Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Instant Nostalgia

It's a moment that could have come from a novel by the great adopted Canadian himself: the same month that Spook Country (a novel that has its own blog, that's how avant it is) is published, the restaurant where the protagonist of its prequel, Pattern Recognition eats dinner on her first night in London closed up shop.

I have a particular affection for Galangal that's entwined with geek god William Gibson descending from the cloud forests of Vancouver to notice a so-so Thai restaurant opposite the Odeon on Parkway. It was the site of many lively dinners with some of my best friends, one of whom also became friends with a writer-director called Giada Dobryzenksa who persuaded Gibson to appear in her short film Mon Amour, Mon Parapluie.

She stayed friends with Gibson, and kept him updated about her life in London - so weird aspects like Galangal and Mega City Comics, which Tom introduced her to, show up in Pattern Recognition. Tom, a filmmaker, lived on Parkway for a long time, as does a filmmaker character in the novel...

I bought Pattern Recognition at Heathrow airport as I was flying back from London to Toronto, the day after a Galangal dinner with Tom and our merry band. Reading about Cayce Pollard's transatlantic flight (she was in First, I was in cattle, but the principle was the same) I was struck with the Gibsonian emotion of "instant nostalgia," a sense of loss not for the distant past but for the previous moment. Time magazine uses it to describe the particular quality of pop art, which puts a sheen of kitsch melancholy over instantly recognisable brands and dead celebrities. Blogger Shit Happens was inspired to instant nostalgia by seeing the Transformers movie.

It's the emotion of the postmodern condition - a continual ache of loss for the empty present, a sense of entropic decay as what makes the vibrant moment come alive. Gibson would probably call it "nano-nostalgia," or use the example of feeling sad when - for example - playing an interactive game the previous day's state of affairs, scenarios and posts have been superceded by the new day's. Cyberloss is all the more painful for the illusion that the Web "remembers it for you wholesale."

Galangal will be just one of the ghosts that haunts Spook Country when I get around to reading it. Another will be the long-lost alt thread where I discovered an earlier Bill (beta-test version?), a hippie draft dodger dealing weed in Toronto's Yorkville. In the way of the gradual instutionalisation of the web, you can now watch this choice titbit, this covert discovery, on the CBC archives. Despite this fresh-faced countercultural charm, Gibson says that the future he was responsible for inventing, as the Capo of cyberpunk, just isn't living up to his specs.

You know what they say: those who can't find history on Google? Condemned to watch Big Brother repeats.

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