Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The HyperGnostic Apotheosis of Cyberpunk (part 1 of ∞)

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.


  1. Ahh, read this little tidbit from the recent edition of the 'Futurist'(and Business Week) my gnostic, transhumanist disciple of Jung;

    Another name for the Black Iron Prison is The Panopticon Singularity, as coined by Charlie Stross.

    Tasty as you would say. Downright delicious!

  2. Yeah, Kurzweil's complete inability to grasp the neural network aspect of Pandora in his Avatar review (on PJM, no less) really soured me on this whole singularity business. I know people like Jaron Lanier are ultra-skeptical of Kurzweil as well. Interesting that Chris Carter named the apocalypse junkie in FTF after him.

    Maybe SU should change its name to Wintermute College.

  3. Good Catch Chris!

    Re: Corey Haim tweet

    Sad to hear that C.Haim has passed from his accidental overdose this morning.

    A word to any drug users in the readership...

    Canadian NEWS is reporting that ALL cocaine and crack recently seized by police has been found to be tainted with Levamisole.

    The concoction has been linked to the deaths of Heath Ledger and DJ AM. (and it wouldn't surprise me if a few of the recent and famous HEART PROBLEMS we've read and heard about in the media are related to its consumption and abuse as well!)

    According to our media the combination makes the cocaine or crack more potent while increasing blood pressure and heart rates... A sure-fire ticket to the other side for those with any sort of ticker problems.

    And the LOST sync...

    Last night's episode showed the book

    (it was found by Dr. Ben Linus on the beach)

    Perhaps a warning through the synchromystic veil...

    POT OK... Cocaine/Crack NOT OK???


  4. Since I have an AL-Khemistical background...
    'Spose I should have mentioned that the Levamisole concoction results in excess pulmonary fluid secretions and mucus buildup making breathing labored and difficult while the elevated heart rates demand greater oxygen absorbtion.

    Basically you slowly suffocate, riddled with anxiety which further elevates the heart rate until it stops.

    So you in the readership, you know who you are, Think Twice before snorting that White Devil or you just might meet one face to face, much earlier than planned.


  5. ..Kurzweil's complete inability to grasp the neural network aspect of Pandora..

    Yeah, I noticed that too.

    Maybe he doesn't dig on the intelligent planet scene, unless it was human, or meat influenced (or induced)?

    Go figure.

    LOL on Wintermute!

  6. What's clear about the "Singularity" is that it will leave virtually everyone except rich, white, brainy a******s like Kurzweil behind. They don't even bother to hide this aspect of it.

  7. Timely post, it does seem like the signs of Gnostic nightmares are everywhere. I see Joe Biden(from the world's usury capital Delaware is in Israel to discuss whether the anglo american zionists will continue our current wars or expand them. The surgery, and fake toothed politicians freak me out, it's one thing when the whores look fake, but when it's our leaders discussing war and control it's scary. Pelosi's death mask grin sends shivers down my spine.
    The illegal plants opium, cannabis, mushrooms seem to have a hand in glove fit with a lot of gnosticism. You can't really believe something unless you have seen it, or at least a glimpse. PKD did a lot of drug experimentation which certainly showed him important connections in this realm, unseen by most. a popular conspiracy site is showing the world in a light many have not seen.
    Also has some great stuff on mushrooms.
    Really enjoyed John Lash's book Not in His Image and his site, for a huge clearinghouse of gnostic vibes.

  8. Though PK Dick certainly at least resonated with Gibson, the author himself acknowledges William S Burroughs as his primary influence.

    Personally, I may be too "left brain" to get into his novels (though I have no trouble with the more poetic leanings of Gibson's work), I have to admit that I really really admire the film adaptation of Naked Lunch.

    There is one scene in particular with many secret agents all busily typing their reports to mysterious (even to the agents) agencies in an Interzone cafe. Whenever I see people working on their laptops in coffeehouses, I wonder "what agency are they working for?"

    Cronenberg, who adapted Naked Lunch to film as well as JG Ballard's Crash, also made three other films that certainly influence cyberpunk if they aren't precisely inside the genre or use its visual style: Existenz, Videodrome and Scanners.

    John H

  9. "Sad to hear that C.Haim has passed from his accidental overdose this morning.

    And the LOST sync...

    Last night's episode showed the book

    (it was found by Dr. Ben Linus on the beach)"

    Talk about irony... "Chaim" is Hebrew for "life"... (the Hebrew letter Chet, from whence comes our "H", represents life)...

    Oh, and call me a sellout, but I LOVED Zooropa. Maybe I was just a mopey pretentious teen but it really spoke to me. To me it's not really "cyberpunk"... dystopian, to be sure, but not in a cyber-y tech-y sort of way... "Schindler's List" was released that year and I somehow sensed a sort of soulless Teutonic tragic-but-hopeful undercurrent to both of those (to me) seminal works...

  10. The most important thing Gibson did was provide a style to computers that average people could use when thinking about what the people at the forefront of the technology were creating.

    It's interesting, but I watched an interview with Olivia Wilde about her work on the TRON sequel, TRON LEGACY (seriously, this could be bigger than AVATAR).

    She mentions that at the time, no one really understood the idea of "programs" and "users" and this kind of "space" inside the computer. However, again, I think TRON provided a template for thinking about this technology before it really existed.

    Susskind in his book THE BLACK HOLE WARS talks about how Einstein had to "rewire" his understanding of the world from Newtonian to Relativistic. I think when it comes to science fiction, the works - when they work - rewire our emotional experience to understand the changes in our technological environments and, as a result, facilitate those changes.

    It may be that the Internet we use today never would have existed if Gibson and the makers of TRON hadn't described it. It may be that another author or artist would have or could have conceived something else entirely.

  11. Here's that article link I was telling you about Chris;

    You can't get more dystopian than the singularity in the workplace!

  12. I saw a SURVIVAL RESEARCH LAB performance in brooklyn in the late 80's. It was a lot like that clip. It was a little scary, and sort of hard to figure out. And really loud.

  13. Also - Did William Gibson coin the term POST-HUMAN? He repeats it several times in that youtube clip.

    Mac Tonnies was a huge fan of Gibson, and named his (wonderful) blog POSTHUMAN BLUES.

    Mac's final book is reviewed in the Solar Satellite.

    And he published a book of short stories while still in high school titled ILLUMINATED BLACK. It has been out of print for years, and copies are available on for $9,999.00

  14. chris, speaking of Caprica, look who's popped up in the cast of this week episode ;) ....

  15. Book two of the Bridge trilogy… Idoru… deals with the alchemical wedding of sentient media with pop stardom. Singularity meets David Bowie…

    The cyberpunk genre imagines the meat of humanity merging with technological terrain of cyberspace/matrix/virtual-ocity.

    Meanwhile… the tek-gnostics sift through vast amounts of mundane data to find "nodal points" of particular relevance.

    Can’t wait to see what comes next…


    Don't ask me why, but something tells me mid-March is a window for some seriously geotremulous caca. We shall see...

  17. i'm pretty sure the show srl did in nyc was in the aprking lot of shea stadium, where the woodhipper flame throwers went out in the rain and covered people with the unignited gas, and the fajke money they had in the overhead bombs was passed around by junkies for weeks,, or thats the apocrypha
    btw,mark pauline of srl married ann woolsley's daughter,, the marin congresswoman.
    .. jaron lanier's name shouldnt be mentioned without a smirk, as far as second string cyberpunk sellouts, he probably takes the cake.
    there's still a bunch of mondo people around, a good bunch who had the good luck not to sell out.
    the wired mag founders now run tcho chocolate (very good dtuff) out of a pier in the embarcadero, and matt heckert (ex of srl) keeps their choc making machines functioning..
    the cyberpunk revolution (psychedelia though computers) was lost when people from outside the scene reaized there was money there (vc money?) and went for it.
    cyberpunk became consumerism, and status gadgets that will eventually be used to control
    ..mark of the beast in the house

  18. Great comments- glad to see this meme resonated with so many of you out there. Will weigh in with further thoughts later on.

  19. Been following your recent posts and I got particularly intrigued by the term spi-fi. First time I got to hear it is from you and got me thinking. Then I came across this:

  20. Odd, perhaps, that you mention "Mondo2000"--used to love reading that mag! It really opened my mind to a lot, more than I probably even realize.

  21. I was too young and clueless for the coming-into-being of cyberpunk the first time around. I don't think I picked up Gibson until the mid 90's. But to say the least, Cyberpunk was hugely influential on me. Also really dug Shadowrun, which was a role-playing game universe based on cyberpunk with some magic and mythology thrown in.

    And I completely agree with you, Chris, that THE TIME IS AT HAND. Hallelujahs, Hallelujahs. We're living it.

    Reading William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and others eventually led me to-

    Charles Stross, who has written a few truly amazing cyberpunk-esque novels such as Accelerando (which you can download for free)

    Rudy Rucker, who creates wacky and intensely visionary near-future worlds that make Gibson feel like a conservative.

    Neal Stephenson, who wrote one of the definitive cyberpunk novels (Snow Crash) and went on to write all kinds of interesting stuff, in and out of science fiction. Cryptonomicon being my favorite book of all time

  22. someone recently advocating "prison justice" (for other guys, to be sure!) has no business or cred bewailing -- in the abstract -- the Black Iron Prison

    such a one IS the BIP

    agreed w/ John H, cronenberg's Naked Lunch is a superb condensation of, and extrapolation on, the novel

    burroughs, btw, considered females to be hive-minded alien overlords (uberfems?) ... a separate species from the human male

    [he didnt rap it much in mixed co. tho] :O)

    poor guy couldnt take enuf drugs to keep from staying sane

    philip kindred was influenced by yah, not by the gnostic serpent and its neverending empire of mithraic "mysteries"


  23. Strangey- Check out the clip on the Satellite from the Lost Boys.

    Dad- Maybe Kurzweil's biggest concern with Pandora is patent royalties!

    Anony1244- Many people have made that same criticism....

    77M- Illegal plants! How is that not a misnomer?

    John- Actually, Gibson isn't a fan of PKD. But that doesn't mean he's not working similar territory. Certainly Burroughs and PKD were very similar.

    Agonus- How can you be a sellout for liking an album? U2, on the other hand...

    Anony150- Tron Legacy looks extremely cool. I'm stoked on the trailer.

    Mike- Sterling actually coined "posthuman." The first I heard it was referring to Michael Jackson!

    NickDK This week or last week?

    Jack Heart- The Laney character in Idoru certainly fits the profile of a Synchromystic.

    Anony948- Yeah- the first few issues of Wired were awesome, then it became a slightly hipper version of Business Week.

    Anony125- What's the connection?

    Riverwolf- Oh yeah- the first ten issues of that were awesome.

    Mark Trueblood- Cool- I'll try to track down some Stross. Gibson was talking about him in an interview I listened to recently.

  24. Great clip, Thanks!

    C.Haim and the dog.

    Now that he's sadly been in the conscious stream I've noticed that there's a definte dog theme with him...

    Here's another interesting film
    Watchers (1998) with him and dogs.


  25. Regarding that youtube video ... The guy in the video traces some sort of circle in a ritualistic fashion. A sort of summoning. Then the ufo appears. The link then goes to the full short film that deals with technology and some esoteric themes. Can't wait till your next post on this ongoing Cyberpunk presentation. Much food for thought!

  26. Ehi Chris
    last Caprica's episode 6 featured James Marsters, Torchwood's Captain John Hart

  27. On Stross-

    I have not read all his stuff yet but I would definitely start with Accelerando.

    Several serious futurists who work for consulting firms have pointed to Accelerando as a likely future in "real-life."

  28. I've always felt that Accelerando was more a parody of Gibson than a serious attempt at his prescience for future trends.

    Now, Halting State feels like it could be real.

    Anyone get into Gibson's recent work Pattern Recognition and Spook Country? They are actually set in the past, but obviously mainstream cultural consciousness is often way behind the present state of technological and cultural advancement - so, when Gibson writes about the past it feels like the future.