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“Sometimes you repeat yourself, man”

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

So Case says to the ROM construct of his old hacker-mentor, the Dixie Flatline. Dixie responds, “It’s my nature” (128) This humorous little exchange is one of many that occur between Case and Dixie during Neuromancer. We might contrast the computer simulation of a person talking about “nature,” with Molly repeatedly talking about being “wired” a particular way (25, for one instance). In both cases, Gibson draws our attention to those turns of phrase to suggest that how we define identity (or other characteristics) is rooted in the metaphors that we use. Of particular interest in this book are metaphors from technology, which makes sense since it’s a book about a highly-developed technological world in which bodies are implanted with computer chips and scalpel blades, and artificial intelligences can infiltrate the brains of those “jacked in” to a networked computer.

But this brief reflection on repetition got me thinking about repetition as a driving force of Gibson’s text. Certain phrases recur again and again. Take the line from Case’s surgery, which fixes him so he can jack in to cyberspace again: “Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine” (31). We come across it again, nearly verbatim, the first time Case flatlines and encounters Wintermute. “Ice” as a motif crops up in several places and a variety forms. There are other leitmotifs such as this one (Molly’s “burgundy nails,” for example, or Case’s recollection of the smell of cooked flesh, always a reminder of Linda Lee’s death), and once you start looking for them they are myriad. I don’t mean to suggest that this is unique to this novel–any good writer uses repetition to achieve certain effects. But the piling on of recurring motifs characterizes the narrative as a whole, to the extent that we might say Gibson too sometimes–or rather, all the time–repeats himself.

And here I arrive at my point. The ROM construct has it in its nature to repeat itself. Gibson too repeats himself. So what might we glean about the nature of texts and authors given the similarity Gibson poses between himself, his text and the varieties of technological entities presented in the book? I don’t have an answer. However, it’s a question worth pondering. I think a big question at stake in this novel, is what the new technological forms might reveal to us about our old forms. And let’s not forget that the book is at heart, in its nature, a technological invention predicated on repetition. And look how far it’s come from it’s humble beginnings, which now seem as strange to us (or stranger) than the early imaginings of cyberspace from Gibson and others.