Archive for self-distancing

What is a Good Twitter Neighbor?

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
The Twitter village

The Twitter village

As the Web becomes more and more social, as more and more people write how Twitter is a village, we are bound to confront the radical dimension of social interaction, the neighbor in its most elementary form: digital denizens of cyberspace who have “something in them more than themselves” — those whose dimension of enjoyment we could not grasp nor fathom.

In the physical realm, we have all the elementary practices by which we talk about a neighbor: the way they laugh too loudly, the way they count their money, their strange accent, the bad smell of their food, their disgusting table manners, etc, all of which allude to an irreducible kernel of an Other that enjoys differently from us. This dimension, is, of course, the object a, the Lacanian object-cause of desire which arouses spectral apparitions and is the cause of all our prejudices and hatred towards Otherness.

It is interesting to see how this dimension of a neighbor persists even without real contact (the examples above are all little habits that could be seen, smelled, or heard — all needing physical contact). Does not the current trends of categorizing obnoxious people on the Web the ultimate proof that we are very much still prejudiced? OK, it might be a matter of fact that trolls and Grammar Nazis are frustrating idiots without proper knowledge of the big Other of the Internet, but upon reading things like this Top 10 List of People to Unfollow on Twitter or this list of 8 Most Obnoxious Internet Commenters, it becomes clear how social antagonisms in the Social Web is beginning to take its shape.

My point is of course not the standard postmodern multicultural (“defender”) one that demands for more equality for these different types, and so on. (Again, it is funny when we notice how demands for more equality in the physical world is supplemented — and, likely, can only work as such — by the proliferation of online prejudices.) What I would like to call into question is the basic underlying understanding of what being a good citizen means.

There are exceptions, but there is a strong pattern emerging: we tend to find obnoxious those who affiliates too much with his or her beliefs and activities, be it sports, (cynical) politics, plain hobbies, or even attending a conference. If, in the physical world, to use Žižek’s formulation, the neighbor is the one who smells (which is why deodorants are increasingly popular, etc.), in life online, the neighbor is essentially the one who believes.

As the Internet becomes more and more social, the big Other of networked computer systems is born. And the cyborg big Other is the virtual entity for whom we must maintain a safe distance from our own believes and passions, the digital symbolic for which we have to maintain the appearances of disbelief, by tweeting our more “human” side (what we had for lunch, our travels, our day job, etc.) instead. As always, there is an inherent rule which we must understand to fit inside an online community; the obligations behind choices (we are obliged to follow our followers back) and the choice behind the obligations (we can use scripts to follow people or schedule our tweets). A good cyberspace denizen is the one that understands the proper mechanisms of the digital big Other.

Perhaps, even here today, Kierkegaard was right: the only good neighbor is effectively the dead neighbor — the best Twitter accounts are the automated ones who do nothing personal but give links to worthy pieces of information. The good Twitter neighbor is the impersonal cyborg neighbor, the neighbor without the kernel of unfathomable surplus-enjoyment. But then, we need enjoyment for systems to function, which is why we are all suggested to have smiling face photo avatars and occasional talk about the kids and dinner — the legitimized versions of object a as the proper way to enjoy, with all its encoded ideologies.

The Simulacrum’s True Lie

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Jean Baudrillard is famous for his theories of the simulacrum, quoting from Ecclesiastes, which — to refresh your memories — goes as follows:

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals the fact that there is none.

The simulacrum is true.

A common reading of Baudrillard would be that the simulacrum is the empty appearance that disguises the hollow nothingness behind it. However, there is at least one problem that arise once we take this into the truly postmodern context. Frankly, are we today, in general, not already aware of the fact that there is none? If so, why should the simulacrum present itself as concealing this fact? It is here that we see the true trick of the simulacrum — the fact that it claims itself as a truth that conceals. It is therefore not the fact of nothingness itself that is the problem — it is the fact that the simulacrum has to present itself as concealing. It may conceal nothing behind it — but the verb remains. And, in a tautological turn, it is this predicate that defines the subject — the simulacrum is concealment, hence concealment is true.

The true perversion of the simulacrum thus lies in the act of proclaiming a third dimension to it, that it carries an empty world behind it — the Baudrillardian trompe-l’œil. Empty as it were, but it functions, and it functions very well precisely because it is conceived as empty, deep, impenetrable. This is why in the contemporary age we have an excessive dose of conspiracy theories, new age mysticism, individualist narcissism, and other symptoms that make global capitalism flourish in its current state of being. These modes, I argue, can only function when the simulacrum of our social sphere is conceived as a truth that conceals.

In fact, the simulacrum is not a truth that conceals. It is a lie that shows. There is nothing behind simulacrum, not in the sense that there is nothing behind it, but in the precise sense that even nothingness itself is impossible. It does not conceal because it cannot conceal — there is nothing to conceal, not even a dimension that legitimizes the linguistic possibility of concealment.

A great metaphor of this linguistic impossibility would be the case of General Relativity — recall the way Einstein treats the void in his astrophysical formulations as physical objects that can bend and stretch. Empty space, in relativistic astrophysics, is a tangible object. Opposed to this, we have absolute nothingness — that which lie beyond the universe, before the Big Bang, inside a black hole. In this second category, their very linguistic statement is a paradox — there cannot be such as “beyond” an all-encompassing universe, “before” time starts in a Big Bang, or “inside” the singularity of black hole cores. Likewise, the simulacrum cannot “conceal” — the statement is impossible. The simulacrum is flat, two-dimensional.

Recall a typical scene from old cartoons where the antagonists are trapped into running straight into a wall painted to look as if there is a tunnel through it that enters into another world. This painting does not conceal the fact that there is no world behind it — its very texture precisely shows that there is no world, it expects us beforehand to see that there is no world, and only the idiotic antagonist would believe that there is. If there is a thing it conceals, it is the fact that it does not conceal anything. The protagonists are never allowed to see through this obscene second-layer of lie, and can usually thus enter into this third dimension precisely because he knows that it does not exist, because he does not believe in it. The antagonist is the one who believes too much. The protagonist is the one who does not believes, but for whom things work precisely because he creates a self-distance from his own supposed belief. Hence ideology. Hence the true lie of the simulacrum.