In lecture yesterday the professor mentioned that Neuromancer is the first truly posthuman text that we’ve read so far in the course, because most of the characters we meet are either cyborgs or entirely artificial. But the text is also transhumanist in its focus on how humanity can be potentially improved from developments in technology.
After lecture I googled “transhumanism” in hopes of finding out more than the nothing I already knew about the subject, and happened to stumble upon the Transhumanist Declaration, a document created by a group of authors (including Nick Bostrom) that outlines the goals of transhumanism. The transhumanists who drafted the Declaration promote the use of technology to better humanity, essentially. The Declaration is listed on the website of Humanity+, which adopted the declaration in 2009; the organization is a nonprofit which claims to “advocate[s] the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities” or, more simply, to help people “be better than well”.
Here’s the link to the Declaration:
I’m particularly interested in the first declaration listed and its relation to the text. It predicts the future human possibility of “overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.” For starters, it’s not a stretch to claim that the world Gibson creates in Neuromancer marks a “profoundly affected” future.
More specifically though, several characters have managed to “overcome age”: Julius Deane avoids death through a series of expensive hormonal treatments that propel him to 135 years of age. Case describes Deane’s mission as a “hedge against aging”, through which he has become “sexless and inhumanly patient”(12). Deane does express a strange obsession with antique items, suggesting his avoidance of aging is more an avoidance of death than a more material concern for appearing “old”. Even the Turing police officers that Case encounters in chapter 13 seem to have had age-enhanced operations: “their youth was counterfeit, marked by a certain telltale corrugation at the knuckles, something the surgeons weren’t able to erase” (153). Both Deane and the police officers embody technology’s capability, in this world, of allowing the organic body to “overcome aging”.
Technological assistance with overcoming “cognitive shortcomings” is perhaps most evident in Armitage’s character. Wintermute “builds [Armitage] from scratch” (195) after Colonel Corto is both physically and psychologically ravaged by war. The result is that a very unstable Corto is masked by the cold, flat Armitage, which gradually decays into a paranoid, mad Corto who can’t distinguish the past from the present. So while Corto-Armitage eventually dies in part for his “cognitive shortcomings”, Wintermute was capable– if only temporarily– to suppress that damage computationally.
The “involuntary suffering” referenced in the Declaration can be seen in Case’s character. Wintermute (kind of) heals the damage to Case’s nervous system that was inflicted upon him after stealing from a former employer. However, this “healing” surgery, as we know, holds Case hostage in his own body, threatening to return to that previous damage should Case defy Wintermute’s orders. Eventually though, all the damage Case has incurred is mended by the end of the novel… and he is free to live the lifestyle he had before the operations (pretty heavy physical and emotional dependence on drugs.)
Overall, I think that transhumanism, and the Transhumanist Declaration specifically, is an interesting lens to look at the novel through.