Symbols and the Soul: Hyperreality, Dissensus, and Sacred Humanism in William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
MacDonald, (Kathleen) Grace
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In his 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson explores the potential for humanizing change in the post-9/11, globalized world. This thesis will first argue that Pattern Recognition depicts a dehumanizing version of Jean Baudrillard’s “hyperreal” where people are reduced either to workers or consumers as their bodies integrate with mass-produced machinery and simulated, commodity-based identities. The culmination of this dehumanization can be seen in events like those of September 11, 2001 (9/11) where people are killed for symbolic effect. Pattern Recognition imagines how the outcomes of violence could provoke a response against dehumanizing global capitalism. I will then argue that Pattern Recognition’s fictional phenomenon “the footage” is a conceptualization of 9/11 as a moment of dissensus. Gibson uses religious language to describe both the footage and its followers, suggesting that the footage has spiritual power in Pattern Recognition’s technologized and globalized landscape. This thesis will use this idea of “sacred humanism” to explain how Pattern Recognition imagines that the novel’s political moment (2002-2003) could spark a humanizing change in contemporary culture.