I spent my entire day taking samples of rock out of one plastic bag and transferring them into other plastic bags. For seven hours. I went through over 200 ziplock freezer bags and killed a sharpie. My brain has been reduced to pudding.
So you’d think that wouldn’t be a good mental state for finishing up Distrust That Particular Flavor, the collection of William Gibson’s essays and lectures. Actually, I found it quite refreshing.
If you don’t know who William Gibson is, I suggest you use the Google. And then hang your head in shame as you trudge to the bookstore to purchase a copy of Neuromancer. Also, let me know if that happens so I can melodramatically cut you from my Christmas card list, only I haven’t sent out Christmas cards in years because I don’t hate myself enough to want to address ten thousand envelopes during finals.
There are 25 pieces in the book, plus an introduction. The essays aren’t presented in chronological order. I found this occasionally jarring – skipping between the modern internet and VHS tapes between pages is a little weird even if you grew up with it – but there is also a feeling of forward motion through the pieces that makes the chronological hiccups worth it.
Not every essay is a winner, and the ones you might like will probably be very different from the ones that I like. Each speaks to a very different part of the imagination and experience. But all are written with Gibson’s characteristic rich yet concise prose, and are a pleasure to read even if the topic isn’t one that gets at you on a deeper level.
I actually found the introduction very interesting from the standpoint of a writer. Gibson talks about his fiction and nonfiction coming from two very different places. It’s not something I’ve really thought about, but it’s something that I feel. Whence, when I’m beating myself up with the need to just write something I’m bullshitting my way through essays or even blogs posts because my brain can’t function on a high enough level to write fiction. I’m not egotistical enough to claim some kind of elevated kinship with William Gibson (ha, my wildest dreams) but it made me think. In that case, about my relationship with this particular art.
So many of these essays make you think about your relationship with what is outside yourself. Physical places, technology, history, time.
Dead Man Sings is a short little thing, barely two pages long, but it left me feeling dizzy from its start of “Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
Disneyland With the Death Penalty, My Own Private Tokyo, and Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands are all about place and people rolled together. Particularly the latter two I found fascinating because I did a major in Japanese Language and Culture, and am well acquainted with the feeling of something being both alien and familiar at the same time.
What I love (and simultaneously sometimes don’t love, because it makes me squirm and that is a good thing) about Gibson’s writing, fiction or non, is that it never allows me to feel fully comfortable. There’s always something nibbling at the edges of my brain, a verbal rock in my shoe that I can’t seem to remove. I re-read and mull, sometimes to savor and sometimes just to refine my understanding, sometimes even to drive what I think the point might be home.
From Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads? – “Our hardware is evolving at the speed of light, while we are still the product, for the most part, of unskilled labor.” Let that wash back and forth in your brain a bit and see what it dislodges.
I’ve named just a few of the essays, my absolute favorites. They’re all worth reading. And then reading again. Find your own favorites and tell me what they are.
(Also, I finished the book and wrote this somewhat disjointed post while listening to Tron Legacy Reconfigured. If you like electronica at all, find a copy. You can thank me later.)