Tag Archives: haunting

“…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.

Freakish Children, Dying Mediums, and a Matheson Plug

Anne briefly touched on the idea of Bill’s novel somehow acquiring (at least in his mind) a sort of bizarre and altogether freakish life, but I want to discuss is further. Or rather, I want to discuss the status of books and children in the novel, both here and in class.

Like the spectral maybe-baby that the anonymous woman tries to foist on Scott towards the beginning of the novel, Bill finds himself haunted by his own manuscript, which smells “faintly of baby drool” and hovers “just outside the door” (21-22, 24, 136). I don’t want to waste my entire entry with quotes, but consistent references to abandoned babies/children and Bill’s horrific daydreams of his novel becoming a freakish pseudo-infant for which he is responsible really makes me want to discuss the status of children in the novel. Is DeLillo being entirely apocalyptic? By picturing the novel as a misshapen and monstrous child, is Bill’s desperate worry (“It’s my book after all, so I’m responsible for getting it right.”) a manifestation of authorial anxieties about the effect one’s books can have on a reading populace? (92).

If I remember correctly, multiple characters echo the sentiment embodied in the following quote: “We don’t need the book. We have the author” (71). Various characters seem to hint at the novel’s waning power as a medium. Bill and George’s discussion of Mao’s red book seems to counteract this idea; according to George, the book “was the faith that people carried everywhere. They recited from it, brandished it, they displayed it constantly. People undoubtedly made love with the book in their hands” (162). Whether or not you want to call this declaration comically excessive, it definitely reads like a sharp alternative to Bill’s earlier, apocalyptic musings about the state of his manuscript (and perhaps the novel as a medium).

[On a side note, the bizarre baby-monster that Bill turns his manuscript into reminds me of the narrator of Richard Matheson’s brilliant “Born of Man and Woman.” It’s one of the greatest pieces of American horror fiction ever and you ought to read it if you haven’t.]