What’s New Yesterday is Old Today

Described in Nick Dreyer-Witheford’s socio-interactive essay “Digital labor, species-becoming and the global worker,” the contemporary age is one in midst of the “Anthropocene,” (Dreyer-Witheford 486). This separation between man and environment perpetuated into one where the man-made is part of nature finds itself apparent in a few points in Hari Kunzru’s tale of global-information-transmission-gone-wrong, Transmission. In the plot, Arjun Mehta, the enthusiastic and naive computer engineer migrates to the U.S. where the the aforementioned point by essayist Dreyer-Witheford is seen. In a montage reminiscent to a wanderer in a desert, Arjun is first depicted as a boy walking in new land, in which the landscapes include, “a low concrete barrier, where the Taco Bell ended and the Staples lot began. Beyond Staples was a Wal-Mart and beyond that a road junction,” (Kunzru 37). By use of buildings, chains, and the concrete milieu, agriculture, farmland and what Dreyer-Witheford cites as the “Holocene” (Dreyer-Witheford 486) are replaced by new “crops,” these being the product of suburbia.

In Guy Swift’s case, we see another aspect of the Anthropocene invading the Holocene, most flagrant with where he presides; In Vitro. Described as in the Archon magazine, the In Vitro edifice is “one of absolute calm, a heavenly sense of floating free of the cares of the world,” (Kunzru 110). The problems of the world, which can be arguably reduced to base struggles, as those describes in the Holocene, that of agriculture, survival, tools and the like, are separate from contemporary problem. The problems in the realm of heaven In Vitro resides in and its inhabitants is that of reaching the top floor, and in a ponder Guy notes “A garbage barge went past, headed for the downriver landfill site. As usual, though he loved the view, he found himself thinking how better it would be from higher up,” (Kunzru 113). The feeling is a level of superiority from new-age thinking and working people in their regards to the natural settings around them.

 

Noir 2.0

In Pickup on South Street, Skip McCoy, a character the viewer often fluctuates in naming a villain or victim of a urban tragedy, finds himself caught in a triangle of secret government information operations. Skip is sly, he is svelte, he is cunning and both dangerous, but also a useful tool if the right person knows how to utilize him. This is seen with Artimage and even beyond with Wintermute, as well as the detectives salivating give Skip his final strike. William Gibson’s Neuromancer graces his conman Case with similar qualities (though, arguably not as suave as the  1950s American Richard Widmark), being a cyber “cowboy” in his earlier days, only to fall from grace after stealing from his employers. Case’s down on luck, a vagabond of sorts, and in all sense a man with few acquaintances.; a fringe character, much like Skip, a man with three strikes and nothing left forward to but his skill for pick-pocketing.

Pick-pocketing: taking from someone what is theirs for oneself. It’s an art, really, and Skip himself makes mention of it through his adapted hands (queue awkward scene with bombshell Candy and her sore jaw). Case is no stranger to the being called an artiste, as casual conversation between bar owner Ratz hints. Essentially, the two both “pick-pocket” or rather, hack, for these purposes, to survive, Skip more or less because no cookie-cutter job fits his description, and for Case, jacking in was literally the high that got him through living. The two thoroughly enjoy what they do and to ask of them to eradicate their art would be detrimental. Their art is both their flaw and also their salvation.

And then there are the women of noir. Candy debuts in Pickup on South Street in full splendor. Attractive, sensual, but also with a punch; Candy is a woman who is in the know as much as the men. In Neuromancer, Molly generously fulfills her role as a bombshell accompaniment to her male protagonist. If Candy is the quintessential idea of the modern American belle, Molly is the 5.0 version. Decked with adaptive both organs and quite the sly character herself, Molly oozes sleekness and exoticism, both qualities of film noir. Interestingly, in both works, women were used as vessels of information. Whereas Case was used as an infiltrator, Molly is the key, the code, the missing element to complete the equation. Similarly, Candy acts as vessel in delivering Communist codes from Joey to mystery man X.

 

Wintermute—he dead

The hierarchy within Neuromancer largely shows its preference to technology over nature. The novel itself fits the mold of traditional plot, but often hints at alterations, hacks that encourage new ways of perception. Take, for instance, the mere journey Case embarks upon in Neuromancer. In this, the plot is very natural, often falling very neatly into archetypes, such as the male hero who is out to save someone, himself, humanity even. Throughout the journey, there is a sense of discovery and enlightenment. Indeed, this all rests naturally into the traditional nature of story writing and novels. To a degree, a reader can even make connections in Neuromancer to classic nature works such as Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a story heavily focused on the conflict of man vs nature, in which protagonist Marlow seeks the infamous ivory dealer Mr. Kurtz. In comparison, Case is on a search himself for personal Mr. Kurtz: he is searching for Wintermute in the jungle of cyberspace, and in the very substitution of milieu, nature reveals its role and importance in William Gibson’s novel. Man has created his own nature, and therefore the rest is obsolete.

But this idea isn’t solely to eradicate nature in Neuromancer. Instead, nature works as a foil to technology and is alluded to in echoes that seem to remind the reader (and Case) of origin and prototype. Note how Case responds to Molly as he discovers her hiding place, a service tunnel, and her reaction to the many artifacts of old culture: “Molly paid little attention to the cabinets and their contents, which irritated him. He had to satisfy himself with her disinterested glances, which gave him fragments of pottery, antique weapons, things so densely studded with rusted nails that it was unrecognizable, frayed sections of tapestry…” (Gibson 176). There is a feeling of wonder and wanderlust within Case for an older time as Case sees the reflecting images upon Molly’s metallic eyes, a subtle nod to the notion of Molly having no natural origin which reflects out the proverbial entry to the soul. She is not natural and would prefer it this way.

Traveling further, Case recalls an old door, one he describes as not at all unattractive, but unattractive in its juxtaposition. Case states, “The ugliness of the door struck Case as he reached for it. Not the door itself, which was beautiful, or had once been part of some more beautiful whole, but the way it had been sawn down to fit a particular entrance,” (Gibson 178). Here, in allegorical fashion, Gibson is stating that what is anti-tech is not horrendous. No, in fact, Gibson is making it clear that it is remarkable. Yet while remarkable, it has no purpose in the age of the tech jungle.

Character: Hacked

In  modern lexicon, the word hack has been subject to an evolution. Though arguably still a word which denotes negativity, the word  hack also lends itself to an idea of self-accomplishment. Recall moments in cinema where the archetype geeky or even neo-stylistic protagonist breaches into a database—“I’m in!” A moment of excitement and auto-congratulation in light of achievement. The word hack, thus, is molded into a word reminiscent to discovery and a glimpse into the obscure and underground. Hackers are often associated with bringers of light, the enlightened illuminating to the public the inner workings of the machine and product.

This idea of hacking and the “Eureka effect” is ever present in William Gibson’s Neuromancer,  where the protagonist, an exiled and forlorn man named Case, reinvents his life after a stroke of fate invites him back into the cyber world of hacking. Literally, Case’s jobs are infiltrating and acquiring information. Case, therefore, is the literal manifestation of the word itself. Gibson, however, is doing dual work; while creating a world around hacking, he is also hacking the traditional makeup of the Classic hero. Rather, Gibson is making a hack on the archetypal hero and offering it a new light, illuminating readers to an alternate version of one that is so readily available. In this, author becomes a hacker himself, very much how writer McKenzie Wark argues, “To the hacker, there is always a surplus of possibility expressed in what is actual,” and also “To produce is to repeat; to hack is to differentiate.”

This begs the question, then, “Is hack still a negative word?” In a sense of self-awareness, Gibson offers an alteration on the word hack, one that is not necessarily negative, but instead, encouraged and well-received. Gibson demonstrates that it is intriguing to branch into what is different and unknown, and in hacking into these differences, a new and perhaps unacknowledged light is brought forth.