Chapter 39


Prepared By: SERRANILLA, Lauren
Section G.


In this chapter we first find Cayce in what she thinks is a hospital. However, as soon as she steps out of the room, the place seems to be more like a community college. But as she moves further along, Cayce finds herself in a wasteland surrounded by red soil. Thus the chapter title Red Dust.

Chapter 39 has a lot to do with the physical element of the complex human being. We see this through Cayce’s mission to escape the nameless institution as she experiences several moments of dislocation and physical pain. We also see in several instances the significance of the information society in relation to the human body.

William Gibson begins the chapter by describing Cayce’s headache as some sort of contraption; a metal band buried inside her head, which expands at the turn of a T-shaped key. Gibson objectifies her search for something immaterial by morphing it in her hazy, dream-like state, turning it into something material. As her thoughts drift along, she suddenly remembers that she’s in Russia. Her trail of thought exhibits apophenia because from certain physical sensations, she was able to connect it to something you don’t normally think about when you’re in pain.

One Cayce Pollard feature we took no real notice of before was her regular Pilates sessions. In previous chapters, its purpose merely seemed to give her character. However in this chapter, the fitness program proves to be very useful for her escape.

Developed by Joseph Pilates in the 20th century, the popular physical fitness method believes in using the mind to control the muscles. As Cayce struggles to climb over the fence, she applies a Pilates move to ease the difficulty. “She makes it an exercise. Smoothness, please. Grace. There is no hurry.”

Here is an example of an advanced Pilates routine:

Donna Haraway’s cyborg consciousness, as discussed in class, is also a concept that relates to what goes on in this chapter. The way William Gibson describes Cayce’s body is as if it is some mechanical device that when “broken” can easily be mended by finding that “internal isometric alignment.” He uses very technical words, giving a very objective way of viewing the body. As mentioned in class, we are also, in a way, cyborgs. In this modern era, we tend to look at our bodies as machines, and this is something very ordinary. Examples of this would be joint replacements, exercise, and getting braces.

The TV series Bionic Woman is an example of the half-human half-robot experience:

Prepared by: Ngo Dee, Anne || Section A


After being drugged by Dorotea and passing out, Cayce eventually wakes up in an unknown place. The concept of psychogeography1 or the lack of it comes into play (for both Cayce and the reader) when Cayce comes around and finds herself in an unfamiliar place. This situation adds to her confusion and weariness.

This picture, would probably best illustrate how I imagined the place where she was brought. She can’t distinguish whether she’s in a clinic, institution, prison ward or somewhere else.


As Cayce escapes, she looks back and finds that she has just walked out from “an ugly sixties orange brick community college”. Here’s an image that would probably seem relatively close to the institution’s façade. This is not an “ugly” building per se; however we can see that this structure could easily be a prison, institution, school or a mental ward.


Chekhov’s gun

From this chapter, we can also see the concept of Chekhov’s gun, this is a literary device that authors use when introducing an element in an early part of the story, but its implications and worth does not become obvious until the later parts of the story. As mentioned above (by Lauren), we see Cayce’s Pilates exercise play a useful part in her escape. She uses the Hundred position the first time she wakes up and tries to sit up.

Here’s a video of the Hundred Pilates position.

Cyborg Mentality

In addition to Donna Harraway’s cyborg theory, I feel that Cayce has truly become an embodiment of a “cyborg woman.” Aside from the fact that William Gibson has portrayed Cayce using metal contraptions and talks about her body as a machine, she has also left the traditional views of a woman who’s fragile and dependent on men.


More on cyborg theory:

  1. Donna Harraway's Cyborg Manifesto
  2. You Are Cyborg

Goodbye Rickson’s


“…already feeling the tooth of one barb finding its way through layers of lovingly crafted otaku nylong and mil-spec interlining.”

Our beloved Buzz Rickson’s jacket meets its end here; it is ripped off as Cayce tries to escape. However, she still decides to bring the Rickson’s not because she thinks it’s a waste or anything, but somehow, we see that the Rickson’s has become a part of herself - her body and identity.

“…Then she has to unhook the Rickson's. She could leave it there but she won't. She tells herself she won't because they'd see where she went over, but really she just won't. She hears it rip, her feet slip on the chain-link, and she lands on her ass in the dust, the Rickson's in her right hand. She gets up stiffly, looks at the jacket's shredded back, and puts it on.”


How can sucking on a toothpick help you survive the desert? According to the book, it kept Cayce’s mouth moist.


If you ever find yourself stuck on a desert, what would you do? Click here for some survival tips. Might come in handy some day. :)

Just a Hallucination

After traveling for three hours, and solely relying on a toothpick and mint for sustenance, Cayce decides to stop and rest. She can no longer continue walking due to exhaustion and fatigue. Here, Cayce experiences hallucination. It is said that hallucinations occur when environmental, emotional, or physical factors such as stress, medication, extreme fatigue, or mental illness cause the mechanism within the brain that helps to distinguish conscious perceptions from internal, memory-based perceptions to misfire. As a result, hallucinations occur during periods of consciousness. They can appear in the form of visions, voices or sounds, tactile feelings, smells, or tastes.

Finally, the chapter concludes with an emotional ending: We feel a sense of “closure” from the chapter as Cayce finally accepts her father’s death, as truth.

“And he’s gone, and this time, she somehow knows, for good.”


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