This is the third of six posts about the present. Caveat lector.
Spam is realism. We instinctively dislike familiar language being rendered unfamiliar because we think the whole point of language is to make unfamiliar things readily understandable.
Spam is realism. Word salad is realism. It’s hyperreal. It’s the essence of the network. The avant-garde is always the most realist, the most universal, the most banal. Most of the technologies which we expect to deliver the future are the opposite of realist: they deform or mask the real in order to make it palatable, seamless, unthreatening.
(I like weird twitter because it is written and read in the language of the network. Animated gifs of language, whose validation is not their authorship but their reach. I trace my own lineage of weird twitter back to the stylings of Muumuu House and HTMLGIANT and the sublime rantings of Steve Roggenbuck, which is connected to Alt Lit and the constant avatar of Noah Cicero. I would say that because I published Noah’s The Human War back in 2007 and it remains one of the vital literary documents of that time, for me.)
I remember when I used to read books. I remember when I used to listen to albums in their entirety, when I used to watch films from beginning to end. I remember when I used to try to improve myself as a human being. Then Steve Jobs invented the Internet and ruined everything for everybody.
I read books, but I don’t finish them. Let’s stop pretending. My reading and the wobbly tower of ideas built alongside and atop it is not a street, a line, it’s a topology, a crystal growing in space, layering the insides of the seizure and projecting into it. It is counterproductive to suggest otherwise.
I have an essay in the new issue of Cabinet about Trap Streets. I originally wrote it as a fragment of a chapter of a proposed book about maps which got torpedoed by legal constructs and people and corporations and, you know, the internet.
TRAP is also a word from the internet and internet culture for young transgendered people. I struggled to write the chapter because I wanted to write about trap streets AND trap people. Linetrap, was the first, the first named, but don’t pretend this hasn’t been happening since we discovered fiction, since we made suits out of fiction, and sarcophagi, and jade burial suits, and placed coins on the eyes and a carved pig in the mouth, and a handful of earth.
Because the same context permits both kinds of trap: the shifting of constructions and identities: legal, personal, corporate, political, historical, revealed by the network. We stand on unstable ground, but when we (by which I mean me, obviously) can figure out how to write about traps and traps in the same discourse, we will have, perhaps, figured out something important about the network. This writing is also a process of constructing.
(Trap streets and young transgendered people — and ghosts. Weird twitter has a preoccupation with ghosts and shadows. “did you know? holding film up to the light releases its phantoms”—@petfurniture. It is all about the light.)
Attempting to read these networked, combinatory fictions provokes the same response in me as listening to artists like Laurel Halo or Holly Herndon, the voice abstracted, voicing the machine. An acknowledgement of the conditions of the network.
What this returns me to—the perceived, spam-like qualities of these niche, networked literatures, the echoes and re-echoes of a network-mediated music—is tools and tool-making, but a cyborg tool-making, a tight binding. Marshall Macluhan wrote “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”, but he wrote it in 1964. The tools have evolved and we have co-evolved with them, each acting upon the other. As the distance between us and the network decreases, the tool-making iterates in a constant back-and-forth, ever closer, ever tighter.
Holly Herndon, in a recent interview:
“I’m sure Jimi Hendrix had a very intimate relationship with his guitar, but it’s also very different when the instrument you use is the same that you Skype your mom on, and get really good or bad news on – it’s just such an intimate, integrated part of your lifestyle in a way that I don’t think has ever been possible before, and so if that could somehow be communicated, I think it would be really interesting. I’m trying to explore that now, to get at the crux of the intimacy we have with our technology, because so many people really cast it in this light of the laptop being cold. I really think it’s a fallacy the way people cast technology in this light and then cast acoustic or even analogue instruments in this warm, human light, because I don’t understand what would be more human between a block of wood and something that was also created by humans, for humans.”
It’s in Herndon’s live-coded performances that this neo-toolbuilding is best articulated, an expression of the way we all operate now, embedded in and constantly reading and writing the network: “If you’re building an instrument during your performance, I think that changes the way that you perform.”