oga mu

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Resistance of the Hyperself against the Concept of Simulation in William Gibson's Burning Chrome.

AMST 106

The Resistance of the Hyperself against the Concept of Simulation in William Gibson's Burning Chrome.


In the postmodern, decentered world of William Gibson's Burning Chrome, the notion of identity is rapidly disappearing. It is slowly being destroyed by the pervasive influences of simulation and the development of the hyperself in response. It is erased by a supersaturation of stimuli, so overwhelming that the distinction between the artificial and the real is completely lost and Gibson's universe becomes, like his matrix, a disorientating, dangerous and strangely seductive place to be. Individuality is all but lost, but resistance exists in some individual agencies' adaptation and subversion of the bewildering array of technology and sentient corporations prowling the fragmented globe. The hyperself becomes the only way to preserve a semblance of individuality in the face of the loss of originality. The hyperself becomes a resistance against assimilation into the power games that corporations play in the killing fields.

The central source of the erosion of identity in Burning Chrome is its saturation with simulation. Simulation becomes the medium for communication. Baudrillard's "ecstasy of communication" lies in the transcendental aura of Gibson's cyberspace. Cyberspace is a virtual realm that exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is a simulation created to illustrate the relative sizes of databases and to act as a virtual universe. The simulated matrix is "an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems . . . [an] electronic consensus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and exchange of massive qualities of data"(197). The matrix is laid out in cyberspace. It is best described in Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive as "the bright grid, the towering forms of data . . . a chrome yellow plain of light"(269). No amount of description can describe how transcendental the matrix seems to be: it is a "bodiless exultation" Even though it is an "illusion"(205), it is more real than reality.

Another dimension of cyberspace are the simstims. These are a futuristic version of today's soap operas, made possible by the same technology that created the matrix. Simstims, or "simulated stimuli"(211), are viewed as if the viewer was the star, Tally Isham: "the world - all the interesting parts . . . as viewed by Tally Isham. Tally raced a black Fokker ground-effect place across Arizona mesa tops . . . Tally partied with the superrich on private Greek islands, heartbreaking purity of these tiny white seaports at dawn"(211). These two dimensions of cyberspace come from advances in bio-technology and use simulation to draw the subject in.

Simulation in Gibson's world is pervasive. Because it is pervasive and indistinguishable from the original, the distinction between real and artificial becomes lost. The artificial becomes more real than the real. Cyberspace becomes more appealing than reality. In 'Fragments of a Hologram Rose', Parker survives only through his ASP (apparent sensory perception) fix. He uses ASP cassettes to enable him to sleep, and to escape from his mundane job writing "continuity for broadcast ASP, programming the eye movements of the industry's human cameras"(53). When he discovers a blank cassette that his ex-lover has recorded and jacks in, the calmness of the cassette is more soothing than his early life in a violent, turbulent and confusing Texan landscape: "European sunlight. Streets of a strange city. Athens . . . Look through her eyes . . . at the gray monument, horses there in stone, where pigeons whirl up and circle"(57). It is an escape for Parker. This idyllic cassette projects into cyberspace, where he becomes the woman in Athens and finds refuge in simulation.

The question of whether a simulated, artificial consciousness is the same as a normal consciousness is raised by 'The Winter Market'. Because the artificial is more real than the real, there is no distinction between the two. Casey, a dream editor and producer meets Lise, a young, terribly wasted girl wired on wizz and so weak; her body is only supported by an exoskeleton wired to her brain. He discovers the power of her mind, and helps her become a star. Neuroelectronics, a subsidiary of biotechnology has reached the stage where dreams can be recorded, and consciousness downloaded into massive databases. This technology creates a star out of Lise, but she is dying, so her consciousness is encoded into a database. Casey is troubled by his knowledge that "she was dead, and I'd let her go. Because, now, she was immortal, and I'd helped get her that way. And because I knew she'd phone me, in the morning"(140). Casey comes to the realisation that the artificial consciousness is no longer any different from human consciousness. After all "the technology is there, so who, man, really who, is to say?"(165). Simulation, in Lise's case, has superseded the original. The simulation is the original, because Lise's body has been cremated, her identity or an approximation of it, is encoded into a database. She will phone him. Who can say it is not real?

Every person's identity changes according to circumstances. The core of identity is the self, the part of an individual that always remains the same. In Gibson's universe, circumstances change so rapidly that a multiplicity of identities is needed to cope. This multiplicity forms the hyperself. The hyperself is a self constructed out of various personas according to need. The self has evaporated; there is nothing at the core of the individual, only personas filling an empty shell.

In 'New Rose Hotel', Fox and Sandii shuffle their identities like packs of cards. Fox is in search of the 'Edge', a new tool to make him perform even better for his chosen corporation, Hosaka. He discovers this Edge in Sandii, discovered in a bar in Yokohama; she is "Eurasian, half gaijin, long hipped and fluid in a Chinese knock-off of some Tokyo designer's original. Dark European eyes, Asian cheekbones"(125). Sandii is like Fox in that she has multiple identities. Her past is never the same, it is a construct cut from a deck of identities: "cut carefully from the scattered deck of [her] past"(130). Sandii is the definition of the hyperself. Even her features typify the hyperself; they seem constructed from the best possible.

Sandii floats into the narrator's life and helps him and Fox defy the expertise of Maas Biolabs GmbH, a multinational corporation, by kidnapping their key genetic engineer for their rival, Hosaka. Then she betrays them, and destroys Hosaka's Edge with a synthesised meningal virus manufactured by Maas. Sandii disappears; she adopts another identity and vanishes into the confusion and decay as Hosaka hunts, a wounded animal screaming for blood. The narrator, safe in his coffin room, can only wonder: "sometimes you just didn't seem real to me. Fox once said you were ectoplasm, a ghost called up by the extremes of economies"(137). This is what Sandii is, a hyperself; who, when examined, is entirely superficial. There is no core beneath the multitude of identities past and present.

This hyperself, while being a consequence of the necessities of Gibson's world, is also a form of resistance. It is a form of resistance because it is the choice of an individual agency. It is the only way to preserve a semblance of individuality in the face of corporate might. It was Sandii's choice to betray her lover and work for Maas against Hosaka; she asserted her individuality, and shuffled her deck of identities and disappeared. She used Fox and the narrator to advance out of her previous existence: "We thought we'd found you, Sandii, fbut really you'd found us. Now I know you were looking for us, or for someone like us . . . looking for a way out"(130). It was her choice; the assertion of her will. Rather than being acted upon, Sandii acts for herself. She makes active and original decisions. This magnesium flare of originality, of Edge, in Gibson's decaying landscape is a resistance to the relentless oppression of the corporations. Sandii was an individual agent. In a similar way, Fox and the narrator are individual agents, part of a whole, but ronin: "We were mutagens, Fox and I, dubious agents adrift on the dark side of the intercorporate sea"(128). Resistance is going with the tide, and working subtle, damaging changes to the composition of the sea.

In a different way, the cyberspace hustlers of 'Burning Chrome' are resisting by subverting their technology and entering cyberspace to steal data. In 'Burning Chrome', Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack cut into Chrome's database; slicing through malevolent black ice with a Russian military icebreaker to insert a program that will remove all her money, giving it to "a dozen world charities. There was too much there to move, and we knew we had to break her, burn her straight down, or she might come after us. We took less than ten percent for ourselves"(217). They are cowboys; it is their job to do this kind of stuff. Gibson's characters in his novels are usually cyberspace hustlers; breaking into huge corporation databases to remove vital information, or to simply, like Bobby, steal money. These corporations are encased by black ice, which is a neural feedback weapon designed to repel or even kill intruders.

Ice (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics) is an example of how real simulation has become. It is real enough to kill. By breaking through Chrome's ice: "They said she cooked her own cancers for people who crossed her, rococo custom variations that took years to kill you"(196), Bobby and Jack are resisting the implication that they cannot do the job, that they don't have the guts to face her ice. They are burglars, thieves, working "for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data". Because they are thieves, they are resisting the status quo, and they do this by adapting the technology created by these corporations and turning it back at them.

In William Gibson's dystopian, fragmented universe of predatory multinational corporations, in the decaying urban infrastructure of Burning Chrome; the concept of identity has been worn away by the relentless bombardment of simulation. The simulation becomes more real than the real and the sense of the original is lost. Because of the loss of the original, there is no longer any distinction between real and artificial. There is no difference between the human consciousness and the simulation of consciousness. In their attempt to resist this supersaturation; individual agencies subvert and adapt the technology that makes the simulations possible for their own ends. Ultimately, individual agency is no match for the corporations; all they can do is to try and survive. These survivors have evolved a hyperself; a multitude of identities to live in this postmodern universe. The hyperself is their attempt to be original; to go against the intercorporate tide, to assert their individuality. After all, it is the multinational corporations, the zaibatsus who are the dominant lifeforms; the individual agent's continued existence depends only on not being caught.


* Baudrillard, Jean. 'The Ecstasy of Communication'. From The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. (ed.) Hal Foster. (Bay Press; Port Townsend, 1983).
* Gibson, William. 'Fragments of a Hologram Rose', 'New Rose Hotel', 'The Winter Market' and 'Burning Chrome'. From Burning Chrome. (HarperCollins; London. 1983).
- Mona Lisa Overdrive. (Grafton; London, 1989).
- Neuromancer. (HarperCollins; London, 1984).
* Gregg, Jane. Tutorial 3. AMST 106; 16/5/95.
* Wilcox, Leonard. AMST 106 Lectures on White Noise and Burning Chrome. From 8/5/95 to 17/5/95.