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William Gibson Interview

January 2003


William Gibson Interview
mf: What else about Japanese culture attracts you?

William Gibson: There are a lot of things. I think that because of what they've done historically, it's just a remarkable place. They took one look at Victorian England and the industrialization that was going on there and seemed to make a cultural decision right across the board to jack themselves into this industrialized future that they'd seen virtually overnight. And I don't know of any culture that's undergone the degree and speed of traumatization that Japan did in the course of becoming industrialized. And it gave them a jump on the rest of Asia that they're only just now maybe losing. Five years after they sent their exploratory technological envoys to England, there was a factory in Tokyo making Swiss-grade pocket watches, and that's the company we know as Seiko today. Mr. Hatori, who used to have a little cart on the Ginza, which wasn't that fancy a street then, had like a few Swiss watches that he sold. And he went from that to building what I believe was the first factory in Japan, and five years later he was making pocket watches and sewing machines that were really good copies of Singer, and all this stuff. They just went through these extreme convulsions to do that.

mf: Tell me about living in Canada. In what ways do you prefer it to the US?

William Gibson: Well, you know I've lived here for 30-some years at this point. It's kind of like living in an alternate reality. You know the thing that made the first couple of seasons of the X-files really really look cool was that it was shot here, but they were pretending that it was the United States. So every frame of every show had this subliminal level of cognitive dissonance, like where are they? What is this place? Was that a mailbox? Like everything is slightly off. It's almost exactly like the United States, but it's not. And socially it's kind of like living in a Scandinavian social democracy that looks like the United States, at least in cities.

mf: Have you ever been inclined at all to return to the United States?

William Gibson: Well, I've never thought of moving, but I'm sort of constantly there. I mean, I really think of it as more or less all part of the same continuum these days.

mf: What's your take on the impending war with Iraq?

William Gibson: I'm just another onlooker on that one. All I can tell you for sure about that is give it two years and it will be history. I don't know what kind of history it's going to be, but it might not be the biggest deal… I mean, let's say we're looking at it from 2050, and, assuming there is war, it might not be one of the really big deals of the first half of this century. It's just impossible to say. I always get a little uneasy when people ask me questions like that - I get really worried if anyone thinks I'm actually pretending to be prescient. You know, these are very very serious times. That's all I can tell you. It always comforts me to remember that every moment of the present is somebody else's past, and it's somebody else's distant past as well. You know, the days of the first Gulf War seem a very very long time ago in some ways. It all seems pivotal when you're watching CNN, but nobody knows where the pivots really are, in most cases. I think 9/11 was certainly a pivot, but there aren't very many pivots that are quite that prominent. And history is a story that we make up and tell ourselves, and endlessly revise about whatever actually happens.

mf: Like a magic book that changes every time we open it.

William Gibson: Yeah - every generation essentially rewrites history. It's absolutely necessary that history changes, more things are revealed, attitudes change… If I could know one thing about the end of the 21st century, or if I could get one body of information, I wouldn't go for anything about that contemporary reality. I'd want to know what they think about us, and I think from that I'd be able to infer everything about what's going on there.

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