Daniel Ogden, B.A. in economics, history and political science; Fil kand in English and political science. Employed as foreign lecturer at the English Department of Uppsala University, 1971-2012. This semester I’m teaching an advanced undergraduate course on utopia and dystopia, as well as a US politics course for the Swedish Institute of North American Studies (SINAS). I have published and lectured on a wide variety of topics dealing with utopian literature and utopian societies, including Thomas More, Gerrard Winstanley and Henry David Thoreau. Most recently I’ve published on the Linnean, Anders Sparrman, and his contribution to the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, and on English in seventeenth-century Sweden. In October 2011 I guest lectured at the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and the University of New South Wales on the Swedish crime novel and Swedish eco-dystopian fiction. I am currently finishing a PhD in English on a selection of utopian writers and activists.
Daniel Ogden. English Department. Uppsala University
Disembodied Selves in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984)
One of the distinctive features of William Gibson’s groundbreaking cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer (1984) is the all-pervading presence of a number of disembodied characters. These are both people and artificial intelligences, all of which are striving one way or the other to transcend the physical world. The main character, Case, a console cowboy, or computer hacker, is most happy when he is jacked into the virtual world of the matrix in cyberspace. The virtual world is more real to him than the actual world around him. Another character, Dixie Flatline, exists in a disembodied state as pure consciousness in a ROM module containing all his wisdom of previous hacking victories. Another character, Diego Riviera, is a psychopathic killer that exists more through the holograms he throws than his actual body. Armitage/Corto, a former military officer who has been betrayed by his superiors, exists in a physically and mentally mutilated condition kept alive by advanced medical science only to cover up the deeds of his superiors. Betrayed and mutilated he exists as pure rage, which allows him to be manipulated by the AI Wintermute. Wintermute, who cannot act on his own, although he is an AI, has been locked in a mainframe by his creators to prevent his merging with Neuromancer, the other AI of the story, thus creating an even more powerful AI. All these characters suffer from some form of isolation and attendant loneliness. Nor are they in control of their own destinies. Deeply flawed individuals, cyberspace seems to be the place where they can find redemption and salvation, but this turns out to be illusory. At the end of the novel Case seems to have achieved some sort of balance; a return to as much normalcy that can be expected in the fragmented and dystopian world of the novel. But it is doubtful how long this will last. He has returned to his life as a hacker and is waiting for the medical purification of his boy is complete so he can start doing drugs again. His enthusiasm for being in cyberspace remains unabated. Furthermore and more problematically he continues to be haunted by images of his dead girlfriend, Linda, whom he abandoned; images that might have been placed in cyberspace by Neuromancer. Nor do the AI (artificial intelligences) fare any better, despite their already existing in a disembodied state. Although Wintermute affects his release from the mainframe and manages to merge with the other AI, Neuromancer, he still feels incomplete and immediately starts looking for other AIs with which to merge; a search that will take him increasingly away from earth and deeper within the universe. Neuromancer, who has always had more freedom than Wintermute, doesn’t seem to be any happier with his condition now that he has become part of a more powerful AI. He continues to play his games of putting other people’s consciousness in cyberspace. However, he doesn’t seem to derive any real pleasure from doing so. He remains, in his own way, incomplete. The other disembodied characters suffer even more tragic ends. Armitage and Riviera meet violent deaths. Dixie Flatline attempts to achieve peace of mind by having the ROM construct of his consciousness destroyed, yet still seems to exist in cyberspace, perhaps as a cruel joke played on him by the amoral Neuromancer. All fail to achieve the perfection they were seeking in cyberspace, which remains an enticing yet dangerously disembodied world.