Post-lectem view on Pattern Recognition 29/40

March 27, 2007 at 7:35 am | Posted in Consumerism, Film, Globalization, Literature | 14 Comments
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Pattern RecignitionSo I’ve finished William Gibson’s Pattern recognition, but felt a bit let down by it in the end. SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read the book yet but intend to read it in the near future you probably should stop reading here.

I immediately liked Gibson’s take on our branded world and the idea of the main character, Cayce Pollard, developing an allergy against brands and labels. In terms of coherence, it didn’t quite make sense to me though why she had developed such an obsession with The Buzz Rickson’s, a Japanese designer version of a classic US Airforce flying jacket. You might say that this critique is beside the point – it probably is, and I probably read this book too much like I’d read a film (btw, have the rights for a film been sold already? must find out), and I very picky about narrative structure. It’s not at all like that that I expect every movie to tell a perfectly linear story – but if a film adopts a fairly conventional style (of cinematography and editing), then I do expect the plot information to be coherent. And PR is also written fairly conventional, hence my expectations towards coherence.

Back to the Buzz Rickson’s: I admit that until 2 minutes ago, I assumed that the Buzz Rickson’s had entirely been made up. It isn’t. How sad. It is available for € 455 from History Preservation Associates, and I really don’t like it. I had made up my own idea idea of a Buzz Rickson’s which had a slight velvety touch and a dark petroleum tint (wherever I got that from). That’s what it looks like:

Buzz Rickson

Cayce’s lack of reaction towards this iconic jacket probably has to do with the fact that it’s a slightly tweaked, Japanese version – Cayce also isn’t allergic to Hello Kitty characters, and this makes sense because branding and culture are related. But other than you’d expect, she feels at home at Starbucks, although Starbucks looks the same and operates the same way anywhere in our globalized world. The character Damien asks her this very question, but Gibson offers no answer to it. You might say I am just nitpicking, but I’m just a bit disappointed because I had expected a certain epiphany or revelation regarding the exact nature of Cayce’s allergy. In the end, the allergy is gone, and Cayce worries briefly whether she’d be able to continue working in her professing, hunting cool, but that’s it for that. No one knows what triggered it, no one knows why it’s gone in the end.

The end of the novel reminded be of what “Robert McKee”, in an impersonation offered by Brian Cox in Adaptation, said about voice-over:

…and God help you if you use voiceover in your work, my friends. God help you! It’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character. You must present the internal conflicts of your character in action.

Gibson’ voice-over are emails. Nobody knows in the end why the character Damien has to be shooting a documentary about a dig in Russia, where drunk fortune-hunters dig out WW2 treasures including a Stuka complete with mummified pilot. I thought the dig’s would have a function there, because the revelation of the identity of ‘the maker’ of the footage takes place in Russia, but Gibson doesn’t make use of Damien in that context. That leaves him with three story lines dangling loose after the revelation: The whereabouts of Damien, of Cayce’s Mom and of Voytek and his sister Magda, but instead of presenting the dénouement in action, all we get is a succession of emails (presented without subject line – I kind of resented that).

In an nutshell: While I enjoyed the read and eagerly followed in the footsteps of the main character through her marketing-imbued conspiracy, I was a but disappointed by the miserly secret that was to be uncovered. After that major build-up in which Gibson heavily drew on snippets of Baudrillard (having Cayce contemplate about Tommy Hilfiger clothes as simulacra of simulacra of simulacra), I was hoping for a bit more meat in the philosophical frying pan. And as conspiracy theories were one of its subtexts, I also hoped for a bringing together of all the plot lines that had been started.

I appreciate Cayce’s view on fashion though, while this might also seem to be completely beyond the point:-) Because she’s allergic to labels, she tries to give herself an ‘un-branded’ look, for instance takes her Levi’s jeans to a workshop to have the brand names on the buttons removed. Last week I went to one of those no-name fashion stores that flourish in suburban industry estates , and while most of the clothing there has the depressing appeal of poverty-chic (clothes that will fall apart in the wash quicker than you average H&M shirt), you can be lucky and find an absolute gem, something that looks completely underground-ish because it is so far removed from the available label styles but costs next to nothing. I bought a very odd looking T with a skull print (nothing special yet) for € 8, but the skulls were transparent (not quite sure whether intended or not) and a bit frillier than the rest, giving it a nice texture, particularly above the boobs;-) I like it particularly on top of a pink long sleeve – must post a picture some time…


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  1. Hast in allen Punkten Recht; ich war auch ziemlich enttäuscht, am Ende, obwohl sowohl das Hauptmotiv, die Clip-Schnitzeljagd, als auch die Hauptfigur Cayce mir doch sofort sehr sympathisch waren. Because she’s a Punk. Die haben nämlich nichts anderes gehabt: Eine Zeichenallergie, insbesondere was hegemoniale Zeichen angeht; Labels wegratschen, -reißen, rubbeln haben die Punks der ersten Generation übrigens auch schon praktiziert. Insofern auch nichts Neues. Als nächstes im gleichen Genre kommt übrigens “Logoland” von Max Barry dran.

  2. Dann nehme ich mir das gleich vor! Seit neuestem lese ich nämlich wieder:-) Übrigens schrieb Jetsam drüben vor einer Weile was über eine Kampagne von Nine Inch Nails, die eben die Footage Methode verwendet:

  3. Iam amazed at your writing abilities after day, you come out with these pieces..and all of them are so well written and thought out..And Iam sure this is not the only thing you do in your day!!!

  4. Thank you:-) No, it isn’t the only thing i do (I actually got a full time job), but 1) I am a multi tasker and 2) I don’t really have a life in this provincial dump where I live:-) Hence the need to get away…

  5. This is Jetsam’s department, but I do think the rights for a film version have been sold and it may already be in production? I’m struck by the way the jacket looks nothing like what I had imagined, something more traditionally bomber-jacketish, I guess. I like Dark Petroleum. That’s good. If you’re not careful, someone will make it.

    I think the documentary in Russia is concerned with the commodification of history, the use of the dead as divorced image–a kind of metaphor for the failed project of controlling one’s signs. Drunk fortune-hunting also seems like a kind of consumption of history. Shooting the documentary is like watching shoppers at the mall. Simulacra (like in the Vietnam-themed bar) is a form of looting the dead. This fits the thematic concerns of the novel even if, as you point out, it doesn’t get us any closer to discovering “the maker.” I read the footage as a kind of antithesis to the documentary. The footage lacks historical tags. It’s more Levinas unknowability than Baudrillard simulacra. Maybe?

  6. Just another quick thought: PR is also concerned, I think, with what will become of 9/11’s history and signs. The Russian documentary is relevant here, too. There’s something elegiac about the whole proceedings.

  7. Yeah, I see that point. But it also makes me realize how estranged from hermeneutic interpretations I have become and how much my focus has shifted to narratology (in the limited, ideological sense of ‘Good story telling’).

    I suppose that is a byproduct of teaching five storytelling seminars at the time (three about digitalstory telling – which are coming out nicely – and two about creative writing for film, a.k.a. Developing story ideas for feature films, which is about to kick off now). You could also say that another byproduct of this is a decreased appreciation for metaphor = bourgeois play of signifiers.

    My own statements make me think of something that an early critic (around 1910) wrote about film. Something about the heavy, bloody broth that (then) contemporary audiences need (as opposed to bourgeois art). Need to look that up.

    But it’s true: I _liked_ the ‘scenes’ from the dig – I liked their memento mori appeal, but hoped that they’d be integrated, in order to be more than just intellectual décor, to be decoded by a few blessed ones.

  8. I would be VERY interested to learn who wrote about the heavy blood broth–sounds (smells?) like naturalism territory. In fact naturalism and film is an area I need to look into, perhaps with a little help from friends. 🙂

    Damn, I want to chat about narratology but am being summoned to dinner. Real quick: Years of programming have degraded my narratological appreciation (though sometimes I can sneak a thrill under the radar). Frankly, I think Adorno may be to blame, or thank, or both.

  9. I’ll look it up for you, promise! It will be in German, but I’ll try to translate. And Jetsam will also be able to help.

    Don’t open this link, it’s a virus (a mental one):

    I just wasted half an hour of my life with it. My record is 28.

  10. I just killed 5 kittens trying to figure out if it’s a joke about “curiosity killing the cat.” Is there a similar expression in German?

    There’s a bit in the Beatles Yellow submarine (which I watched ad nauseaum as a bored 14 year old video store clerk) where one of the beatles asks Ringo, I think, why he pulled a particular lever. His response: “I’m a born lever puller.” I appear to be a born hotlinker.

  11. Thank you, by the way, for trying to hunt down the quote and the possible translation! :))

  12. No, there isn’t something that brings together curiosity and cats. You can only burst with curiosity (vor Neugier platzen).

    What’s a hotlinker?

  13. hotlinker is my confusion about hotlinkt. I thought it was a word for hyperlink. Guess not. (The sheepish American shuffles his feet, looks embarassed).

  14. maybe its IS a term for hyperlink? I’ve never heard the word myself:-) Or did you mix up hotspot and hyperlink? hotspot is a type of hyperlink, but out of fashion these days. It means that different parts of an image link to different places. sometimes one can only find these hotspots through hovering the mouse over the image.

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