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  • Global War, Global Capital, and the Work of Art in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
  • Alex Link (bio)

Published in February 2003, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition situates the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in a broader twentieth-century narrative of massive capitalist expansion inextricably yoked to repressed and traumatic violence. With the city's transformation into a global entity violence. With the city's transformation into a global entity come acts of symbolic violence in a global theater, true, but the novel pairs the demolition of the World Trade Center with acts of artistic expression that, drawing upon Michel de Certeau's definition of the term, we might equally call "tactical". Terrorist violence and artistic expression, as the novel understands them, are tactical. They operate in the field of an ostensibly greater power, and they borrow from and/or transform that power by using opportunistic, improvised, and temporary measures (Certeau 37). In this regard, the destruction of the World Trade Center, as Alex Wetmore observes, is more than a "sign that the Foucaultian perspective on surveillance culture has been undermined" with the destruction of the prospect that opens Certeau's seminal "Walking in the City" (77). At the very least, it suggests that tactical resistance can occur on scales Certeau seems to fail to imagine as he writes of folk songs and creative flânerie. Even so, Pattern Recognition, as we shall see, comes to Certeau's defense in its representation of the interrelation of the production of independent works of art, of a global brand culture rooted in anxiety, and of the post–September 11 sphere of global politics. It does so by suggesting the possibility of grounding community, and of rewriting culture, through the reappropriation of globalization's castoffs. [End Page 209]

Pattern Recognition's plot is as elaborate as that of any espionage novel. Our protagonist is Cayce Pollard, a professional "cool-hunter" (2) or detector of emerging trends and subcultures, who has the innate ability to recognize successful logos. She also has a deep enthusiasm for something called "the footage," enigmatic and powerful film clips that appear sporadically and anonymously on the Web, and she thinks of F:F:F (Fetish:Footage:Forum [3]), the Web forum devoted to it, as her home. Her love for the footage, coupled with her skill/allergy/phobia with respect to logos, brings her to the attention of Hubertus Bigend, head of an international marketing company. Sensing a powerful marketing tool, he hires Cayce to discover the makers of the footage, while the makers' funder hires corporate spy Dorotea Benedetti to dissuade her. Cayce's hunt is paralleled with the work of her father, Win, a cold war secret agent who vanished in the World Trade Center disaster. As her adventure takes her from London to Tokyo to Moscow, she finds herself dismayed by and complicitous with exploitative processes of globalization that Bigend's company seems to be hastening along. The makers of the footage, whom she finds in Moscow, are twin sisters—Stella, the distributor, and Nora, the creator, a catatonic woman with a T-shaped fragment of a Claymore land mine lodged in her brain. The footage, we find, is surveillance footage gathered from throughout Moscow that Nora cuts, assembles, and splices.

The connection between the footage and the September 11 disaster, in the context of a twentieth-century history of global hostility, is clear. Cayce discovers the footage in Moscow, the place that was once her spy father's responsibility, and returns with an aesthetic boon, in partial recompense for his symbolic failure to prevent the disaster. Furthermore, the North and South Twin Towers, with T-shaped airplanes lodged in their structures, are clearly echoed in the makers of the footage, twin "two hers" whose initials are N and S, one of whom has been traumatized by a T-shaped object. This parallel is, in part, a tentative answer to the call made by Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, and others for an integration of " 'globalization' and 'the body'" (Harvey 15). In a hopeful gesture, rather than depicting travel into ever-wider arenas, Pattern Recognition takes us further and further inward, from global travel and considerations of...


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pp. 209-231
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