UnDefinable

Cayce’s London experience in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition largely reflects a google-deep-dive. She starts out looking for something mundane —a cup of coffee from Starbucks— and finds something unexpected —finding a secret unveiling network set on outing her underground footage cult following. Instead of clicking links, she seems to follow men who lead her to new places throughout London. They lead her passively to her goal, though almost no effort of her own. However, she follows the one rule of browsing, or google-deep-diving: “being willing to ask the next question” (32). She does not turn back until she has found something remotely interesting. She starts with a cup of coffee, which leads her to the Portobello market where she meets Voytek Biroshark, who introduces her to the archaic ZX 81 computers. Later, Voytek introduces her to his sister, Magda, who then reveals to Cayce the supposed conflict of the novel: someone is trying to expose the underground footage. Gibson even drives Cayce’s passivity home when she pulled from her apartment to another bowsing fiasco when she is invited to a business-dinner by Bernard Stonestreet who connects her again to Hubertus Bigend, who gives her a business proposition to find the maker of the footage. 

She only discovers the city and the conflict by happenstance; she is not seeking it, but instead happens upon it. This passivity seems to permeate her very being, with her phobia of labels and supposed defiance of fashion. However, that defiance is the downfall of her passivity. She definitely attempts to be undefinable by her clothing, selecting grey and blacks that are supposedly “period versatile.” However, it is literally impossible to be “timeless” or “fashion-less.” From makeup, to haircuts, to material, to dye, to cuts, to ensembles: there will always be something distinct to a certain time period.

This book is set in 2002 when military fashion was making a huge comeback. The best example is the introduction of cargo pants and cameo into female fashion. Both cargo pants and cameo are distinctly military. Her devotion to her Buzz Rickson’s jacket is simply a roundabout way of wearing military style. She claims her wardrobe is “design-free,” but the very jacket she cherished was the product of endless design hours (8). In addition, the outfit she wears to the business dinner is very reminiscent of 2000s fashion. A black slit tube skirt made of jersey fabric screams early 2000s, when jersey came into fashion and maxi-skirts became the norm. She then pairs it with black tights, a clearly dated look. I would have worn that exact pairing as a middle schooler in 2007. However, the dead giveaway in this look is that the skirt “rides her hips nicely” (51). Low waistlines have only been in fashion during the late 90s to early 2000s and the 1920s, when the waist would not have hugged her hips at all, but instead would create a boxy boyish figure. The low waist combined with the tight jersey material pegs her in the 2000s. She is so focused on being “timeless,” however modern fashion has passively entered her life undetected. She seems unable to escape the constant passivity as she is not only pulled through a new city by strange men, but also unable to devoid herself from the industry she is allergic too. She so desperately wants to be free of labels and fashion trends that she considers passivity as her distinguishing attribute and talent. 

Why does she have to be passive? It seems that the only way for her to find the seemingly passively posted footage is to be passive herself. The footage, unlike Cayce, appears to be timeless, seeing as we rarely get a description and there are only small, cinematic clips to pull from. She is obsessed with an “undefinable” perfection she could not possibly obtain. Passivity is as close as she can get to indescribable excellence, as she drifts through the city like the footage drifts through the web.

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