Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Bridget Jones in Paris" Blog

'Petite anglaise' blogger wins sacking case
By Henry Samuel in Paris
An Englishwoman sacked for bringing her employers in Paris into disrepute by writing an internet diary under the pseudonym petite anglaise was awarded £30,000 for wrongful dismissal yesterday. a test case for bloggers in France and beyond, a tribunal concluded that Catherine Sanderson, whose blog is said by some to be the equivalent of "Bridget Jones in Paris", had been dismissed "without real and serious causes". >>more

Nanotechnology Alberta

From the Vancouver Sun
EDMONTON -- A shiny new building rises from the snowy campus of the University of Alberta, a brash, imposing upstart amid the older faculties of physics, chemistry and engineering....
Welcome to the brave new world of nanotechnology, where for the first time in human history, scientists, once relegated to theorizing about atoms and molecules, can now touch, see and even manipulate some of the smallest particles in nature.

Taoism in "All Tomorrow's Parties"

The assassin ("Konrad") in All Tomorrow's Parties is, as we have read & heard in lecture, a follower of Taoism. I found this website which can be provide helpful information to anyone who wants a fuller understanding of William Gibson's artistic use of the character and the metaphysical beliefs that he projects.

From that webpage, here are some specific Taoist concepts, beliefs and practices pertaining directly to Gibson's text:

  • Tao is the first-cause of the universe. It is a force that flows through all life.
  • The Tao surrounds everyone and therefore everyone must listen to find enlightenment.
  • Each believer's goal is to harmonize themselves with the Tao.
  • The concept of a personified deity is foreign to them, as is the concept of the creation of the universe. Thus, they do not pray as Christians do; there is no God to hear the prayers or to act upon them. They seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.
  • Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
  • Taoists follow the art of "wu wei," which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam which would interfere with its natural flow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Devil Tempts Literature Students

Do not read this article. It is evil.

William Gibson Wrap up

Monday we'll wrap up All Tomorrow's Parties -- Balkanisation, nodes & networks, interstice & emergent properties, and autonomous zones -- and then move on to talk about the Final Exam. Keeping in mind, as we will be, that these Big Issues are used by Gibson for their Imaginative Truth, not their economic, political or computer science Truths ....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Supply, Demand & Desire

Today's lecture on William Gibson can perhaps be summed up by the literary question, How are we to understand the character Rei Toei, the idoru?

At the start of All Tomorrow's Parties it is said that "....she doesn't exist .... she's code. Software....Hundred percent unreal" (ch.21, p.82,) and by the conclusion she is not only real -- but the Absolute reality, chapter 68 "The Absolute at Large."

Rei Toei, then, is the incarnation of those universal forces that the text calls variously the Tao, the clockwork universe, the nodal point of history. Heavy stuff, to be sure, like the good science fiction that it is, but what is this doing in terms of fiction?

To answer this, lecture presented All Tomorrow's Parties in its aspect of satire, and identified Capitalism in our own day and age as the satirical target. However, evidence of Gibson's artistic merit as a novelist, the satire is not dismissive of Capitalism tout court, but rather targets certain of Capitalism's vices, while presenting some capitalist features in favourable aspect.

This non-extremism, or non-fundamentalism, regarding Capitalism is a feature which marks Gibson as a dialogistic author: creating a text which presents a dialogue between alternative conceptions through a heteroglossia -- a multiplicity of voices -- and thereby leave the final judgement upto the reader; allowing the reader to participate in the creation of the future.

This is in opposition to didactic texts, which have their minds made up; present the Good and the Bad already determined; thus compelling the reader to accept the narrator's moral position or be branded as among the Bad.

So, how does Rei Toei function in Gibson's satire? Capitalism can be described as a system which enables people to freely exchange money for goods or services that satisfy particular desires. Capitalism, then, assumes (a.) that people have desires, and (b.) that they will pay to have their desires satified. So, Rei Toei is described as being " amplified reflection of desire" ch.39, p.198.) She is, that is to say, in Capitalist terms, a Supply. Gibson expresses the supply function, in his novel, in terms of Say's Law, which, in a rough generalisation, says that "Supply creates its own demand." in other words, demand follows supply. This doctrine is put, in All Tomorrow's Parties, into the mouth of Tessa, who replies to Chevette's remark Rei Toei's kind of perfection " what people want," with this firm statement of Say's Law:'ve got it exactly backwards. People don't know what they want, not before they see it. Every object of desire is a found object (ch.15, p.82.)

Here, then, Gibson is treating in fiction the commodification aspect of Capitalism: the way that it turns values into commodities -- goods or services to be sold and bought. In this formulation, each good and service is an "object of desire." Thus, the Capitalist sequence is,
  1. A human desire.
  2. A capitalist's supply of an object of that desire: a commodity.
  3. A capitalist buyers' demand and provision of money for, and consumption of, that object.
All Tomorrow's Parties resists wholesale belittlement of this sequence, because, it was argued in lecture, the condemnation of people gratifying their desires is a form of Puritanism: those people who apply moral censure to desires and their fulfillment are said, in our culture, to be Puritanical; moralistic; Fundamentalist. William Gibson's background in the expressive nineteen sixties makes him very resistant to moral condemnation of free expression of will and desire.

In Wednesday's lecture upcoming we will see what aspects of Capitalism are being satirised in Gibson's gloriously polyphonic novel, and more of what his posthuman dystopia-utopia looks like.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Twitter": Cell-phone Mini-blogging

By Richard Waters and Chris Nuttall in San Francisco
Silicon Valley is abuzz over a new mini-blogging service for mobile phones that some predict will be a mass-market hit with the reach of a YouTube or MySpace.
Over the past two weeks, Twitter has attracted the sort of hyperbole the Valley reserves for its next internet darling – though such self-reinforcing adulation also led to dotcom mania.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Clarke's Third Law and Gibson's "All Tomorrow's Parties"

As lecture offered, one important idea that inspired William Gibson's imaginative conception of All Tomorrow's Parties was surely novelist Arthur C. Clarke's famous Three Laws: specifically his popular Third Law:

    • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Gibson repeatedly presents the technology central to his plot in magical terms: the multiplied Rei Toei echoing 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice;' the renewal of the old watch 'before your very eyes' at the close of the book suggesting the djinn's promise of 'new lamps for old;' &c. &c.

ps: A reformulation of Clarke's Third law (of which there are many) -- 'Ogden's Corollary One' -- says:

  • Magic is Technology at a sufficiently advanced stage.
And an 'Ogden's Corollary Two' reads:

  • Sufficiently advanced Technicians are magicians. (Just never ask them to show you their wands....)

Clocks: "the order uncomprehended."

William Gibson's character "Silencio" in All Tomorrow's Parties is presented as being "....colonized by an order uncomprehended" (p. 87) and the 'order' is in the form of a watch: that is to say, the clockwork universe behind the world of experience and appearance. ("some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension," p. 85.)
Silencio, in fact, is an Oracle for these horological forces: "....He has become the words, what they mean" (p. 88.)

As lecture explained, Gibson has thus put his novel directly within a long-standing intellectual and, more importantly, literary tradition. I displayed the poem "Evening Watch" by the great Seventeenth century Metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. Here is the final stanza:

11 Ah go; th'art weak, and sleepy. Heav'n
12 Is a plain watch, and without figures winds
13 All ages up; who drew this circle, even
14 He fills it; days and hours are blinds.
15 Yet this take with thee. The last gasp of time
16 Is thy first breath, and man's eternal prime
To explain this stanza, and help take Gibson's meaning, look at the little Scottie dog in the image here. He is standing on the face of "a plain watch" which, not having any numerals on it, is "without figures." Because the minute and hour hands block his vision of the whole of the 'plain', they are in effect "blinds" -- as in shooting blinds which block the little dog from seeing the full circle. [All Tomorrow's Parties, ch 43, p 215: "Because we have constructed this blind, says the cat."]

Let's interpret this: we can't properly see what the poem calls "heaven" -- that is, Eternity -- because Time, the past, present & future, blocks out, in a sense, our eternal view. In Vaughan's final stanza above, the phrase "eternal prime" invokes the horological sense of 'Prime," the first liturgical hour of the ecclesiastical day. Thus in eternity it is always morning, since there is no Time which can bring the day to an end!

Gibson's futurist re-vision of this in All Tomorrow's Parties gives a secular eternity, where matter can be endlessly re-created newly, and a post-human being -- Rei Toei -- is created & re-created infinitely from "pure code." (p. 184.)

Now, of course, we are here dealing solely in terms of Fiction: art to be enjoyed and delighted in for its æsthetic qualities. And if it should 'instructs' by this delighting? Well, that is purely for each individual to decide .....

Nodes & Interstices

Last Wednesday's lecture outlined the two Big Ideas that are behind the repeated references to 'clocks' and 'nodes' in All Tomorrow's Parties: respectively, the 'clockwork universe' and 'interstices .' On Monday we'll finish this outline and then see how these two Big Ideas are worked diversely by William Gibson into his fiction as settting, characterisation and plot.

[The graphic here is actually a seriously cool graphical representation of this very blog in the form of nodes and dendrites, created from this web tool. In effect, it's how Laney might see our blog as it "haunts his nodal configuration...." (p. 19)]

'Interstices' are an extremely important concept within the novel and (as Gibson is suggesting) within present-day Vancouver: 'Terminal City' -- updated for 2007 as a cyber-Terminal.

The following is non-essential, and is only here for anyone with an personal interest in these technological ideas. Those with other kinds of interest need read no further.

As lecture explained, interstices are conceptual parts of the idea of nets: fishing nets, wireless networks, the internet itself. Gibson's first novel is titled Neuromancer, and deals with the idea of Neural Networks: a system model of information not being located in a centralised and unified place -- such as in the homunculus ('little man') model -- but instead is distributed as signals across a complex network of nodes and signal pathways ('axons.') The model is derived from the architecture of the brain, and is used to construct non-CPU computers, Artificial Neural Networks ('ANN'), under a concept called parallel distributed processing, under the doctrine of Connectionism.

Part of the power of nerual networks (biological or artificial) is that the individual nodes have a equality of signficance relative to each other, and the clusters within a network have plasticity of function, so that the breakdown of, or attack upon, one, or even several, nodes does not destroy the system, as the information are redistributed across the reamining nodes. As you probably know, this was the advantage that the United States military hoped to exploit by developing the Internet in the first place.

In All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson presents history itself as a nodal network, and human lives the connecting pathways. The interstices are, in a sense, where the meaning or the potential for new meanings can be said to exist.
....plunging down the wall of this code mesa, its face compounded of fractally differentiated fields of information he has come to suspect of hiding some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension.
Something at once noun and verb.
While Laney, plunging, eyes wide against the pressure of information, knows himself to be merely adjectival: a Laney-coloured smear, meaningless without context. (p 85.)
Ps: An article I published (in a Danish journal) on parallel distributed processing for a literary audience is in our library at this link: "Forbindeleser."

Classroom Insta-messaging & Profs

Read this post from on students who text message in class. Be sure to follow the link there to the Ann Althouse blog. Briefly, they -- like me -- think that since WiFi makes messaging inevitable it's best to encourge the most beneficial use of it. And as I've discovered this term, blogging your course is a dream for the instructor. (The instapundit post includes a link on this topic to PrawfsBlog.)
For my part, students text messaging to each when they miss a point or don't get someting is advantageous and unobtrusive. And the fact that students can google during lecture will allow them to bust profs who bend the truth for ideology and will -- hopefully -- embolden students to raise objections.

Essay Writing Assistance

From the Student Learning Commons people at the great W.A.C. Bennett Library:

As we near the end of the term, the Yosef Wosk Student Learning Commons would like to remind you of the additional academic support we provide students in writing and learning skills. (Via one-on-one appointments or drop-in .)

As....students enter the semester's 'writing crunch' and then final exams, please take a minute to remind them that there is additional writing and learning skills support available in the Student Learning Commons (room 3695-Podium Level 3-to the right of the Library). (Emphases mine.)

Some of the areas our friendly and knowledgeable Peer Educators and myself can assist students in are:

- planning and flow of a paper,
- integrating quotes (sic) and paraphrasing,
- improving coherence and cohesion,
- controlling sentence structure and punctuation,
- exam strategies,
- overcoming exam anxiety,
- ....more.

.....we do not edit or proof papers. The YWSLC Coordinator and Peers provide the insight, skills, and techniques to improve a students own performance, including learning how to write, edit and proofread their own work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gorillaz: Virtual Band

Classfellow A.T. draws attention to Gorillaz, a virtual band that necessarily evokes Gibson's Rei Toei. There is a YouTube clip of them with Madonna here, and their homepage is here.

(It is not truly Idoru virtual, but it is a big step on that direction!)

TA lecture: notes

Our TA has elected to have her Microsoft PowerPoint file from her excellent lecture on politics & All Tomorrow's Parties hosted online at SFU for full access, here. If there is any trouble with them on local workstations, please leave me a comment at this point.

Blogs of Note

TA Steve Zillwood recommends the following two blogs.

Making Light is run by the husband and wife team of Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who are the editors for Tor Books in New York. A very well-written and topical blog, covering aspects of the publishing industry, current events, writers and
writing, and tons of other oddball items of interest - and the best part is often the comments after each post.

The second is Neil Gaiman's blog. I think that a fair number of our students will be familiar with him, largely because he has written in so many forms over the past couple of decades (novels, comics, radio plays). He too covers a lot of topical information and news items, with a focus on writing and writers.
Mr. Zillwood also recommends a third, but you will need to contact him individually for that url.

A blog I like recently is The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics by an SFU employee, Heather Morrison. It is worderfully bloggy: varied, literary, informative.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Literary Method: from Comments

The comments thread to the "Douglas Coupland & Cynicism" post shows several responses to the explication in lecture of the four-part structure of the afterlife in relation to Hey Nostradamus! Rather than reply to the common attitude there, I wanted to bring it up to a main post, as important points regarding the method of academic analysis of fiction are in play here. I want to thank greatly the commentators themselves for stimulating this little treatise: if they would stop by an Office Hour, I'll repay them in coffee & (pace my post on Canadian spelling) doughnuts.

The commentators object bluntly to the four-fold structure (Heaven, Purgatory, Limbo, Hell) as, in a repeated phrase, "hogwash." Objection, of course, is admirable and welcome, in principle. I myself object. But scholarly objections require that scholarly conditions be met. There is, as I read the comments in question, an unavoidable sense that Coupland's text is here accomplishing its intended destabilising effect: the fact that the commentators frame their objections against "Roman Catholicism" leads me to wonder whether the real objection might not be coming from an evangelical Protestant position, and is actually directed against the four-part doctrine itself, rather than its use to explain Coupland's art.

So, to put this in terms of the academic method of analysis of fiction. Straightaway, there is a need to correct the objections against historical fact. The four-part afterlife is not Roman Catholic: or, rather, not exclusively Roman Catholic.
  1. The model predated the creation of Protestantism by seveal hundred years. (Cf Dante & The Divine Comedy, below.)
  2. Although the Roman Catholic Church has not abandoned this doctrine, it is also held by some Protestants. For example, scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote of his affirmation of Purgatory and Limbo.

The first step, then, of academic analysis is to research the main historical facts under dispute, rather than take one's assumptions as being correct.

Next, be restrained both in configuring one's opponent's position and in expressing one's counter-analysis. The pejorative "utter hogwash" is perfectly possible -- I have myself experienced utter hogwash in academic settings -- but it is best to consider the strength of the position being objected to. (This is sound Sun Tzu pragmatics, among other things.) Being wrong and being hogwash are two different things. Scholarship almost means presenting one's argument for refutation: that is the nature of the dialectical method stretching back to the Pre-Socratics. Hogwash, on the other hand, denotes statements with neither plausibility nor support.

The requirement in the present case is for the objections to be cast in light of the material and arguments presented in weeks of lecture. I must say that I do not see this as having been done here. So, what is the main case for the four-part afterlife as an explanatory schema for Hey Nostradamus!?

  • The argument from structure. The structure of a work of fiction with literary quality has, lacking clear evidence to the contrary, thematic significance. So, for a four-part novel, one looks for analogues relevant to the theme of the text. Observing that Hey Nostradamus! has a religious theme, as well as a plot centred explicitly on Christianity, one casts about for four-part systems in that religion. Two of the largest were presented in lecture: the afterlife, and the gospels. (Note that this is required just as much when the text seems to be directed against religion as in support of it.) So, objection to the four-part afterlife in this context needs to contend with the force of this academic aspect.
  • The novel opens with the main character actually being in Purgatory: that is, in an ante-state before Heaven but after Earth. Frankly, in context of a four-part novel, this is nearly irrefutable evidence for Coupland having the afterlife structure as part of his artistic design. At the very least, it would be scholarly dereliction to fail to explain why this is not part of the literary design.
  • The text has an aggregation of lexical cues (a.) to the four different states and (b.) concentrated in separate sections (e.g. the word "purgatory" appears in one part, "heaven" repeatedly in another.
  • The four-part afterlife has a potent literary tradition which adds immensely to the plausibility of Coupland having appropriated it. Most powerfully, the great Dante's Divine Comedy (a supreme work of literary genius) is structured according to the levels of afterlife (three-part to resonate the doctrine of the Trinity: Dante was an orthodox Christian, which Coupland is not.) We are drawn to this parallel pointedly by the title of Coupland's text, which invokes another medieval writer.

Short of repeating lecture, then, this is enough to say that the case for the four-part structure in the text is strong. Not, please note, irrefutable. Quite the opposite, in fact. The point here, though, is that in order to object to the explanation, the strengths of the claims in its favour have to dealt with in proportionate strength.

Furthermore, the literary method of analysis takes account of the concept of Imaginative Truth. To speak counter-factually, even were the four-part afterlife exclusively Roman Catholic, non-Catholic, even anti-Catholic, writers could find the concept artistically irresistible. Lecture gave Led Zeppelin and Joss Whedon as examples of anti-Christians who use Christian ontology in their art. To point, Coupland could in principle use Purgatory and Limbo artistically without any Roman Catholic suggestion at all: the artist, indeed, may not even be aware that the ideas have any specifically Roman Catholic denotation.

Likewise, literary art does not require that there be direct correspondence between the use of a concept in a novel and its original formalities, nor need there be, what the American poet Emerson called, "a foolish consistency" in the concept's fictional application. Art uses resonancy, allusion, careful distortion, apposition, contrast, invention and inversion: all tints and shades are on the master's palette. (A major example in this regard is Ulysses by Modernist writer James Joyce, wherein a large part of the appeal for its devotees is finding (and then flaunting the finding of) the presence, shape and fictional purpose of, distorted episodes from Homer's original in the Modernist revision.)

I hope this brief account of one part of the academic analysis of fiction is beneficial. If not, look to my inadequacies as the reason, not the discipline itself, which is all glory. And for any specific questions on the details of Hey Nostradamus!, again, stop by Office Hours.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Influence of "Blade Runner" on William Gibson's Fiction

I found an excellent FAQ here on the influence of the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. The clip I showed in lecture last week has elements found suggestively in All Tomorrow's Parties: for example, the giant plasma screens on the sides of office buildings, "vast faces fill[ing] the screens, at once terrible and banal." (p6-7). Blade Runner was released in 1982, and was a version of a Philip K. Dick story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" published in 1968. William Gibson published his first novel in 1984, two years after the film was released, and has suggested that Dick, Scott & he share a shared imaginative vision (subsequently labelled, as you may know, "cyberpunk.") Here is a helpful quotation from the FAQ:

Gibson, in an interview by Lance Loud in an article on the 10th anniversary of "Blade Runner" for the magazine "Details" (October1992 issue), had the following to say:

'About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarity to the "look" of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head! With time, as I got over that, I started to take a certain delight in the way the film began to affect the way the world looked. Club fashions, at first, then rock videos, finally even architecture. Amazing! A science fiction movie affecting reality!'

Coupland and (Generation) Alienation

My cacophonous term for one of Douglas Coupland's signature themes is generation alienation. The title of his widely successful first novel Generation X entered language and, as naming will, gave a sense of separate identity to members (the etymology of that word is important in this context) of society based on mere age. Coupland's fiction -- on the lecture thesis that it is work of true art -- does not celebrate or boost the segmentation that it identifies but rather laments in its depiction of people, born between 1960 and 1975, isolated in some sense from people around them of otherwise shared background and cultural standing.

The cross-division of a society by age began perhaps with the term "baby boomer" (children born after WWII to 1960) and was intensified by "the 60s generation" but the first is more vague and the second, in its reference to a sub-culture within an age group, narrower than Coupland's. With "Generation X" an epistemological change has reached a degree that suggests new ontology: it's identity is certainly cohesive enough create its progeny in "Generation Y," with "Generation Z" (perhaps under different nomenclature) certain to follow.

As Coupland's fiction has progressed, the scope of his canvas has broadened and details added to his portrait of a society increasingly divided to the point of fragmentation. (As detailed in lecture, it is a particular benefit for us that not only Canada but Vancouver specifically is his setting.) Coupland's perceptive readers -- some of you are counted in that number -- recognise that one active cause of the segmentation is marketing: the capitalist truth that sales success increases as a market for a product is more specifically identified for targeted advertising. This practice takes heightened importance from its wholesale adaptation into party politics. In this regard, Coupland's fiction presents us with a question of whether Western society can survive the fragmentation that follows ever-increasing segregation. Coupland might conceivably find fertile material for his fiction here in academia with the current celebration of division over unity. (As an aside, the philosophical opposition here at play is nominalism versus universalism -- link via our Library databases.)

For an intellectual underpinning to Coupland's portrait of generation alienation, I offer Dr. Bruce Alexander's theory that mass addiction is a consequence of a world-wide free-market. In his article "Finding the Roots of Addiction" (a precis of his upcoming book), Alexander uses the term "dislocation" to describe the effect that Coupland's fiction portrays: an increasingly wide breakdown of healthy "psychosocial integration." Two specific points of contact between Alexander and Coupland in their conceptions are addiction as the consequence of alienation-dislocation and Vancouver as "Terminal City" -- a place where cultural and ethnic strands are sharply terminated: neither capped nor woven together. As lecture detailed, addiction is presented with great artistic skill in Hey Nostradamus!: it is a ubiquitous element of the story yet it never declares itself openly -- it is "hidden in plain sight;" the elephant in the living room.

I found examples of generation alienation on one of your course group blogs. In my lectures on Hey Nostradamus! I pointed out how Coupland sketches Heather's neurosis by details like her reaction to the child's play area ball-pit in McDonald's as a breeding-ground of plague. Now, my own generation -- like Coupland and his -- shared water bottles at hockey practice and drank water straight from the tap. To us, Heather's attitude is plainly neurotic. To Gen Y, however, trans-fat-aware, Heather is simply being sensible. Similarly, Gen Y is annoyed when the endless hours that students spend at university computers doing MSN Chat are euphorically represented to them by an insightful baby-boomer lecturer .... In a phrase, generation alienation in action.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

TA Lecture

An opportunity to hear another perspective on course material comes Monday, when TA Jodie Salter will be giving us a lecture on All Tomorrow's Parties.

"The Man" in "ATP"

I left a point slightly unfinished in lecture. The character referred to as "the man" -- the assassin -- in All Tomorrow's Parties is presented namelessly as a fictional device to, in part, leave his moral status uncertain for the reader and thus increase tension in the plot. In other words, not knowing his name, we wonder about his character (in more than one sense) and thus how he will influence the outcome of the story.

The man is eventually named -- in the late "The Birds are on Fire" chapter -- but only at a significant moment in the story development. Explanation to come in lecture at the appropriate moment.....

The Metaphysics of "All Tomorrow's Parties"

William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties will seem very confusing and, quite likely, somewhat disorientating to readers who don't know its metaphysical background or the intellectual concerns that animate it. Today's lecture began outlining a framework for understanding how and why Gibson treats these matters in his fiction.

All Tomorrow's Parties presents us with a fictional world "the-year-after-the-next-year" where (to quote Bob Dylan) "Everything is Broken." The process of social fragmentation here in Vancouver that Douglas Coupland laments in Hey Nostradamus! is become widespread in ATP: families, cities, states & provinces, countries and individual psyches are things of shards and tatters. However, Gibson's text presents an important paradox. The free market system which, in Gibson's fictional outlook, is the cause of this fragmentation is actually growing more unified, and that unification has spreading to the verge of global uniformity. The paradox in encoded in Gibson's plot, which is an eschatological race between the villain (explicitly a Bill Gates-type) and the rag-tag-band-of-heroes (Laney, Chevette, Fontaine, Rydell) to use a new product (a nano-fax machine) supplied ahead of demand - and thus without a known purpose) either for profit-without-end or for the Rapture.

Gibson's metaphysic in his cyberpunk novels -- and in his "idoru" trilogy-so-far (of which ATP is the third) is the evolution from the human (us) to post-human (part us & part not us.) The "non-us," of course, is information technology. In the fourties, Marvin Minsky of MIT famously said "in the future, if we're lucky machines will keep us as pets." That is the view of things behind Gibson's cyberpunk. The fragmentation in ATP will be made whole again by the blending of consciousness and IT. "Rei Toei" -- the Idoru -- becomes a cybernetic Messiah, emerging in transcendent form simultaneously from every 7-Eleven-type store around the globe. And here in the non-fiction realm, even if Minsky's remark sounds extremist to us, it is difficult to avoid the thought that some significant change will result from our now near-constant exposure to IT.

How long have you been looking at a screen so far today ..... ?

Gibson's metaphysic, then, in All Tomorrow's Parties is Creative Evolution: an idea best associated with Henri Bergson (1859-1941), a philosopher who, in my view, lacks proper appreciation - whether or not one acccepts his thesis. Creative Evolution, generally speaking, is the assumption that evolution is always an advance: that hardships, although bad news for some or many individuals, creates in the long run improvement for the species - such as the human race. Bergson gave us the term elan vital -- or vital force -- to describe the existence of an immaterial life force that expresses itself in organic matter. This idea is, in my observation, the unconscious assumption behind most people's thoughts on evolution - of all levels of education. It's earlier term - Social Darwinism -- was nearly unchallenged. The interesting fact is that it is non-Darwinian. That is, Darwin's entire project was to try and establish that evolution is not a force for improvement, but one which can as easily eliminate as produce improvements. Peter J. Bowler is an indefatigable writer in defense of Darwin against all type of creative evolutionism.

So, William Gibson has given fictional form to this intellectual field: using ideas from emerging technologies to suggest a eudystopic IT path that the elan vital might take. As lecture will develop further, Gibson also invokes the concept of emergent properties to create his virtual reality: i.e. his fiction. As the property of wetness emergences from the combination of two independent components neither of which themselves have the property wetness, so in All Tonorrow's Parties the property of existence arises from those components which comprise Rei Toei -- the idoru.

I love fiction, and I love it for many reasons. And one of these is its ability to bring the fantastic closer to the real by making it plausible. As I suggested in lecture, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a computer-generated celebrity, run by an algorithm of market-tested qualities, with a good singing voice, appealing appearance and virtual fashions, has al least no less reality (in a meaningful sense of "reality") than a person, experienced by mass public entirely through media, marketed as a performer, who can neither sing, play an instrument nor dance.

Monday, March 12, 2007

William Gibson, Blogger

William Gibson is a serious blogger, as you can witness for yourself, here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Douglas Coupland: Prophet, Part II

Reading of the latest murder here in the Vancouver area, this time at Whistler, provokes me to update my evidence for Coupland's view of a violent present-day Vancouver.

The following are only desultory samplings from the last month or so. Proof here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And more, alas, here.

"All Tomorrow's Parties:" Titular Significance

The title of our final course text, William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, has its genesis in the first single by the influential 60s cult band Velvet Underground comprising Lou Reed (who wrote the song), Nico, and John Cale. Click here for the song lyrics.
There is further circularity, by the bye, in that band having taken the title of a bizarre book for their name.

Douglas Coupland: Prophecy

One characteristic of fiction that attracts me powerfully is the ability of authors to seemingly prophesy. I lean presently toward the theory that the presence of prophecy in a novel correlates to the literary genius of the author. This is a quality of fiction I need to say; not of the author's personal qualities. Asked in an interview, or stated in a journal article, say, the novelist would be no more reliably prophetic than you or me. But within the true novelist's work of literature can be found a form of prophecy.
  • This quality relates to my statement in lecture that the significance of the work of fiction is independent from what the author says or believes his or her work is about. It is a quality of fiction that the writing of it brings out capacities in the writer of which he is unaware -- and is incapable of summoning by an act of will.
  • If I had to be academically precise in describing the nature of this prophetic quality, I would say that the true literary genius possesses an ability -- innate, trained or both -- of insight into human nature, social trends, and that dimension termed by Aristotle "theology."

The example before us is our Coupland course text, Hey Nostradamus! When it was first published, its setting of a Columbine-style shooting in a Vancouver school laid the author open to a charge of cheap sensationalism. Obviously, it is only in violent, blood-thirsty, gun-legal America that dissafected teenage boys commit random fatal violence: Canada is a pacific, tolerant, nice place where violent acts are improper.

Three years after Coupland wrote Hey Nostradamus!, here was this headline from the Vancouver Province: "'Epidemic' of Teen Swarmings." The Vancouver Sun had this headline: "Two Males Stabbed Near Metrotown Last Evening." Again, that is just one day: look at the media and find never ending repetition. ("Drive by shooting in Chilliwack" from last month, e.g.) The first time I taught this novel, I presented in lecture local newspapers collected over the weeks of the lectures which splashed across their front pages: a boy kicked into a coma by another random swarm of teenagers; yet another trial for the killer of Reena Virk; four Mounties killed by a man with guns; and a local teenager who stole twelve dollars of petrol, deliberately ran over the attendant and purposely dragged him -- screaming -- to a slow, hideous and agonising death for over five miles.

Far from cheap sensationalism, Douglas Coupland writes uncannily wise prophecy. His novels could be mandatory Canadian reading.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More detail on some of the types of "Irony"

In reply to a couple of specific questions about two or three of the types of Irony introduced and explained in Wednesday's lecture, here are some examples of these types taken from my own current readings (& one from a personal experience.) For more research, the book I quoted from in lecture is in the W.A.C. Bennett Library: A Dictionary of Literary Terms, by J. A. Cuddon.

SITUATIONAL IRONY. In The Masked Rider, Rush drummer & lyricist Neal Peart writes of his 1988 cycling trip across West Africa. A devout atheist, Mr. Peart relates how on one stage he stayed briefly at a monastery and at night was given blankets knitted and donated as a charity effort by churches in the West. "....and I smiled at the irony -- me, the impious one who made a point of donating only to secular charities, on the receiving end of missionary aid." (Masked Rider, Pottersfield, 104.)

See also the above picture that I took on Friday evening at the Canada Trust branch on West Broadway. The branch was open, and the glass doors have a huge "Welcome" sign by the handle .... but the door was locked and, hidden behind the sign, there was a Security Guard who waved me away!

HISTORICAL IRONY. In my World War One course this term, a student presentation related the irony of Germany losing the two World Wars and having all WWII debts cancelled and paying only a eighth of the reparations set by the Treaty of Versailles after WWI, while England, after winning the two World Wars, payed debts as a result to Canada and the United States of well over $200 billion dollars -- payments that were only completed.... in 2006!

COSMIC IRONY. There is a good example, presented in lecture, in Hey Nostradamus!, of the irony that sons frequently become the type of person they least liked in their own fathers. Reg becomes like his detestable father, and Jason sees himself becoming like Reg (& Jason's sons, presumably, following after their father's most-despised traits.) "[Reg is] a lonely, bitter, prideful crank, and I really have to laugh when I consider the irony that I've become, of course, the exact same thing. Memo to Mother Nature: Thanks."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Invective: the Eric Alterman Example

To illustrate "Invective," a member of the family of rhetorical concepts to which Irony belongs, I offered the trailer to the upcoming film about Ralph Nader, An Unreasonable Man.

In the trailer, one Eric Alterman is portrayed, first, throwing invective -- sheer vituperaive abuse -- toward Mr. Nader: "Why don't you go and ruin another country? You've ruined this one [i.e. the U.S.A]" A characteristic of invective (as the trailer shows clearly) is that it reveals the person giving it to be bitter, petty-minded, sour, mean-spirited and perfectly disagreeable. Except where one is preaching to the choir, invective should be avoided by cultured and intelligent rhetors.

Mr. Alterman appears a second time in the trailer, and there he is exemplifying antiphrasis: "Thank-you Mr. Nader for the Iraq War; Thank-you Mr. Nader for destroying the environment; Thank-you Mr. Nader .... etc. etc."

The film's title, by the bye, is also antiphrastic: "A Unreasonable Man" invokes an ironic epigram by one of history's greatest ironists, Bernard Shaw:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
In reality, that is, the reasonable are called unreasonable by the unreasoning: perhaps an Irony of Fate, or Cosmic Irony.

"Imaginative Truth"

I'll be giving even fuller detail on the concept of Imaginative Truth, in relation to the four-part structural ontology in Hey Nostradamus!, during Monday's lecture.

Still not sure what "ontology" means? OED!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cognate Meaning for "Jason"

Classfellow R.B. passes on the helpful information that "....Joshua means "suppliant" so, if Jason and Joshua are the same, then perhaps the image on the front of the book is Jason?"

Coupland's "Doubt" in Literary Context

To help place the favourable representation of Doubt that, as lecture is arguing, Douglas Coupland has applied in Hey Nostradamus! within a wider literary sensibility, I quoted Monday from Scottish writer William McIlvanney's contemporary Scottish novel Laidlaw. Here are the relevant passages:
"I mean if everybody could waken up tomorrow morning and have the courage of their doubts, not their convictions, the millenium would be here. I think false certainties are what destroy us....What's murder but a willed absolute, an invented certainty?"
....was surprised again to discover that the most certain thing about Laidlaw was his doubt. Everything came back to that, even his decisiveness....
William McIlvanney, Laidlaw: Harvest, San Diego, 1994. p 134, 218.)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rock Bands & Religiosity

Showing clips of Led Zeppelin performances -- Stairway to Heaven and two gospel songs, Nobody's Fault but Mine & In My Time of Dying -- to demonstrate that Christian themes are "imaginatively true" for non-religious artists? That's a good thing.

Taking Rock seriously, on the other hand, is definitely a bad thing.
GWYNEDD, WALES—Calling it the planet's last, best hope for saving rock music, the Guardians of the Protectorate of Rock announced Monday that they would take the extraordinary step of unleashing a never-before-heard Jimmy Page riff, hidden for decades in a mythic, impenetrable vault.
"We who believe in the immortality of rock took a vow 30 years ago that we would never release this incredibly powerful force unless we faced a Day of Reckoning—and that day has come," said Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, one of the chosen few who helped forge the Secret Vault to Save Rock and Roll, at a press conference in the Welsh highlands. "Just look at the pop charts, and you shall know I speak the truth."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Blog Criticisms

There has been some blogging on the nature of blogging in the past week from the Left: meta-blogging, as it were.
  1. Britain's The Guardian looks at Illiterary blogging.
  2. The Online Journalism Review at USC asks if blogs are a parasitic medium.
  3. Ann Althouse scolds childish blogger Eric Alterman for suggesting that blogs need to have less freedom of speech.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Douglas Coupland & Cynicism

A classfellow asked me in Office Hours why I am claiming in the lectures on Hey Nostradamus! that Coupland is strongly critical of cynicism. My answer was to quote from novel, for example Reg's remark: "Is that cynical? I hope not...." This did not seem to entirely convince, so I offer this 2000 interview with Douglas Coupland here on the blog, in the event that others share the questioning.
"I am the most uncynical person on Earth," he says, earnestly. "I'm ironic. I admit that. I'm Joe Irony. But people confuse irony with cynicism, which is like battery acid. It just wrecks everything."
The acid effect of cynicism was my configuration in lecture, as you recall. As stated Wednesday, I will lecture on Coupland and irony this coming week.

The article also gives a good presentation of Coupland's views on God.