Alternate Presents: The Ambivalent Historicism of Pattern Recognition

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Easterbrook, Neil. "Alternate Presents: The Ambivalent Historicism of Pattern Recognition." SFS #100 = 33.3 (November 2006): 483-504.

Excellent essay largely on, and, so to speak, viewing the novel through, the lens of the philosophy of history — take seriously the "Ambivalent Historicism" of the subtitle — immediately relevant for the application to the "footage" (the goal of the quest in this novel)[1] of Walter Benjamin on "The Work of Art in an [sic] Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Discussing "the nostalgia motif" of Pattern Recognition, "the notions of nostalgia, authenticity, and wholeness" —

Perhaps the nostalgia is for authentic purity and an essay focussed on that matter might well begin with a commentary on reproducibility and commodity fetishism: Cayce desires, at least initially, the "aura" that in "The World of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1935) Walter Benjamin laments as missing, paradoxically stripped away from art even as its reproducibility makes it accessible to people other than some cultural elite. Instead, in the novel easy reproduction creates the "Tommy Hilfiger[2] event horizon" (18) and transforms the simulacrum into an abyss of emptiness, "devoid of soul." Only the footage retains "aura," and that only works until we discover the maker as only slightly more self-aware (305) than the artificial boxmaker in [Gibson's 1986 second Sprawl novel] Count Zero. ("Ambivalent Historicism," p. 497)

We can continue the old argument on the importance of intention or consciousness in an artist, but it is well to have the concept of something like "aura" introduced and applied to the video "footage."

RDE, finishing, 2Nov22