Spiritualism and the Occult in Relation to Neuromancer

While reading Neuromancer, I was repeatedly introduced to new concepts and ideas. However, with each new concept I was introduced to I kept hitting the same brick wall over and over – familiarity. The concepts and ideas in and of themselves were new and unique, but as I read on I kept getting a feeling of familiarity… a sense that I’ve heard of this before, this may seem foreign and drastic on one level but on a core level this isn’t entirely new. So then I began to question, if some of this stuff feels familiar, where did it come from? My instinctual response was the 1960s and 70s with the drug culture and all. What I found though was that the possible root could be traced further back.

The concepts introduced by Gibson in Neuromancer could possibly have evolved from systems of thought like the Occult and Spiritualism of previous eras. Neuromancer could be a composition of old concepts merged with imagined new technology, inspired by the emergence of the computer in the 1980s.

This article, http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/religion/spirit.html, provides a brief depiction of Spiritualism in the Victorian era.

“Spiritualism, the belief that the dead communicate with the living, became a fad throughout America and Europe during the 1850s… Although the Victorian era is often associated with scientific and technological progress, many Victorians were prone to the paranormal, supernatural and occult, of which the most popular forms in the late Victorian period included mesmerism, clairvoyance, electro-biology, crystal-gazing, thought-reading, and above all, Spiritualism… In the 1860s, Spiritualism became part of Victorian subculture with its mediums, specialist newspapers, pamphlets, treatises, societies, private and public séances which included table rapping, table tipping, automatic writing, levitation, and other communications with spirits.”

During this time period, society has a deep fascination with the spirit world and a growing curiosity about it.

A blog I found, https://steampunkopera.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/los-angeles-and-the-1920s-occult-explosion/, talked about the presence of the Occult in Los Angeles during the 1920s through the 1940s.

“The Victorian Era started the ball rolling with Spiritualism, Theosophy and The Golden Dawn. Between these, all the concepts that would grow and be experimented with through the 20th century emerged: mediuimship/channeling, clairovoyance, astral projection, astrology, mixtures of eastern and western religious concepts, past lives, ceremonial magick, cabalic esotericism for non Jews, the list is endless.”

Throughout different spurts in history, whether it be during the Victorian era or the Roaring Twenties or the Counterculture of the Sixties, certain elements of Spiritualism and the Occult emerge. While Neuromancer is a Cyberpunk Science Fiction novel that synthesizes the modern day technological developments with futuristic ideas, I think there is a possible overlapping of technology with the spirit world and various concepts of Spiritualism.

Some of the parallels I noticed throughout the book were:

“The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of sound and color…. She was moving through a crowded street, past stalls vending discount software, prices feltpenned on sheets of plastic, fragments of music from countless speakers. Smells of urine, free monomers, perfume, patties of frying krill. For a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes.” (Ch. 4, approx. pg. 56)

“Case hit the simstim switch. And flipped into the agony of broken bone. Molly was braced against the blank gray wall of a long corridor, her breath coming ragged and uneven. Case was back in the matrix instantly, a white-hot line of pain fading in his left thigh.” (Ch. 4, approx. pg. 64)

The first passage is describing Case and Molly’s first experience using the simstim technology which allows him to experience her perspective. I thought this was something similar to channeling. His consciousness is able to connect with hers through technology, and then he can tap into her perspective at the flip of a switch. The second passage was interesting because it shows how the technology of the simstim turns Case into an empath. The simstim creates a connection between Case and Molly, which then enables him to feel the sensations present within Molly’s body, be that a good or bad thing.

            “For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.” (Ch.1, approx. pg.6)

This passage from the beginning of the book describes “jacking in” to cyberspace as a way of escaping one’s body, which is viewed as a prison of sorts. There is are distinct difference throughout the book between the physical, fleshy body that lives in reality versus the consciousness which can exist in cyberspace. I thought this could be paralleled with the Spiritualist concept of astral projection. The basic idea of astral projection is for one’s consciousness to leave the body and travel the astral plane. There is a similar underlying idea of being free from one’s body, as well as similarities between cyberspace and the astral realm.

            “‘How you doing, Dixie?’

‘I’m dead, Case. Got enough time in on this Hosaka to figure that one.’

‘How’s it feel?’

‘It doesn’t.’

‘Bother you?’

‘What bothers me is, nothin’ does.’

When the construct laughed, it came through as something else, not laughter, but a stab of cold down Case’s spine. ‘Do me a favor, boy… This scam of yours, when it’s over, you erase this goddam thing.’” (Ch. 8, approx. pg. 105-106)

This passage is a conversation that occurs between Case and Dixie Flatline. Dixie is dead, but he exists in Cyberspace as a construct. His consciousness was recorded before his death and now lives on a ROM, which contains his knowledge and memories. I thought this dynamic of consciousness being recorded and existing as a construct in Cyberspace reflected the Spiritualist train of thought regarding ghosts and the interaction of the physical world with the spirit world.


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