Category Archives: gibson

Are You In or Out?

NPR asks this morning, “In A Fragmented Cultureverse, Can Pop References Still Pop?” A question especially relevant to Gibson’s Pattern Recognition but also this week’s Super Sad True Love Story.

Thoughts from the Pilates Studio

Like Alejandro and Sequoia, I’m interested in coolhunting and pattern recognition as they relate to our discussions of Pynchon. Oedipa Maas looks for patterns that may or may not be there; Cayce, it would seem, finds them, or at least is able to predict them. Oedipa’s paranoia may not be justified; Cayce’s definitely is. The existence of shadowy organizations and buried codes in Pattern Recognition is not in doubt, and is probably all the creepier for it’s matter-of-factness, and the cheerfulness of its perpetrators.

I was troubled by the neat ending as well, until I thought more about the corporate “spiders” and their politeness, and how ultimately and enduringly sinister it is. They and their agents apologize, not for the hugely invasive and psychologically traumatic methods they use, but for the fact that Cayce was not really the threat they thought she was. Bigend fires Boone, not for his invasion of Cayce’s privacy, but for his perceived incompetence. The facts of surveillance are taken for granted, and we’re meant, at least at first, to be reassured by the apparent benignity of those responsible for it. The prison Cayce finds herself in is a nice prison, and socially progressive, too—but isn’t it still a prison? Does a designer briefcase full of hundreds really compensate for trauma, psychological torture, and kidnapping, or has suffering, too, been commoditized? Post-9/11 affect, indeed.

Another aspect of this novel that resonates with me is the way it looks at the relationships between paranoia, fandom, and pilgrimage. The “purity” of the Footage represents a kind of sacred, authentic experience; virgin territory (incorporating all the resonances of that term, colonial and otherwise), something that, for its devotees, is to be both sought and protected, or, on Bigend’s end, appropriated and monetized. The community it engenders has a distinctly religious flavor, with its own internal sects and dogmas, canon, and means of interpretation. It’s not unlike the academy in that way, or a particularly thriving fan-fic site. The same thing the internet does for the marketability of mechanical calculators, it does for community-building; the specificity of consumer culture extends to even the most obscure basis of interaction. Are we supposed to see this as a positive thing (vis-a-vis the success of online forums in finding a boyfriend) or a negative one (opening avenues for the invasion/dissolution of privacy)? Is “cool” a commercial reinterpretation of the religious drive, or a viable replacement thereof?

Also, can we talk about The Dig?

Gibson’s Pattern Recognition + Post-9/11 Affect

I found William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition to be comfortably familiar and probably the most relatable of all the novels we’ve read so far this semester. I see resonances with all of our former primary readings: conspiracy tales and the search for truth in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, intuitionism and sensitive protagonists of Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, concern with commoditization and recycled images in Mao II (simulacra of simulacra of simulacra)… and the list goes on. I think we could probably spend a classtime just discussing these resonances and adaptations that Gibson skillfully writes—but what I’m impressed with, in particular, is his ability to capture our early twenty-first century moment of mass mediated imagination, oversaturated “productizing,” and, what I would argue is a type of hyperawareness, a deep visceral sensitivity regarding sovereignty, the individual body and its autonomy, but also the national and its tenuous relationship to globalized systems. I know we all remember the rapid movement of affect that briefly “united” the US in nationalistic solidarity in our post-9/11 mourning state—I read Cayce’s deep feeling (that Rebecca discussed in her post) as a representation of that hypersensitive state, the “violent reactivity to the semiotics of the marketplace” in which one must confront their role as exploited/expendable/threatened in a global system of sovereignty-making and oppression-enforcing nations.

Okay, now saying all that, I really enjoyed the first half of the novel, but was thrown by its conclusion. As Julia pointed out in her post, the novel wraps itself in a big shiny ribbon—the quest is successful and the world moves on, and the Russians were behind it, naturally… I can’t make sense of this strange Cold War-holdover ending that forces Cayce to deal with her father’s disappearance—is Gibson pointing to the nature of pivotal events that recycle and resurface to disrupt successive generations (I’m thinking of Beloved and Morrison’s multitemprality that indicates our future is continually impacted by our traumatic pasts)—or is there more satire

*Can we please talk fashion in class on Monday, I loved this particular aesthetic focus in the novel

coolhunting = postmodern epistemology?

1898 Michelin ad, from Wikimedia Commons

I came into this novel with preconceptions about Wm. Gibson, having read his novel Neuromancer many moons ago. That novel, considered the first of the cyberpunk genre, takes place in a more clearly futuristic setting, when Japan dominates the world and the entire eastern seaboard is basically one big city. It’s full of cyborgs and cryonics and virtual reality and AIs monitored by Turing Police. Pattern Recognition, on the other hand, takes place in a totally familiar world. 9/11 happened and global economic and political networks of power are more or less recognizable (can we talk about the representations of Russians vs Asian/Americans? and what ended up happening with Boone and also Judy & Taki? Is it overly PC of me to be uncomfortable about this?). Cayce Pollard likes Starbucks and pilates. She reacts to the Michelin Man and Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton logos. She compares one barista to “Michael Stipe on steroids” (21) and Bigend’s Hummer to “a Jeep with glandular problems” (58), reference points the reader is assumed to understand.

The main difference between our world and Cayce’s is that she has this allergy to logos, and supposedly a preternatural “coolhunting” ability. The book doesn’t suggest, as speculative fiction and/or sci-fi might be wont to do, that this is the result of a mutation or an experiment. There’s no explanation, and we don’t really know if anybody else in Cayce’s world shares her condition. What is the difference between Cayce’s allergy and other people’s reactions to branding and trends? Sometimes I get hives when I go to IKEA, even though I like IKEA.

hello kitty on dean keeton 2

While reading the Tokyo section of this book (when we learn that Sanrio products don’t affect Cayce and see Taki’s Hello Kitty lighter) at the bus stop on Dean Keeton & University, I noticed this Hello Kitty window art in the dorm across the street.

It’s a truism that everyone thinks advertising doesn’t work on them, but most people I know still have opinions about it. To teach rhetorical analysis in my RHE 306 (intro rhetoric & composition) class, I often use commercials. Even when students aren’t persuaded by an ad, like this recent Facebook commercial or this one, they can still evaluate how it might be effective. They all have suggestions about “good” commercials we should watch: this Volkswagen commercial, that Budweiser one, this ad for Dollar Shave Club. Are we all coolhunters now? (isn’t that what SXSW is all about?) What genre is this book? Under which rubrics (McHale’s, Lyotard’s, Jameson’s…) would it be considered postmodern?

On Bodies and Spaces and 9/11

Two things, really:

1. I am fascinated by Cayce’s relationship to her body—the various pilates outings, her need to walk, the soul-delay she experiences along with her intense, vertiginous jetlag, her weighty fatigue, the inherently visceral quality of her slogan-reading talents (or phobia or “peculiar sensitivities” (112)). I am thinking too–in connection to physicality–about how this novel structures itself so keenly around the opposition between virtual and physical spaces (the F:F:F, dreams, emails, etc., and then all of the cities, apartments, hotels, parks, coffee shops, office spaces, etc., through which Cayce moves). Is there a claim being made here, on Gibson’s part? On Cayce’s?

We might think too about how “zones of transition” show up in the text, or how/when Cayce seems to experience her body itself as a liminal space or in a liminal state. (For Cayce’s note on how her therapist, Katherine McNally, tagged this word “liminal,” see page 263.)

2. I am not sure how I feel about this novel, in general, but, more specifically, I am not sure how I feel about it being, in a sense, a 9/11 narrative. Maybe this isn’t quite the right way to phrase the question, but I am wondering what kind of narrative momentum is gained through reference to this recent historical and traumatic event? What are some of the effects, in other words, of plotting the story around the disappearance of Cayce’s father on the day the twin towers fell?

One place to go in the book itself to think about these questions would be chapter 15, “Singularity,” which begins “Win Pollard went missing in New York City on the morning September 11, 2001” (137).

“…pomo bellowings,” authorial self-hauntings, and trajectories (47)

You’ll have to pardon the quote in the title. Couldn’t resist. While we’re in a confessional mood, full disclosure, I’m a William Gibson fan. I know this must come as a shock. Moving right along…

William Gibson tore up the sci-fi scene of the 80s sci-fi paperback scene with his first novel, Neuromancer, whose disgraced hacker hero is named Case and opens the book essentially allergic to computers. Pattern Recognition’s Cayce Pollard is, as we well know, allergic to all kinds of ad copy, much of which is transmitted via computers. Rather than it just being a renowned author making a winking reference to the work that launched him to sci-fi superstardom, Gibson makes the echoed name of his protagonist a conscious choice on her part; she is referred to as “Case?” by Voytek, and she goes on to explain that “it should be pronounced ‘Casey…’ But I don’t” (31). I’m not quite sure what to make of this echo, but it comes up a few more times throughout the novel, and I’m wondering whether or not Gibson is deliberately trying to link his Blue Ant trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History) with his famous Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive); if I’m not mistaken, that would be impossible, judging from the alt-history Gibson set up in the first series.

In any case, I thought it deserves some mentioning. If there are any other Gibsonites out there who are willing to speculate, then we can talk about it in class on Monday. I want to know what Gibson might gain, from a narratorial perspective, by linking Cayce Pollard with Neuromancer’s Case? Is Gibson deliberately haunting a newer novel that takes place well before an older novel that he set in the future?

I’m also intrigued by the trajectory of heroine-versus-conspiracy novels we’ve read thus far in class, and how Pattern Recognition fits in. The Crying of Lot 49 spans California and sees Oedipa Maas, a swingin’ 60s suburbanite, negotiating secret postal services and countercultural terrain that is completely alien to her; aside from Pynchon’s perfidious and persnickety pop culture references, we don’t explicitly deal with much in the way of the commercial, since both WASTE and Thurn & Taxis are much more concerned with countercultural and subversive political organizations. The Intuitionist never leaves the Ed McBain-esque pseudo-NYC that Whitehead sets up as a much more explicitly commercial battlefield; however, Lila Mae still contends with and ultimately champions a (pseudo?) religious epistemology that guides her to some kind of victory. Here, in Pattern Recognition, Cayce begins the story completely involved in the commercial world as a “coolhunter;” the mystery surrounding footage never gets a chance to assume the sort of religious/mystical nature seen in the 2 previous novels, because Cayce only ever engaged with the footage in 2 equally commercial capacities: 1) a fan/consumer, 2) a coolhunter/investigator hired by a major corporate interest to root out the producer of a desired commodity.

The Undead: Art and Intelligence Gathering

Amid the Russian mafia, not only does Cayce discover the beloved, elusive maker of the footage, she is given enough information to finally put the mystery of her father’s disappearance to rest, both personally and legally.  Intelligence gathering (particularly, an intelligence apparatus residual from the Cold War) is the key to her closure.  Win Pollard could not be proven dead, because no one could definitively place him at the scene of the attack.  The legal proceedings necessary for Cayce and her mother to move on, particularly his life insurance, were stalled, leaving Win in the “undead” status of missing person, like so many of the victims of September 11th whose bodies were never found.  Cayce goes on to describe her father as “doubly undead” because not only could they not find his body, they could never determine why he was in New York at all (192).  Cayce’s mother demands to know “exactly when, and how, and most importantly where he crossed over, as we’d then have a shot at some DNA and proof that he is in fact gone.  The legal aspects of his disappearance are not progressing…” (192).  Despite hiring private investigators and interviewing cab drivers, Cayce and her mother cannot legally prove Win dead and thus remain in “an ongoing nightmare” (192).

Lack of evidence, Cayce explains, is actually a central part of the masterful art of the footage.  “They are dressed as they have always been dressed, in clothing Cayce has posted on extensively, fascinated by its timelessness…There is a lack of evidence, an absence of stylistic cues, that Cayce understands to be utterly masterful” (23).  Cayce is fascinated by the footage because (like her father) it cannot be placed.  Does her discovery of the mystery of the footage diminish the power of its art, for Cayce, and for us as readers?  Why does the lack of information surrounding her father’s disappearance create a “nightmare,” while the lack of evidence surrounding the maker of the footage denote its artful mastery?  Cayce’s mother postulates that perhaps Win’s own role as a professional risk consultant contributed to his disappearance: “Her mother had once said that when the second plane hit, Win’s chagrin, his personal and professional mortification at this having happened, at the perimeter having been so easily, so terribly breached, would have been such that he might simply have ceased, in protest, to exist” (362).  Similarly, Bigend draws a connection between risk management and a lack of futurity: “Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day…We have no future because our present is too volatile…We have only risk management” (59).  Is the footage such a powerful art form because it resists the intelligence gathering imperative of the post-911 world?  If so, then why do our protagonists spend so much time (and money!) uncovering the source and identity of the footage, denying the footage the very non-specificity that makes it appealing?