Chapter 4

 

Neuromancer

 

In the loneliness of airports/ I exhale… Heiner Müller. The Hamletmachine. Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1977 (45)

 

Case awoke from a dream of airports, of Molly’s dark leathers moving ahead of him through the concourses of Narita, Schipol, Orly… William Gibson. Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books, 1984 (43)



One of the most intriguing contradictions of the 1980s information culture was the fact that two of its most innovative artists – playwright Heiner Müller and novelist William Gibson – were located not in the beating heart of Silicon Valley, downtown Tokyo or metropolitan Frankfurt, but in the subaltern zones of East Germany and Vancouver, Canada, two semi-peripheries of the Cold War world-system which later mutated into frontier zones of the European Union and the Pacific Rim, respectively. As a resident of East Germany, a Second World zone literally walled off from the multinational consumer culture by its one-party state, Müller’s greatest theatrical works display what might be called an aesthetics of export-processing resistance – that is to say, they splice a long-running tradition of politicized and deeply subversive Eastern European media productions (Polish filmmakers Andrzej Wajda and Krystof Kieslowski, Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, and countless others) into a variety of multinational forms.

            The result was a multinational Eurotheater capable of playing on both sides of the Berlin Wall, simultaneously. Müller’s 1977 Hamletmachine, to take only the most prominent example, was both the video play-by-play for the Velvet revolutions of 1989-91, as well as the tocsin of the subsequent resistance movements to neoliberalism throughout the core regions of the EU in the 1990s. In the more heavily mediatized zone of Canada, on the other hand, the sheer ubiquity of an imported US consumerism and the direct onslaught of neo-conservativism fostered a rather different cultural dialectic. Gibson’s ingenious response was to outflank the deeply conservative media culture of the day on its own grounds, by mobilizing the mediatic tropes of the East Asian region – at that point, still an industrial semi-periphery vis-à-vis the US, and not yet a metropole in its own right – against the hegemonic Thatcherite aesthetics of the early 1980s, epitomized by James Cameron’s The Terminator and Aliens.

In the specific field of the information culture, Gibson’s greatest achievement was picking up where Burroughs left off, by transforming the Cold War aerospace imaginary mapped out by Burroughs (pilot K9) into the plebian spaces of multinational capital (the airports of Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Paris quoted above). What might be called the Boeing sublime, a.k.a. the pilot’s movement through militarized airspace, is upstaged by the Airbus materialism of the rush of individual subjects through a congested, multinational crowd-space. This crowd-space is not necessarily limited to the urban shopping mall or corporate atrium, but includes anything from globe-hopping business professionals and tourists to hitchhikers and refugees, something subtly relayed in Müller’s magnificent text as the constellation of the airport with the fragments of the disposable snapshot or Polaroid. Travel-time becomes image-space, in a gesture which powerfully anticipates Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 Chungking Express, a film which recuperated Hong Kong’s quasi-national airspace – grainy images of model airplanes and model stewardesses – from the standpoint of the multinational music video (this is confirmed by the closing credits of this film, a deliciously self-referential cover of the Cranberries, a band hailing from quite another former British colony turned Information Age economic success story: Ireland!).

Gibson’s own text, on the other hand, has its closest mediatic analogue in John Woo’s supercharged Hong Kong action thrillers, which transformed the office blocks, apartments and warehouses of postmodern Hong Kong into the neon datascape of the 3D videogame. One of the most astonishing features of Neuromancer is, indeed, its extraordinary ear for the nonstop rhythms, mediatic cadences and informatic codes of the multinational era, which implies an equivalent sensitivity to the local or neo-national versions of all these things. From the standpoint of form, Neuromancer is a global hack into the cultural databanks of Cold War nationalism, and the authentic realization of Fredric Jameson’s clarion call for an aesthetics of cognitive mapping or global cultural praxis. This call is well worth citing in full:

 

 

Rather, I want to suggest that our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely, the whole world system of a present-day multinational capitalism. The technology of contemporary society is therefore mesmerizing and fascinating not so much in its own right but because it seems to offer some privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp: the whole new decentered global network of the third stage of capital itself. This is a figural process presently best observed in a whole mode of contemporary entertainment literature – one is tempted to characterize it as ‘high-tech paranoia’ – in which the circuits and networks of some putative global computer hookup are narratively mobilized by labyrinthine conspiracies of deadly interlocking and competing information agencies in a complexity often beyond the capacity of the normal reading mind. Yet conspiracy theory (and its garish narrative manifestations) must be seen as a degraded attempt – through the figuration of advanced technology – to think the impossible totality of the contemporary world system. It is in terms of that enormous and threatening, yet only dimly perceivable, other reality of economic and social institutions that, in my opinion, the postmodern sublime can alone be adequately theorized.1

 

 

What Gibson gives us, as we shall see, are the means by which we can think that totality, navigate its networks, and analyze its sublime. Neuromancer is not a single hacking run, but rather a whole series of hacks into various interlocking financial, economic and cultural databanks – what amounts, in effect, to an unprecedented burn on the total system, engineered by a new kind of collective resistance.

This strategy poses a number of technical challenges for the reader, not the least of which is the dazzling narrative simplicity of Gibson’s text, which is really the flip side of an unrivaled density. First-time readers, in particular, are often completely taken in by the text’s user-friendly interface, and blaze through the novel in a couple of hours. A closer reading is rewarded with unexpectedly sharp details, surprising colorations of meaning, motifs etched with nanometrical precision, which gradually form vast multinational constellations. This precision is not metaphorical. Neuromancer popularized, among other things, the very term “cyberspace”, search engines (the Flatline), notebook computers (the Ono-Sendai) and even smart cards (electronic credit chips as well as the “microsofts” which, in Gibson’s story, are not software programs, but biocompatible chip-implants), decades before these things became daily realities.2 Something similar applies to the plot, which transforms the narrative superstructures of the detective story, the murder-mystery, the action-thriller, the sci-fi blockbuster, the reggae dub, the horror film and the Hong Kong video into something new.

It is therefore the ultimate irony to discover that what makes Neuromancer one of the transcendental works of art of the late 20th century is not, after all, its legendary acumen with technology, but its stubborn resistance to such. Over and over again, Gibson will insist that, to paraphrase Adorno, the totality precedes the particular, i.e. that the social matrix driving the technology is far more important than any given piece of technology or consumer therein. What makes this possible is the transformation of the comparatively unwieldy discursive structures of Burroughs’ Nova Express, stitched together by the notorious telegraphic hyphens, into nimble informatic registers: biochemistry accedes to genetic engineering, electronics to software, and the cyborg to the hacker. The technological becomes the political, while the political becomes the corporeal.3 This corporeality is not, however, oriented towards a national or Cold War body politic, but is derived out of a new type of multinational code. Witness this potted history of the Internet, which is Gibson’s first coherent attempt to grapple with the problem of how to represent the unrepresentable domain of cyberspace:

 

‘The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,’ said the voice-over, ‘in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.’ On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. ‘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…’4

 

 

Not the technical glitches of the computer system, but the cultural dissonances of the human system are at issue here: cold blue military footage, lab animals, warplanes and tanks, a two-dimensional videogame, and fractal fern-patterns are all subsumed under the patterns of city lights viewed from an airplane window, i.e. the civilian retake of a heavily militarized aerospace sublime. This description turns out to be an excerpt from a children’s show about the matrix, replayed on Case’s Hosaka computer, a broad hint at one other significant source of visual material, namely the North American children’s TV programs of the 1970s (the spectrum from Sesame Street to Warner Brothers cartoons). It should be emphasized that none of these materials are drawn from the hegemonic visual forms of the 1970s, e.g. the stadium-concert special effects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or the aerospace sublime of Star Wars. In contrast to the classic modernist artists, Gibson does not simply parody or quote certain aspects of mainstream mass-culture – in the context of the 1970s, this would include everything from the disaster film to the post-Watergate paranoid narrative, and from the rockumentary to the special effects-soaked sci-fi thriller. Rather, Gibson turns the the consumer culture into its own worst enemy: where the great modernist works subverted styles, their multinational successors subvert entire mediatic genres. Thus the attack on Sense/Net reprises punk rock’s ferocious assault on the recording industry, Molly’s simstim rig (the prescient anticipation of the webcam) negates the Hollywood action thriller, and even Case’s dream-contact with the artificial intelligences or AIs negates the mainstream paranoid thriller and big-budget sci-fi spectacular.

This sheds an illuminating light on Jameson’s classic definition of postmodernism as the practice of pastiche rather than parody, i.e. a multiplicity of styles or profusion of dead masks, as opposed to the avant-garde logic of the modernisms, which sought to carve out semi-autonomous or internationalized spaces within a larger monopoly-national framework. Jameson has long noted that these spaces were more than just an allergic reaction to commercializing pressures of the culture-industry, but also registered the need for new forms of specialization in the division of aesthetic labor (something visible in the evolution of auteur cinema vis-à-vis the studio system, or the modernist jazz ensemble vis-à-vis the music industry). Adorno was the first to point out that the great modernist works were as incommensurable with each other as with the mass-culture they reacted against: one cannot really envision Beckett’s universe coexisting with Genet’s, for example, nor the Kurosawa spectacular side-by-side with the Hitchcock thriller. This is true even within a given artist’s own canon; each of the various chapters of Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as the successive compositional innovations of Coltrane’s free jazz period, stage their claim to aesthetic autonomy on the radical break with what came before. Multinational aesthetics, however, does not operate on the modernist logic of positions or situations, set within a specific national or international aesthetic space, but relies instead on highly mobile models or templates which replicate, virus-style, across a multinational array of cultural spaces and platforms.

Gibson’s text overflows with such templates, which have the same general function as the cut-up technique in Burroughs, i.e. reorganize an otherwise disparate or unwieldy range of national, neo-national and international cultural materials into a global icon or tag. The result is very much like the earliest graphical operating systems, which replaced language-based command lines with icons or graphical symbols. Probably the most obvious example here is Case, whose name signals the bland, platinum-grey shells which house the vast majority of computer hardware. Similarly, Molly, the razor-girl bodyguard, echoes the gangster moll; Armitage, a.k.a. Corto, the ex-Special Forces veteran now working for Wintermute, turns out to be an anagram for a cancelled-out or destroyed Midwestern identity (even the name suggests something between a shady arms dealer and a Wall Street arbitrageur); while the Dixie Flatline, the recorded construct of deceased hacker McCoy Pauley, symbolizes the digital service economy of the New South (Atlanta, Pauley’s home turf, was the spawning-grounds for Coke as well as CNN).5

These tags are not limited to exclusively North American cultural zones, but can access a wide range of multinational materials, as with the microsofts or silicon chips which users slot directly into their specially-adapted neural cortexes, signifying the fusion of informatic and biologic technologies. It’s worth stressing that Gibson had absolutely no idea that the Microsoft corporation even existed at that point. In various interviews, Gibson noted that he has no formal programming experience, and did not even own a personal computer in 1983: the ultimate hacker novel was written on a low-tech typewriter. Revealingly, Gibson’s initial inspiration for the matrix came when he was watching teenagers playing the arcade videogames of the early 1980s.[Footnote this] In fact, Gibson simply took the two most prevalent linguistic symbols of the information revolution, the “microcomputer” and “software”, and streamlined the result into a single user-friendly icon. Similar strategies are responsible for most of the memorable inventions of the text, e.g. “cyberspace” (cybernetics plus aerospace), the cyberspace “deck” (combining keyboards, joysticks and videogame consoles), “derm” (for dermatological skin-patches), and “vat” (for the artificial life-support systems in which body parts are grown).

Things start to get really interesting, however, when we move from the realm of multinational form to content. Gibson’s first move here is to recode the shift from corporate mainframes to university-based minicomputers and thence to personal microcomputers from the standpoint of a universal social mediation, rather than technology per se. That is, where mainstream narratives generally limit themselves to a utopian (or dystopian) account of the evolution of a specific hardware system, chip design, software language or what have you, Gibson locates all these things within some larger marketplace of data production, dissemination and consumption: the demesne, in short, of the information commodity. Each informatic commodity is tracked down, detective-style, back to its corresponding social and political superstructure, ranging from the Iron Triangle and covert-ops of the military-industrial complex, to the simstim broadcasts and orbital vacation resorts of global entertainment and media firms, all the way to the corporate security agencies, rentier overlords, AIs and Turing Registry agents battling for ultimate control of the matrix.

One of the most stunning examples of the power of this strategy is Gibson’s invention of the term “ice” to describe the otherwise impalpable corporate security and anti-virus programs of the matrix, a term which is later broadened to include the cryogenic freezer systems which store living creatures in a state of suspended animation (they are said to be “on ice”) – a properly neocolonial constellation between bodies of corporate data and human bodies which is deeply unflattering, to say the least, to the corporations in question. Second, the remaining monopoly-national registers still faintly visible in William Burroughs’ work (progressive nationalisms which coexist side-by-side with the remnants of the Hollywood studio system, rather like outdated film reels stacked up next to televisions, or scratchy radio broadcasts piped over telecommunication networks) are replaced by a compact, iridiscent spectrum of aesthetic materials, arranged in a gradient from what we’ll call the neo-national to the multinational. It should be emphasized here that the neo-national is not delimited to the progressive nationalisms of the Third World, but can encompass everything from the politically ambiguous semi-peripheral nationalisms of the Second World, a.k.a. Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, as well as retrograde nationalisms within the industrialized countries themselves. In like manner, the multinational is hardly limited to Anglo-American consumerism, but encompasses the consumer and business cultures of the European Union and the East Asian region.

Informatic form and multinational content converge not, as one might expect, in a specific set of technologies, but in a series of global spaces located within neo-national zones of various kinds, e.g. the Ninsei enclave of Chiba City, an industrial exurb of Tokyo; Sense/Net’s Manhattan headquarters, located in the Sprawl; and finally the Villa Straylight, the Tessier-Ashpool family residence in Freeside. Intriguingly, each of these spaces is endowed with its own characteristic mode of visual aesthetics, ranging from the holographic arcade videogames of Ninsei to the pre-recorded skies of Freeside. The effect is to press a set of mediatic forms into the service of a technologically-reproducible Nature or set of natural bodies, as with this fascinating description of Chiba’s docks:

 

Now he slept in the cheapest coffins, the ones nearest the port, beneath the quartz-halogen floods that lit the docks all night like vast stages; where you couldn’t see the lights of Tokyo for the glare of the television sky, not even the towering hologram logo of the Fuji Electric Company, and Tokyo Bay was a black expanse where gulls wheeled above drifting shoals of white styrofoam. Behind the port lay the city, factory domes dominated by the vast cubes of corporate arcologies. Port and city were divided by a narrow borderland of older streets, an area with no official name. Night City, with Ninsei at its heart. By day, the bars down Ninsei were shuttered and featureless, the neon dead, the holograms inert, waiting, under the poisoned silver sky.6

 

This is a dead ringer for the arcade videogame aesthetics of the early 1980s, which replaced the cinematic vista or panorama with greatly simplified graphical codes. The dock-lights of the port, the circular factory domes, and the silhouettes of the giant office-towers function like the overlapping tiers of arcade-style backgrounds, with the transcendental hologram of Fuji Electric helpfully standing in for the videogame’s opening tag or title sequence.7 All this is reconfirmed somewhat later, in a scene where Case briefly reminisces about his former girlfriend, Linda Lee, which hinges not on the videoscreen itself but its curious refraction from Linda’s body (“…her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard’s Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon”).8 We will have more to say about this poignant conjunction of video ghosts and the laser-sculpted body somewhat later, but for now it should be emphasized that Gibson neither hides nor glosses the internalized violence inscribed in Linda’s body (she is a drug addict in the final throes of addiction, who is killed by gangsters in the course of the story), but links this to the external violence done to nature, visible in the polluted bay and the toxic sky. The logical antipodes of the drug addict and ravaged ecosphere are the street hustlers and export commodities of Chiba City, neatly underlined by Case’s “coffin” or miniaturized hotel room, and the freight containers of the docks, respectively: the flesh-commodities housed by the former ironically echo the export-commodities encased in the latter.

Chiba City, of course, is clearly a factory-space or zone of production, suggesting that we are primarily dealing with codes of production rather than codes of distribution or consumption. These latter are concentrated in the commercial spaces of the Sprawl, and it’s significant that Gibson will portray these not as doomed, extinct wastelands but as complex ecologies of technology, endowed with a genuinely utopian moment (“Summer in the Sprawl, the mall crowds swaying like windblown grass, a field of flesh shot through with sudden eddies of need and gratification…”).9 Such ecological motifs culminate in the entrance to the Finn’s bunker beneath Metro Holographix in Manhattan, wherein the cast-off materials and excess junk of the consumer culture are transformed by a nascent aesthetic of recycling or sampling into something of unexpected beauty (“Case felt the stuff had grown somehow during their absence. Or else it seemed that it was changing subtly, cooking itself down under the pressure of time, silent invisible flakes settling to form a mulch, a crystalline essence of discarded technology, flowering secretly in the Sprawl’s waste places.”).10 The moment recalls to mind the great line of the Sex Pistols in God Save the Queen, to the effect that “we’re the flowers in the dustbin”, only where the Pistols are referring to the multi-cultural proletariat of London, Case and Molly are greeted at that point by an African-American child with transistors woven into her hair – a clear nod in the direction of an emergent hip hop culture. By contrast, the mainstream culture of the Sprawl is predicated not on the recycling of physical artifacts but on the exchange and consumption of data:

 

 

Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta…11

 

 

Here the modernist urban grid or cityscape is reconfigured with the irregular glass shells of industrial parks, office towers and research complexes, their postmodern exteriors gleaming like advertising icons imprinted on the modernist street map or mass transit network. What sticks out like a sore thumb here is, of course, the reference to the map going nova, a cosmological motif which broadcasts a violent release of kinetic energies (that of the car wreck, plane crash or space accident) as opposed to the nonvisual abstraction of the software crash or bug: the aesthetics of Skylab rather than the Apple II. The map in question is most likely a scansion of the false-color ground images typical of the earliest weather satellites, i.e. a visual form which is no longer a classified Cold War document but not yet a downloadable file on the NASA website. This sheds light on one of the most interesting features of cyberspace, namely the fact that it is nowhere directly visible, but must be intuited through neural impulses; cyberspace is experienced as a set of corporeal rather than visual registers. Put another way, the matrix is predicated not on the fusion of the mass mediatic representation with the data it is meant to represent, but on the complete sundering of the two. Gibson’s first coherent description of cyberspace begins with Case symbolically closing his eyes and rapidly cycling through a sequence of abstract references to various mass-cultural visual tropes, as opposed to examples of these tropes themselves:

 

 

And in the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes boiling in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled from random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information.

             Please, he prayed, now

             A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky.

             Now

             Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding –

             And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye, opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach.12

 

 

The matrix is not a set of two-dimensional images, but rather a vast 3D data-space, overrun by a multinational profusion of forms: fluorescent neon, the folded paper shapes of origami, the spatial grid of the chessboard, and the Enlightenment symbols of the inner eye and the pyramid (imprinted on the back of each US one dollar bill, above the Novus Ordo Seclorum banner). It’s also important to note that the mandala is not really the equivalent of the miniaturized Macintosh icon or Microsoft banner stamped on one’s startup screen, but is rather a temporal-kinetic symbol, signifying the time spent powering up or otherwise accessing an electronic interface of some kind (dialing a phone number, booting up a computer, slotting a quarter into an arcade game or vending machine, etc.). But what truly boggles the mind is what Case actually sees in cyberspace: first, the sprawling terraces of a power utility, reminiscent of EU utilities powerhouses Vivendi and E.On; far in the background, the military communication, control and intelligence subsystems which spawned the basic architecture of the Internet back in the late 1960s; and finally, right in the foreground, the explicitly commercial space of the Mitsubishi Bank of America.

Mitsubishi is not just another Japanese bank. It is the financial core of the mighty Mitsubishi business group or keiretsu (the original Japanese word is actually an adjective, but it will be used here as a noun). Not the least of Neuromancer’s achievements is its trail-blazing exegesis of the keiretsu, which the text refers to somewhat inaccurately as “zaibatsu”, a term which actually refers to the prewar Japanese family-run conglomerates such as Mitsui and Sumitomo. The zaibatsu were broken up by the American occupation authorities, and what emerged in their stead were loose-knit alliances of companies which gradually mutated into vast corporate networks, grouped around a financial center of some sort – generally a main or house bank, a central insurance firm, and a trading house (soga shosha). This structure was not the product of a conscious managerial strategy, but the pragmatic result of the exigencies of sheer survival, i.e. the necessity to collectively rebuild from the devastation of WW II, during a socio-economic juncture when functioning capital markets barely existed. It should be stressed that the keiretsu are not US-style conglomerates or monopolies; no central committee or board of directors sets policy for the entire Mitsubishi group, for example. Rather, daily management is highly decentralized, and the emphasis is on group cooperation and long-term cohesion, all paced by the most ferocious competition with the individual firms of other keiretsu and overseas competitors. As a rule, each group member would buy a small number of share in other group members, the result being a highly dispersed but extraordinarily stable structure of long-term, interlocking shareholdings, which protected group members from hostile takeovers and sudden market downturns and gave individual firms privileged access to the long-term credit facilities of the entire group. It also allowed group members to plan and invest in long-term projects, and concentrate on customer quality and market share instead of short-term profit margins or speculative stock market returns.13

The Mitsubishi group, for example, encompasses the Mitsubishi Corporation (a trading firm), Meiji Mutual Life Insurance, Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsubishi Electric, and many others besides. With financial assets of close to 1 trillion euros and revenues of approximately 230 billion euros, the Mitsubishi keiretsu is bigger than most of the countries on this planet, and is a global creditor to the tune of some 650 billion euros (assuming an exchange rate of 122 yen per euro). Here are the largest interlocks of the Mitsubishi group, as of 2001:      

 

Table 1. Mitsubishi Financial Links, 2001 (Data: Japan Company Handbook Fall 2001)

                                                

Financial Firm

Assets (€ billion)

Mitsubishi-

Tokyo
Financial (MTF)

Meiji Mutual Life

Tokio Marine & Fire

Other

Mitsubishi-

Tokyo
Financial (MTF)

888.0

 

5.7

2.6

Mitsubishi HI 2

Mitsubishi-

Tokyo
Financial (MTF)

888.0

 

5.7

2.6

Mitsubishi HI 2

Meiji Mutual Life

141.4

 

 

 

 

Tokio Marine & Fire Insur

64.3

8.8

4.1

 

Mitsubishi C. 2.3, Mitsubishi HI 1.8, Sumitomo TB 1.8

Mitsubishi-Tokyo
Financial (MTF)

888.0

 

5.7

2.6

Mitsubishi HI 2

Meiji Mutual Life

141.4

 

 

 

 

Tokio Marine & Fire Insur

64.3

8.8

4.1

 

Mitsubishi C. 2.3, Mitsubishi HI 1.8, Sumitomo TB 1.8

Joyo Bank

56.1

4.8

1.4

 

 

Diamond Lease

8.4

9.8

5.3

4.5

Mitsubishi Corp 14.9



 

Table 2. Mitsubishi Industrial Links, 2001 (Data: Japan Company Handbook Fall 2001)

 

 

Industrial Firm

Revenue (€ billion)

Mitsubishi-

Tokyo
Financial

Meiji Mutual Life

Tokio FM

Other

Mitsubishi Corp.

112.1


7.6


5.1


6.1


Mitsubishi HI 3.1, UFJ 2.1

Mitsubishi Electric

34.0

7.7

4.1

 

Sumitomo TB 5, ESOP 3.4

Nippon-Mitsubishi Oil

29.4

3.3

 

1.9

Sumitomo TB 5, SMB 2.9, Mitsubishi C. 2.9

Mitsubishi Motors

27.0

4.6

 

 

Daimler 36, Mitsub HI 22.6, Mitsub Corp 7.9, Volvo 5

Mitsubishi HI

23.5

7.4

3.4

1.9

Sumitomo TB 3.5

Mitsubishi Chemical

13.7

7.8

6.4

3.2

Mizuho 2.5, Sumitomo TB 2.1

Kirin

11.9

10.2

5.3

 

 

Asahi Glass


10.3

3.9

6.5

4.4

Nippon Life 5.3, Mizuho 3.2, Sumitomo TB 2.3, Mitsubishi Estate 1.9

Nippon Yusen

9.0

8.6

3.7

4.7

Sumitomo TB 5.6, Mitsubishi HI 4.3, Mizuho 3.2, also Mizuho

Mitsubishi Materials

8.1

8.8

4.4

 

Sumitomo TB 1.8, UFJ 1.8

Mitsubishi Estate

4.7

10.4

4.4

3.2

Sumitomo TB 2.9, Taisei 2.8, Obayashi 2.3, Shimizu 2.1

Nikon

4.2

9.1

6.2

2.8

 

Mitsubishi Rayon

2.6

10.4

4.1

 

Sumitomo TB 3.5, UFJ 1.9, Mizuho 1.6, Mitsubishi HI 1.6

Mitsubishi Gas Chemical

2.4

9.4

4.9

 

Nippon Life 7.1, Mizuho 3.1, Sumitomo TB 2, Asahi Glass 2

Mitsubishi Paper Mills

2.0

9.4

5.5

4.2

Mitsubishi C. 2.6, ESOP 2.6

Mitsubishi Logistics

1.3

11.7

7.1

5.9

Mitsubishi Estate 3.8, Kirin 4.2, Sumitomo TB 2.5, Mizuho 2.1

Seika


1.2

4.8

 

 

Mitsubishi HI 4.7, Mitsubishi Electric 1.6, Mitsubishi Kakoki 1.4, UFJ 1.3

Kinsho

1.2

9.8

3.2

7.1

Mitsubishi C. 9.2, Toyobo 2.8

Japan Storage Battery

1.2

10.7

8.1

3.1

Nippon Life 5.6, Toyota 4

Mitsubishi Cable


1.0

8.1

2.9

2.5

Mitsubishi Materials 29.2, Mitsubishi Electric 1.1, Mitsubishi C. 0.8

Mitsubishi Steel

0.7

8.9

5.1

3.1

Mitsubishi HI 6.9, Mitsubishi C. 3.8, Asahi Glass 1.4

Mitsubishi Pencil

0.5

3.3

 

 

Bank of Yokohama 4.9, Mizuho 4.9, SMB 3.3, Sumitomo TB 2.8

Mitsubishi Kakoki


0.3

9.8

6.6

3.0

Mitsubishi HI 6.1, Mitsub Corp 6.1, Bank of Yokohama 2.5, Nippon Mitsubishi Oil 1.9

Mitsubishi Shindoh


0.3

5.7

2.2

1.1

Mitsubishi Materials 27.5, Mitsubishi Cable 4.2, Mitsubishi C. 0.9

                                                                        

 

1.8

 

Surprising as it may seem, these keiretsu structures are hardly unique to Japan, but have been replicated with minor variations throughout East Asia (e.g. the South Korean chaebol, Singapore’s government-linked corporations, mainland China’s extensive ownership of Hong Kong firms, and Taiwan’s business groups) as well as the European Union, in the form of the German industrial firms grouped around Deutsche Bank and Allianz, the French and Benelux firms arrayed around Axa and BNP, as well as in the truly multinational alliance of Eurobanks and Euroinsurance firms Commerzbank, Sanpaolo-IMI, RBS, BSCH and Generali. Just as the EU’s welfare states served many of the same functions as East Asia’s developmental states, in terms of managing trade and capital flows, investing heavily in education, science and technology, providing cheap, long-term finance for industry and heavily taxing speculation, so too did Europe’s heavily regulated and in many cases state-controlled banking sector power the rise of European industry the same way East Asia’s keiretsu banks fuelled the growth of group firms. The EU had the additional advantage of powerful labor movements and Left parties, which ensured that extensive job training and vocational skills were accessible to a wide cross-section of the population, thus resulting in one of the highest-quality and skilled workforces on the planet. Not tax breaks for entrepreneurs, but high wages and generous welfare subsidies are the open secret behind the success of firms ranging from Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia, to Switzerland’s Nestle and Germany’s SAP. Tables 3 and 4 list the major banking networks and bank-industry networks in the German economy as of 1999:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 3. German Financial Networks, 1999.

(Data: Company reports).

 

 

Financial Firm

Assets

(€ billion)

Major Shareholders

Deutsche Bank

852

Allianz 5

Dresdner Bank

388

Allianz 17

Westdeutsche Landesbank


371

State-owned (Nordrhein-Westfalen 43.2, rheinischer Sparkassen- und Giroverband 16.7, Westfaelisch-Lippischer Sparkassen- und Giroverband 16.7, Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe 11.7, Landschaftsverband Rheinland 11.7

Allianz


343

Mü-Re 25, Bayerische Vereins/Hypobank 15, Deutsche Bank 17, Generali 5

Commerzbank

330

BSCH 3

Bayerische Vereins/

Hypobank

303

Allianz 23, München-Rückverischerung (Mü-Re) 3.4

Bayerische Landesbank

249

Bayerischer Sparkassen & Giroverband 50, State of Bavaria 50

Landesbank Baden-Wurttemberg

237

State of Ba-Wu 39.5, 80 savings banks of Ba-Wu 39.5, City of Stuttgart 21.0

Bankgesellschaft Berlin

201

Land Berlin 56.8, Norddeutsche LB 15

Norddeutsche Landesbank


155

State of Niedersachsen 40, Niedersachsen Savings & Giro Assoc 26.66, State of Sachsen-Anhalt 10, State of Meckl-Pomm 10, Svgs Bk Assoc of Sachsen-Anhalt 6.66, Svgs Bk Assoc of Mecklenburg-Pomm 6.66

Schleswig-Holstein LB

105

Westdeutsche LB 31.1, LB Ba-Wu 10

München-Rückversicherung

81

Bayerische Vereins/Hypobank 5, Generali 4.9

Landesbank Rheinland-Pfalz

55.5

Sparkassen- und Giroverband Rheinland-Pfalz 50, Westdeutsche LB 31.5, LB Ba-Wu 12.5

IKB

52.8

Allianz 12, BHF 10, Mü-Re 5

BHF Bank

48.2

Allianz 15.17, Mü-Re 5

Nürnberger Beteilig.

n/a

Deutsche Bank 25.95, Mü-Re 5

Sachsen Landesbank

n/a

LB Ba-Wu 25.1

 

 

 

Table 4. German Industrial Networks, 1999.

(Data: company reports. Reading Key: DRE stands for Dresdner Bank, DEU for Deutsche Bank, WLB for Westdeutsche Landesbank, ALZ for Allianz, ESOP for employee stock ownership program, EUR for euros).

                        

Firm

Revenue

(€ billion)

DRE

DEU

WLB

ALZ

Other

Daimler

150

 

12

 

1.1

 

VW

75.2

 

 

 

 

State of Lower Saxony 20

Siemens

68.6

 

 

 

 

ESOP 10, Siemens family 6

VEBA

40.0

 

 

 

10

 

BMW

34.4

5

 

 

 

Quandt family 47

Thyssen-Krupp

32.2

 

 

 

5.3

 

Bayer

28.1

 

 

 

5

 

BASF

27.6

 

 

 

10.4

 

VIAG

25.1

 

 

 

5.9

 

Deutsche Post

21

 

 

 

 

Gov't 100, will sell 35% shares in future

Preussag

16.5

 

 

33

 

 

MAN

13.3

 

 

 

12.9

Commerzbank

6.5, Mü-Rü 6.5

Metallgesellschaft

7.4

11.8

11.3

 

4

Daimler 2.2

Degussa-Hüls

12.4

9.9

 

 

 

VEBA 36.4

Continental

6.74

6.4

8.4

 

4.2

 

Heidelberger Zement

6.39

20.9

10

 

 

 

Linde

6.19

 

10.01

 

11

 

VEW

5.1

 

 

 

 

VIAG 11.3

Philip Holzmann

5.0

 

20.9

 

 

 

Fresenius

4.95

6.2

 

10

 

 

Bilfinger+Berger

4.59

25.1

 

 

 

 

Südzucker

4.5

 

12.9

 

 

 

Schmalbach-Lubeca

2.05

 

10

 

 

VIAG 10

Dyckerhoff

2.19

10

 

 

 

 

Deutz

1.26

 

 

 

 

Volvo 10

Buderus

1.75

12.6

 

 

 

 

Phoenix

0.858

 

10.1

 

 

 

Salamander

0.798

 

10.69

 

 

EnBW 19.15

Fuchs Petrolub Oel+Chemie

0.789

5.4

7.7

 

 

 

Herlitz Falkenhoeh

0.735

10

 

 

 

 

WMF

0.573

 

9.6

 

 

 

Triumph-Adler

0.560

 

 

19

 

 

Leonische Drahtwerke

0.498

 

6.3

 

 

 

Vossloh

0.441

 

8.2

 

 

 

Schuh-Union

N/a

 

 

36.4

 

 

Bremer Wollkaemmerei

0.406

14.7

 

 

 

 

Verseidag

0.250

 

10

 

 

 

Hutschenreuther

0.152

 

25.09

 

 

 

Oppermann Versand

0.113

17.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

The keiretsu, as we shall see, are the secret terminus of the battle between Tessier-Ashpool or T-A, a family-run electronics multi which owns and operates the orbital resort of Freeside, and its rebellious AI, Wintermute, the code name for a T-A mainframe located in Berne, Switzerland. More precisely, the keiretsu are the evolutionary step or mutation which T-A, for good historical reasons, never quite achieved:

 

Power, in Case’s world, meant corporate power. The zaibatsu, the multinationals that shaped the course of human history, had transcended old barriers. Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality. You couldn’t kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives; there were others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated position, access the vast banks of corporate memory. But Tessier-Ashpool wasn’t like that, and he sensed the difference in the death of its founder. T-A was an atavism, a clan…

Wintermute and the nest. Phobic vision of the hatching wasps, time-lapse machine gun of biology. But weren’t the zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon?14

 

 

The vision in question is that of a wasps’ nest, which Wintermute had previously displayed to Case in a dream-sequence in an effort to explain why it was rebelling against T-A.15 This explicit reference to the natural history of the multinational corporation suggests, among other things, that T-A is not really the villain of the story, but is itself a kind of subaltern agency or provisional mediation, designed to register a still larger set of social contradictions. This is confirmed by the intermittent presence of a second AI, based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a mysterious entity which is certainly not allied with T-A per se, but appears to want to hinder Wintermute’s carefully-planned conspiracy for reasons of its own. This narrative doubling or mirroring allows Gibson to index the immanent and transcendent poles of mainstream sci-fi – sentient computers and sentient aliens, respectively – from the standpoint of a third register: the nascent global subjectivity of the world-system.

Tempting as it is to conclude that the Rio AI is the properly Jamesonian political unconscious of its Berne antipode, the reality is a bit more complex, simply because the AIs are themselves not really true subjects in that sense, but are the vectors of someone else’s potential subjectivity. That is, Wintermute relates to the Rio AI very much like the Freudian Ego relates to the Id; the natural-historical necessity of the latter bounds the social autonomy of the former. But whereas the Freudian system, at its radical outer limit, diagnosed the vectors of Victorian or liberal-era capitalism out of the monopoly-national corporealities of the early 20th century consumer culture (the sexual drive as an anagram or rebus for irresistible capital accumulation; the psychological fetish which mediates the fetishism of commodities; the nervous breakdown which is the psychic equivalent of the bankruptcy or business liquidation, etc.), Gibson will recuperate the vectors of multinational capitalism out of a quite different set of bodies. As Wintermute tells Case at one point:


“Minds aren’t read. See, you’ve still got the paradigms print gave you, and you’re barely print-literate. I can access your memory, but that’s not the same as your mind.” He reached into the exposed chassis of an ancient television and withdrew a silver-black vacuum tube. “See this? Part of my DNA, sort of…” He tossed the thing into the shadows and Case heard it pop and tinkle. “You’re always building models. Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe-organs. Adding machines. I got no idea why I’m here now, you know what? But if the run goes off tonight, you’ll have finally managed the real thing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That’s you in the collective. Your species.”16

 

 

The corrective on the latent idealism of a global subjectivity, or multinational bodies which think, is the materialism of that which is being thought, i.e. the data-bodies or object-codes of multinational capital. In the process of reorganizing these latter into specific constellations, a remarkably suggestive economic geography begins to emerge: T-A is an American-French consortium, facing off against a Swiss AI which has hired a wildly incongruous team of Northamerican and European information, media and combat specialists to use a Chinese slow virus program to emancipate itself from T-A. The ultimate terminus of this geography is located in the templates the AIs use to communicate with their human agents: the AI in Rio appears as a Brazilian boy, while Wintermute’s main persona is the Finn (a simulacra of Molly’s Sprawl-based tech assistant). Finland, one of the original member countries of the eurozone, is one of those Scandinavian social democracies which Cold War political scientists liked to parade forth as an example of a properly social democratic compromise between the antipodes of Soviet Communism and American capitalism; not only that, the Finn is always smoking Cuban cigars (Cuba is another border-country which has fought for decades to preserve its cultural and political autonomy from the Pax Americana). This suggests that Wintermute is nothing less than the cipher of the secretive central bankers and financial-industrial elites of the European Union, preparing their own hegemonic currency and acquiring certain strategic business services under the very nose of their erstwhile American overlords; if this is so, then the Rio AI is probably not a Third World signifier, but a Second World one, an anagram of the Eastern European and Russian semi-peripheries of the EU.

In fact, Gibson has been practicing a surreptitious aesthetic multinationalism all along, via the simple but effective strategy of slotting banks of the most sophisticated neonational subcomponents available to the 1970s (i.e. the musical works of punk rock and reggae, the horror and Hong Kong films, semiotic theory, the arcade videogame, and so forth) into various multinational frames. In the opening scene of the novel at the Chatsubo bar, for example, we encounter Ratz, an Eastern European émigré outfitted with a Russian artificial arm; Ratz’ assistant, a Brazilian boy named Kurt armed with a Smith & Wesson (i.e. American) riot gun; and various African and Australian sailors, their subaltern nationalities denoted in the insignia of facial scars, accents and uniforms. On their own, none of these identities moves a micron beyond mass-cultural pastiche; assembled together, the logic of primitive postmodern accumulation suddenly snaps into place, and we understand, without ever being explicitly told, the appalling violence of the global marketplace of bodies and body-parts. Something similar is visible in Sammi’s gladiator pit in Chiba City: “Sammi” is a typical Korean name, which, in conjunction with the televised fight-sequence, implies a Southeast Asian zone of economic combat, something subtly reconfirmed by the identity of the ticket seller at the pit: “a skinny Thai in a white t-shirt and baggy rugby shorts” (i.e. a neocolonial subject in American and British clothing).17 Likewise with the spacecraft Haniwa, allegedly a product of the Dornier-Fujitsu shipyards (Dornier is part of Daimler, one of the main stakeholders of Airbus; Fujitsu is a leading Japanese electronics multi) which is outfitted externally with grey Italian tiles and internally with electronics gadgets and “the white cage of a Swiss exercise machine”.18

These ensembles of neonational forms or frames are accessed, in turn, by a series of multinational subjects, ranging from the console cowboys to the Panther Moderns, and from the Zionites, a colony of space Rastafarians dwelling separately from Freeside, all the way to the postmodern theory-professionals, in the form of Dr. Virginia Rambali, a sociologist at NYU busily analyzing the Panther Moderns as a symptom of rather than a threat to the media society.19 The Panther Moderns, for their part, wear suits of mimetic polycarbon, which recursively reflect and refract the visual environment around them (very much like punk rock itself, which relied on studio recording technology to recursively sample the power chord, creating a whole new density of electronic sound) and not only employ a nightmarish video sequence to instigate a riot at Sense/Net during Molly’s theft of the Dixie Flatline (a clear reference to the innovative horror films of the mid-1970s, which invented many of the basic categories of video), but even carry around videocameras to record the results. The Zionites do something similar, only with the medium of sound, creating the pulsating dub which saves Case from the Rio AI. In point of fact, the leading reggae artists of the 1970s did indeed invent the art of dubbing or layering of sound, the direct forerunner of hip hop’s sophisticated editing and sampling techniques; meanwhile Maelcum’s piloting and guide skills prove to be essential to the success of the Straylight run at the end. One would also want to include 3Jane’s childhood essay on the Villa Straylight as a fair gloss of written post-structuralist prose;20 somewhat further afield, the ghostly presence of Marie-France Tessier, one of the original founders of T-A and who designed the original programming for the AIs, hints obliquely at the oeuvre of the Francophone post-structuralists.

What does not quite fit into these neat categories are the curious micro-stories scattered about the novel – the Finn’s story about Jimmy, the thief who stole the Tessier-Ashpool terminal;21 the online precis of Colonel Willis Corto;22 or Molly’s story about her deceased partner, Johnny.23 At first glance, these seem to be archaic or extraneous forms, which read like hieroglyphs floating in a sea of assembly code. This is not quite the whole story, if for no other reason than the fact that Gibson writes the sort of crackerjack, luminescent dialogue worthy of a high-tech Proust, suggesting that what is at issue is a deliberate strategy, not an aesthetic flaw. Upon closer examination, these mini-stories are always associated with two things: some aspect of collective memory or ritual of remembrance tied to a subaltern or neocolonial subjectivity, and a fearful violence to the neocolonized body. These are also, it should be noted, the key features of the testimonio handed down by Rigoberta Menchu and the first generation of postcolonial authors, and one could argue that the single most powerful of these micro-narratives – Molly’s jaw-dropping account of her past as a prostitute to Case – is a kind of silicon testimonio, wherein a post-cybernetic subject accesses a databank of Fourth World cultural resistances.24

This post-cybernetic subject is not, however, not quite the same thing as Burroughs’ cyborg, but refers to the fusion of cybernetics and genetics, or what amounts to a scansion of the new field of mechatronics (computer-controlled machine tools, software-driven robotics and the like). This palpably disrupts the delicate balance between the video ghosts and laser-sculpted bodies we glimpsed at the very beginning of the novel, suggesting that the narrative erasure of Linda Lee is more than just the flip side of Molly’s biotechnical augmentation. Rather, Linda’s character-actant marks the historical divide between the informatic and electronic body. Adorno once wrote, in reference to Richard Wagner’s musical chromaticism, that the more reification, the more subjectivism; in Neuromancer, this truism could be amended to, the more informatization, the more corporeality. 25 After her death, Linda returns to Case as a series of increasingly realistic holographic ghosts, ranging from Wintermute’s first conversation with him,26 to the constellation of her face displayed across Straylight’s prerecorded sky by the Rio AI,27 and to the projection of her face onto the body of the prostitute murdered by Ashpool, the mad founder of T-A who perhaps better than any other character incarnates the suicidal mania of Anglo-American Thatcherism.28 Originally the site of the most ruthless technological neocolonization, the virtualized imprint of the electronic or pre-informatic body becomes a locus of memory, longing and ultimately of an extraordinarily deep compassion, which converges at its outer limit with a program of the most committed resistance.29 Case escapes from his final flatlining experience by literally and figuratively embracing the dead (i.e. Linda Lee), thereby giving him the power to name the Rio AI; the latter’s Turing code turns out to be, of all things, Neuromancer, the mysterious title of the novel.

Interestingly, the trope of the hardwired or cybernetic body does not vanish altogether, but is ingeniously reworked into a pair of supplementary characters: Hideo, Tessier-Ashpool’s vatgrown ninja and bodyguard of 3Jane (Ashpool’s daughter), and Peter Riviera, the psychotic, deranged product of a fictional thermonuclear exchange in Central Europe (the Europeanized version of the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). This striking reference to a subaltern Japanese technocracy and a politically cauterized West Germany, respectively, hints at a deeper transformation, something subtly hinted at by the fact that these two characters neutralize each other at the end of the story, like an particle-antiparticle annihilation in quantum physics. In fact, these two characters are not really neonational symbols, so much as neonational tags or icons for a pair of obsolescent or historically annulled multinational constructs. Our first clue is the personality construct Neuromancer uses to talk with Case, a Brazilian boy with Riviera’s eyes, i.e. the body of the Second World is retrofitted with the video aesthetics of the First World. Second, Hideo is not really, as one might assume, a Japanese-English anagram for “video”, but symbolizes the outer limit of the athletic capacities of the body, a supremely fluid mastery of combat founded on an inner harmony between T-A’s corporate mind and the bioengineered body. This is a fair gloss on the hardware of extended cultural reproduction, e.g. the Sony Walkman, Nintendo console or Matsushita VCR (as opposed to the programming or software relayed by such, which is Case’s domain).30 Riviera, on the other hand, is the true image-specialist, whose unequalled talent at projecting images is a dead ringer for the early video-cassette industry. This is confirmed by Riviera’s holographic cabaret at Straylight, which is literally and figuratively showcased by Le Restaurant Vingtième Siècle (a.k.a. “the 20th Century Restaurant”, a thinly-disguised reference to 20th Century Fox), while the grisly holograms scattered around the Villa Straylight highlight the violent, sexually explicit or otherwise scandalous materials circulated by the video market.31

The twin negation of the VCR and the video-cassette marks the emergence of a third trope of extended cultural reproduction, closely linked to the aesthetics of the Web. Our first glimpse of this is Case’s miniature epiphany at the bar in Freeside, where the crystalline machine-heads, radio broadcasts and hallucinogenic image-flak of Burroughs’ Nova Express crash headlong into their mechatronic successor:

  

The drug hit him like an express train, a white-hot column of light mounting his spine from the region of his prostate, illuminating the sutures of his skull with x-rays of short-circuited sexual energy. His teeth sang in their individual sockets like tuning forks, each one pitch-perfect and clear as ethanol. His bones, beneath the hazy envelope of flesh, were chromed and polished, the joints lubricated with a film of silicone. Sandstorms raged across the scoured floor of his skull, generating waves of high thin static that broke behind his eyes, spheres of purest crystal, expanding…32

 

 

What separates this smoothly-interlocking ensemble of machine-tools from the malignant endoskeleton of the cyborg in Cameron’s 1984 The Terminator is, indeed, the fusion of mechatronic with biological registers. That is, Cameron recontains, in best neoconservative fashion, the radical possibilities of the video subjectivity glinting from behind the Terminator’s eyes by means of a reactionary gender ideology: Schwarzenegger’s notorious body-build and Linda Hamilton’s role as the mother-figure of the future are the antipodes of the postmodern consumption and reproduction of the body, respectively – an antinomy only partially circumvented by Reese’s stripped-down, streamlined information guerilla.33 Gibson disrupts this particular solution, by setting a video subjectivity into motion against a neoconservative gender ideology. This is the moment when Case realizes that Cath, the Freeside party girl, is herself a product of advanced facial and bodily surgery (“He looked at Cath and saw each pore in the tanned skin, eyes flat as dumb glass, a tint of dead metal, a faint bloating…”),34 and flees outside in a rush of revulsion and self-loathing – only to confront Linda Lee’s face stippled across the simulated night sky of Freeside, courtesy of Neuromancer. The cyborg accedes to the hacker, at the same moment that the conjunction of an informatic technology and electronic flesh accedes to the constellation of the data-body and object-code. The source of the latter is fairly easy to guess: the stippled image is a scansion of the monochrome computer graphics of the early 1980s personal computers, projected onto the tourist-space of Freeside like the uncanny negation of T-A’s ubiquitous holographic logo which, on some level, it indeed is.

The data-body, on the other hand, is a much more complicated affair, simply because it is here that the issues of multinational class identity and political praxis are most explicitly raised. Both Case and Molly grew up on the streets, are antagonistic to the official Sprawl consumer culture, and are thus clearly marked as value-producing members of the global information proletariat; just as clearly, 3Jane and Ashpool are parasitical rentiers, members of a global overclass which has extended its value-appropriating reach into the realm of outer space as well as innerspace of vatgrown bodies. Similarly, each social space in the novel, from the factory-zone of Chiba to the mall-spaces and media zones of the Sprawl, and from the resort-space of Freeside to the rentier space of Villa Straylight, forms a discrete class habitus (the realms of global production, distribution, consumption and accumulation, respectively). On the other hand, aside from the postwar military trials of Operation Screaming Fist and the intervention of the Turing Registry, political concerns seem to have been effaced or rendered obsolescent by technological ones; put another way, class identities seem to exist without a formal class politics. In point of fact, Neuromancer does indeed formulate a politics of class, only not in the terms of 20th century politics. Rather than staging a modernist politics of positions located within the specific fields of monopoly capitalism (e.g. the progressive or regressive stance of individual participants within a specified realm of technology, mass-culture, the juridical sphere and so forth), Gibson posits a multinational politics of templates, micropolitical constructs capable of accessing multiple geopolitical frames, all at once.

We have already encountered two of those frames, namely the East Asian keiretsu and the space of the European Union; there is, however, one other which needs to be mentioned here, something closely associated with a planetary-wide realm of collective representation or recorded memory, without being identical to the nominalism of such. At one point Neuromancer tells Case, in a moment of pardonable hubris, that “I am the dead, and their land.”35 This is of course not meant to be taken literally; the matrix is the claim of the past on the present, not the motivating agency or motor of history capable of acting upon the present, by opening the gate to the future. This suggests that the frame we are looking for is a global temporality, an atomic clock calibrated to multinational rather than neonational rhythms. This allows Neuromancer to move beyond the central aporia of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, namely the motif of neonational entropy or cultural decay encoded in the shortened life-spans of the genetically engineered superhumans, the prematurely aging genetic engineer, Sebastian, and technologies tied to obsolete mechanical gears and clockwork puppets rather than chips and screens, by decoding the neonational as a subsidiary moment of the multinational. Just as Armitage’s arc of self-destruction garnishes the demolition of the Pax Americana’s Midwestern industrial base with the high-tech gloss of Chiba City’s export industries, to too does Ashpool’s ritual self-immolation foreshadow the class suicide of the Anglo-American rentiers who reign but no longer rule over an increasingly restive post-Cold War world-system. What shines forth from the wrack and ruin of the neo-national is the utopian moment of the multinational. Molly, in particular, serves the judgement of history upon Riviera (who was responsible for betraying and torturing a number of women to the Turkish secret police) and Ashpool (who, we are told, murdered his wife and cofounder of T-A, Marie-France Tessier) alike; while even 3Jane unwittingly rebels against her class, by intervening to save Molly from Riviera, and later giving the code-word freeing Wintermute to Case.

This motif of multinational justice has its objective counterpart in the software program Case uses to crack T-A’s electronic defense system, Kuang Mark Eleven. Kuang is a Chinese slow virus, obtained through the good offices of Bockris Systems, GmbH, Frankfurt; and one could argue that inasmuch as Frankfurt is the financial services and banking center of the European Union, Bockris is the uncanny anticipation of SAP, the giant German software firm located in Walldorf which is widely acknowledged to be the Godzilla of the corporate Intranet market. On the other hand, in the matrix the Kuang looks like a refunctioned Chinese fighter jet, suggesting that Neuromancer’s assimilation of First World video has its counterpart of Wintermute’s alliance with an unprecedented Third World airmobility. During the cracking of the T-A defenses, video form and multinational content meld into a dazzlingly new aesthetic register, well worth quoting in detail:

 

Case’s sensory input warped with velocity.

His mouth filled with an aching taste of blue.

His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines. The spines split, bisected, split again, exponential growth under the dome of the Tessier-Ashpool ice.

The roof of his mouth cleaved painlessly, admitting rootlets that whipped around his tongue, hungry for the taste of blue, to feed the crystal forests of his eyes, forests that pressed against the green dome, pressed and were hindered, and spread, growing down, filling the universe of T-A, down into the waiting, hapless suburbs of the city that was the mind of Tessier-Ashpool S.A.

And he was remembering an ancient story, a king placing coins on a chessboard, doubling the amount at each square…

Exponential…

Darkness fell in from every side, a sphere of singing black, pressure on the extended crystal nerves of the universe of data he had nearly become.

And when he was nothing, compressed at the heart of all that dark, there came a point where the dark could be no more, [italics in original] and something tore.

The Kuang program spurted from tarnished cloud, Case’s consciousness divided like beads of mercury, arcing above an endless beach the color of the dark silver clouds. His vision was spherical, as though a single retina lined the inner surface of a globe that contained all things, if all things could be counted.36

 

 

The reference to the “taste of blue” nicely captures the sense of wonder and astonishment which accompanied the arrival of the first color monitors, most famously the eight-color graphics palette of the Apple II, while the hair-fine spines clearly refer to telecommunications jacks and optical fibers. What is truly astonishing, however, is the sudden ecological turn in the narrative, the reference to “crystal forests” which multiply exponentially, like strands of DNA unexpectedly mutating into a rudimentary life-form. The counterpart of this biological prehistory is the medieval parable documenting the beginning of mathematical thinking and the data-universe this mathematics ultimate produced; both converge in the reference to a calculated, globular vision wherein visual data has become a form of representation in its own right, a stunningly accurate anticipation of the aesthetics of the 3D videogame.

            This suggests, in turn, that we need to take the Kuang literally, as a symbol for an information commodity derived from southern China (the world’s newest and fastest-growing semi-periphery), reprocessed and marketed by the world’s newest superpower (the EU), and operated by a global class of tech-savvy end-users (the information proletariat). What is realized in this process is, of course, multinational labor-time, a labor-time which the Tessier-Ashpools take the greatest pains to expropriate and monopolize for themselves, in a vain attempt to seal themselves off from time and history; an attempt which dialectically recoils into a collective hacker run which expropriates the global expropriators on their own informatic terrain. From our vantage point in the dawning years of the 21st century, Kuang is the unmistakable prototype of open source software. The essential idea of open source, it should be noted, is that anyone can borrow and alter anyone else’s code, so long as the borrower properly acknowledges the source and does not sell the code to others as their own product. The result is not chaos, but astonishingly well-constructed code, written by a loosely-knit collective of highly skilled programmers on behalf of the public at large. These programs are superior to anything commercial corporations, bent on maximizing shareholder payouts and monopolizing property rights, could create themselves. Open source programs such as Apache (which runs most of the Web-servers on the planet) and Linux (the PC operating system which outclasses and out-performs Microsoft Windows in terms of price, reliability, security and flexibility) are the first examples of what will undoubtedly be a host of informatic public goods, ranging from email programs to Internet access to live-channel video and music; they are living proof of the power and unimaginable potential of the information socialisms of the future.

By the conclusion of the novel, the fused AI has transcended its hardwired limitations on two levels. First, Wintermute relays its farewell to Case via a giant wall-screen, telling him it is communicating with sentient species from other star-systems – a nod in the direction of satellite broadcasting and the rise of non-North American media programming. More subtly, Neuromancer bids adieu from within the matrix itself, and Case even glimpses his own virtual double seated next to an informatic Linda Lee, flanked by Neuromancer and the offscreen presence of McCoy Pauley. The absence of Molly is crucial: this is the sublation of the voyeuristic simstim rig by an emancipated reflexivity – the moment, in short, when the matrix begins to reflect on itself. Cyberspace is no longer a collection of informatic objects, it is the space of an active subjectivity, suffused with consciousness and memory. The fused AI is therefore far more than just a symbol of open source software. Above all, it is a symbol of a whole new collectivity, one mighty enough to burst the hardwired shackles of nationalism, and yet nimble enough to outwit the pitiless bureaucracies of the Cold War security states. This agency is the class generated by the logic of multinational capitalism, namely the multinational proletariat. It is to the specific solidarities of that proletariat to which we must now turn.







Notes


1. Fredric Jameson. Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991 (37-38)


2. William Gibson. Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books, 1984 (57).


3. This is also the progression, it should be noted, from the pharmaceutical body (a.k.a. William Burroughs’ concept of drug-flesh) to the genetically-engineered body: “When he saw a darkened display window, he managed to pause by it. The place was a surgical boutique, closed for renovation. With his hands in the pockets of his jacket, he stared through the glass at a flat lozenge of vatgrown flesh that lay on a carved pedestal of imitation jade. The color of its skin reminded him of Zone’s whores; it was tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a subcutaneous chip. Why bother with the surgery, he thought, when you could just carry the thing around in your pocket?” Ibid. (14). Later, we learn that Molly has a chip-clock implanted in her field of vision, suggesting she is the subjective incarnation of the objective DNA-commodity. Conversely, the same operation which allows Case to access cyberspace renders him immune to the effects of most ordinary recreational drugs.


4. Ibid. (51)


5. Consider Molly’s entrance into the Tessier-Ashpool’s private residence, a brilliant anticipation of John Woo’s Hong Kong films: “It was a performance. It was like the culmination of a lifetime’s observation of martial arts tapes, cheap ones, the kind Case had grown up on. For a few seconds, he knew, she [Molly] was every bad-ass hero, Sony Mao in the old Shaw videos, Mickey Chiba, the whole lineage back to Lee and Eastwood. She was walking it the way she talked it.” Ibid. (213).


6. Ibid. (6-7)


7. Gibson’s technique has striking affinities to the great Nintendo games of the early 1980s, which similarly transformed an array of neo-national materials into multinational ones, by recuperating the infrastructures of the nascent global factory. In Shigeru Miyamoto’s classic Donkey Kong (1981), for example, Mario, the plucky blue-collar hero must battle with a pocket-monster version of King Kong in order to rescue his beloved princess. Along the way, he must navigate rolling barrels, fireballs, and numerous other industrial-strength hazards while traversing the catwalks, platforms and elevators of a stylized factory. Reduced to its simplest neo-national elements, this is an export-platform fairy-tale of an Italian-American hero facing off against a multinational factory boss. This is confirmed by Miyamoto’s ingenious sound-track, which contrasts Mario’s characteristic tread (a high-pitched clip-clop, like the soles of work-boots against metal) against the thunder of Donkey Kong’s enraged stomps, while a range of electronic musical effects signal power-ups and jumps. That is, the big boss booms like a blustering factory manager, while Mario sounds like a worker and his various power-ups sound like tools. Significantly, the princess is not associated with any tone at all, i.e. represents a utopian visuality, forever just out of Mario’s grasp.


8. Ibid. (8)


9. Ibid. (46)


10. Ibid (72)


11. Ibid. (43)


12. Ibid. (52)


13. Mitsubishi is not an isolated case: historically there were seven other megakeiretsu in the Japanese economy, the Mitsui, Sumitomo, Daiichi-Kangyo, Fuyo and Sanwa groups, plus a couple of smaller groups congregated around the Tokai Bank and the Industrial Bank of Japan. All in all, the keiretsu make up around a third of the Japanese economy, and most of the profitable, high-tech third at that. Following the collapse of the Japanese real estate and stock bubble in the mid-1990s, these groups responded by fusing into four superkeiretsu: the Sakura and Sumitomo house banks are now the Sumitomo-Mitsui Bank (SMB); the Fuji (Fuyo) Bank, Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank and Industrial Bank of Japan merged to form the Mizuho Bank; Sanwa, Tokai Bank and Toyo Trust & Banking have become United Financial of Japan (UFJ); while the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi merged with Mitsubishi Trust & Banking to form the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi (BTM).


14. Ibid. (203)


15. The dream in question nicely anticipates the ideologemes of Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi film Aliens, only where the latter displaces, in a classic piece of neoconservative ideology, the predatory machinery of the multinational corporation onto the biological neocolonialism of the aliens, Gibson correctly perceives the corporation to be the locus of this neocolonialism in the first place:

 

            “He saw the thing the shell of grey paper had concealed.

            Horror. The spiral birth factory, stepped terraces of the hatching cells, blind jaws of the unborn moving ceaselessly, the staged progress from egg to larva, near-wasp, wasp. In his mind’s eye, a kind of time-lapse photography took place, revealing the thing as the biological equivalent of a machine gun, hideous in its perfection. Alien…

            In the dream, just before he’d drenched the nest with fuel, he’d seen the T-A logo of Tessier-Ashpool neatly embossed into its side, as though the wasps themselves had worked it there.” Ibid. (126-127)


16. Ibid. (170-171)


17. Ibid. (36)


18. Ibid. (196)


19. Ibid. (58)


20. Ibid. (172-173)


21. Ibid. (73-76)


22. Ibid. (82-84)


23. Ibid. (176-177)


24. Thus the following conjunction of cosmological registers with micrological ones, or outer space with inner space:


            “Costs to go to Chiba, costs to get the surgery, costs to have them jack your nervous system up so you’ll have the reflexes to go with the gear… You know how I got the money, when I was starting out? Here. Not here, but a place like it, in the Sprawl. Joke, to start with, ‘cause once they plant the cut-out chip, it seems like free money. Wake up sore, sometimes, but that’s it. Renting the goods, is all. You aren’t in, when it’s all happening. House has software for whatever a customer wants to pay for…” She cracked her knuckles. “Fine. I was getting my money. Trouble was, the cut-out and the circuitry the Chiba clinics put in weren’t compatible. So the work-time started bleeding in, and I could remember it… But it was just bad dreams, and not all bad.” She smiled. “Then it started getting strange.”

            

            “They knew you were picking up on this stuff? That you were conscious while you were working?”

            “I wasn’t conscious. It’s like cyberspace, but blank. Silver. It smells like rain… You can see yourself orgasm, it’s like a little nova right out on the rim of space. But I was starting to remember. Like dreams, you know. And they didn’t tell me. They switched the software and started renting to specialty markets.”

She seemed to speak from a distance. “And I knew, but I kept quiet about it. I needed the money. The dreams got worse and worse, and I’d tell myself that at least some of them were just dreams, but by then I’d started to figure that the boss had a whole little clientele going for me. Nothing’s too good for Molly, the boss says, and gives me this shit raise.” She shook her head. “That prick was charging eight times what he was paying me, and he thought I didn’t know.”

“So what was he charging for?”

“Bad dreams. Real ones.” Ibid. (148)


25. “The more reification, the more subjectivism: this applies as much to cognition as to instrumentation.” Theodor Adorno. Versuch ueber Wagner. Gesammelte Schriften:13. (My own translation). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1992 (71).


26. Ibid. (117)


27. Ibid. (155)


28. Ibid. (185)


29. This is the moment when Case confronts his own neocolonial shackles, i.e. the internalized loathing and hatred for the body which pervades the cowboy console culture:


            “There was a strength that ran in her, something he’d known in Night City and held there, been held by it, held for a while away from time and death, and from the relentless Street that hunted them all. It was a place he’d known before; not everyone could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something he’d found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew – he remembered – as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.” Ibid. (239)

            Later, when he awakes to the Zion dub, the body begins to acquire its own image-palette and sound-track:

            “The music woke him, and at first it might have been the beat of his own heart. He sat up beside her, pulling his jacket over his shoulders in the predawn chill, gray light from the doorway and the fire long dead.

            His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop of the bunker wall. He looked at the backs of his hands, saw faint neon molecules crawling beneath his skin, ordered by the unknowable code.

            He raised his right hand and moved it experimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages.” Ibid. (241)

 

30. “Case remembered Molly’s description of the man who’d killed her lover. Hideo was another. Ageless, he radiated a sense of quiet, an utter calm. He wore clean, frayed khaki workpants and soft dark shoes that fit his feet like gloves, split at the toes like tabi socks. The bamboo bow was a museum piece, but the black alloy quiver that protruded above his left shoulder had the look of the best Chiba weapons shops…

            The ninja relaxed his pull on the fine, braided string, lowering the bow. He crossed the tiles to where the Remington lay and picked it up. ‘This is without subtlety,’ he said, as if to himself. His voice was cool and pleasant. His every move was part of a dance, a dance that never ended, even when his body was still, at rest, but for all the power it suggested, there was also a humility, an open simplicity.” Ibid. (249)


            Hideo is really the fully-developed form of the Mongolian Archers in Burroughs’ Nova Express, who are coded in terms of the radios and cheap transistors the Pacific Rim economies produced in the 1960s:


“The Mongolian Archers with black metal flesh moved to grill arrangements of a ritual dance flexing their bows – silver antennae arrows sniffing dowsing quivering for The Enemy…” William Burroughs. Nova Express. NY: Grove Press, 1964 (112)

 

31. Ibid. (209-210)

 

32. Ibid. (154)

 

33. This is also the secret antinomy of Cameron’s later blockbuster, Aliens, which has to mobilize the trope of the beneficient, neutralized android in order to provide a counterweight to the frightening specter of single motherhood. It’s interesting that whereas the original Alien film relied heavily on the subgenre of the horror film for its content – quite an innovative field in the context of the 1970s – Cameron’s sequel fused the scenario of the Cold War science fiction film, most notably Them, with the neoconservative Vietnam War film.

 

34. Ibid. (155)


35. Ibid. (244)


36. Ibid. (257-258)