We are obviously moving ever more towards an inside-out world: we live on the outside.
Now, perhaps we have always lived on the outside — this is the argument of phenomenology. But the shapes of this outside can differ dramatically as the play of fold, shadow, and revelation can shift. So while life may always already be of the surface, the architecture of that surface is changing, becoming ever more flat, identity more splayed. I don't offer this as an eschatology, only as a comment and an attempt to understand what the fuck is happening around me.
What do I mean by we live on the outside?
I mean what you probably think it means: we expose ourselves, socially interact, in view of all (or many) via Facebook, blogs, comments, Tweets. This is not a great revelation. The line between the public and the private is being recast as surveillance probes the nooks and crannies of our lives — and as we, often joyfully, expose all to all.
Brianne Garcia, on Thought Catalog, wrote an essay arguing that the kids today are always already posing for the camera — they stand half-akimbo, leaning and gazing just so. Pictures no longer capture private moments; they repeat images that were public even before the camera clicked.
Just think of the digital camera for a moment. It is not just a camera but an entire production and distribution vehicle: pictures can be instantaneously shared with the world at large. But it's even faster than that: with a digital camera, you see the picture before clicking the button. They don't use viewfinders and lenses: they use screens. They literally screen their image before taking the picture.
Again, this is not a condemnation of this phenomenon; it's an observation of the conditions of seeing and being seen and the beginning of an exploration of the implications. And, no, none of this is a great revelation.
Me, I only want to point out one thing: the merciless, brutal judgment that this turn inside out has occasioned. Look at the way the kids speak to each other through Thought Catalog comments — either polite praise or nasty ass ad hominem dismissals. The seeming ease with which a commenter will call someone a phoney or an asshole is staggering — or else it's a mindless, if emphatic, nod of approval: "Love this!"
And what's even more surprising and downright odd is the frequency of the invocation of the pretentious and the poseur — "This essay was so pretentious I'm rolling my eyes!" "What a poseur!"
This, to me, is hilarious. Isn't this the age of the spectacle, of the put on, of the always and already play acting, acting to infinity, acting all the way down? Isn't this the age of Wikipedia, the overthrow of the expert, the posturing ad infinitum? Whence pretension as a pejorative? How can one be a phony? A phony what?
No doubt, my use of whence and pejorative and always already will incite such comments — surely, anyone who uses such words is being pretentious. And that is a different, but related, matter of the rampant anti-intellectualism of this country.
A few years ago, right here on this very blog, some anonymous reader had happened upon a blog I wrote in a different name and voice — that of my would-be novel's character, Henri. (Read her comments, and my reply, here.) She believed she'd discovered my true beliefs and threatened to expose me to the world. To this day, it's so strange to me: doesn't the internet mark the end of the tyranny of subjectivity, that need to be a real self?
And yet, somehow, the opposite has happened. We must be real selves, neither phony nor pretentious. And we can't be extraordinary selves — or else we'd be phony or pretentious.
Kierkegaard was right: we watch the skater on the ice, moving ever closer to the thin middle and with each pass we gasp — and then think, "What's the big deal? I could that." We cheer the skater and, in the same breath, hate him.