Mona Lisa Overdrive: A brief review

With Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson finishes his trilogy while neglecting half of the themes which occupied the previous books of his series.  This is not a bad thing.  It kept Mona Lisa Overdrive from being like Neuromancer, and that is an achievement.  However, it also kept it from being like Count Zero.

It is clear by now, I think, that Gibson directs his primary focus upon socio-economics rather than upon any sort of examination of man qua man.  In the first book of the trilogy, the investigation bled over into that domain.  In the second, this overzealousness was mostly corrected.  Even so, it is clear to me now that bad faith in the Gibson universe is not a reaction to one’s status as human.  Instead, it is an affliction which is contingent upon socio-economic facts.  It arises, at least primarily, in the despondency of the poor.

That isn’t exactly fair though.  Bad faith is fundamentally a misapprehension of the self as an object.  In Neuromancer, people are objects.  Therefore there is no misapprehension.  In Count Zero, there is a definite possibility that people are objects, but the question is ambiguous.  The book even hints at an optimistic answer.  In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the question is never even framed.  Gone is the narrator’s insistence that certain types of people aren’t people.  Perhaps the theme was simply rendered in more subtlety, expressed through the personification of the non-human entity known as Colin.  By treating an inhuman entity as human, one degrades the concept of humanity.  I’m inclined to believe this element was not designed to serve that purpose.

The eponymous heroine of the novel is where Gibson invests most of his thematic focus.  She is poor, a drug addict, existing outside the system.  Drugs are a means for escape.  So is media.  When circumstances collude in just the right fashion, she finds herself given the opportunity to assume the identity of her favorite starlet.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that the full implications of this spell death for her.  Or rather, she does.  In fact, that’s what makes the whole thing work.

But this sort of question lacks the purity of Gibson’s earlier questions.  It also demonstrates his persistent ability to phrase his questions in contexts that don’t work.  In order to suggest that bad faith stems from the conditions Gibson describes, it seems necessary to deny agency is some way.  Sartre himself didn’t seem to understand this, so perhaps it can be forgiven.  Bad faith cannot be a form of facticity, however, by its very nature.  Therefore even the best depiction of it can be ruined, simply by attributing it to the wrong etiology.

What else is there to say?  There are some creative examinations of characters, but for the most part the focus is upon culture and not upon individuals.  Gibson has a very top-down approach to storytelling.  Sometimes it has served him poorly, other times well.  The way Gibson documents culture is certainly laudable.  In Mona Lisa Overdrive, his characters are not harmed by the focus, but they are also not developed.  From Angie to Mona to Slick, each character is defined primarily by their association with certain social structures.  This isn’t done to the exclusion of their individual humanity, so a significant problem is avoided.  It does seem a bit one sided though.  It makes the world seem larger than the characters.  Perhaps that’s fine, but it didn’t engage me nearly as much as Count Zero.

The religious elements are about as ridiculous as usual, not because religion is ridiculous but because it is ridiculous in this context.  Perhaps that’s the point.  But then, the point would seem to be linguistic.  Language philosophy is all talk anyways.  More trouble than it ought to be, and for far fewer substantive conclusions.  It also corresponds to a deflationary cosmology.  Yet if attempting deflation is ridiculous on its face, why do it?  I don’t see the point in modelling religion in this way.  Unless the entire series was meant to be sarcastic.  I doubt it.

So yeah.  Neuromancer offended me, Count Zero enthralled me, and Mona Lisa Overdrive filled me with indifference.  It was infinitely better spectacle than Neuromancer, but spectacle alone doesn’t do it for me.

~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on January 12, 2010.

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