Nex of Vis: The Death of Nature in Neuromancer

On the surface, William Gibson’s Neuromancer appears to equate humanity with a need to establish a tangible connection with its technological advancements as seen through the idea of the body being just “meat” (Gibson 6) when not jacked into cyberspace. In other words, humanity is nothing without the power of technology to back it up. The central character Case, “a cyberspace cowboy” (Gibson 5), “just another hustler, trying to make it through…trying to reach the console that wasn’t there” (5) had once been a professional thief in the cyberspace world. However, his own greed causes his employers to poison him, rendering him unable to establish a connection with cyberspace:

He’d made the classic mistake, he one he’d sworn he’d never make. He stole from his employers. They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin. The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. (6)

After Case is banished from cyberspace he tries to re-establish his connection to this world by any means necessary. His primary motivation in this quest is to escape “the prison of his own flesh” (6).

“The prison of his own flesh” (6). Case’s fear of being imprisoned in his own flesh results from his realization that his poisoned body has trapped him into only experiencing consciousness in the synthetic world of cyberspace, “the street itself came to seem the externalization of some death wish, some secret poison he hadn’t known he carried” (7). The body in Case’s view distorts his experience of the “almost permanent adrenaline high…jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix” (5). One point of this essay is to explore how Case’s rejection of the body and his connection to the natural world function in this novel. The other is to determine what Gibson is saying in this novel about how the technological advances that enable increasingly large numbers of people to project their disembodied consciousnesses into the artificial reality of cyberspace is altering their relationship to the natural world.

From the outset of Neuromancer, Gibson describes nature as if it were a relic, an after-thought, a worn out segment of reality. He describes the sky in the first section of the novel as being “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (3). The suggestion that the sky is a dead channel devoid of information implies a pattern of disconnection with the natural world.

Gibson furthers the disconnection of the sky from the tech reality when he writes that “the bars down Ninsei were shuttered and featureless, the neon dead, the holograms inert, waiting under the poisoned silver sky.” The sky in this view is a dead background void of information in a featureless world that will be useless until the “neon” and “holograms’ are reactivated.

Gibson then writes, “Beyond the neon shudder of Ninsei. The sky was that mean shade of gray. The air had gotten worse; it seemed to have teeth tonight, and half the crowd wore filtration masks” (16). This passage suggests that the poisoned sky has “teeth” and is a danger to humanity. In contrast, the sky on board the space-world of the Rue Jules Verne is a “hologram glittered with fanciful constellations suggesting playing cards, the faces of dice, a top hat, a martini glass” (145). While the artificial sky of the Rue Jules Verne is “glittered” and “fanciful” (145), the real sky is “poisoned” (7) and “dead” (3).

Case’s preference for, and prior experience with the artificial inorganic world is apparent in his description of his body as “meat” (6), which is subject to decay and death.  In Case’s view, his body is merely a means of entering the “bright lattices of logic unfolding across the colorless void” (4-5) that is the matrix.

Later in the novel, Case jacks into Molly’s consciousness through his use of a “simstim” (53) machine while he is also able to enter the matrix. He can feel Molly’s movements, and experience her thoughts while he is jacked into her consciousness, but he is unable to communicate with her and feel any intimate connection to her. He is merely “a passenger behind her eyes” (55). This lack of connection infers that the artificial consciousness of the matrix disallows any embodied center of intimacy with another. Case transitions instantly to an artificial disembodied consciousness via Molly, but he never enters any relationship with the embodied Molly.

Gibson suggests that the communication between Case and Molly in cyberspace is as impersonal as the exchange of data between servers. When he awakens after the trip into cyberspace in the hotel room he shares with Molly, a machine-printed letter in all capitals appears which read: “HEY ITS OKAY BUT ITS TAKING THE EDGE OFF MY GAME. I PAID THE BILL ALREADY. IT’S THE WAY IM WIRED I GUESS, WATCH YOUR ASS OKAY? XXX MOLLY [sic]” (257). This letter is significant on three levels. First Molly is communicating via her disembodied consciousness with the disembodied consciousness of Case and there is no suggestion of intimacy or strong feelings. Second, Molly values her role as a technologically advanced “Steppin’ Razor” (107) assassin. She is a cold-hearted killer that cannot afford to have the edge taken off her game (257) by a tangible relationship with Case. And third, the phrase “IT’S THE WAY IM WIRED I GUESS” (257) suggests that Molly views herself in cyberspace as a machine that must protect and preserve its ability to function as a “Steppin’ Razor” (107) assassin. Molly is like Case in that she prefers to exist in a disembodied consciousness in cyberspace to existing in a tangible reality.

Gibson’s descriptions of the world of cyberspace explain why this world is so seductive. At one point, the computer tells Case and Molly that the matrix is “Lines of light ranged in the nonspace [sic] of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…” (51). The image of “Lines of light arranged in the nonspace of the mind” (51) suggests that the world in cyberspace is outside of the physical space where the natural world exists. And the comparison of “city lights, receding” (51) evokes a sense of ethereal beauty that is reminiscent of, but not connected with the real world of the city. Gibson’s poetic descriptions of this artificial world provide a basis for understanding why the characters prefer to inhabit this world and to escape a world where the heart of nature has been destroyed by technological developments and industrial activities.

After Case is cured of the poison that prevents his immersion into cyberspace and re-enters the matrix, it “flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity” (52). The image of the “fluid neon origami trick” (52) unfolding into “his distanceless home, his country” (52) like a “transparent 3D chessboard unfolding into infinity” (52) describes a simulated world that exists nowhere, but seems infinite in variety and extent.

Also consider similar descriptions of Case’s experience in the matrix after he merges his virtual self with that of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Neuromancer; “The Kuang program spurted from the tarnished cloud, Case’s consciousness divided like beads of mercury, arcing above an endless beach the color of the dark silver clouds” (249). The “tarnished cloud” (249), from which the construct of Case and Neuromancer emerge is reminiscent of the earlier description of the sky as “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (3). It is as if the program has arisen out of the ashes of what was the natural world. The hybridization of technology with humanity is the preferred future for Neuromancer’s world. A future of technology eclipsing the relevance what was once the natural world.

Neuromancer is Gibson’s warning to those who choose to value the disembodied consciousness of cyberspace over the real and dangerous problems of the physical world. We live on a planet ravaged over time by a wide range of pollutants. These pollutants have poisoned our planet to such a high degree that our continued anti-environmental trends have brought us perilously close to the point of an imminent ecological disaster on a massive scale. Yet people choose to ignore the very real threat of our planet’s demise in favor of jacking their consciousness’ into cyberspace. Neuromancer is a cautionary tale to those who prefer escaping reality in the midst of an imminent global meltdown. Neuromancer illustrates the plague that is a world that chooses to lose touch with its very essence.

Works Cited

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

Melville Writing the Reader: The Self Found in Ahab and Bartleby

Throughout the works of Herman Melville a theme of oppression persists in his character that defines the author’s works as a whole. This theme of oppression can be viewed as a comment on the social and political state of America in the 19th century, whether it is Captain Delano recapturing the right of whites to own slaves in “Benito Cereno,” or Billy Budd as a representation of America’s lost innocence., Melville’s works always comment on an America in the throes of upheaval. Whether it is the Civil War tearing the nation apart, or the rapid rise of industrial labor reducing the common worker to irrelevance and despair, Melville always seems ready to commit to delicately exposing an America he sees as on the verge of being a casualty of its own devices: an America so bent on progress that it sacrifices its own integrity in its pursuit of what it sees as perfection. However, what if it is not Melville’s intention to expose the underbelly of America to the reader? What if, in our endless interpretations of his works, we missed Melville’s true purpose in crafting his tales?

Perhaps Melville did not intend to expose the truth of America, perhaps he was attempting to show the reader his/her self in his characters: A self firmly linked to the pulse of America by way of it being constantly immersed in its culture, but a self that has also remained concealed from the very person embedded/invested in its existence: the individual reader/interpreter of Melville’s works. Perhaps Melville himself was once of the same mind as the reader he is trying to make self-aware. Could he have been ignorant of his own true nature as an American and become enlightened at some point? This is surely a possibility, although not easily proven, so the only gauge for judging the effect of Melville’s works on his reader is to examine how readers are, in fact, affected by certain characters. Since one knows his/her self best at the end of the day, I will break the tradition of the anonymous critic and I will directly insert my reactions to character constructions into this essay so that I may examine Melville’s constructions on a keenly tuned level of understanding. Also, to narrow the scope of characters to be examined, I intend to focus on two of Melville’s best-known characters, Ahab and Bartleby as they were two figures who profoundly affected me. So to summarize, I intend to examine the characters of Ahab and Bartleby as having been specifically constructed by Melville with the intention of offering a reader insight into the obscure areas of his/her mind that can only be realized upon reading of the outlandish personalities of these two men as constructed by Melville.

To begin, let us examine instances of Ahab’s actions being strange, yet uncanny throughout the text of Moby-Dick. It is Melville’s initial description of Ahab which sets the stage for my perception of the Captain being rooted in knowing his traits by way of these traits being wholly foreign to me upon comprehending them for the first time:

He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini’s cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightening tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. (Melville 108-109)

This initial description of Ahab is unique in that he is being presented as a man of quite unusual traits that make him seem strange to one first encountering him, yet he is also recognizable to a stranger in that he is described as having certain characteristics easily recognized in nature, such as his “slender rod-like mark” (108) resembling the commonly seen scarred tree trunk. Upon reading this description, I was taken aback by the uniqueness and magnitude of Ahab’s scar. It seemed, from Melville’s description, that the scar defined the man through Melville alluding to it having “branded” (109) Ahab. A brand is a physical mark of ownership made on a living thing by something claiming ownership or power over it. So Ahab, through Melville alluding to the scar as resembling something occurring naturally in the wild, I began to see that Ahab’s scar should be viewed as a normal feature of his person. I made this logical connection through believing that his scar could be as natural an occurrence as a scarred tree trunk would be in the forest. In essence, his scar was just something that was there, that was just as a normal part of him as “His whole high, broad form” (108) would be to the casual observer of his presence.

Once I realized that the scar defined Ahab as a person, I began to relate how this scar was comparable to my own life. I was able to begin to relate Ahab to my own self in this manner through Melville specifically addressing his reader by using the second person during his description of Ahab when the scar becomes apparent as even being on Ahab, “you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish” (108). It was Melville’s use of “you” that began my association of Ahab’s image in connection with my own. I began to realize that, like Ahab, I bear visible scars as well in that I have a fairly high amount of tattoos on my person that are literally colored scars. Also, my scars are self-inflicted and one could also say that Ahab’s scar was self-inflicted as well in that he chose his profession as a whaler knowing the potential for danger and injury involved in his profession. Also, Ahab continued to pursue the white whale even after he lost his leg and gained a scar from Moby Dick. Ahab had always been drawn toward the danger inherent in Moby Dick and his “monomaniac revenge” (158) for the whale having diminished him was born out of him already possessing the “irresistible arm drag” (158) and “a-rush to encounter the whale” (158) that he possessed before actually being injured by Moby Dick. I could say the same of myself, that I have always had a tendency toward the dangerous or painful side of life as evidenced in my own ready acceptance of the pain and social stigma inherent in wearing the outwardly visible scars that are tattoos. Like Ahab, I am observed and judged by those like Melville who would readily attempt to connect a person’s essence to their outward appearance. However, I could care less about their opinions, just like Ahab.

Now that it has been established as to how Melville’s opening description of Ahab influenced me to find myself in his character, it is now essential to discuss Melville’s purpose in needing his reader to personally identify with Ahab in this manner. Melville has a specific purpose in creating a reader’s familiarity in Ahab, to build a bridge of understanding between the reader and Ahab. Once this bridge is built, Melville can deconstruct Ahab’s character by elevating the insanity and depravity of Ahab’s purpose as the novel progresses, “He was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge” (158). Ahab’s contentment with the notion of exacting hyper-revenge leads to his transformation into a thing more creature than man, “God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon  that heart forever; that vulture the very creature he creates” (170). Melville’s establishment of a connection between the reader and Ahab serves to make Ahab’s negative transformation a more familiar experience for the reader. The reader is able to see some of his/her self in the insanity emanating from Ahab and does not judge him too harshly as a result.

This lack of judgment on the reader’s part is also manifested through the character Ishmael’s persistent objectivity in portraying Ahab as a lunatic, but as a lunatic that may have good reason for being so bent on the notion of exacting revenge on Moby Dick, “Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth, nor gods nor man his neighbors” (413).  Melville is taking care to show that Ishmael can see how Ahab’s injury and resulting purpose has left him isolated in his experience with the whale. His previous experiences with Moby Dick have isolated him from the world simply from his having had them. Ahab’s experiences with Moby Dick are so singular that they have been the defining moments of his life and have set him apart from others in the world simply by way of them involving Moby Dick. Ishmael, in being able to recognize this in Ahab, is identifying with Ahab’s plight. This identification carries over into furthering a reader’s identification with Ahab because, if the reader is able to interpret Ishmael’s identification  with Ahab, then he/she will see that Ahab’s plight is not as foreign as the beginning of the novel lets on, ‘“He’s a queer man, Captain Ahab…a grand ungodly, god-like man…Ahab’s above the common….been used to deeper wonder than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales’” (78). Even while this description of Ahab evokes the sense of him being unique to others in the world, this passage still can be seen as an attempt by Melville to help the reader identify with Ahab through Ahab being so unique to everyone else. As I read this passage, I noticed that I wanted so much to identify with Ahab’s unique personae because I wanted to believe that my perception of myself was just as unique as Ahab’s description. This urge was purely founded out of my ego’s need to establish a connection with someone perceived to be as great as Ahab. I wanted to believe that I possessed the same grandeur that Ishmael and Captain Peleg (of whom the above passage was from) saw in Ahab. Melville, in crafting a tale wherein Ahab’s quest for revenge leads to Ishmael’s enlightenment, needed to make sure the reader would be heavily invested in both Ahab’s individuality and Ishmael’s admiration of Ahab. The simplest way to insure the reader’s investment in the evolution of these two characters is for Melville to use the reader’s ego against him/her. The reader must want to see his/her self in these men if he/she is to “get” this legend’s intentions in the end. If the reader is willing to be immersed in the narrative out of recognition of his/her self in the work, then he/she will gain understanding and perspective from Ahab and Ishmael’s experiences by the end of the novel.

While a reader of Moby-Dick can insert his/her self into Ahab’s character by using their own self-understanding to understand Ahab better, it is also helpful that in Chapter ninety-nine, entitled “The Doubloon,” Melville directly asserts the importance of the reader to identify with Ahab’s character if he/she is to clearly understand the “Truth” (333) of the world. It is a passage in which Ahab speaks to himself in a manner suggesting his own desire to understand himself through understanding others. Again, Melville is attempting to insert the reader into Ahab’s personality. This assertion is of paramount importance if one is to truly understand the world according to the parameters set through Melville’s telling of Moby-Dick:

The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. (332)

In this passage, Ahab asserts himself as being embodied in the imagery of the doubloon and his oneness with the coin alludes to him being at one with the world as a result, “and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe” (332). Ahab freely admits that everyman who passes by the doubloon sees himself in the coin and he is no different, “this round gold…to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self” (332), but this realization is flawed because Ahab admits that every man knows “his own mysterious self” (332), which implies that others do not really know themselves from observing the coin. It implies that it is only Ahab who knows his self from observing the coin. It is he who freely asserts that the other observers of the coin are not as perceptive about the coin’s ability to establish recognition of one’s inner self when he attempts to dismiss the coin’s sway over his inner recognition, “Methinks this coined sun wears a ruddy face…’tis fit that man should live in pains and die in paings” (333). Ahab is being quite unreliable here in that he is attempting to dismiss his connection with the coin right after he has proclaimed his connection to it. Why would Ahab do this, or rather, why would Melville choose to have Ahab act in this manner? Melville does this to create doubt in the reader’s mind in order to show that Ahab, although he is quite confident in his purpose, has his moments of doubt as well. He appears to be certain of the coin’s relevance to him, yet he doubts it in the end. So, could he end up doubting his mission to exact revenge on Moby-Dick if he ends up doubting the coin, something he appears to identify with so well? Melville’s creation of doubt in this chapter seeks to establish a connection with a reader who may not be as secure in his/her own skin as Ahab would appear to be in this novel. Yes, Ahab is steadfast in his purpose and anyone with a good deal of pride in their heart could easily identify with his confidence. However, Melville needs to establish a connection with a less confident reader as well. He needs to make this connection in order to accomplish his task of reaching disparate personalities during his own mission to become “a pure manipulator” (357), one who is able to influence a wide spectrum of personalities of the need to connect with the world through understanding the dynamics and personalities of characters in literature, “If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me” (18). This statement directly asserts Melville’s need for the reader to become personally invested in his story in that he is allegorizing the ocean as symbolizing the world and has Ishmael’s feelings toward it actually stand in for his thoughts on the world. So, for a reader to truly understand the world he/she must understand the ocean and the men who voyage on it in this narrative.

The less confident reader can gain confidence through recognizing Ahab’s mind’s ability to transcend his doubt concerning the doubloon and continue on with his mission of murderous revenge. As a reader, I fall in between the confidant and less-confident reader of Moby-Dick. I recognized Ahab in myself while reading of his supreme confidence in his violent task because I have also known what it is like to need to instill a swaggering confidence in myself in order to complete an arduous task, or prevail in the midst of daunting odds. One needs to dig down deep in their person and pull out every bit of self-reliance, hope, and practical sense from their internal being and use these tools to construct an impenetrable suit of armor. This mustering of hyper self-confidence is a draining endeavor that leads to a certain amount of fatigue and can make even the strongest individuals susceptible to moments of self-doubt, or wariness that the purpose behind this confidence actually may not be worth it in the end. I believe Ahab is beginning to experience a hint of this doubt in the “Doubloon” chapter, which we see pass quite quickly, “This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me falsely” (333). However, we do see this doubt resurface in Ahab during the pinnacle moment of the novel in which he sees Moby Dick for the first time since being injured by the whale, “he gazed beyond the whale’s place, towards the dim blue spaces and wide wooing vacancies to leeward. It was only an instant: for again his eyes seemed whirling around in his head as he swept the watery circle” (409). This moment of Ahab having doubt in his purpose may seem subtle, but one must remember that it is foreshadowed earlier in the previous chapter when Ahab has an almost remorseful conversation with Starbuck about the irrelevance of his mission to destroy Moby Dick:

Starbuck saw the old man; saw him , how he heavily leaned over the side; and he seemed to hear in his own true heart the measureless sobbing that stole out of the centre of the serenity around …‘for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horror of the deep…the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey—more a demon than a man!—aye, aye! what a forty years’ fool—fool—old fool, has old Ahab been’ (405)

Ahab looks deflated to Starbuck, as seen through how heavy his body posture appears and practically offers himself up for chastisement by Starbuck by admitting his intense motivation to kill whales was a fool’s errand, so when we see Ahab pause and cast “wide wooing vacancies to leeward” (409) we immediately recall this earlier admission of foolery by Ahab and realize that his quest may not have been as steadfast as we were led to believe. However, it is Ahab’s admission and contemplation of doubt just before engaging Moby Dick that ultimately enables him to carry out his quest in the end. If he had not doubted his purpose he would not have gained a renewed intensity resulting from obtaining new resolve out of speculating that his quest to kill Moby Dick was a possible mistake. In essence, Ahab needed to fall from his tower of righteousness in order to have the strength and will to see his epic three day battle with Moby Dick through to the end.

As I consider Ahab to be the central character of Moby-Dick, I consider his perspective and actions to be paramount to being able to interpret the “metaphysical professor” (19) that is Herman Melville, “But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd’s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd’s eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him” (19). The reader can only realize the abject reality of the world if he/she focuses on the architect of this reality. So, since Ahab is the character driving Ishmael to recount his quest in the form of the narrative that is Moby-Dick, it is Ahab who is the “magic stream” (19) in the foreground. It is Ahab who must be understood if the reader is to understand “the universal thump” (21) of the world.

While one can view Ahab’s tendency toward monomaniacal revenge to be a unique way of manifesting a purpose to one’s life, his act of being highly motivated in and of itself is not such a strange thing to a reader because, as I can attest, there are a great number of people who can understand, even if it is in a general way, his desire to meet a life goal. We all want to accomplish things in our lives, so Ahab is not hard to understand as a result. However, a reader’s ability to identify with a character such as Bartleby in Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” can become diminished if the character does not seem to readily exhibit characteristics typically found in society. Bartleby is an enigma to say the least. He does not appear to outwardly do anything except defy his employer and die by the end of the story. So, a reader’s identification with Bartleby comes from what Bartleby does not do instead of what he does do. For example, Bartleby’s introduction into the story is void of action in that his employer says that he finds “a motionless young man…upon my office threshold…pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn” (9). It is Bartleby’s appearance which shows even the slightest bit of action in his person. Him being “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn” (9) is a description that invokes the sense that he has actually engaged in procedures that have ultimately cast his appearance in the light that his employer sees him in upon his first encounter with the scrivener. However, it is Bartleby being “motionless” (9) that the reader really remembers from this encounter because Bartleby’s character is essentially motionless throughout the narrative. He does not move for his employer, neither in the sense of actual movement around the office in order to obey his employer’s commands, or by moving out of the office after his employer has quit the premises due to Bartleby’s unrelenting will to stay and do nothing where he is.

Bartleby remains essentially “motionless” (9) throughout the story and after reading this story for the third or fourth time I began to identify with Bartleby’s exceedingly strong will to remain stationary. It is often hard for me to uproot myself from a domain where I have become comfortable. Even if I have not been residing at the location for long, I will very much want to remain if I am comfortable, or stable there. While we can never get a firm grasp on whether Bartleby was truly comfortable at his employers, we can determine that his decision to remain at his employer’s was essentially the only thing keeping him alive. It is only after he is forced to leave his employer’s former office and begins to reside in the tombs that his physical health  truly suffers. I often suffer as well when I am forced out of an environment I have been comfortable in. Although I do not feel as if I will die as a result of the move, I do feel quite disconnected from my previous notions of reality and this can have a profound effect on my psyche in that my psyche seems to represent everything and nothing at once, like it may be eating itself, but it could just be me making myself think that as well.

Though we as readers have little to go on in the way of discerning Bartleby’s psychic predispositions, we can infer to the cause of why his forced removal from his employers former office had such a mortal effect on his person. At the end of the narrative we learn from the narrator :

that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration…Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting then for the flames? (34)

I do agree with the first part of the narrator’s assertion that it was Bartleby’s sudden removal from the Dead Letter Office that may have caused him to vehemently protest his removal from the attorney’s office because I believe that there are no accidents in Melville’s writing. Just the fact that Melville chose to include the allusion to Bartleby’s life before the lawyer’s office attests to the significance of Bartleby’s former employment’s abrupt ending had on his ultimate demise. Melville wants the reader to make a connection between Bartleby’s past experiences and his presence during the time in which the novel takes place. However, I do believe that Melville does attempt to misdirect the reader by having the narrator suggest that it was actually Bartleby’s employment at the Dead Letter Office that ultimately contributed to his demise. I believe this is a simple case of Melville inserting unreliability into the narrator’s character in order to make the story even more ambiguous than it already is. How could Bartleby, after having ceased working at the Dead Letter Office, succumbed to the effects of working there while gainfully employed somewhere else? The answer is that he couldn’t because that does not follow the logic of the narrative. Every command by the narrator is reacted to by Bartleby in a specific, almost call and response way in which the narrator asks Bartleby to do something, Bartleby refuses, the narrator ruminates on the perplexity of the situation, and the pattern continues until Bartleby is forced out of the building and thus begins his rapid decline toward death. Now, if Bartleby was so overwhelmed with the residual effects of working at the Dead Letter Office, then how could he have kept up such a steady pattern of denying his employer; and isn’t it also strange that he does not really decline in health until after he is evicted from his employment, just as he was from the Dead Letter Office? Bartleby follows a pattern throughout the narrative that Melville vaguely tries to disrupt by the story’s end, and I believe he does this in order to convolute the narrative to the point where the reader will have trouble discerning where Bartleby ends and the narrator begins. I feel this is true because I have seen this type of misdirection from others at different points in my life. It is almost akin to a “bait and switch” technique wherein a person alludes to something in order to deter an examiner of him/her from seeing the true nature of the situation at hand. In this case, it is the narrator’s guilt over Bartleby’s death that the narrator is trying to lead the reader from realizing. However, Melville writes the narrator to be unsuccessful in his attempt at misdirecting the reader when he has the narrator cry out, “Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!” (34) at the narrative’s conclusion. The narrator is cursing the nature of Bartleby as well as his own nature as a human being that feels guilty from thinking he may not have done enough to save the young scrivener from death, “poor Bartleby’s  internment” (33-34) is ironic in that he could actually live without fear of removal, yet he dies instead, so the narrator sees this irony and curses the scrivener and humanity along with his own self for not being more rational toward the needs of others, “good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities” (34), but not really because humanity is the ultimate calamity, unrelenting in pushing itself toward oblivion.

Melville’s need to establish a connection with his reader speaks volumes toward his need to feel a connection with America: A country he wrote of in narratives wholly original to what other authors were writing at the time. Yes, there were other whaling novels and there were other stories of men in modern forms of employment who ended up failing when pitted against true progress, but Melville approaches the banal from the angry angle of feeling disconnected from the very culture he seeks to influence with his writing. The people of his era simply did not get his work because most of them had neither the time nor will to experience America and the world as he had. It is only now that we have technology advanced enough to alleviate an excessive amount of manual labor, and the time to devote to seriously ruminate on the implications of reality and life that we are able to see the depth and complexity of Melville’s work. Here is a man who wanted desperately for us to realize our true potential as pioneers in a country perpetually plagued by its own arrogance.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” Melville’s Short Novels. Ed. Dan McCall. New York: W.W. Norton &Company, 2002. 3-34. Print.

—. Moby-Dick. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershell Parker. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. Print.

Interpreting the Ghosts in Neuromancer

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.

Phallic Dominance: The Aggravated Agency in Milton’s “Samson Agonistes”

On the surface, John Milton’s  poem “Samson Agonistes” critiques  Anglo-Christian supremacy over the more obscure religions of the world as seen through the character Samson, a “Heroic Nazarite” (Milton 318), laying waste to the “Heathen” (451) Philistine people. Samson claims that his mission to “Israel from Philistian yoke deliver” (39) is “Divine Prediction” (44), that he is “Design’d for great exploits” (32), yet he has been reduced to slave status at the onset of the poem.

It is significant that Samson’s loss of power is emphasized at the poem’s beginning in that it is his loss of power that is central to understanding “Samson Agonistes” in reference to John Guillory’s article “Dalila’s House: Samson Agonistes and the Sexual Division of Labor.” Guillory’s article frames “Samson Agonistes” is a poem which recasts 17th century notions of antiquated gender roles by subjugating males and empowering females, “Samson Agonistes is a prototype of the bourgeois career drama, which conventionally sets the vocation of the husband against the demands of the housewife” (Guillory 110). There is a duality to Guillory’s argument in that the binaries of man and woman are not only opposing genders, they are the counterpoints of husband and wife, which leads Guillory to suggest that the battle in “Samson Agonistes” is really a marital battle for public recognition over domestic recognition, or dominance over subjugation. Milton, when one examines “Samson Agonistes” through the lens of Guillory’s article, portrays Dalila as having achieved public recognition over Samson. Samson was once a public figure that has been symbolically castrated in the sense that his public dominance as a victorious warrior has been overshadowed by him being betrayed by Dalila. It is Dalila’s betrayal of Samson which allows her to become a publicly recognized figure of power because she has rescued her people from the ignominy created by Samson’s former dominance. Milton employs many techniques to portray this reversal of dominance such as the use of sexually symbolic language to invoke Samson’s castration and Dalila’s gain of the phallus. The manner in which Dalila moves from subordination to boastful pride further reflects the shift of dominance from Samson to Dalila because this shift magnifies the paradox between the legend of Samson and the reality of Samson in the poem: Samson’s glory is magnified at the poem’s outset only to be undermined through his lack of agency in reality.

In “Samson Agonistes,” Milton uses sexually suggestive language to allude to Samson’s fallen state as a castrated male. This castration is felt through language portraying him as lacking in prowess as well as to evoke the sense of Dalila possessing the equipment needed to dominate the castrated Samson. A passage strongly alluding to Samson’s castration can be found in lines 528-540 in which Samson is described as being “swoll’n with pride” (Milton 532) during his conquests in battle only to fall to “fallacious looks, venereal trains, / softn’d with pleasure and voluptuous life” (533-534) which “shore” (537) him “Like a tame Weather” (538). This passage is important in that Samson’s hubris, as symbolized through his pride being “swoll’n” (532), as if it is a phallus, is what leads him susceptible to Dalila’s “fallacious looks” (533), “venereal trains” (533), and voluptuousness. Samson falls prey to her as a “tame Weather” (538), is prey to the farmer’s shears, and is “disarm’d” (540) in the sense that his “swoll’n” (532) phallic pride has become “tame” (538), or deflated, as a result. The next significant line alluding to Dalila’s dominance over Samson occurs when Dalila suggests that she “touch” (951) Samson’s “hand” (951). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “hand” in Roman Law means “the power of the husband over his wife” (“hand” 2.b. 1875). In essence, Dalila is suggesting that she “touch” (951), or own his manly prowess because she ultimately wants Samson to return home with her, with the home symbolizing “deprivation, a certain incapacity to act” according to Guillory (109). So, Dalila’s suggestion requires Samson to be depravedly touched so that he may ultimately dwell in a structure lacking agency. The fact that Dalila suggests this so openly speaks to the confidence, and therefore agency, she has gained as a result of usurping Samson’s control over the Philistines. She has become “swoll’n” (Milton 532) with enough “pride” (532) to allow her to seamlessly suggest such ideas to Samson without any hesitation on her part being acknowledged in the text.

It is with Dalila’s dominance over Samson through making such an intrepid suggestion that leads one to see sexually allusive language used by other characters in the poem to portray her as a liberated woman. After Dalila dismisses herself from Samson’s sight Samson describes his marriage to her as having been “committed / to such a viper…sacred trust / Of secresie” (1001-1003). Samson’s statement suggests that Dalila posseses the predatory powers of a viper, which speaks to her heightened agency in that she was able to subvert Samson’s “trust / Of secresie” (1002-1003). The next character to speak is the Chorus, whose discourse with Samson furthers the notion of Dalila having gained phallic power over Samson by way of suggesting she possesses a “secret sting” (1007) powerful enough to cause “amorous remorse” (1007). This “secret sting” (1007) can be interpreted to symbolize Dalila’s ability to penetrate the male dominated system of “productive labor” (Guillory 110) with a member powerful enough to “sting” (1007) masculinity hard enough to cause it to feel remorse for ever having “been fond of the opposite sex” (“amorous” 1.a. 1673 ) when woman’s femininity has been exposed as being “only a mask” (Guillory 114).

It is with realizing the mask of femininity in “Samson Agonistes” that reader can begin to see Dalila’s shift in posture, from subordination to domination, which reflects her shift from a private worker to a public worker, “she reinterprets her betrayal of the private marital contract as the subordination of private to public interests…Dalila’s failure as a wife…meant her public success” (Guillory 111). When Samson first comes in contact with Dalila after she has betrayed him the Chorus describes her with feminist imagery, “with head declin’d / Like a fair flower surcharg’d with dew” (Milton 727-728). She is perceived to be delicate as a flower bent under the weight of dew, and in first interaction with Samson, Dalila seems to proffer the notion of her being a delicate flower, “My penance hath not slack’n’d, though my pardon / No way assured. But conjugal affection / Prevailing over fear, and timorous doubt / Hath led me on desirous to behold / Once more thy face, and know of thy estate” (738-742). Dalila is saying she is so delicate that she has sought out Samson despite her “fear, and timorous doubt” (740) and lack of “pardon” (738) because she needs the strength created by her and Samson’s “conjugal affection” (739). However, Samson rejects Dalila’s advances, “Out, out Hyaena; these are thy wonted arts, / And arts of every woman false like thee” (748-749). Samson’s rejection prompts Dalila to change her demeanor from one of subordination to one of domination, “that to the public good / Private respects must yield; with grave authority / Took full possession of me and prevail’d; / Vertue, as I thought, truth, duty so enjoyning” (867-870). Dalila admits that her private subordinate life as a housewife was rendered insignificant when compared to the public and virtuous duty of liberating her people from Sampson’s yoke, “how just it was, / How honourable, how glorious to entrap / A common enemy… / to ensnare an irreligious / Dishonourer of Dagon” (854-861). She assumes an active and dominate role in Samson’s defeat through her choice to “ensnare” (860) him as “A common enemy” (856). She has taken a violent stance against a man she was once subordinate to. She has become the dominant dynamic of her and Samson’s relationship.

The disparate dynamic between Samson the legend and Samson in the reality of this poem is essential in understanding the shift of dominance in Samson to Dalilah’s relationship. At the outset of the poem Samson is described as having once had a supreme amount of agency and fame to his character, “That Heroic , that Renown’d, / Irresistible Samson? whom unarm’d / no strength of man, or fiercest wild beast could withstand… / Adamantean Proof / But safest he who stood aloof, / When insupportably his foot advanc’t” (126-136). Samson stands “insupportably” (136), meaning he possesses supreme dominance over all others, so much so that he is able to take on any foe without the aid of anyone/thing else. He is depicted as a giant hard phallus through Milton’s choice to relate his character to the supreme hardness of the metal Adamantean  and the power with which he has “stood aloof / …insupportably” (135-136) such as how an erect phallus might appear to an onlooker, as a singular tower on a level terrain. However, this great image of Samson the legend, the Samson that once was, is contrasted with the Samson who has been enslaved at the hands of Dalilah, “My self, my Sepulcher, a moving Grave / Buried , yet not exempt / By priviledge of death and burial /…made hereby obnoxious more / To all the miseries of life” (102-107). In this passage the reality of Samson’s situation is that of him being akin to the walking dead, “Buried, yet not exempt” (103), whose life is now lived for misery instead of glory. Samson’s current state is a stark contrast to his once glorious reputation as an undefeatable warrior.

This disparity in the characterization of Samson magnifies Delilah’s public dominance over Samson in the sense that his extreme fall from glory allows the reader to view Dalilah’s agency over him as evoking his symbolic castration with she as the inheritor of his public position perceived as phallic domination. Dalilah’s act against her husband is powerful enough to have caused an all-powerful warrior to become a subjugated slave. In essence, Samson’s legend has been symbolically raped by Delilah’s act, “Once joined, the contrary she proves, a thorn” (1036). Delilah has pricked/penetrated the very essence of Samson, causing his fall into supreme subjugation.

Works Cited

“amorous, adj. and n.”. OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 3 May 2012 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/6546?redirectedFrom=amorous.>

Guillory, John. “Dalila’s House: Samson Agonistes and the Sexual Division of Labor.” Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourse of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe. Ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, et al. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986. 106-122. Women in Cult. & Soc. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 May 2012.

“hand, n.1”. OED Online. March 2012. Oxford University Press. 3 May 2012 <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/83801?rskey=vbDm6P&result=1&isAdvanced=false>.

Milton, John. “Samson Agonistes.” The Riverside Milton. Ed. Roy Flannagan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 799-844. Print.

D.A. Powell: Breaching the Brume of HIV/AIDS

D.A. Powell’s Chronic is a collection of poems elegizing the people, including himself, who have died and are dying of HIV/AIDS.  Powell strives to make sense of the brutal nature of HIV/AIDS by approaching the disease from a surrealistic viewpoint which dissects what the word “chronic” means in the context of one suffering from HIV/AIDS. The poem entitled “[not the musical:] south pacific” is one such example of Powell using symbolic imagery and perception, as well as evoking disparity in the human thought processes concerning the disease, to portray HIV/AIDS as being  insidious, akin to a ravaged  sailor adrift on the south pacific sea.

From the poem’s outset, “[not the musical:] south pacific” evokes an insidious feeling through the title’s notation of the south pacific as being “[not the musical]” (Powell 0) variety of sea one normally is used to envisioning. Powell’s sea in is atonal. It “scrapes” (2) instead of lightly swooshing. It is also arrhythmic in that it lacks the lulling steady rhythm of lapping waves. Instead, Powell’s sea’s waves “scrape the sky” (2) and confuse the course of the “doubt-filled sailor” (1) with their “yawing, tacking” (1) ways. The “scrape” (2) sound caused by the “yawing, tacking / waves” (1-2) dismisses one’s notions of this sea having any type of musicality to it in that a “scrape” sound can be thought to represent something void of recognition or quantification in that waves scraping a sky suggests the sky and waves have been conjoined through the “scrape” (2) sound. In essence, the generic quality that one attaches to perceiving the sound of a “scrape” (2), through the fact that so many different things can scrape, is mimicked by the sky being mirrored with the sea through the scraping. The sky and sea have become indistinguishable from one another. They lack the uniqueness one would normally associate with musical sounds. The sky and sea have become superficial voids, the source/part of the “exile” (1) felt by the “doubt-filled sailor” (1). This lack of musicality in the environment can be felt as being akin to the lack of zest for life one feels through knowing of his/her impending death from a chronic disease such as HIV/AIDS. Music is less important when one is faced with contemplating his/her imminent mortality.

While Powell use of an insidious tone in “[not the musical:] south pacific” evokes disparity in the environment through his use of an atonal/arrhythmic sounds, Powell also uses allegorizes characters and objects to further invoke the insidious nature of HIV/AIDS. In lines six and seven, Powell equates the “mutinous crew setting me adrift / in that damnable life raft” to one becoming isolated from the world as a result of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. If one thinks of HIV/AIDS as being an invader into the authority one has over their body, then it is logical to perceive Powell’s use of a “mutinous crew” (5) as having stranded this “doubt-filled sailor” (1) as actually being HIV/AIDS overthrowing the vessel that is the sailor’s body, causing the sailor to be cast “adrift / in that damnable life raft” (5-6) that is the social isolation one feels from contracting HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is further allegorized as being a “mutinous crew” (5) which overthrows the vessel that is the human body with line seven wherein Powell relates the “mutinous crew” (5), HIV/AIDS, as having flown its flag of piracy, the “skull and crossbones” (7), which can be perceived as HIV/AIDS’ outward debilitating effects on the body that include visible sores and a malnourished complexion. HIV/AIDS has flown its insidious flag, marking the speaker’s perpetual decline in health at the hands of this chronic disease. Powell continues to further allegorize HIV/AIDS as being a parasitical pirate when he speaks of the “mutinous” (5) pirates as being sustained by “hardtack and grog” (8) while the stranded sailor experiences thirst at the hands of the tremendous heat that is “the equator” (8). HIV/AIDS has ravaged the speaker’s body to the point that it is only the virus that is benefitting from the speaker being alive. The speaker, in the wake of the virus assuming control over his/her body’s vitality (the “hardtack and grog” (8)), is left only with an empty feeling inside that Powell likens to one experiencing a thirst so massive that it feels like being “against the equator” (8), the hottest environment on earth. In creating such a tyrannical situation for the human body to have to endure at the hands of HIV/AIDS, Powell is showing that the disease’s insidious nature has also affected his perception of reality: HIV/AIDS has tainted his body to the point that his acuity has been taken hostage as well.

By the end of the fourth stanza of the poem, Powell’s acuity appears to have been ravaged by the methodical evil inherent in HIV/AIDS. However, the last stanza of the poem unifies the speaker’s mindset concerning the disease. The speaker finds a place where acts such as “faith” (10) and “reflection” (10) become necessary for the speaker to use during his/her battle with HIV/AIDS. Powell’s use of alliteration, by using the words “little” (10) and “lack” (10) consecutively, unifies the speaker’s acts of “reflection” (10) and “faith” (10). These acts have allowed the speaker to rise above the panic and disillusionment experienced when one is lost in the “brume” (10) of HIV/AIDS.

Works Cited

Powell, D.A. “[not the musical:] south pacific.” Chronic. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. 27. Print.

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