The World Turned Inside Out: Judgment

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.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

Anecdote first:

"Do your work!" I hear high school kids yell this to other high school kids who are "messin' around". Translation of "Do your work": Play the game everyone else is playing.

When I'm in a needling mood, I'll tell a group of 14 y/o kiddies that they don't have a self... discard that idea: you're a messy changing changer who does nothing but efface the idea of a self — you are other people and other people are you.

Reaction? You guessed it, screams of bloody murder! Tell the same group of kids that their culture is inherently destructive: it kills everything as a matter of unbending course, and the result is a lot of very "grown-up" nodding. They like that kind of nonsense.

The logic of a finite game absolutely fucking dominates discourse, me argues. It's as if the entire world is a big basketball game. Rules are set, we all run around, constantly, compulsively, checking the scoreboard and game clock... not nearly enough timeouts, which I suppose is why there is such a void of strategic action — instead, HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE! You can rest when you're dead!

The logic of the finite game is really simple: YOU (or your team) play the game to WIN. That's it. And, if the rules never really change, then why would "you"... the stalwart self? Sure, you pick up some new moves, some new tricks, but you still you yo.

To be "pretentious" is to do things that aren't concerned with winning. Just as rhetoric is commonly seen as a dressing, and ultimately bullshit, because it isn't putting any points on the board... and you're taking up a whole lot of precious potential-point-scoring time. DO YOUR WORK!

You, Dan Y'all, like the infinite game, you play with the opposite goal: rather than ending play, by winning or losing... you seek a continuation of play (that's what all of your bullshit about infinity comes down to, no? A desire to keep playing). More play please. But this doesn't register well to the mind molded by the logic of sports and finite games. Whereas you want to constantly rewrite the rules (and they aren't even really rules) everyone else is pissed the fuck off that you're deviating the winner/loser paradigm. Allow yourself to be pinned down, asshole!

Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

Please tell me how you feel about what I've written... did I win? I loved it.

Dylan Popowicz said...

I think this is painfully true: how can one be a phoney? I wrote a violent rant a year or so ago against the "hyperreality" of the internet, the alienated self exposed on Facebook, blogs, MySpace, Twitter, whatever. We spend more time validating ourselves, and, even more peculiarly, validating our actions, through social mediums. I realise this was always the case, to a certain extent, but there was a time when people could enjoy themselves, feel, act (and I mean this in the real sense, not the "acting" sense) without having to post it online before, during and after.

You put it perfectly: we are living externally. As someone who enjoys living internally, I find it funny when someone explains to the world (in however many characters one is limited to) that they are feeling a because they are doing b; if they really were having such a bloody good time, surely you wouldn't spend more time digitally recreating it? This is however, a personal judgement of mine.

The inconsistency you point out, which I've often been too snobbish to notice (as I usually react to accusations of "pretentiousness" by questioning the accuser's own perspective on life), is simple and poetically hilarious. It's almost as if the "actors" have created a mainstream union, a popular collection of rules; the "overactors" are both ridiculous, because they play against the rules, and also dangerous because their "acting" exposes the general "acting".

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ TV: Oh, what a nice post! Luv it!

@ Dylan: Thanks for your thoughts and words. I do think the digital is amazing and CAN be a proliferation, not an avoidance or substitution. For instance, when everyone whips out their cameras at an event, in some sense they are not living through the event but in another sense they are multiplying the event. My guess is those who are not living through were not gonna live through, anyway, camera or not.

So while the odd social relations of the digital network trouble me, I still have some delight and joy in the digital network and its will to multiplicity, to post-identity, to acting all the way down...

But, fuck, what do I know?

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I'm reminded of a Louis C.K. bit in which he says, and I paraphrase: "So I walk into a coffee shop. It wasn't a Starbucks, it was one of those 'independent' coffee shops. You know, those 'independent' coffee shops where everybody sits around drinking their lattes and wearing fucking woolen hats in the summertime and telling each other all kinds of smart things like 'Yeah, me too..'"

P.S. Been listening to your 2008 Berkeley podcast; I'm about halfway through the semester. Very engaging. Had to seek out your most recent thoughts. Thus I am stalking this blog. Speaking of which, I made up a smart-esque, philosophy-esque, pretentious-esque thing to say about the Internet age:

I stalk, ergo you exist.

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