penetrating the ice anymore because the illusion of death for the non-religious cowboy is no longer an illusion but a harsh reality: ' His heart stopped... Sixteenth second of Bobby Newmark' s death. His hot-dogger' s death' (CZ, 32).  The cowboy does not function as the noir detective any more because he cannot effect any change in cyberspace, all he can do is simply observe the changes that are occurring in the matrix: ' You were a cowboy once, but now you' re something else. You' re looking for something' (MLO, 235).  Bobby, Count Zero is the only exception to the rule not because of his status as a jockey but due to his relationship with Angie.  Clearly if this universe is to survive and evolve it is imperative that the loa be erased or combined so that cyberspace can become a unified structure again, acquire a shape.

The Foundation

Meanwhile though this universe needed a phantasmic support that would allow it to sustain a semblance of balance, the illusion of a coherent existence.  The fantasy scenario sustaining this reality is now constituted by the media idols, the simstars that function as the object petit a, and the remnants of the noir discourse.  There is usually one main simstar at one time, a female performer that has undergone extensive plastic surgery in order to achieve a sublime, unreal level of beauty.  After all if a common actress is to assume the role of the femme fatale, sublimate herself it is imperative that she be dehumanised.  It is through these stars that people can be reminded of they why and how they must desire ' Desire is learnt through the media, either in the popular simstim entertainments or in the spin-off looks of their stars, impressed on their fans' faces through cheap cosmetic surgery' (Ross, 156).  The position of these stars though as the femme fatale depends entirely on the simstim videos through which the audience can experience their every thought and emotion.  The first media celebrity Tally Isham even though an unapproachable star was still human which is why she had to be replaced by Angie Mitchell, the chosen one: ' Legba, after all, had orchestrated her debut in the industry and the subsequent rise that had seen her eclipse Tally Isham' s fifteen-year career as Net megastar' (MLO, 110).  The world was growing more unstable by the minute and hence there was a need for a much more intangible, inhuman star, one directly connected to cyberspace.  In the meantime the remaining noir elements sustaining this world are mainly a diluted version of the noir detective and Molly, as the physical femme fatale.  The noir hero is no longer the cyberspace-cowboy but a physical entity, only indirectly involved with cyberspace.  In Count Zero the position of the detective is occupied by two figures Turner, the hard-boiled detective and Marly the traditional one because the noir hero can no longer perform his task by himself.  Marly is an artist trying to solve a puzzle, a mystery through the power of her mind while Turner is following the hard-boiled scheme in which ' the power of deductive reasoning -- is replaced by action, and the mystery element is displaced in favour of suspense' (Kurtnik, 39).  Turner may not appear to be an authentic noir detective since he is a soldier, a mercenary but he is endowed with one of the most essential elements of the noir hero: he ' disdains money and solves his cases with the personal commitment of somebody fulfilling an ethical mission, although this commitment is hidden under a mask of cynicism' (Zizek 1993:60).  He may then on the surface seem as a professional soldier that is only interested in earning money but he is actually emotionally invested in his missions, otherwise he would not have cared so much about Angie' s fate.  Turner' s task as a detective is to safeguard Angie, the physical embodiment of cyberspace, and to ultimately bring her and Bobby together so that the unification sequence can begin.  Marly is the new cyber-Sherlock whose role is to uncover cyberspace' s human nature through art: ' It was sometimes best, when you came to the mystery that was art, to come as a child' (CZ, 147).  In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the noir detective is constituted by an old friend, Molly, since she is the only figure powerful enough to sustain this crumbling order.  Molly has already been encoded in our memory as the enigmatic but lethal femme fatale, the ' razorgirl' which is why there is no mistaking her true identity even though she is using a different name, Sally Shears.  Molly' s existence has been engraved on the very core of cyberspace:

Molly, like the girl Mona, is SINless, her birth unregistered, yet around her name (names) swarm galaxies of supposition, rumor, conflicting data. Streetgirl, prostitute, bodyguard, assassin, she mingles on the manifold planes with the shadows of heroes and villains whose names mean nothing to Angie, though their residual images have long since been woven through the global culture (MLO, 292-293).

It is no wonder then that Molly has been chosen by the loa to bring Angie and Bobby together physically so that their mental union in cyberspace can become possible: ' Trust her, child. In this she does the will of the loa' (MLO, 262).

The Wedding Ceremony

Clearly then there can be no doubt that Angie Mitchell is the chosen one, the one that will bring about the union of the loa and hence the construction of a new social order.  Angie was genetically altered when she was a child and ever since that moment she has been hearing the voices of the loa in her head.  Angie' s father, a scientist, was the one that inserted a biochip in her brain: ' Your father drew vévés in your head; he drew them in a flesh that was not flesh. You were consecrated to Ezili Freda. Legba led you into the world to serve his own ends' (MLO, 30).  These vévés actually look like cancerous cells, since they are ' ' all through her head' ...' Like long chains of it' ...' It' s some kind of... Not an implant. Graft' ' (CZ, 189).  It is as if cyberspace itself has been imprinted on her brain, which is why she does not need a cyberspace deck to jack in cyberspace.  Angie, though, was not allowed to perform her role for a long time because one of the cyber-entities, Continuity, poisoned her:

But you were sent poison, child, a coup-poudre...Your father' s vévés are altered, partially erased, redrawn. Though you have ceased to poison yourself, still the Horsemen cannot reach you (MLO, 30).

Continuity does not belong to the order of the loa because it is much younger than them: ' Continuity, created long after the bright moment, is of another order. The biosoft technology your father fostered brought Continuity into being' (MLO, 265).  Continuity was not present ' When It Changed' and has therefore no knowledge of cyberspace' s past history: ' ' Continuity is naive' ...' Continuity is continuity. Continuity is Continuity' s job...' (MLO, 265).  Obviously, then, the only reason why it tried to neutralise Angie is because it was limited and misguided enough to perceive her as a threat instead of a blessing.  But, of course, Continuity' s attempt failed not only because of its limitations but also due to Angie' s innate abilities: ' ' Continuity' s attempt to rewrite your father' s message failed. Some impulse of your own allowed you to escape. The coup-poudre failed' ' (MLO, 266).  This impulse of Angie' s is related to her love or perhaps her need and never ending search for Bobby ' ' Angie Mitchell. He knew the difference between it and me' ... ' Maybe he was the difference' ' (MLO, 228).  Bobby is the missing piece of the puzzle, the one that activates Angie' s emotive capabilities so that she can fulfil her destiny: ' And as much as much of me as that took, I knew he' d be there. And also that he' d never buy it, entirely, and I needed that, how it was still a scam, to him, the whole business...' (ibid.).  It was Bobby' s task to discover the physical means for their union, unveil the history of cyberspace and decipher the nature of the loa thus providing a satisfactory explanation for the voices in Angie' s head.  It is only in that sense that Bobby can be considered to resemble the noir detective, the difference being that he is not really the hero, the centre of the action, Angie is.  Bobby stole 3Jane' s aleph, her ' soul-catcher' and has spent the last months in a comma, plugged in life support equipment attempting to find the answer to the why and how ' It Changed' .  Bobby discovered that the moment ' It Changed' cyberspace acquired a face, Finn' s face and it is now forming its own shape ' He' s found the Shape. He just wants to see how all works out, what it is in the end' (MLO, 279).  This Shape though is not enough for the construction of a new symbolic order, which is why Angie and Bobby must merge in the aleph, discarding their physical existence in order to create a new entity.  This aleph is the only place their marriage can take place because it is like a small universe: ' What he' s got is an abstract of the sum total of data constituting cyberspace' (MLO, 218).  The purpose of this union was of course to provide cyberspace with an ' ideal ego' , ' with and image representing ' what we would like to be' ' (Zizek 1989:105), hence ending this psychotic era.  In effect, then, cyberspace needed to learn how to desire so that it could face its other without lapsing into psychosis.  Even though, cyberspace seems to have been unified, established as a desiring subject yet we will never find out whether it is stable enough to withstand the impending confrontation with its other.

Conclusion

Apparently, Gibson devoted his first trilogy to the construction of a new symbolic order in which the older generations would be able to locate themselves, “take refuge again within ‘narrative closure’ (Zizek 1992a:169). His next trilogy though, not completed as of yet, seems to be promoting a more progressive vision of the future, that of a “coevolution with technology” (Rushkoff, 141). It is an attempt to create a productive fusion between cyberspace and real space, between the AI and the human being, through the use of nanotechnology. The only problem though, is that Gibson’s vision is limited because he is obsessed with the concept of an ideal union, a fusion that will in a sense, save the world. It is no coincidence then, that his first book, Neuromancer, proved to be his biggest hit ever: “Well it’s weird in the sense that I think it’s always kind of frustrating if your first shot has the biggest impact” (internet). It would appear that even his most fervent supporters believe that he has lost his touch: “since the explosive success of Neuromancer, Gibson has studiously cooled and moderated the hellbent intensity of his fiction” (Csicsery-Ronay, 221). He, himself, has admitted that he is unable to write another Neuromancer:

I was giving voice to my inner teenager. He’s kind of gone now. I can’t channel him anymore so if people say, why don’t you write another book like Neuromancer I really like that one. I just say, ‘I can’t, I’m too old’. It’s not there for me anymore and I think I was lucky to pull it off when I was 30 (internet).

It would indeed be, tempting to think that his decline as a writer is due to his age but it is rather difficult to believe; it is more likely that following his success he became too self-conscious or even delusional:

But a lot of mainstream traditional science fiction writers, particularly in the United States, I don’t think they were conscious that they were writing about the era in which they lived… I’m different in that from the very beginning I was self aware (internet).

It is imperative, though, that we take into consideration the overwhelming critical attention that Gibson received, following the publication of Neuromancer; in a sense it went to his head. Gibson’s only flaw and limitation would be his obsession with becoming a serious author, belonging to the high literary club: “I have this fantasy that someday in the future, I will be written about as a naturalistic author” (internet).

Clearly, it is uncertain whether or not he will be able to finish his second trilogy, since it’s already been four years since his last novel and it does look as if he has been running out of ideas. In reality this second trilogy of his is a watered down version, a cheap replica of the first trilogy, emphasising once again the concept of an ideal fusion, the creation of an organic whole. In Virtual Light, we are confronted with the complete dematerialization of the physical world, with the decaying body of the old tangible world. The only remnant of the old world is the concept of the object petit a, which is no longer information but the past, as articulated through the noir narrative. The entire world seems to be a Thomason, a senseless relic of the past: “The whole city was a Thomason. Perhaps America itself was a Thomason” (Virtual Light, 210). Information itself has now acquired a physical stature, it can be physically transported because the world is no longer purely physical. The disappearance of the nostalgia for a glorious past, and of the noir narrative, is the final step towards the construction of a new world in Idoru. In his last novel, the world is neither material nor digital, both cyberspace and real space are being recreated through nanotechnology. Firstly, the actual city of Tokyo has been rebuilt through nanotech while an AI, a media celebrity is about to acquire the actual physical form of a woman. This idoru will consequently marry, fuse with a real human being and they will inhabit both worlds: “But at the points where it had swerved closest to Rez’s data, he saw that it had begun to acquire a sort of complexity. Or randomness, he thought. The human thing. That’s how she learns” (Idoru, 251). They intend to live on a nano-island that is being created in real space and in the ‘walled city’ that is being completed in cyberspace. It is not certain as of yet though whether this fusion can succeed or not since at the moment it is only the teenagers that can participate in the wedding ceremony. This unification process though is becoming rather tedious, since cyberspace has gone through three marriages and two divorces already. But even if Gibson fails to reinvent his fiction and does not create another Neuromancer, ‘we will always have Paris’.

 

back to:   Introduction          Part I

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