The Burning Chrome EXCLUSIVE "Gibson/Barker" interview
Recorded December 13, 1997 at 3:30 pm (PST)
A FOUR PART SERIES
PART THREE of this interview. You know the drill. Read on.
Clive = Clive Barker
Bill = William Gibson
Charlie = Charlie Athanas
- PART THREE -
Clive: This conversation's coming full circle to the idea that these things are listed and available on the Net as ... well, these are all the folios of Shakespeare and this is all the versions of Paradise Lost you can find. In every edition you could ever want. And the issue is that probably that material could never have lasted outside a certain area, right? You're right they couldn't last for long in a trailer park in wherever, but actually is it any more fragile now than it's ever been? Is there not a sense that in some ways because we know we can access this information better than we could before and that maybe we have a better way of understanding it?
Bill: No, I think that we can access it, but we're no longer producing it. That whatever armature of ...
Clive: ... of belief?
Bill: ... of belief. It's always felt to me as though something was broken. I don't know if that will stay with me all my life.
Clive: One of the cornerstone stories of artists for me is the account of Swift reading his texts aloud to his servants because he passionately wanted them to understand ... even though they didn't read ... what his prose meant. And he was fearful back when he was writing Gulliver's Travels of, I think, some of the brokenness that you're describing right now. It was a different kind of brokenness perhaps, because here was a man who was incredibly sophisticated in lots of ways, very political obviously, but also a very religious man.
Bill: Uh hmm.
Clive: Here's a guy whose reading his stuff to his servants, because he's fearful that the culture in which he's living is already so divided that the lessons he's trying to teach will be inaccessible if he tries to use anything but the plainest language. And he's testing the language. Do you see what I mean?
Clive: He's sort of saying, "Does this work for you, Mary and Joseph?" And the reason why that's a cornerstone story for me is because I share the same sort of sense that things are broken, but I do feel that words on a page are remarkably potent still. And one of the few things I like about going around the country signing books and things, going to conventions or whatever, is seeing young people. I'm sure you have exactly the same experience. Fifteen, sixteen year olds coming up, who unlike us were brought up with videos and sixty-seven channels on the television or whatever, who are coming up and saying, "Your book is really important to me." Not, "Your story is important to me," even. "Your book, the item, this thing." And they'll give you ... you must have had this experience countless of times ... the book which is handed over to you to be signed is not the pristine new copy of something you're out there signing.
Clive: It's some beaten up copy of the book that's been dropped in the bath three times and has been handed around the family.
Bill: Oh, yes! I love that.
Clive: Isn't that great?
Bill: Yes. It's really, really great! Sueded with use.
Clive: Exactly! The way our books were, I had a copy of Edgar Allan Poe that was like that, you know. That was completely treasured and eventually it completely fell apart in my hands. And maybe again I have too much faith in this being an influential movement, but I see so much of that. And I read so many letters from kids now, because I'm writing for children. I'm talking about nine, ten, eleven year olds ...
Clive: ... writing to me saying, "I love reading your book." Unfortunately, almost always they say, "P.S. When's the movie?" Which is sort of scary, but there's definitely a sense of reading words on a page remains incredibly potent. And very individual. I mean, the sense that when somebody picks up a story of yours or a story of mine they're entering into our world in a very particular kind of way. In one of my notes, I think it was from you, Charlie, is one of things that Bill and I have in common is "world building"?
Clive: There is a sort of sense that ... you talk about hammering the thing into pipebombs before ... do we have a little bit of a god complex? I mean, we are sort of making worlds because we can imply our own order. I mean, fuck the Miltonic order, how 'bout the Gibsonian order? Isn't there a sense in which you're saying, "Okay, the world doesn't really work for me quite the way it is right now, but check out my world."
Bill: Maybe. I'm more inclined to see what I do as though I'm translating the world at large for myself. Giving it back to the reader. In a funny way, when I'm at my personal best abroad in the world, it's as weird and noir and hallucinatory as any of my writing and that's just going to the supermarket. (laughter all around)
Clive: Well, that's about you seeing stuff. That's about your being alive to stuff that's right in front of you.
Bill: Uh hmm.
Clive: And maybe one of the functions of the kind of fiction the both of us write is to alert people to the surrealities. The casual surrealities of daily life.
Clive: I mean, part of it is simply about stripping away scar tissue isn't it? And saying, "Don't be so insensitive guys. The world is far stranger and far more wonderful." And now we're back to "there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio."
Bill: Uh hmm! I think that's a favorite function of mine to the extent that I ever do it. I love to think of myself as doing that. I like to think of people reading my books and thinking, "Oh, wow! What a scary, imaginary future. Wait a minute! Didn't I see that on CNN?" (Laughter all around)
Clive: Okay. I'll wrap up. I know we're running hugely late here. I'll wrap up with a couple of questions that jump from there. As you now see yourself living in some portions of this world ... I mean, it's there being reported on CNN ... do you see a time when it's looked back on? If in '81 you were writing this stuff and it was predictive and it's simply ... I say simply ... now it's the world in which we live.
Bill: Hm hmm.
Clive: What happens in another seventeen years, sixteen years time?
Bill: Well, that's a really, really good question and it's actually something I given a bit of thought to. I think that the "cyber hyphen" things will go the way of the "electro hyphen" things, in that we do not wake every single day and think, "I live in a world of wonders of electricity." (Laughter all around) We really don't. We scarcely think about it.
Clive: Yeah, we just plug in.
Bill: And I think that with the evolution of computers and all of that, I have a certain faith that it tends to evolve towards transparency. And I think it will become sufficiently transparent. We'll become sufficiently used to it, that we really won't pay much attention unless something goes wrong and we're cut off from vast fields of memory which we depend on professionally ... or perhaps personally ... or erotically (laughter).
Clive: Right. But then the problem with transparency ... the challenge with transparency, which may be as different from the parallel with electricity, is that because information is here and because you painted a picture, at least in some measure, that the gathering and use of the information against the individual by corporate entities, the governmental entities is something to be watched. And monitored. And to be anxious about. Isn't the danger of transparency that we will also take for granted the fact that our lives have become, in one sense, have become available? Our private lives have become part of a public machine. I certainly am powerfully aware that my private life, as somebody whose private life is perhaps more interesting ... lord knows why, to a certain section of the populace than others ... because some kind of public existence, my private life is available in all kinds of ways that it wasn't before. And I don't particularly like that. I don't particularly like the fact the Internet will tell the world about my new boyfriend before I tell my mother.
Bill: Hm hmm.
Clive: I mean, should we not be worried about transparency in that sense if we take for granted the idea that this vast informational system will know about us on all kinds of levels or should we just sort of shrug?
Bill: I think we'll become necessarily more sophisticated. If you had been living in the rose-colored cottage you probably wouldn't have been too terribly concerned with drawing the blinds (laughter). Whereas when you move to a garret in the city you learn to hang something over that. (Laughter all around)
Clive: Or you become an exhibitionist.
Bill: Or you become an exhibitionist like my little friend here, "Ana in the Midwest". (laughter all around)
Clive: Exactly. That's an interesting thing. That's the other response. The other response is, "Well, fuck you. I'll let it all hang out."
Bill: Yes. What's funny, you know, is Orwell thought that the televisions would be watching us.
Clive: But Orwell also bathed three times a day because he thought he smelled. You know, so we're talking about a man ... oh no, except that was Aldus Huxley, wasn't it? I always get confused. Was it Huxley who had the bathing problem or Orwell?
Bill: I don't know.
Charlie: You know, you can go on the Internet and look that up. (laughter)
Clive: Yeah. Find out who had the worst bathing problem.
Bill: We could find that, but I mean really, you know, it seems like the evil in the world today is not that the televisions are watching us, but that we're watching the Shopping Channel. (laughter all around)
Clive: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Bill: We're all buying "cubic zirconium." (laughter all around)
Clive: And yet I also a want to say that the warning flags which you put up and that you continue to put up like, "Watch this shit." I wouldn't like to think that they just become things that we shrug about. If you as a writer were alerted to ... had some anxieties, you know, sixteen years ago, seventeen years ago, whatever ... shouldn't we be trusting your instincts as an artist? Should we be saying, "Well society moves on and what people were worried about in 1981 are not things we should be worried about anymore?" Because isn't the history of the world constantly telling us that the artists, when they raise flags and shake 'em and "Be careful of this," that very often they're right?
Bill: Well, you can't stop. We can't bring the machine to a halt while we check under the wheels to make sure there aren't those nasty bits that William Gibson predicted. (laughter all around) We are rushing forward through the ringing grooves of time. Very, very quickly indeed. All I can do in terms of predictive function, yelling, "Watch out, fellas," is kind of cling to the cowcatcher. (laughter all around) Usually by the time the thing's gone to paperback we're so far down the track that it's all a bit quaint. I mean, I take a certain pleasure, because I do write science fiction, in watching the quaint factor creep in.
Bill: And some of my early work is starting to have that wonderful secondary level of surrealism that I've always enjoyed in 1950's science fiction. (Laughter all around) It's fair game, you know? It's completely fair and if you're really doing your job right, like Alfred Bester, say, your work remains readable in terms of time in which it was written. I can never read Bester's SF without having probably the most upbeat sense of New York in the 1940's and early 50's than I know of anywhere in literature.
Clive: Right. Right, that's smart.
END OF PART THREE