White Men Can't…:
(De)centering Authority and Jacking
into Phallic Economies
in William Gibson's Count Zero
On the first page of William Gibson's Count Zero, one protagonist, Turner, is the victim of a “slamhound,” a cybernetic tracking device that had been “slotted to his pheromones and the color of his hair” and whose core was a “kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.” Coming toward him through a “forest of bare brown legs,” the bomb literally blows him to bits: “The last he saw of India was the pink stucco facade of a place called the Khush-Oil Hotel.”1 Because Turner is so valuable a mercenary and he has a good contract, most of him is flown immediately to Singapore (the rest of him follows a day later), where over the next three months his body is reconstructed by a Dutch surgeon with immaculate skills and a grating sense of humor. To replace the parts of Turner that were irrecoverable, “they cloned a square meter of skin for him, grew it on slabs of collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides. They bought eyes and genitals on the open market. The eyes were green” (1).
These opening paragraphs of Count Zero comment directly on the argument this chapter will make about the decentering of authority in cyberpunk literature, an argument relevant not simply to literary authority but to all forms of authority.2 From the beginning, this novel resists representing authority as absolute—it does not occupy a unified and single space. It can come scrambling toward one through a “forest of brown legs” in a country that is not only third world but emblemized by the Khush-Oil Hotel—a reference to the commodification of its resources for first world consumption and profiteering. Then, as if to point to the simultaneous absence and ubiquity of unified authority, Turner is whisked away to yet another, more modernized third-world locale, where ethnic and racial difference, and thus the nonessentialism of authority, assert a strong subtext.
Consider Singapore as the space in which Turner is corporeally reconstituted— if not reconstructed. Its “national” history is primarily one of colonialism and postcolonialism. If we begin in 1824, when the sparsely populated, swampy island was acquired by the British and became a contested colonial space, and continue