This essay analyzes William Gibson's eighth novel, Pattern Recognition, and argues that Gibson uses literary style to invite his readers to embrace the ethos of the coolhunter. Modeled on but not identical to Cayce Pollard's “violent reactivity to the semiotics of the marketplace,” Gibson's proposed coolhunting ethos treats the brand name as a cognitive map of the multinational economic supply chains that underlie the glossy surface of the brand.
The need for such a mapping exists because, across many industries, the brand has been transformed from a way of insuring product quality into a piece of intellectual property valuable in and of itself. As multinational corporations have outsourced less profitable areas of production, and brand ownership has become relatively more profitable, the connection between any particular brand name and the supply chains supporting it is increasingly concealed within a global maze of anonymous subcontractors.
Gibson's coolhunting aesthetic seeks to transform the reader's relationship to the “logo-maze,” to reconnect the free-floating brand to the hidden supply chains behind it. I relate this project of relinking to what Bruce Robbins has called the “sweatshop sublime” and to popular notions of ethical consumption and argue that Gibson's coolhunter is a modified type of ethical consumer, a person able to map economic systems onto personal meanings as meanings, translating the behavior of the market not into a more just price point at the mall but into an aesthetic sensibility.