'A' paper by a student in English 373

Below is a paper written by a student in Maymester 1998. At the end of the paper, there is also a link yet another paper written by an undergraduate for an "Ecotexts" course at the University of Western Australia. The paper is of interest for our course since it analyzes both Bladerunner and Neuromancer and deals with similar issues.

Things to note (in order of importance):

1) The student never rests at paraprase but always seeks to interpret the descriptions she provides. What you have here is an argument that enlightens the text not a mere rehashing of plot.

2) The student has used a good deal of textual evidence from the works s/he examines to support his/her case. S/he also provides insight into these passages and incorporates her quotations well.

3) Rather than making numerous points briefly, the student has chosen to concentrate on a specific topic so that s/he can provide an in-depth and extensive interpretation of the work at hand.

4) The paper has a clearly articulated thesis in the introduction, one that is developed in different ways in each of the paragraphs of the paper.

5) The paper proceeds logically from sentence to sentence, from point to point, from paragraph to paragraph.

6) The paper has almost no grammatical and stylistic problems.


The Vicious Circle: Apathy and Addiction in the Postmodern World

In the postmodern world of William Gibson's Neuromancer, nature is dead, and the world is run by the logic of the corporate machine. Confronted by a reality that is stark, barren, and metallic, and the hopelessness that this reality engenders, the postmodern protagonist, like Case, often immerses himself or herself in an alternate form of reality that is offered in the form of addiction (to virtual reality or drugs, for example), addictions that are made possible by the same society that makes an escape desirable. Such addictions are logical products of the post-modern capitalist society because they perpetuate the steadfast power of the corporation by allowing would-be dissidents an escape from reality, thereby preventing successful rebellion and maintaining the pervasive societal apathy necessary to allow the corporation to dominate undeterred. Case, as the addictive anti-hero, is a product of this stifling cycle of apathy. Lacking the motivation or drive to instigate any true change in his reality, he avoids the unpleasant realities of his world by entering into the altered reality of addiction.

In the reality of the postmodern world, where nature is gone and has been replaced by technology, where the world and humankind have become fused with the machine, and the existence of morality and reality are uncertain, it is difficult to find hope for a better existence or motivation to attempt to change one's existence. Addiction then becomes a logical avenue of escape from these bleak circumstances--not affecting reality, but transforming it into something bearable. The addictions that Case turns to allow him to escape from the hard reality of his life that is lived "under the poisoned silver sky" (7) by allowing him to speed fast and hard through life, living only for the thrill of the addictions themselves, living "on almost a permanent adrenaline high" (5). Case, as a young virtual "cowboy," disdains the pleasures of the flesh, craving only the more total escape of the matrix--an escape from his bodily existence or "the meat." When this escape from reality is denied him, Case feels more fully the limitations and hopelessness of the world in which he lives and perceives his physical reality as a trap: "Case fell into the prison of his own flesh." (6) Denied the escape of the matrix, the escape for which he lives, Case turns to drugs in an attempt to create a fast unreal existence for himself that approximates the rush he receives from the matrix: "Get just wasted enough--and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking" (16). Case uses the drugs to blind himself to the realities of his world, the dead perilous world that is Ninsei, the lack of hope or direction in his life, and his own terror and self-loathing. Case ensconces himself in a distorted protective reality, a "portable bombshelter built of booze and ups" (21). Without the escape from the flesh that the matrix had once offered him, Case seems to be without any motivation to survive and indeed seems intent on his own self-destruction. When the matrix as an avenue of escape becomes available to Case once more, it is like a consummation of desire, more powerful than sex: "he was laughing ... distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face." (52) Case once again has motivation to live--a motivation provided solely by the rush that his addiction brings him.

The escape that addiction offers the hopeless denizens of the dead postmodern world is made possible only by the same forces that create the conditions that make such an addictive escape attractive. The technology that has killed nature and encased the worked in metal is also the technology that makes more sophisticated addictions possible. The world of steadily advancing technology offers new and more intense escapes: the bright, fast, bodiless rush of the matrix, increasingly sophisticated physical drugs like "synthetic glandular extract," and the bodily additions and modifications which could also be seen as a kind of addiction. This technology is made possible by the capitalist system, and the system uses this technology to dominate the populace by immersing them in hopeless apathy. This capitalist corporate society that controls the postmodern world through the power of money is by definition a world without ethics, a soulless dead machine run by the faceless pervasive entity of the multinational corporation. Slum areas like Ninsei and the deviance and drug culture that flourish in such places are natural outgrowths of the towering urban corporate structures that dominate the postmodern city: "burgeoning technologies require outlaw zones ... a deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself" (11). These areas collect the dissatisfied and the potentially rebellious elements in the society and offer them an outlet in the dangerous addictions of drugs and crime.

The power of the anonymous corporate "they" is partially dependent on the apathy of the average citizen. When everyone in the society lacks the motivation to question the power of the present society, it can rule without fear of rebellion. This state of complete apathy in the masses is maintained in the world of Neuromancer partially because of the escapes into various addictive realities that are available. Case is controlled and made powerless by the anonymous "them" through his addictive habits. The escape that Case receives from the matrix is the only pleasure in his life--he "lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace" (6)--and he is completely broken when this addiction is wrenched from him by the omnipotent and faceless "they." Case becomes completely powerless to do anything but try to duplicate the thrill he once received from the matrix with drugs and to lament his broken state: "he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep--trying to reach the console that wasn't there" (5). When Armitage has Case's nerve damage repaired so that he can "jack in" again, he is once again under the control of an anonymous power because of his addiction. Because of the nerve damaging toxin sacs that Armitage has caused to be implanted in Case's bloodstream which could once again deny his access to his addiction, Case is completely under the power of Armitage and the power that is behind Armitage. Molly says to Case, in reference to the toxin sacs: "And you don't care that much anyway. I saw you stroking that Sendai; man it was pornographic" (47). The implication here is that Case does not care what happens to him, as long as his desire for his addiction is fulfilled. Also, it is perhaps implied that Case will do anything that the power that controls him requires, because he would not jeopardize access to his addiction. This powerlessness over his own life and well being add to Case's general apathy about the conditions of his society. As long as he can live for the bodiless thrill of the matrix, he has no reason to search further for meaning in his life. Case does have a desire for change, as we see in the final confrontation with Wintermute when he declares "I got no idea what'll happen if Wintermute wins, but it'll change something!" (260). This desire, though, seems to be a vague desire with little direction. Case is too enslaved by the system in a cycle of addiction and apathy to have any clear motivation effectively to change his own existence. Here, addiction helps maintain apathy amongst the people that in turn helps maintain the corporate system.

Click here to go to a different site for a paper by Tama Leaver