Friday, April 4, 2008

Supply, Demand & Desire

Today's lecture on William Gibson can perhaps be summed up by the literary question, How are we to understand the character Rei Toei, the idoru?

At the start of All Tomorrow's Parties it is said that "....she doesn't exist .... she's code. Software....Hundred percent unreal" (ch.21, p.82,) and by the conclusion she is not only real -- but the Absolute reality, chapter 68 "The Absolute at Large."

Rei Toei, then, is the incarnation of those universal forces that the text calls variously the Tao, the clockwork universe, the nodal point of history. Heavy stuff, to be sure, like the good science fiction that it is, but what is this doing in terms of fiction?

To answer this, lecture presented All Tomorrow's Parties in its aspect of satire, and identified Capitalism in our own day and age as the satirical target. However, evidence of Gibson's artistic merit as a novelist, the satire is not dismissive of Capitalism tout court, but rather targets certain of Capitalism's vices, while presenting some capitalist features in favourable aspect.

This non-extremism, or non-fundamentalism, regarding Capitalism is a feature which marks Gibson as a dialogistic author: creating a text which presents a dialogue between alternative conceptions through a heteroglossia -- a multiplicity of voices -- and thereby leave the final judgement upto the reader; allowing the reader to participate in the creation of the future.

This is in opposition to didactic texts, which have their minds made up; present the Good and the Bad already determined; thus compelling the reader to accept the narrator's moral position or be branded as among the Bad.

So, how does Rei Toei function in Gibson's satire? Capitalism can be described as a system which enables people to freely exchange money for goods or services that satisfy particular desires. Capitalism, then, assumes (a.) that people have desires, and (b.) that they will pay to have their desires satified. So, Rei Toei is described as being " amplified reflection of desire" ch.39, p.198.) She is, that is to say, in Capitalist terms, a Supply. Gibson expresses the supply function, in his novel, in terms of Say's Law, which, in a rough generalisation, says that "Supply creates its own demand." in other words, demand follows supply. This doctrine is put, in All Tomorrow's Parties, into the mouth of Tessa, who replies to Chevette's remark Rei Toei's kind of perfection " what people want," with this firm statement of Say's Law:'ve got it exactly backwards. People don't know what they want, not before they see it. Every object of desire is a found object (ch.15, p.82.)
Here, then, Gibson is treating in fiction the commodification aspect of Capitalism: the way that it turns values into commodities -- goods or services to be sold and bought. In this formulation, each good and service is an "object of desire." Thus, the Capitalist sequence is,
  1. A human desire.
  2. A capitalist's supply of an object of that desire: a commodity.
  3. A capitalist buyers' demand and provision of money for, and consumption of, that object.
All Tomorrow's Parties resists wholesale belittlement of this sequence, because, it was argued in lecture, the condemnation of people gratifying their desires is a form of Puritanism: those people who apply moral censure to desires and their fulfillment are said, in our culture, to be Puritanical; moralistic; Fundamentalist. William Gibson's background in the expressive nineteen sixties makes him very resistant to moral condemnation of free expression of will and desire.

In Wednesday's lecture upcoming we will see what aspects of Capitalism are being satirised in Gibson's gloriously polyphonic novel, and more of what his posthuman dystopia-utopia looks like.

No comments: