As a huge fan of William Gibson I feel a little guilty in confessing that I’m having a hard time working my way through his latest novel, Agency. Although the writing is of the usual high quality, it lacks the sharp edge and raw energy of the prose in his earlier works. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here, but I can’t help feeling as if it’s a gentrified Cyberpunk. Sure, in places the book is clever and witty, but it tastes more like a cup of caffeine-free latte than a mug of freshly-roasted coffee.
Or, to borrow from 6.18 of the Analects of Confucius, it has a little too much cultural refinement (文/wén) and not enough native substance (質/zhì). For all his love of ritual and propriety, even the great sage himself believed that it was better to err on the side of the latter rather than the former lest you become too fake and foppish.
Despite my criticisms, I will continue to persevere with Agency, not least because I hate giving up on a book once I’ve started it. Let’s hope that all the flavor has sunk to the bottom of the cup.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the duality of cultural refinement and native substance applies to me ever since I reviewed the passage once more for my current series of articles about Book 6 of the Analects. Having spent over twenty-five years leading a sedentary life, I’m experiencing a sudden need to get out into the wild.
So far this has consisted of baby steps, but the more I hit the hills surrounding Taipei the more I feel the need to push myself even further. Whether this is just a temporary swing or a more fundamental change, I have no idea. But one thing’s for sure: I do feel much better – both physically and mentally – than I have in many years.