AI and Art in Count Zero: A Formulation of the Postmodern

Patrick Nagle '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

In William Gibson's Count Zero, mysterious boxes of incredible beauty spark the interest of a disembodied corporate mogul. He sends a disgraced art dealer, Marly, to find the source of these works. Marly finally meets the artist, an AI, in the abandoned core of the Tessier-Ashpool complex, where she learns the boxes' secret:

Once, for a brilliant time, time without duration, I was everywhere as well . . . But the bright time broke. The mirror was flawed. Now I am only one . . . But I have my song, and you have heard it. I sing with these things that float around me, fragments of the family that funded my birth. Vain, the scattered fragments of myself, like children. Like men. They send me new things, but I prefer the old things. Perhaps I do their bidding. They plot with men, my other selves, and men imagine they are gods. . . .

And later in the same exchange:

— My songs are of time and distance. The sadness is in you. Watch my arms. There is only the distance. These things you treasure are shells. I — I knew that. Once. . . .

[S]omeone brought the machine here, welded it to the dome, and wired it to the traces of memory And spilled, somehow, all the worn sad evidence of a family's humanity, and left it all to be stirred, to be sorted by a poet. [226,227]

Elements of this dialogue closely parallel Frederic Jameson's argument in "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" that postmodern culture (defined by its position in late or global capitalism) arises from the fragmentation and deconstruction of the modernist ego. He contends that pastiche, "speech in a dead language," parody without irony, is the dominant cultural formation of postmodernism as a result of this instability of self as a stable referent.


How do the grammatical structure and diction of the passage emphasize the AI's disjunction?

How does the passage undermine the traditional narrative of art as the product of individual genius?

In light of Jameson's observations, how is it significant that the AI's assemblages take on the form of Joseph Cornell's?

How does the AI's art relate to the Tessier-Ashpool clan, especially in terms of combinatory art instead of art as a product of unique creation? ?

Referring to Amity Kurt's "Of Cockatoos and Corks," how is the AI's art consistent with the cultural environment of the Sprawl? ?

Is Virek's quest for eternal life through the AI futile? ?


Gibson, William Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Jameson, Frederic. "The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism." Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke University Press, 1991.

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Last modified 17 September 2006