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The Language of the Neuromancer

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The Language of The Neuromancer

According to A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, formalistic approach represents "an approach with methodology, with a history, with practitioners and with some detractors" (73). "When all the words, phrases, metaphors, images, and symbols and examined in terms of each other and of the whole, any literary text worth our efforts will display its own internal logic" (75). However, peculiarity of language use remains one of the most prevalent aspects of the formalistic approach in literature.

"The sky above the port was the color of television tuned into a dead channel" (3).

Opening the novel with the use of such extravagant language, the author sets an ambiance for an intriguing and intricate proceeding plot. Using surrealistic language that starts with heavy-duty terminology and bizarre coding, to names of places that have dubious and ambiguous meaning, to characters' names that Gibson uses in his cyberpunk novel, the author exposes the reader to a number of different nationalities and words derived from foreign languages that pertain to events of the modern world. Gibson talks about the Russian military prosthesis, the East European steel teeth of Ratz's, the Chinese "nerve splicing," the Japanese "Sarariman" or the English slang for "suit," the Australian bellowing, the French "flechettes," the Jamaican Rustafarian culture, the Turkish settings, which proceeds in an on-going concoction of terminology. This concept leads to the perception that incorporation and interrelation of mixed and diverse cultures through the use of different languages represents a stronghold for the creation of the entire world as one big cosmopolitan society.

Describing the color of the sky and the TV, and the port in the very beginning of the novel, the reader senses that hard core science fiction conveyed through technical language prevails in the novel. "Dermatrodes" are the electrodes that plug on the derma, meaning skin; a "mandala" represents a circular and symmetrical Buddhist symbol; "cyborg" describes a cybernetic organism that is part man, part machine. Apparently, the "Sprawl" represents the key word in this cyber-punk novel as it encompasses the entire science fiction world that Gibson depicts. Perhaps, "sprawl" defines a new civilization and society where the world's population exceeds the territory available, as it is the case with Japan's situation with overpopulation today.

As the cyberpunk novel's plot becomes more tangled the question of who stands behind all the action and intricate plot keeps re-occurring. As inconspicuous about the answer as the author might seem, all one has to do in order to find out is analyze and interpret the names of the characters. Once again, language dominates even the most important role in this novel - the revelation since language holds the solution itself. All of the names contain some crucial information to the plot. Henry Dorsett Case is the protagonist of "Neuromancer," a twenty-four year old cyberspace cowboy whose nervous system has been junked with wartime Mycotoxin. Case's name has a dubious meaning. The author could be alluding to a case as an object that can be used for storage of Case's brain or a "case" could simply refer to a functional defection, or stated in a contemporary expression - a mental case. Case also appears under different names for instance, Charles Derek May is the name on his Mitsubishi Bank Chip, Truman Star the name on his passport, and the Panther Moderns refer to him as Cutter. By the same pattern, Ratz's name could be originating from the slang "rats," suggesting that Ratz must be spoiled and unfortunate. Perhaps, his ugliness of his unnatural fusion of stainless steel teeth on his jaws proves Ratz's "spoiled" and "unfortunate" nature. On the other hand, Gibson might have borrowed Molly's name from a secret association called "Molly Maguires" which according to the on-line dictionary was "formed among the tenantry in Ireland about 1843, principally for the purpose of intimidating law officers and preventing the service of legal writs and whose members disguised themselves in the dress of women. [Also, "Molly" is] a member of a similar association of Irishmen organized in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania, about 1854, for the purpose of intimidating employers and officers of the law, and for avenging themselves by murder on persons obnoxious to them." Molly also, assumes a nickname of a "working girl" - slang for a prostitute. Just as significant are the interpretations of Armitage and Dixie Flatline's names. Armitage perhaps reflects the harmful meaning of arms. Dixie Flatline signifies the flatline on the intensive-care room monitor - an implication of death.

By far the most complex and conspicuous nickname is Wintermute. Being the twin or the alternate-self of the Neuromancer, Wintermute's name connotes both to a cold-natured being (the prefix "winter") and an everlasting silence and secretiveness (the suffix "-mute"). The word "neuromancer" itself consists of two compounds: 'neuro' stands for nerves and artificial intelligence, and 'mancer' stands for a magician and romance. Yet, "Neuromancer" might be Gibson's mere speculation about Case's "quality" as a computer "hacker" who disrupts the social order by throwing virus programs into society, thus causing chaos in the world. Nonetheless, using the "neuromancer" as a pun, the author could be alluding to the "Necromancer" in Goethe's "Faust," which means a magician dealing in evil spirits and death.

Apparently, peculiarity and the use of surrealistic language determine the conceit and revelation of the novel's plot. However, contemplating about the future of science fiction and cyberpunk literature, it is probable that humans will not be capable of deciphering the language without the use of additional help sources. Rather, science fiction's predisposition of becoming an unintelligible puzzle of words increases on a daily basis.

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