07w39:1 William Gibson

by timothy. 1 Comment

William Gibson latest novel, Spook Country was released on August 7th and was followed by the American booktour, resulting in a clustering of `william-gibson` tagged content across the net. This Goodreads assembles such content that I’ve come across, as well as the interview I did with Mr. G last week.

Gibson’s is one of my favorite writers, for many reasons. I love his way with words, and I loved his descriptions of the 21st Century found in his Sprawl Series. But also, his work almost always involves art and artists, and for this reason his work was extracurricular reading material during my years at art-school, informing my studies with its perspective.

Of Spook Country, I’ll summarize:

Hollis Henry is freelancing a 7000 word article for Node magazine, a competitor to Wired which aspires to be obscure, aimed at an elite and invisible mass of people, who like the artists and the art she’s to write about, exist only when you’re wearing special glasses. Node is one of the more recent projects by the Blue Ant advertising agency, directed by Saatchi rival and child of a Situationist International affiliated mother, Hubertus Bigend, a Belgian with a resemblance to Tom Cruise and a name that perhaps should be pronounced ‘Bay-Jahn’. The last time Hubertus hired a chick with a Mac laptop, in the summer of 2002, he had her track down the originators of some pre-YouTube viral video, the end result of which was an ad campaign which, in the words of Hollis Henry, ‘was fucking horrible’.

Henry’s to write a feature on locative art – the latest thing you’ve never heard of, because it involves artists, computers, and the internet. The art world, as you may or may not know, has barely figured out podcasting, and anything involving the GPS grid, skin-texture rendering and VR glasses is surely to escape their attention. Gibson’s locative art, as he’s pointed out in recent interviews, is entirely possible at the moment, yet this aspect is so fictionalized that it cast the entire novel into something other than the real. And yet, what’s precisely believable about it is, as he’s said, ‘it’s done by artists who are likely to be found in Juxtapoz magazine and not “upscale, older people’s galleries”. (Boing Boing interview, around 28:35)


‘It’s all going to change, Yamazaki. We’re coming up on the mother of all nodal points. I can see it, now. It’s all going to change.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Know what the joke is? It didn’t change when they thought it would. Millennium was a Christian holiday. I’ve been looking at history Yamazaki. I can see the nodal points in history. Last time we had one like this was 1911.’
‘What happened in 1911?’
‘Everything changed’.
‘It just did. That’s how it works. I can see it now.’
All Tomorrow’s Parties, page 4

And yes, Gibson got the digits right. Our mother of all nodal points came on a 911, but here Gibson just refracted an essay by Virgina Woolf, in which she claimed ‘on or about December 1910 human character changed.’ She was thinking about the reception toward modern art, given how well a show of then contemporary paintings were doing at a London gallery.

We have not yet had anyone say that ‘on or about 9/11 human character changed’ but it is certainly obvious that the politics and the culture are dealing with it as a central defining moment on which it all changed. Fredric Jameson has pointed to this thought (referencing Count Zero‘s ‘When-It-All-Changed’) as defining characteristic of the postmodern. And so, when Gibson says as he does in the Agony Column Podcast interview (recorded in August), ‘I think 9/11 was what the characters in my previous set of novels called a nodal point’ (2:15) one can’t help but see exactly what he means.

‘You know what your trouble is?’ [Rubin] says when we’re under the bridge, headed up to Fourth. “You’re the kind who always reads the handbook. Anything people build, any kind of technology, it’s going to have some specific purpose. It’s for doing something that somebody already understands. But if it’s new technology, it’ll open areas nobody’s ever thought of before. You read the manual, man, and you won’t play around with it, not the same way. And you get all funny when somebody else uses it to do something you never thought of.’

Rubin Stark, from the short story The Winter Market became for a time my idea of a 21st Century artist, assembling electronic components into robots programed to insult passers-by wearing a particular designer’s clothes, self-destructing, or shitting batteries. An artist who wore LL Bean gumshoes and ate cold samosas and plastic-cased stale sandwiches. Who had an agent, which I later learned, would be his dealer. All I though circa 2015. And his thoughts on ‘reading the manual’ were an insightful way of looking at the flourishing gadgetry around me. This was echoed by Ben Fry, who as a student at MIT said this about Palm Pilots: ‘typically, palm-sized computers are used for phone lists and calendars, which fail to realize the potential of the rich computational environment afforded by such a small device’.

The Winter Market story haunts me with its sentences and its snapshot of an artist’s life in the 21st Century. ‘There was coffee, life would go on,’ muttered to myself on many a morning as I rose cup to lip. This story was in my thoughts a lot last spring, as I thought about the character Lise, an artist whose medium was a new technology, dreaming her pain to a wide fanbase of people who could relate. Not chasing a career or awards or exhibitions, but expressing experience and others just happened to be deeply affected by it.

His appearance in Toronto last week enabled me to talk with him in person. So we sat down on the patio of the Second Cup at Queen & John, and surrounded by the noises of the city had a little conversation, which I recorded, and which is linked to below.


Gibson talks, and whets appetites for Spook (with audio interviews) |
John Burns


Interview with William Gibson | Rick Kleffel, Agony Column Podcast

Spook Country Review | NPR Books (2007-08-19) Podcast
Mp3 Link

Spook Country Review | New York Times Book Review Podcast
Mp3 Link

Spook Country | The Leonard Lopate Show (2007-08-14)

Novelist William Gibson | On Point (2007-08-07)

Boing Boing Boing 015 William Gibson | Boing Boing Podcast
Mp3 Link

William Gibson Book Club | CBC Words at Large Podcast

William Gibson Interview 2007-09-20 | Timothy Comeau

Related links, referenced in the interview:


Original Proposal for William Gibson’s Spook Country

Compilation of ‘Spook Country’ Blog Postings | (From Gibson’s 2006 Blog)

Spirits in the Material World | Dave Itzkoff

Interview: William Gibson | Brian Joseph Davis

William Gibson: Sci-Fi Icon Becomes Prophet of the Present

William Gibson’s Spook Country | Cory Doctorow

Spook Country
“This blog is discusses and analyzes the new book Spook Country by cyberpunk author William Gibson, published in August 2007”.

Now romancer | Dennis Lim

Q&A: William Gibson, science fiction novelist | Steve Ranger

Sound bytes from William Gibson

William Gibson *hearts* Juxtapoz


Spook Country | William Gibson’s Official Site
YouTube version

Gibson in Second life 2 August 2007
Reading: http://youtube.com/watch?v=WOzf80AWg2I

More on YouTube


On About December 1910: Early Bloomsbury and its Intimate World | John B. Osborne
“While admitting that there is much hyperbole in Woolf’s memorable turn-of-phrase, Peter Stansky attempts to demonstrate the validity of her observation by examining the lives of the Bloomsbury group and the developments of 1910 that shaped them. Foremost among these events were the publication of E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End and Roger Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibition, which introduced the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin to Britain. Stansky believes that these events marked the birth of “Modernism,” which he defines as the rejection of the Victorian and Edwardian stress on realism and surface beauty in art and literature and a new focus on the underlying forms of things as well as the inner character of individuals”

English Modernism: A Big Weight to Hang on 1910 | Michiko Kakutani
Published: November 29, 1996

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