William Gibson – Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)

“The realm of the dead is as extensive as the storage and transmission capabilities of a given culture”-Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1986, 1999)

  •   The deeper one climbs into early net culture, the more often references to William Gibson pop up. A lot of these citations are totally superficial, re-appropriating prose from Gibson’s sci-fi novels to make real-life cyberspace seem half as cool as fictional cyberspace.
  •   Agrippa is an anomaly in Gibson’s ouvre. It’s a poem. It isn’t quite fictional. It’s definitely not speculative or concerned with espionage in the way his more famous works are. It’s also where themes like an obsession with physical materials start to emerge, before they become central in his later novels.
  •   In Agrippa, human life itself is beyond description; mechanical and material objects provide the closest point of access to experience and memory. A gun, a photo album, a bus station.
  •   The piece itself makes all sorts of provocations regarding material and ephemerality— it’s packaged in a distressed book, with pages that become extra-weathered when handled; the poem is hidden on a floppy disk that encrypts itself into unplayability after the first run-through. 
  • It’s almost like Agrippa makes a push back against the yee-haw posthumanism that folks pulled out of Neuromancer, saying “we’re not there yet”, “there’s no going back”, “our storage systems are not universal”.
  • This all happened in a historical moment where Timothy Leary, Autodesk Inc., Jaron Lanier, VPL Research, etc, were aggressively referencing Gibsonian cyberspace in both corporate research and public relations for their spectacularly never-released VR products. All these smart folks were trying to rush forward, when Agrippa was making the point that media and storage technologies are really always about looking back.

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