This is not my first time reading Idoru, but it is the first time I have read it with an eye toward the techno-orientalist characteristics. Of course, I noticed from a past reading the settings in Tokyo and San Francisco, the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the characters, and the relatively near-future technological advances (Rei Toei being primary, of course). I had not thought, however, about some of the implications of these qualities of Gibson’s novel. For example, the representation of culture fetishism (by both Eastern and Western characters), the distinctly “Eastern” representations (such as Mitsuko’s pc (117), or the tiny bar Laney, Blackwell and Yamazaki end the interview in (90)), and the alien (gaijin) experience reinforced by jet lag (as also portrayed in Lost in Translation).
What I think intrigues me most about the novel at this point is Gibson’s recreation of the alien experience for westerners in Japan. Especially in Tokyo, the cultural dislocation can be jarring. The experience is compounded by jet lag, and represented in the novel through jumbled and juxtaposed narration. Laney’s experience reflects this state of mind very well. In addition to narrative techniques, Gibson also utilizes shorthand Western depictions of the East which can be read as following in the Orientalist tropes used for generations. I might also argue that Gibson has minutely examined pop-cultural and technological progression-arcs, and that these were distilled into the novel in convenient bits. There can be little argument about otaku, holographic “celebrities,” robot helpers, and other manner of pop-culture that have come to fruition in Japan.
So then, what are the implications as to the techno-orientalist standpoint? I think that although Gibson made efforts toward representing many of his characters in fully-fleshed-out form, some underlying assumptions should be examined. For one thing, although Tokyo is very populace, and could be argued the cultural center of Japan, it is not the totality of the culture. In addition, the idea that Japan originates much of the technology apparent in the novel follows along with orientalist tropes which have existed since at least the 19th century in North America. We know today that although Japanese companies still produce many advances, their economy and population growth have stagnated since the 1990’s, and also that many technological advances still come out of many other countries. How much these representations are convenient fiction shorthand, and how much they are implicit acceptance of the tropes needs to be explored.
The novel could also be read as an examination of othering for all of the characters:
Blackwell by his violent past,
Chia by her vastly unprepared experience
Zona by her disability
Laney by his ability / social ineptitude
Yamazaki by his study
Mitsuko by her regimentation
Masahiko by his obsession
Despite the human othering all of these characters face, things still get done.