The Gernsback Continuum and Post-Modernism

The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson follows a man whom is assigned the duty of photographing old futuristic architecture. Initially he does not understand the fascination with the “the more baroque elements of American pop culture” (458). The assignment is handed down from an old friend named Cohen, and accompanying him is Dialta Downes. She is a noted British art-historian that possesses a deep obsession for American culture. She rants on about the “ uniquely American form of architecture that most Americans are scarcely aware of” (458). The narrator is able to recall images of this “phenomena” that she has deeply merged herself with. In Chapter 5 of Postmodernism this is described as depthlessness or a disconnect from tradition. The narrator is blocked off from this reality that Downes glorifies.

As the he carries on, the juxtaposition of the world that never was and the present is provoking. The dreamed world and the real world were compared as he realized that “the Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze..” (460). Whereas the post-war world he lived in was lacking with “cars-no wings for it-and the promised superhighway to drive it down” (460). Somehow the narrator breaks into this mindset of Dailta Downes during his journey. He confides in a friend named Merv Kihn explaining the images he had witnessed. Merv acts as the conspiracy theorist post-modernist with his “skeptical despair about the reality” described in postmodernism(112). Kihn attempts to pull him from the false consciousness that he is feeding into. He explains the unreal images that “people see” and how “these things..nothing’s there, but people see them anyway” (461). Before he entirely loses himself in the totalitarian utopia he understands the semiotic ghost that Merv was describing. He snaps back to reality only to view the world realistically. He finds that viewing the world’s flaws is far better than losing personal authority and touch with himself.

Hugo Grensback is referenced in this short story as he coined the term “science fiction”. Grensback was a Jewish writer and magazine publisher. Merv hints to a sci-fi world as he describes aliens and attacking severed bear heads. Ironically the narrator mentions stadiums built by Albert Speer for Adolf Hitler. This play on forms of utopias and their ineffectiveness in zeroed in on. He notices that Downes ideal image is exclusive and mostly made up of individuals that “ were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes” (463). This mimics the ideal Germany that Hilter set out to create. However, one could imagine that Hugo, one of the most well know creators of these alternate worlds may have had some objections to a mirrored Nazi utopia. This continuum or series of extreme similarities and differences leaves much to be questioned.

These readings directly connect to Rabkin’s Atavism and Utopia which describes an utopia as no place or belonging to the future. The narrator visits the past during, the future that was imagined and found that things fell short. The concepts of dystopia and utopia remain in question as perception truly is everything. Postmodernism explains these falsehoods as reality is often distorted and fabricated.