Blog Post

Event! The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900

I will be attending this conference February 18-20, 2010. Here's the link to the HASTAC events calendar

The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 is a forum that "addresses literary works published since 1900, and/or their relationship with other Arts and disciplines (film, journalism, opera, music, pop culture, painting, architecture, law, etc)."

I will be presenting a paper entitled: "Fashion as Infection: Trauma and Capital in William Gibsons Pattern Recognition." 

Fashion, in William Gibsons Pattern Recognition, is an infection. Gibson takes up viral marketing at two scales: its acute distillation and distribution at the level of the individual, and its cascading effects as a social contagion at the level of the collective. At both of these scales, the novel raises new issues about consumer capitalism and the marketing of fashion within the context of the post-traumatic, and specifically post-9/11, climate of the early 2000s. Premediation, a concept developed by Richard Grusin to describe media practices today, is a cumulative practice of reporting on what might happen and that by amassing potential futures we attempt to assure ourselves that we will never be caught unawares as we were in 2001.[1] By putting Gibsons text in conversation with Grusins concept, I will thematize fashion as a state of chronic infection that is continually defined by market futurity solely within the space of the collective. Maintaining the status quo of anticipation in the marketplace, as seen throughout Gibsons text, is based on a perpetually deferred sense of fulfillment about the future, and, therefore, a reliance on there always being the capacity for future re-generation, or re-infection, of fashion at the global scale.

Embodying the theme of contagious capitalism, Gibsons protagonist, Cayce, has visceral allergic reactions to fashion commodities, and the further commoditized the object is, the stronger her reaction. By the novels end, however, Cayce has lost her allergy through a series of events that both expose her traumatic past and reveal her uncanny relationship with a known future. The cessation of Cayces allergy is the result of the shock associated with seeing a future she predicted become the present moment. It is an act that short-circuits, or relieves her of the need for, her intuitive abilitieseven as this relief removes her from her place in the market. Cayces experience is a final case study of the individuals participation in the market, and provides a valuable opportunity to ask questions of the broader implications of post-traumatic viral marketing at the level of the collective. How and why has the individuals role in the context of viral marketing run its course? What opportunities, if any, are there for the larger collective to be cured of the infection of fashion similarly to Cayce? What is the relationship between the collective and a fashionable object in such a market situation?

Previous critical views of Cayces allergy, which include Lauren Berlant, Fredric Jameson, John Marx, John Johnston, and Alex Link, focus on chemical or psychoanalytic explanations for its cessation. My emphasis on viral modeling and market futurity, however, shows the disappearance of her allergy to be connected to her participation in a public network and is therefore part of a tripartite relationship between anticipation, infection, and connectivity. Applying this relationship to the collective, therefore, gives us a framework in which to interrogate how the infection of fashion takes shape at this larger scale and what implications it raises in the post-traumatic global economy.

Drawing on concepts from Richard Grusin, Nigel Thrift, Paolo Virno, Gilles Lipovetsky, and Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker to address the infection of fashion today, I will show that the success of viral marketing is based on a contemporary drive toward any number of possible futures, none of which ever seem to arrive, and collectively we hope never do. Citing the traumatic events of 9/11 as its turning point, Gibsons text marks the end of the individual in the viral marketplace. Fashion is no longer accessible at the level of individual, but is generated from collective patterns and emergent viral events with rates of infection now at the global scale and already being marketed.


[1] Grusin, Richard. Premediation. Criticism 46 (2004): 23, emphasis added.


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