Antimancer: Cybernetics and Art in Gibson's Count Zero

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Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. "Antimancer: Cybernetics and Art in Gibson's Count Zero." SFS #65 = 22.1 (March 1995): 63-86.

Second essay in a trilogy of essays beginning with IC-R's "The Sentimental Futurist: Cybernetics and Art in William Gibson's Neuromancer" essay (with the third essay on Mona Lisa Overdrive). See this essay for a close and insightful reading of Neuromancer in relation to Count Zero and more so Count Zero (NM and CZ in some quotations below). Claims that Count Zero fails as a "penance" or "antimancer" to Gibson's Neuromancer, because "Gibson's counterforce is too abstract and theoretical to affect the language of power that drives the action of both novels." (RDE, 15/08/02)


EXPANSION: The article has no Abstract at the end — but this from the long, first-person headnote that replaces it (italics removed). IC-R starts from the thesis from the opening of "Sentimental Futurist"

that Gibson's fiction returns continually to the question of how artists can represent the human condition in a world saturated by cybernetic technologies that not only undermine earlier ethical and aesthetic categories, but also collapse the distance between the sense of real social existence and science-fictional  speculation. The cyberspace novels' protagonists all work to restore value and meaning to their lives through technospheres that have appropriated the realm of transcendence. In Neuromancer, Gibson depicts a world in which every character is an actor and/or a work of art, for all are functional parts of a transcendentally evolving artistic creation: Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool's grand unified Artificial Intelligence [AI], the consciousness of cyberspace. The novel's vision and style resemble those of Italian Futurism's[1] image of futuristic technological transcendence. Also like the Futurists,[2] Gibson creates a language of ecstatic fusions with technology, though unlike the Futurists, he also expresses regret at the loss of traditional affections. Hence, Neuromancer expresses a sentimental futurism [and Count Zero is a flawed "penance for Neuromancer"]. (p. 63)
  • In Neuromancer "the loss of the body's affections and the mind's reflects seems a small price to pay for the ecstasy of communication," in cyberspace (?). (p. 63)
  • "In order to weaken NM's ruling motif of post-human technological fusion, Gibson adopted the motif and method of dispersion. CZs story can be read as the struggle between the ecstatic, futurist cyberpunk vision of NM with its Other — a dispersive, fragmenting[,] and liberating vision of an 'Antimancer.' The struggle between Virek and the cyberloa [Voodoo gods in cyberspace] is thus the collision between the reprise of NMs myth of cyberspace as a divinize realm and data and power and a counter-myth of freedom from totalitarian domination by high-tech capitalism" (p. 64).
  • "The Boxmaker [in Count Zero] occupies Neuromancer's niche, where, instead of drawing consciousness into itself (and thereby killing the meat-bodies) or making meta-ROM [Read Only Memory] constructs of them, it constructs fragmented 'memory boxes' filled with pathos and signs of 'time and distance,' thus re-establishing the possibility of contemplation and relation that Neuromancer destroyed. Where NM's yin-AI asserted the possibility of infinite reproduction of consciousness within itself, the Boxmaker makes only solitary, unique, and impenetrable objects" (p 66).
  • Important for the question of embodiment, CZ contrasts Case with Turner, both (medically) reconstructed men. "But a subtle reversal takes place, consonant with the wholesale thematic reversal of the book. Although, like Case, Turner is trying to get back to his preferred sense of self, Turner's desire is to get back to his flesh [...] which he links inextricably to his body. Case's preference is for ecstatic liberation from the meat" (p. 68).
  • "In theoretical terms, the purpose of the general fragmentation in CZ is the re-establishment of distance. NM's evocative power derives from Gibson's conflation of realism and techno-historical fantasy into a muth of the hyperreal. The action draws more and more of the carefully detailed future object-world in the AIs' operational program; as the caper approaches consummation [in NM] [p. 69] more and more of the information implodes into cyberspace. From this point of view, cyberspace is merely a representation of the hyperreal, a dimensionless region where everything can be simulated as sign [...]. And it is within that non-human grid of signs that the fate of the world unfolds." Which leads to a discussion of Jean Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Science Fiction" (pp. 69-70).
  • Those Voodoo gods in cyberspace, the cyberloa, allow Gibson in Count Zero "to return in the language of origins and nature in the midst of his cyborg world. With the cyberloa, the balance between artificial and organic in the cyborg-mediated interface between the meat-world and the matrix now tips significantly toward the organic and the archaic, the primitive" (p. 81).

RDE, Initial Compiler, expansion 20May19