Interpreting the Ghosts in Neuromancer

Posted by on July 24, 2012 
Filed under ENGH 451-Science Fiction, Essays

I tracked the word “ghost” in Neuromancer. “Ghost” appears in the novel eighteen times. Webster’s Dictionary defines “ghost” as “the seat of life or intelligence…a disembodied soul…a faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com). The varying definitions of “Ghost” are useful to clarify because “ghost” seems to take on some and none of these meanings throughout Neuromancer. For instance, the first appearance of “ghost” describes holograms projected by video games, “Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, holograms of Wizard’s Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline…” (Gibson 8). Gibson uses “ghost” paradoxically in this passage. On one hand, “ghost’s” use invokes the image of “a disembodied soul” (merriam-webster.com) through Gibson describing these holograms as floating in the air of the arcade. The holograms are not truly connected to anything tangible, only the ever-changing “haze of cigarette smoke” (Gibson 8). The holograms being disconnected from the physical world mirror the disconnection from life Case feels from having “fell into the prison of his own flesh” (6) after being poisoned by the “mycotoxin” (6). Case is merely “burning through the blue haze of cigarette smoke” (8) that is his life after his “Fall” (6). The opposite meaning of “ghost” in this passage is Gibson’s dismissal of the “faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) definition. Gibson, by saying the holograms are “…bright ghosts burning…” (Gibson 8 ) destroys the notion of a ghost being only a “faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) because objects that are “bright” and “burning” are easily visible. Gibson’s emphasis on the holograms being easily visible is a testament to the importance of technology in Case’s world because, although the arcade is a chaotic blend of smoke and “laser light” (Gibson 8), Case easily remembers the technology of holograms as standing apart from everything else.

Other uses of “ghost” in Neuromancer are straightforward representations of one of the definitions listed above. For instance, Gibson refers to holograms later in the narrative as “vanishing like ghosts,” (24) implying the definition of a ghost as being “a faint shadowy trace” (merriam-webster.com) because they are only a memory after they vanish. Gibson continues to liken a ghost to “a faint shadowy trace” when he writes, “the ghost line of the laser branded across his eye…” (38). Gibson’s use of “ghost” here implies Case is seeing an “after image (ghost image)” of the laser light as the result of the laser being “branded across his eye.” An “after image” is defined as: “a usually visual sensation occurring after stimulation by its external cause has ceased” (merriam-webster.com). Case is continuing to see the laser in his vision because the laser was “branded across his eye,” (Gibson 38) leaving a slowly fading image of the laser light on his retina in its wake.

The use of “ghost” in Neuromancer continues to evolve through different characters referring to the AI, Wintermute, as a “ghost.” These references indirectly apply the definition of a ghost as being “the seat of intelligence” (merriam-webster.com) to the characteristics of an AI. An example of an AI being referred to in this manner comes when 3Jane tells Case through Molly, “I had help. From a ghost,” (Gibson 220) implying she did not have enough knowledge to know how to, “kill the old man” (220). Instead, she had help from something possessing this knowledge, Wintermute. Gibson continues to imply that an AI is “the seat of intelligence” (merriam-webster.com) when he again refers to Wintermute as, “A ghost, whispering to a child who was 3Jane, twisting her out of the rigid alignments her rank required” (259). This passage indicates Wintermute as being responsible for providing 3Jane with the knowledge to evolve into a clone with the qualities best-suited for his plan. Wintermute possesses the intelligence needed to manipulate all beings involved in his plan in order to initiate “the fall of his version of Tessier-Ashpool” (259).

The uses of the word “ghost” throughout Neuromancer, although they vary in intent and meaning, all have one trait in common, they all seek to relate “ghosts” to anything but humanity. Instead, the uses “of ghost” refer to non-human entities such as AI, digitized versions of the deceased appearing to be human, such as Linda Lee: “…Wintermute rescinded the simstim ghost of Linda Lee” (Gibson146), a body only human in appearance, like Armitage): “Leave Mr. Armitage t’ talk wi’ ghost cassette, one ghost t’ ‘nother…” (186), and technological elements such as holograms. Gibson’s movement away from a ghost being associated with humanity is essential to his creation of a world that is forever being filled with the remnants of tangible existence, a state no longer relevant to the evolution of software. The relevance of physical being is the new ghost of Gibson’s world, a world that has traded in its soul for the ever-expanding innovation and exploration of “cyberspace” (4).

Works Cited

“After Image.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 3 October 2011. < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/after%20image>

“Ghost.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 3 October 2011. < http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghost>

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 2000. Print.

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