Summary Notes for William Gibson video interview in No Maps for These Territories

Erick Heroux
June 2006
These notes are not a complete summary, but rather a hasty sketch taken on the fly.

GIBSON: During my Cold War era childhood, there were two alternative futures prevalent in mass culture:
1. High tech futurist utopia, emphasis on gadgets and new technologies
2. Nuclear wasteland

Implies that this extreme either-or was of limited inspiration.

Today we are totally altered by and dependent upon technology -- an irreversible situation. If you are middle aged and still have all your teeth, that's technology. Glasses to correct your vision. [other examples? Inoculations to prevent disease, fertilizers for industrialized farming, transportation systems to distribute goods, etc. We could not survive as a population without these technologies. ]

Q: What would make us posthuman?
GIBSON: Nanotech is one thing. With nanotech there would no longer be any basis for Value. You could have anything, anytime for anyone -- you could make a burger out of gold or gold out of a burger -- or whatever out of whatever. Even humanity itself would become utterly protean [changing form at will]. Gibson states that this is where he remains old-fashioned and humanist, that he has no imaginative "traction" on this possible posthuman world.

Q: And media?
GIBSON: You can't find any "non-mediated" people today. Anecdote about the diary entry of a Victorian gentleman after 1st hearing a recording of the human voice on an Edison wax disc, or on a Victrola: he wrote that it was like a "voice from hell" and how could God let such things happen! [point is about how we take media and new technologies for granted, having lost a sense of their uncanny power; that we are so accustomed to a mediated world that we laugh at such reactions from a non-mediated perspective]

"The mediated world is now the world." This lends us an ambivalence: "a pervasive sense of loss" yet also "a pervasive sense of excitement" simultaneously.

[Later in the interview:] New media historically was driven by pornography. Example is Civil War era (circa 1865) daguerreotypes. Friend is a dealer. Examples shown.

On the post-contemporary condition:
GIBSON: I experience occasional vertiginous moments of terror and ecstasy [cultural vertigo]. A panic realization of the absolute contemporary . . . most of us feel comfortable living about 10 years in the past. Example: "CNN moments" where he was "shoved up against the windshield of the present" -- a terrorist bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building after which nothing in America would ever again be quite the same.

Cites writer Terry Southern in connection with truth-is-stranger-than-fiction getting jacked up higher and higher. This makes the fiction writer's job increasingly difficult today.

Also cites Bruce Sterling as a fellow cyberpunk author who helped to mature his early juvenilia.

BRUCE STERLING interviewed about Gibson:
Reading Gibson really opened my eyes. They met in 1981. (Gibson states that Sterling was in the tiny audience for his reading and that Sterling "completely got it!" )
[Sterling is also discussed by Fredric Jameson in the essay we read about Pattern Recognition, "FEAR AND LOATHING IN GLOBALIZATION", from The New Left Review]

GIBSON: I grew up with SF [sci-fi or science fiction] -- a popular artform that was "potentially derelict".
Left the USA as a draft dodger during the Vietnam War, not so much a political act as for "hippie girls and hashish". Clips of the Summer of Love in San Francisco and in Vancouver.

Today looking back at those drug days, Gibson is not nostalgic. Drugs are a bit pathetic, merely a "tweaking of the incoming data" that one must eventually realize, leading ultimately to pathology. He looks back at his "cannabis dysphoria" -- a sort of low grade depression every time he smoked marijuana.

My father worked as a plumber at Oak Ridge while they made the atomic bombs. During Gibson's childhood, his father died, and he was raised by his mother in the South. Now he feels that as a young man he was crazy, a recent realization. Today: "I want to be more honest with myself."

Q: And your style?
GIBSON: I'm not a didactic writer. . . . took me years to realize that "the heart is the master; the head is the servant" -- except of course when we're in trouble [in other words when the head is the master against the heart, this causes trouble] [Later in interview:] Ideas emerge from the process of writing itself -- literally putting one word after another. J.G. Ballard was an early and major influence on my writing.

Talks about how important the Beat writer William Burroughs was to him personally. What impresses him a lot was Burroughs' final diary entry:

"There is no final enough of wisdom, experience -- any fucking thing. No Holy Grail, No Final Satori, no solution. Just conflict.
Only thing that can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love. What I feel for my cats past and present.
Love? What is it?
Most natural painkiller what there is.
--William Burroughs

Q: What saves us?
GIBSON: Acceptance. Acceptance of the impermanence of being. This is it; it's not a rehearsal. . . . All the refrigerator magnets of the New Age are basically truisms. . .
I tend to see organized religions as franchise operations . . . like Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc. "But that doesn't mean that there isn't any chicken!"

CYBERSPACE: Gibson discusses coining this word. He's charmed to see it used so much today, but back then in his first novel it was evocative and meaningless. No one could understand or visualize its significance. Discusses his observations of how people behave when talking on the phone or playing video games -- they enact a kind of virtual space based on their mediated experience.
Gibson now attempts to "debunk" his reputation as a futurist -- since his real focus has been on "the incomprehensible present" to make it more accessible.

Q: And cities?
GIBSON: "I'm happiest in cities . . . ." Driving by the Union Trust Building -- now re-purposed since the Union Trust Corp itself has moved on -- no doubt "into cyberspace." . . . .

The video interview contains over 1 hour more of Gibson, especially in the out-takes sections. The documentary film has an official website: