July 1 marks the release date of William Gibson's Neuromancer. Last week, Public Books posted 'A Global Neuromancer', an excerpt from Fredric Jameson's new book The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms, looking back on Neuromancer and its concept of cyberspace as an allegory for global financial systems.
Read more at Public Books.
Neuromancer is now more than 30 years old, a considerable time to remain a classic. Its publication in the Orwellian year will seem ironic and laden with symbolism only for those who think Orwell has remained a classic, or that he had anything to do with science fiction or reflected any serious political thought. But at least in one respect the juxtaposition is useful in showing how dystopia can swing around into the utopian without missing a beat, the way depression can without warning become euphoria. Indeed, I’ve suggested elsewhere that much of what is called cyberpunk (which begins with Neuromancer) is utopian and driven by the “irrational exuberance” of the ’90s and a kind of romance of feudal commerce; but I had Bruce Sterling in mind rather than the more sober Gibson, whose postmodern overpopulation (“the sprawl”) comes before us rather neutrally, even though its tone is radically different from the older Malthusian warnings of Harrison and Brunner. But Neuromancer and the novels that followed it were certainly not utopian in the spirit of the blueprints of More and Bellamy, or Fourier and Callenbach. Indeed, I would argue that the Utopian and still energizing work of the latter, Ecotopia (1968), was for the moment the last of its kind. And that, for a fundamental reason that takes us to the heart of our present topic, namely, that since Callenbach, the utopian form has been unable to take onboard the computer, cybernetics or information technology. Ecotopia was conceived before the Internet, and whatever utopian fantasies the latter has inspired—and they are many, and often delirious, involving mass communications, democracy, and the like—those fantasies have not been able to take on the constitutive form of the traditional Utopian blueprint. Meanwhile, more recent Utopian work, such as Barbara Goodwin’s remarkable Justice by Lottery (1992) or Kim Stanley Robinson’s monumental Mars trilogy (1993–1996), however suggestive and influential in their Utopian features, have not seemed to incorporate cyberspace as a radically new dimension of postmodern social life.