Virtual Termites: A Hypotextual Technomutant Explo(it)ration of William Gibson and the Electronic Beyond(s)

By Olsen, Lance | Style, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Virtual Termites: A Hypotextual Technomutant Explo(it)ration of William Gibson and the Electronic Beyond(s)


Olsen, Lance, Style


He'd(1) operated(2) on(3) an(4) almost(5) permanent(6) adrenaline(7) high(8,9) a(10) byproduct(11) of(12) youth(13) and(14) proficiency(15,16) jacked(17) into(18) a(19) custom(20) cyberspace(21) deck(22) that(23) projected(24) his(25) disembodied(26) consciousness(27) into(28) the(29) consensual(30) hallucination(31) that(32) was(33) the(34) matrix(35,36)

(Gibson, Neuromancer 5)

1 He = Henry Dorsett Case, computer cowboy and protagonist of William Gibson's breathtakingly popular first novel, Neuromancer. If Case's sidekick, Molly, is an ex-moll, and if his immediate boss, Armitage, is both armored with the merest vestige of an unfurling personality and armored for his high-orbit Armageddon, then Case is encased in a shell that does not allow him to feel. Uninterested in the meat world, his body in a sense lacks sensation, becomes a prosthesis for his mind.

As with most of Gibson's characters, then, through a certain optic Case is intertextual heir apparent to Natty Bumppo, the archetypal American, according at least to D. H. Lawrence's definition of the notion in his discussion of Cooper's Leatherstocking novels - "hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer" (73) - a cultural stereotype admired and appropriated to one degree or another by Poe, Melville, Thoreau, Faulkner, Hemingway, Hammett, Chandler, film noir, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ________________, ________________, ________________, ________________, ________________ (fill in the blanks; present the absences), behind which rest two others: the American frontier (Case is a computer cowboy) and the American cowboy (Case is a computer cowboy), with their connotations of freedom, ruggedness, discovery, and solitude. Encased Case keeps to himself unless he has to do otherwise to survive, skirts the fringes of a grim society, speaks in monosyllables, shows more passion toward his cyberspace deck than any human in his life. He voyages into a desolate world where he encounters various trials, then rides his computer into an electronic sunset with a lover named, yes, Michael. In such a narrative realm, whose decentered center appears to be the virtual reality called cyber-space, egocentrism appears to be rendered virtually complete, characters self-absorbed, routinely seclusive, disinterested in their surroundings except to the extent that those surroundings are interested in them. When they privilege private reality over public, they exhibit (one could argue) a mild case of autism.

Wed to that American arche(stereo)type of the cowboy is (and here we begin at least circling my main point) the arche(stereo)type of the European romantic artist: Goethe's Werther; the Byronic hero; the isolated, self-reliant, gloomy, questing, sun-staring visionary rebel. As much as Case descends from Natty Bumpo with his cowboy garb, stripped language, and tough-guy ways (the culmination of the novel is, after all, a kind of metaphoric "shoot-out" with Neuromancer in cyberspace), he also descends from the romantic wanderers in quest of the (here electronic) infinite that always remains just beyond reach. A Ulysses of virtual reality, he voyages into a magical realm where he undertakes various adventures, then returns home transformed; although he loses his Circe-Calypso in Molly, he gains his Penelope in that woman with a parodic man's name. The character Henry Dorsett Case morphs into the character Bobby Newmark (the new easy mark), whose body decays while his mind exists solely in the infinite cyberspatial disembodiment of the aleph in Mona Lisa Overdrive; into the character Gentry as well - a crazed prophet searching for the unifying Shape, the modern metanarrative - whose ideas harmonize well with the surrealist imagination, which asserts, along with Andre Breton, that "the real process of thought" lies in "the omnipotence of dream" (602), that "the poet must turn seer" (605), that "it is time to have done with the provoking insanities of 'realism'" (613). …

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