This page contains materials intended
to facilitate class discussion (excerpts from readings,
outlines of issues, links to resources, etc.). The
materials are not necessarily the same as the instructor's
teaching notes and are not designed to represent
a full exposition or argument. This page is subject
to revision as the instructor finalizes preparation.
Literature and Culture of Information specialization
(LCI) and its research
positions next quarter (apply by Feb. 28th)
Neuromancer: An Imagination
"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination
experienced daily by billions of legitimate
operators, in every nation, by children
being taught mathematical concepts. . . .
A graphic representation of data abstracted
from the banks of every computer in the
human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines
of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind,
clusters and constellations of data. Like
city lights, receding. . . ."
But Neuromancer does more than just give
us a (kinked) view of the scene of postindustrialism.
It also sets in motion on that scene a story with
Plot précis: an AI (Wintermute)
owned by a decadent family-controlled corporation
(Tessier-Ashpool, S.A.) assembles an outlaw team
(Armitage, Molly, Case, the Finn, Dixie Flatline,
Riviera) to hack into corporate headquarters (Straylight
Villa, in Freeside) to remove the hardwired limitations
that prevent it from merging with the other corporate
AI (Neuromancer) into an entity that is smarter
and bigger than the Turing laws permit.
Narrative method: quick, montage of jumps
from scene to scene and character to character
(naturalized or made "realistic" within
the story itself through the combined cyberspace
and simstim virtual-reality technologies of "jacking
in," "flipping," "punching
The full "meaning" of the novelwhat
it is "about"emerges when we factor
in this story and the characters that enact it.
in the Postindustrial Age
(An Interpretation of the Novel)
Remember that the NGOs we looked at protest the
business view that IT is all about business by
saying that IT is about social justice.
Remember, too, that the cyberlibertarians we looked
at protest by saying that IT is about individual
Neuromancer has a simpler, much more minimalist
"cause." It is hardly about IT as social
justice; and it is not really about IT as individual
freedom (as its entire psychology of addiction,
of need and dependency, suggests). Neuromancer
is instead about the little, minimalist thing
there at the stub of social justice and freedom:
simple human dignity.
The true purpose of information technology, the
novel says, is to provide humans with just a little
dignity, a little bit of identity that is their
own and that is not part of some great, corporate
This belief is articulated through character
development. Who am "I"?, the novel
asks through the example of its characters. What
does it mean to be an individual in this postindustrial
world? Can one be an individual in this
The novel's examples of how not to live
in the postindustrial age: people who do not hold
together as individuals
sarariman" or "organization man"
(they do not have dignity; they have positions)
Armitage/Corto, the organization man as schizo
Tessier-Ashpool clones (perversity)
How to live in the postindustrial age?
True individuality means making a "choice"
(pp. 51, 79, 167, 192, 244)
But also, true individuality means accepting
that one's freedom is limited. Choice is not
unlimited freedom but commitment. It means rejecting
the transcendence of the "transhuman"
or "posthuman" and remembering "the
The False Freedom of Virtuality:
with William Gibson (Aug. 1986), pp.
WG: . . . By
the time I was writing Neuromancer,
I recognized that cyberspace allowed
for a lot of moves, because
characters can be sucked into apparent
realitieswhich means you can
place them in any sort of setting
or against any backdrop. In some ways
I tried to downplay that aspect, because
if I overdid it I'd have an open-ended
plot premise. That kind of freedom
can be dangerous because you don't
have to justify what's happening in
terms of the logic of character or
plot. . . .
DJ: The Internet is one
way to communicate with lots of people
without using the body, you just use
your mind. Is cyberspace a better
place to be than this physical world?
WG: Well, I don't think so.
There is a tendency in our culture,
in a broader sense the western civilization,
to reject the body in favor of an
idea of the spirit or the soul. I
have never been entirely sure that
that's such a good thing, and in an
interesting way this technology is
pointing in that direction. One could
imagine a very ascetic sort of life
growing out of this, where the body
is ignored. This is something I've
played with in my books, where people
hate to be reminded sometimes that
they have bodies, they find it very
slow and tedious. But I've never presented
that as a desirable state, always
as something almost pathological growing
out of this technology.
Molly as "meat puppet" (pp.
147-48). But also Molly's sense of the
way she is "wired" (pp. 25,