Friday, April 4, 2008

Nodes & Interstices

Last Wednesday's lecture outlined the two Big Ideas that are behind the repeated references to 'clocks' and 'nodes' in All Tomorrow's Parties: respectively, the 'clockwork universe' and 'interstices .' On Monday we'll finish this outline and then see how these two Big Ideas are worked diversely by William Gibson into his fiction as settting, characterisation and plot.

[The graphic here is actually a seriously cool graphical representation of this very blog in the form of nodes and dendrites, created from this web tool. In effect, it's how Laney might see our blog as it "haunts his nodal configuration...." (p. 19)]

'Interstices' are an extremely important concept within the novel and (as Gibson is suggesting) within present-day Vancouver: 'Terminal City' -- updated for 2007 as a cyber-Terminal.

The following is non-essential, and is only here for anyone with an personal interest in these technological ideas. Those with other kinds of interest need read no further.

As lecture explained, interstices are conceptual parts of the idea of nets: fishing nets, wireless networks, the internet itself. Gibson's first novel is titled Neuromancer, and deals with the idea of Neural Networks: a system model of information not being located in a centralised and unified place -- such as in the homunculus ('little man') model -- but instead is distributed as signals across a complex network of nodes and signal pathways ('axons.') The model is derived from the architecture of the brain, and is used to construct non-CPU computers, Artificial Neural Networks ('ANN'), under a concept called parallel distributed processing, under the doctrine of Connectionism.

Part of the power of nerual networks (biological or artificial) is that the individual nodes have a equality of signficance relative to each other, and the clusters within a network have plasticity of function, so that the breakdown of, or attack upon, one, or even several, nodes does not destroy the system, as the information are redistributed across the reamining nodes. As you probably know, this was the advantage that the United States military hoped to exploit by developing the Internet in the first place.

In All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson presents history itself as a nodal network, and human lives the connecting pathways. The interstices are, in a sense, where the meaning or the potential for new meanings can be said to exist.
....plunging down the wall of this code mesa, its face compounded of fractally differentiated fields of information he has come to suspect of hiding some power or intelligence beyond his comprehension.
Something at once noun and verb.
While Laney, plunging, eyes wide against the pressure of information, knows himself to be merely adjectival: a Laney-coloured smear, meaningless without context. (p 85.)
PS: An article I published (in a Danish journal) on parallel distributed processing for a literary audience is in our library at this link: "Forbindeleser."
PPS: This link takes you to a post from a previous class blog with a powerpoint lecture on All Tomorrow's Parties from a polemically left-wing position, using Jean Baudrillard. (Pace Baudrillard, I am a distant friend & admirer of Denis Dutton ;--)

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