Some dissertation-related news. I’m going to be on a panel dedicated to William Gibson at this year’s ALA conference. My paper, based on the trendspotter chapter of my dissertation, is on Pattern Recognition.
Title: The Brand as Cognitive Map in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition
This paper analyzes the figure of the coolhunter in William Gibson’s eighth novel, Pattern Recognition, and argues that Gibson uses literary style toward an ethical end: to invite his readers to embrace the ethos of the coolhunter. Modeled on but not identical to Cayce Pollard’s “violent reactivity to the semiotics of the marketplace,” Gibson’s proposed coolhunting ethos treats the brand name as a cognitive map of the multinational economic supply chains that underlie the glossy surface of the brand.
The need for such a mapping exists because, across many industries, the brand has been transformed from a way of marking cattle or insuring product quality into a piece of intellectual property valuable in and of itself. As brand ownership and the cultural dimensions of economic life have become more profitable, multinational corporations have increasingly outsourced less profitable areas of production overseas. Consequently, the connection between any particular brand and the supply chains supporting that brand are concealed within a global maze of anonymous subcontractors.
Gibson’s coolhunting aesthetic seeks to transform the reader’s relationship to the “logo-maze,” to reconnect the free-floating brand to the hidden supply chains that make brands profitable in the first place. I relate this project of relinking to what Bruce Robbins has called the “sweatshop sublime” and to popular notions of ethical consumption. Ethical consumer movements have sought to embed a concern for invidious “externalities”—such as the abuse of factory workers and environmental destruction—into the endogenous preferences of the individual consumer, usually through the medium of price. I argue that Gibson’s coolhunter is a modified type of ethical consumer, a figure able to map economic systems onto personal meanings as meanings, turning the behavior of the market not into a more just price point at the shopping mall but rather into a new aesthetic sensibility.