Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The HyperGnostic Apotheosis of Cyberpunk

Vancouver- where else?

Since we're rapidly descending into the dystopian future that William Gibson prophesied in his sci-fi novels- particularly the Bridge Trilogy- I thought it would be an opportune time to look back on those heady days when geeks got cool and cool went geek. 

This video is priceless- featuring a baby-faced Gibson and some state-0f-the-art Mac II graphics. Younger readers might look at all of this like it's Kinetoscope footage of the Luisitania, but all of this leaves me with a poignant, melancholy feeling- remembering the idealism and feeling of possibility in the late 80s/early 90s when a whole host of ideas from the underground were coalescing and feeding off the then-liberating potentials of digital technology. 

Futzing around with the IIsi, reading Mondo 2000, listening to Front 242, calling into to bullshit with the guys on Off the Hook ? Good times.


 But as is so often the case, Cyberpunk was spoiled by success. Hollywood came in and made a bunch of terrible-to-middling Cyberpunk films and every failed metal band on the planet went out and got samplers and sequencers and flooded the market with endless rewrites of Pretty Hate Machine. 

Always sniffing for a fad to appropriate, U2 hopped the bandwagon with Zooropa. But if you ask me for a specific date when Cyberpunk became seriously uncool, I'd pick June 29, 1993. What happened then? Billy Idol released a "comeback" album entitled- you guessed it- Cyberpunk

 The first Matrix movie- a medley of riffs stolen from Gibson's Sprawl novels- seemed to revivify the aesthetic, but I think the real preconditions needed to reboot Cyberpunk is to see the dystopia prophesied in the seminal texts of the literary wing of the movement come to pass in the real world. 

Which we certainly are seeing now; massive unemployment, hyper-Orwellian surveillance, broad-spectrum corporate feudalism, constant media intrusion, ever-present natural disasters, suburban blight, corporatization of space, epic hacker wars, and the ubiquity of impossibly sophisticated - and immersive - technology played with like toys by a new generation. It absolutely terrifies me how many issues we are struggling with now were blithely prophesied by Gibson.


But there's an x-factor in Gibson's work- the ghosts in the machines. Consciousness phasing in and out of the biologic and technologic realms and transforming them both. In this the Dystopia becomes the crucible- or more accurately, the testing ground- for the realization of the potential of consciousness. I'd offer up Count Zero (with its digital Loa) as the most compelling example of this. 

Gibson's work is Gnostic Spi-Fi to its very core, something nearly all of his imitators failed to grasp. But in many ways Gibson was following directly in the footsteps of Philip K Dick, who may one day be seen as America's most pivotal Gnostic visionary. In that light, it's fascinating to me how quickly this real world of ours is beginning to resemble the worst Gnostic nightmares of Earth-as-prison, the "black iron prison" as Dick put it. To the Gnostic salvation meant escape, a meme at the core of Gibson's work as well. 

So what does it mean that so much of Gibson has been embedded into Caprica? I'm not sure yet- let me think on it and get back to you.