Landscape and Locodescription in William Gibson's Neuromancer

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Swanstrom, Lisa. "Landscape and Locodescription in William Gibson's Neuromancer." Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction #98, vol. 35 (Autumn 2006): 16-27.

If one has doubts about the power of either literature or philosophy to have much direct effect in the world — for example, the power of either William Gibson's fiction or N. Katherine Hayles's critique to have an effect "devastating to the integrity of a unique, unified subject" (Swanstrom, p. 25) if that's what people are, then one will have some arguments with this article. That larger issue aside, Swanstrom's essay offers a brilliant close reading of the Moroccan beach sequence in Neuromancer chs. 20 and 21 (prepared for — Swanstrom demonstrates — in chs. 1 and 2 [Swanstrom, pp. 20-21]) and other issues of interest to users of this wiki.

That close reading moves out to larger issues of the novel as a whole and its esthetics, and outward not only to the postStructuralist work of Hayles (et al.) but to issues of landscape in literature and painting, and to Edmund Burke on the Sublime.

"Landscape and Locodescription" begins with an invocation of Gibson's invocation in Neuromancer of that Moroccan beach, where

a young woman [...] huddles down beside a steel bunker. Her identity is not revealed by name, nor by any verbal sign, but by the presence of a rolled scarf she uses as a headband, its fabric detailed with "a pattern like magnified circuitry" (p. 235 [in edition linked above]). Later, as [...] Case walks along this same stretch of isolated beach, the world around him begins to erode; lines of code emerge from his hands, from fissures in the sand, unfurling like hieroglyphs to be deciphered.

The circuit on the scarf, the code in the sand: their presence is as startling as it is subtle, quietly and simultaneously collapsing together and ripping apart disparate ontological orders. Not only are both moments emblematic of a tension between natural (fabric,* sand) and artificial (circuit, code) levels at work, they also suggest important potential ramifications of technological advancement upon traditional conceptions of human consciousness. Because they represent such charged, scintillating points of rupture and containment, and because they bear such potentially intriguing consequences for conceptualising consciousness, these moments warrant a close and careful examination. (Swanstrom p. 16)

And Swanstrom delivers that examination. See (also) for

This scene and the AI Neuromancer (Swanstrom pp. 19 f.).
The circuit pattern on the scarf as "an interface between narrative and descriptive orders" and and expression of "an aperture between the artificial and the real, both in the sense of a fictional novelty brushing up against 'real' [sic: quotation marks] technological advances" in the world of this novel's author and readers — our world in 1984, with "the microchip, the microprocessor, the microcircuit" — and "as a friction between virtual and real spaces that occurs within the novel proper" (p. 21). 
A respectful debate with Hayles on embodiment and cognition in Neuromancer and the degree to which Neuromancer deconstructs or reinforces, in the (standard) formulation Hayles uses, "the liberal humanist subject" (Hayles, p. 5), with both desiring deconstruction of that subject (Swanstrom pp. 24-25). 


  • That most of us will accept in this complex context fabric as natural as opposed to technological might be worth a discussion of its own.

RDE, finishing, 30Jul22