Gothic Motifs and the Fiction of William Gibson

By Gillis, Stacy | Gothic Studies, November 2006 | Go to article overview

Gothic Motifs and the Fiction of William Gibson


Gillis, Stacy, Gothic Studies


Gothic Motifs and the Fiction ofWilliam Gibson by Tatiani G. Rapatzikou (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2004), ISBN: 9042017619, 253pp., £40.00 pb.

The desire to locate the exact moment at which cyberpunk sprung forth, fully armed, from the forehead of science fiction is curious, particularly considering Tzvetan Todorov's argument that 'the masterpiece of popular literature is precisely the book which best fits its genre' (159). Despite this, the search for the cyberpunk Ur-text has informed much cyberpunk criticism and various texts have been pointed up as constituting the moment when cyberpunk emerged as a literary genre - including Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Bruce Bethke's 'Cyberpunk' (1982), and Bruce Sterling's The Mirrorshades Anthology (1986). None, however, has been pointed up as pervasively or persuasively as William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984); the figure of the console cowboy hacking into the digital streets of mega-corporations has resonated throughout cyberpunked fiction since, from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992) to Andy and Larry Wachowski's The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003).Most cyberpunk texts depict an exaggerated version of contemporary culture with vast urban sprawls, environmental degradation and, of course, the potentially transgressive meat/metal fusion of bodies and technologies. They also address how technology functions within globalised economics.What marks the 'new' science fiction of cyberpunk is an anxiety about how the technological interface functions within rapidly changing accounts of globalisation. The dominant strand of cyberpunk has been masculinist, positioning the masculine protagonist as the key interface with technology. Andrew Ross has referred to William Gibson's cyberpunk fiction as 'the most fully delineated urban fantasies of white male folklore' (145). The conjunction of masculinity and the urban is one of the key features of the masculinist strand of cyberpunk, and one which has a history in the Gothic-inflected politics and aesthetics of film noir which underpin the cyberpunk genre.

The Gothic appears to be slowly moving through literary and filmic history, assimilating, in Borg-like fashion, a number of other genres. Over the past ten years, a key cohort of scholars has shown that the Gothic is the defining genre or trope of the post-Enlightenment period: 'in diverse and ambiguous ways, Gothic figures have continued to shadow the progress of modernity with counter-narratives displaying the underside of enlightenment and humanist values' (Botting, 2). It is little surprise, then, that cyberpunk and cyberspace have recently been revealed to be just two more components of the Gothic. Such superstar Gothic names as Fred Botting and David Punter have recently acquired a flavour for cyberspace, indicating that this is a new space for Gothic colonisation. Punter's The Literature of Terror (1996) and Gothic Pathologies (1998) touch upon the Gothic and cyberspace, as does Botting's Sex, Machines and Navels (1999) and his recent paper at Gothic Remains: Symptoms of the Modern (University of Sussex, December 2005). The emphasis on the corporeality of the body and the interchangeability of identity which is found in the Gothic speaks to commonly discussed aspects of cyberspace, and the uncanniness and transgressiveness of the cyborgic body - a key marker of the cyberpunk text - certainly reference the Gothic. However, cyberpunk draws upon a more recent version of the Gothic, the noir-inflected world of the hardboiled detective narrative. Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, the hybridising reconfiguration of identity, noir stylistics and the urban 'marks cyberpunk as not so much film noir as postmodern noir or cyber noir' (75). Thinking about the ways in which cyberpunk incorporates noir aesthetics and politics is definitely a rich field for current scholars of the Gothic.

Dani Cavallaro has also focused on what she perceives to be a new form of the Gothic, which she calls the '(cyber)Gothic', a designation which has presumably emerged from the work of Botting and Punter.

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