William Gibson's "Spook Country" annotations via Node Magazine, node.tumblr.com and SpookCountry.co.uk - "the future of literary criticism", according to Professor John Sutherland

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Professor John Sutherland was the moderator for the Q&A session at the Trades Union Congress conference centre "Evening with William Gibson" last Tuesday 28th August 2007.

John Sutherland is the Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and Visiting Professor of Literature at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, USA.

Node idea

A new science fiction novel is threatening to completely overhaul the way literary criticism is conducted, claims John Sutherland

Friday August 31, 2007
Education.Guardian.co.uk

I have seen the future of literary criticism - and, as John Reed said - 'it works'. Works better, in fact, than Reed's beloved Soviet Union ever worked.

The readership of The Guardian Education supplement will contain a lot of "left wing" academics who are familiar with the allusion to the US Communist journalist John Reed, who was portrayed by Warren Beatty in the Hollywood film "Reds" (1981)

And it will work, I believe, for other humanities disciplines. Science I'm not so sure about. But perhaps there too.

The purported inventor of the terms 'cyberspace' and 'matrix' is currently in the UK promoting his latest book, Spook Country.

Perhaps he was when this article was written, but William Gibson was home in Vancouver by the time it was published on Friday.

William Gibson's fans are screaming blue murder that the UK reviewing establishment has been slow and disrespectful in its attention to this latest masterpiece.

mea culpa - there has been some whingeing on my part, on the pages of this blog to that effect. How many other UK fans feel the same way is unclear.

Gibson himself is 'cool' (a big-deal word for him) about the reception of Spook Country and has come up with another lexeme for critical neglect: 'antibuzz', or 'definition by absence'.

To remind the reader that John Sutherland is a Professor of English :

Wikipedia entry for "lexeme" :

A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics, that roughly corresponds to a set of words that are different forms of the same word.

He really should trademark these words. He'd be up there with the five "Boardroom Bonanza" fat cats featured on the front page of Wednesday's Guardian.

Presumably those featured in this articleThe boardroom bonanza by Julia Finch, City editor Wednesday August 29, 2007, The Guardian

There's been no antibuzz, it should be said, in the neighbouring hard pages of this newspaper. Those interested in synopsis and critical verdict on Spook Country can find it in Steven Poole's review on August 18 - ("better late than never", say the fans)

Remember that Spook Country was officially published in the UK on 2nd August, 5 days ahead of the USA.

See my annotations and slight corrections to this positive review by Steven Poole.

and John Crace's Digested Read the previous Tuesday - an act of desecration which has the Gibsonophile community foaming with rage, but no-one can hear you foam in cyberspace.

It is hard to to simultaneously "scream blue murder" and "foam with rage" 8-)

My suggestion that, just as with the plausible technology on display in Spook Country, it may well be possible to write or adapt a computer programme or script to semi-automatically generate a John Crace Digested Read regurgitation, if anyone could be bothered to waste time on such a project, is entirely serious.

What's relevant to the grand proposition with which I began this piece is how Gibson nowadays writes, and how he demands to be read:

"One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition [Gibson's previous novel] is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody's going to google everything in the text ... there's this nebulous extended text. Everything is hyperlinked now."

What the author is outlining here is the theory of a new and innovatively creative reading practice. The first line in Spook Country is:

"'Rausch,' said the voice in Hollis Henry's cell. 'Node', it said."

Node is a Wired-like magazine that doesn't and probably never will exist. Rausch is the (non-) editor. Hollis is in Los Angeles, doing a feature on locative art - holograms of the famous dead, which can be attached, like ectoplasm, to places (eg River Phoenix outside the Viper Room).

Hollis is sleeping (as the next sentence informs us) in the Mondrian. It's a hotel on Sunset Boulevard - along from the Standard and the Chateau Marmont: five-star joints which feature centrally in the first chapters. Gibson's current fiction is product- and allusion-heavy. And the plot of Spook Country (which revolves around the concept of GPS triangulation) is fiendishly indirect. Help is appreciated.

Node-man, a Gibson fan, has duly set up a website with the devotional URL node.tumblr.com.

Is this deliberate obfuscation to hide the pseudonym of patternboy or is there slight confusion caused by the fact that the nodemagazine.com postings are by "admin" ? At a push, "Node admin" could perhaps sound like, or be mis-read as or mis-remembered as "Node-man"

Do not underestimate how significant the presence of this extremely rare inline hyperlink to anything other than another article in the same publication is, in a mainstream media article - browse around the rest of the generally very good Guardian website to see what I mean.

Are we finally starting to get through to the Establishment ?

Node-man also got a very early copy of Spook Country. The fan is unidentified: Gibson knows who he is, and says he lives in small-town USA and wants, apparently, to stay anonymous.

The difference between even the publication of Pattern Recognition in 2003 and Spook Country in 2007, is the ready availability of Advance Reader Copies or Uncorrected Proof Copies via online sites such as eBay. Book publishers could, if they chose to, put pressure on eBay not to allow these items to be sold before the official publication date, but they do not seem to do so.

A small amount of internet research would easily reveal all the contact details for patternboy, but "that is left as an exercise for the reader" (or you can email me at blog@SpookCountry.co.uk if you are really curious). Perhaps this aspect of the article is a little test along the lines of the example quoted in John Sutherland's Wikipedia entry, which says

"Carefully going over every word of the text, Sutherland highlights apparent inconsistencies, anachronisms and oversights, and explains references which the modern reader is likely to overlook. In some cases he demonstrates the likelihood that the author simply forgot a minor detail. In others, apparent slips on the part of the author are presented as evidence that something is going on beyond the surface of the book which is not explicitly described (such as his explanation for why Sherlock Holmes should mis-address Miss Stoner as Miss Roylott in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band")."

Node-man mobilised a volunteer army of fellow enthusiasts

I am not sure how big this "army" actually is, but it is certainly international, given that I am in London, UK and patternboy is in Colorado, USA.

and set out to create what Gibson above terms the "Google aura", or what he prefers to call the critical "cloud" that hovers over every work of literature. We can now "map" this in ways we never could before - thanks to Messrs Google and Wikipedia.

What this means, at the basic level, is a new kind of annotation. Read that first sentence again, and hit the following URL (the second chapter of Spook Country shifts to New York: there are three lines of geographically separated, but GPS- and Google Earth-locatable, narrative which finally converge in Vancouver, Gibson's current hometown): node.tumblr.com/page/23.

The website has created a version of the cloud. It can only be a version. As Gibson states in the novel, when we watch TV, flipping our remote, we are not 'viewing', we are 'channelling'. So too, when we read a novel, we create our channel through it. Which is why my Da Vinci Code is different from your Da Vinci Code and each of ours are different from the five million others. Dan Brown's novel should be seen as a gigantic piece of Emmental, with millions of wormholes threading through it.

The Da Vinci Code Wikipedia entry.

If you asked me what are the two best-annotated texts available to scholar and student in canonical English Literature, I would say the Alistair Fowler edition of Paradise Lost and the Ann Thompson edition of Hamlet. Colleagues would probably come up with alternative contenders. But they would be the same kind of footnote / endnote enterprises. Old school.

Paradise Lost (Longman Annotated English Poets) (Paperback)
by Alastair Fowler (Editor)

- Paperback: 744 pages
- Publisher: Longman; 2 edition (9 Oct 1998)
- ISBN-10: 0582215188
- ISBN-13: 978-0582215184

Hamlet (Arden Shakespeare: Third Series) (Hardcover)
- Hardcover: 613 pages
- Publisher: Arden; 3rd edition (March 21, 2006)
- ISBN-10: 1904271324
- ISBN-13: 978-1904271321

What the unknown Node-maestro has done is poles apart, both from this, and from the usual website-based 'everybody pitch in' mess. He's channelled the raw material supplied by his volunteers into a sign-posted route through Spook Country. It opens the way, I believe, to a new kind of critical commentary on texts. One can see, easily enough, how it could be extended to Paradise Lost, or Hamlet.

Some of the mostly but not entirely Google and Wikpedia enhanced annotations, may well be serendipitous and whilst their selection is due to patternboy or myself, a different choice might well have been made, depending on time pressure.

For example, patternboy originally annotated the name Semenov, with an illustration of what turned out to be a Nobel Prize winning chemistry professor, rather than the spookier references to the KGB and DGI which I turned up. The picture of a top Soviet scientist and Academician in the 1950s or 1960s, does not necessarily give an entirely wrong impression of a senior KGB spook of the same period.

The term apophenia was applied quite a lot by WIlliam Gibson and critics and fans about Pattern Recognition and now about Spook Country as well.

It's a two-step thing. Clearly, you need the Googleised data. But then, it needs to be shaped. Not definitively shaped - no reading or interpretation is ever final - but formed into a critical route. One of many possible routes, but one which gets you to the destination.

I have seen the future of English Studies. It's a cloud. Or a big cheese. Take your pick.

As with all academic writings, there will, no doubt be someone who does not agree with this hypothesis by John Sutherland, but it does seem quite plausible to someone like me, who spends so much time blogging with hyperlink references, about non-trivial matters.

2 Comments

Man, you seem to always be one step ahead of me! I read the article after finding it via my daily review of RSS search feeds, posted a reaction referencing you, and immediately jumped over here to see if you had found it too.

So, Node Magazine has gone from being a shameless self-promotional vehicle co-opting the "inevitable Googling" following the release of Spook Country to now a mysterious, international conspiracy to "completely overhaul literary criticism?"

Great piece. This idea of the book existing in a Google cloud is a great one, and jibes with how I read SC (having not then yet read any of the commentary sites like this one or Node): with my laptop nearby, googling whatever caught my eye.

About this blog

This blog is discusses and analyses the new book Spook Country by cyberpunk author William Gibson, published in August 2007.

This will be primarily from a United Kingdom perspective, as some of the themes of espionage and surveillance and hidden forces really do resonate in our endemic Surveillance Society.

This blog has been described, quite fairly, as "otaku-worthy immersion"

Email Contact

email: blog @ SpookCountry [dot] co [dot] uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.

Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers

Please take the appropriate precautions if you are planning to blow the whistle on shadowy and powerful people in Government or commerce, and their dubious policies. The mainstream media and bloggers also need to take simple precautions to help preserve the anonymity of their sources e.g.

Spook Country Links

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country *NO SPOILERS* forum

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country - *SPOILERS OK* forum

William Gibson video about "Spook Country" on YouTube and on the official website.

William Gibson Links

William Gibson blog - written by the author himself, on which he has test marketed fragments of his novel Spook Country whilst writing it.

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board

www.williamgibson.de - William Gibson book promtion website in Germany

William Gibson aleph - lots of resources about William Gibson's works.

The Cyberpunk Project - some online texts of some of William Gibson's writings hosted in Russia.

Wikipedia Links

Wikipedia entry for "Spook Country"

Wikipedia "Spook Country" page edit history RSS feed or Atom feed

The character "Hubertus Bigend" has his own fictional Wikipedia entry in "Spook Country", which has now become now a real one.

Node Magazine

  • Node Magazine - a fictional magazine which "seems to be actively preventing the kind of buzz that magazines normally cultivate before they begin to exist" mentioned in the hints given about the Spook Country book, which has already been created online by a fan (patternboy), before the book has been published.
  • node.tumblr.com - Node Magazine is publishing 2 Chapter Summaries and Quotations each day in the 42 day countdown to the official publication of Spook Country
  • Spook Country blog's "cloud of hyperlinks" in numerical chapter order - commentary and annotations on the node.tumblr.com annotations to Spook Country.

Fictional British TV Spooks

James Bond 007

Stylish, if somewhat far fetched, BBC TV drama based on MI5 the Security Service - Spooks

BBC children's TV series M.I.High

2008 spin off TV series from Spooks [spooks] code 9 , set a few years into the future in 2013, in the Orwellian Police State which has emerged after a nuclear bomb attack on London.

Fictional Spooks

The Spy Wise Blog by Wesley Britton

Real Spooks

MI5 - the Security Service - counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, domestic surveilance

GCHQ - the Government Communications Head Quarters - intercepting and deciphering enemy communications, and protecting UK ones.

MI6 - SIS - the Secret Intelligence Service - mostly foreign intelligence - not quite like depicted in James Bond films.

Ex - Spooks

RichardTomlinson.org - Richard Tomlinson - still being harassed by his former employer MI6. There are also links to Cryptome's archives of articles and alleged, unproven, lists of names of former or mcurrent MI6 agents (including, improbably, some UK Ambassadors), which caused lots of controversy. Tomlinson denies publishing anything not already in the public domain.

Martin Ingram, Welcome To The Dark Side - former British Army Intelligence operative in Northern Ireland.

Operation Billiards - Mitrokhin or Oshchenko ? Michael John Smith - seeking to overturn his Official Secrets Act conviction in the GEC case.

The Dirty Secrets of MI5 & MI6 - Tony Holland, Michael John Smith and John Symond - stories and chronologies.

Naked Spygirl - Olivia Frank

Spooky Info

Cryptome.org - including various spooky documents which some Government agencies would prefer not to be online.

Alan Turnbull's www.secret-bases.co.uk - "An entertaining guide to using Internet-based research tools – Ordnance Survey's maps, Getmapping's aerial photos and Google Earth! to reveal the UK's "hidden" MoD facilities and military sites"

Eye Spy Magazine - " The world's leading newsstand magazine on intelligence and espionage" - photos, articles, book reviews, private sector surveillance equipment and services adverts etc. N.B. Sometimes uncritical articles on various anti-terrorism and espionage topics, presumably in order to keep in favour with their anonymous sources.

Historical Spooks

Science Museum, London - Science of Spying Exhibition - for Spy Kids of all ages until September 2007.

Bletchley Park - "Historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during WWII and birthplace of the modern computer."

Imperial War Museum. London

Spooky CyberPunks and CyberGoths

The Dose is a "free, downloadable PDF zine ranging from industrial and gothic music to indie game development, Japanese visual kei, eyecandy, cyberpunkness" produced in Hungary.The three (so far annual) issues so far, with another promised in July 2007 contain plenty of CyberPunk and CyberGoth images and reviews, with the occasional reference back to William Gibson or other cyberpunk fiction authors.

Spy / Surveillance Art Projects

Spy Box - "A digital camera inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system. The Spy Box was sent from my studio to the gallery taking an image every 10 seconds recording a total of 6994 images these were then edited together to create an animated slideshow." - by artist Tim Knowles

Benjamin Males - "Face Targeting and Analysis System (2008) - Software designed to find and analyse faces in a video stream. First stage in an ongoing project looking at the potential misuse of technology"

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide

As part of the preparations for William Gibson book signing and lecture event promoting Spook Country in London, during August 2007, this "local knowledge" guide to places of interest to cyberpunk fans was compiled, and has been subsequently expanded.

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide - http://CyberPunk.org.uk

Please feel free to add comments or send emails, to keep it up to date.

Zero History

Zero_History_amazon_150.jpg

Zero History blog - ZeroHistory.net - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Syndicate this site (XML):

Zero History

Zero_History_amazon_150.jpg

Zero History blog - ZeroHistory.net - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Cover Artwork

US cover art (the design we prefer):
US_cover_April_150.jpg

UK cover art:
UK_cover_February_150.jpg

See how the cover artwork designs have changed slightly over time in the Cover Artwork category archive

"Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation

Our "Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation - re-orderd into numerical Chapter sequence

The Node Magazine node.tumblr.com, which this was a collaborative online contribution to, was online even before the official publication date of the first hardback edition of the book in August 2007.

This has been commented on by the author William Gibson, and described by Emeritus Professor of English Literature John Sutherland as "the future of literary crticism"

Recent Comments

  • Christopher Tassava: Great piece. This idea of the book existing in a read more
  • patternboy: Man, you seem to always be one step ahead of read more

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