Thought I had seen this William Gibson quote, or at least part of it, somewhere before, and it turned up this week in a post by BBH labs:
“Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of industrial civilization in the previous two centuries. They were where industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconscious R&D, exploring alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large… But they became extinct…. We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters.”~ William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999)
I love this for two reasons.
One, it seems to accurately describe the odd problem we’re having more and more, which Patton Oswalt recently described in Wired as “etewaf” — Everything That Ever Was, Available Forever. Nothing has time to gestate and get cool, because too many people are spending their whole lives scouring for the next cool thing.
Two, I feel like that person sometimes. Scouring the web, the world, the recesses of my brain for bits of newness or pithy factoids or fresh perspectives that just aren’t there. Infinite information isn’t always the road to inspiration; it’s often limits that inspire greatness, not limitlessness.
Once, I saw Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back, doing a Q&A after a screening at the Arclight in Hollywood. This was post-prequels. He was taking questions about behind-the-scenes stuff like making Yoda work, and someone asked him what he thought of the new movies. He tactfully dodged, and said something to the effect of, “You know, it’s because we were so limited in what we could do with Yoda that we had to work so hard to give him a personality. That was the only way to make him a believable character. When you’re unlimited in what you can do, you spend less time thinking about what you should do. It’s often the limits that push you to make great art.” (I may be paraphrasing or making that pithier than it was when he said it, but it’s a good point all the same.)
It may be worth noting that he passed away a few months ago. The true limit of us all.
Did I mention I’m turning 30 in a few days? A good a time as any to focus less on what I can do, and more on what I should. Like write more. Figure out what I’m doing to celebrate this pivotal moment in my life. And figure out which limits will push me to make something great out of this year to come.