Friday, March 23, 2007

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 .....


dankeschone said...

i need to know something

so you're saying we cannot perceive eternity because there are physical and spacial limitations such as the past, the future, the present and the hours of the day

you say that in gibson's story, secular eternity is created by the recreation of matter

so that means it is eternity because the thing itself never dies????

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

More or less correct. The Tao is the eternal: Rei Toei is just software code and energy combined, and thus can be re-created eternally....

dankeschone said...

so the Tao is this metaphysical force that directs the course of history?!?!?

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

Well, Taoism is a very ancient religion, predating what is now the nation of China, and translates as "Way." So in a sense it is more than a force: it is simply the Way that things actually go, and people only have the illusion that they are going their own way. I'll make a main blog post about this good question.