June 2011 Entries
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You Will be Missed Iain Banks(19 Jun 2013)
By Neal Kirk
Since my last post, my social networking feeds have been populated with the sad news that author Iain (M) Banks has died. I offer this post as public tribute to Banks and express my sincere respect. Banks’ death helps show how the internet is being used to communicate and commemorate the death of one of our gothic own. Banks is well known for his brilliant gothic novel The Wasp Factory (1984), but also for Complicity (1993), The Crow Road (2008), and I’m sure we are all looking forward to his forthcoming final work The Quarry (2013).Apparently, in lifes uncanny and vicsiously ironic way, Banls' came to know the experience of one of the characters he wrote in the Quarry, 'just a little too well'.
Banks broke the news of his gall bladder cancer in a blog post on his official website, relishing in a bit of ‘ghoulish humour’ even at the end by asking his partner, Adele, if ‘she will do me the honour of becoming my widow’. But this alone does not a digital gothic make. Banks’ choice to announce his terminal diagnosis on his online public blog does not seem out of place in todays contemporary media environment just as the BBC’s reporting of his death two months later is similarly not out of place. It is now increasingly common for news of celebrity deaths to be reported (or misreported) in real time.
The blog is now a continuing aspect of Banks’ mediated legacy. The fact that Banks is dead drastically changes the primary use of his official webpage. With few posts to be expected, and certainly no more from Banks himself (presumably) the direction of information transmission is in the process of changing from the present to the past tense. As the function of the site becomes a defacto memorial, some important questions crop up about what generally will happen to the site: the monitoring of comments, the maintenance, its longevity, and the financial aspects related to page. In Banks’ case, he evidently gave these matters some forethought. A page has been set up (http://friends.banksophilia.com/guestbook/) for friends and family to leave their personal messages and remembrances. Through the site, the internet is being used not only as a digital ‘guestbook’, but also for support, and memorialization.
The way I learned of Banks candid blog post and, later, about his death was through friends posts on Facebook. This is due, in part, to what Eli Praiser (2011) identifies as a ‘filter bubble’. I hear that I lost a few would-be readers at the brief mention of ‘filter bubble’ in my last post so let me clarify here. Praiser is interested in the structures, algorithms, and filters that present a personalized bubble of information rather than a near infinite torrent of possible new information. You could think of a ‘filter bubble’ as the route the information about Banks’ death took to find me through the internet. In addition to my on and offline friends who relayed information about Banks to me, several search algorithms, filters, geographic and economic factors (principally advertising interests), and a vast array of other less evident structures and internet protocols also contributed to my eventual knowledge of Banks’ death.
It is to these less evident structures and internet protocols that I will turn my attention to in my next post because for all the many internet users the world over, I suspect only a portion have a concrete understanding of what the internet is and how it actually works. The general populations widespread use of the internet but relative lack of knowledge of how it works, is part of why the internet is an appealing place to situate gothic fictions. The unknown is an important shared aspect of technological innovation and the gothic mode.
What would happen if another post from Banks does appear? It’s unlikely that our first reaction would be to assume that it was Banks’ ghost communicating via the internet from the great beyond. It would be far more reasonable to assume that someone else, his widow or his publicist perhaps, posted under his name. That would be the rational expectation but of course, ghost stories tend to start out rational…. Not that I plan to making this claim as such but were I to suggest that Iain Banks is now haunting the internet (or his final book perhaps), we would need to start by unpacking various theories of haunting, how the internet works and the principles upon which it was designed. I’ll go into much more depth about these spectral mechanics in my next post.