Thursday, April 21, 2011

I have a digital hangover. There are all these cultural enclaves online, and I belong to none of them, I simply know they exist. I can't commit to many things because I'm so sensitive about how it's committing my persona to something that could be a mistake. This is the sort of thought that haunts people who are voyeurs. We're born watchers, so are forever apprehensive of what it would be like to be watched ourselves. The internet, television, books, theater- their structured narratives give relief to the endlessly self-conscious. There's a barrier, however, between being an observer and really being inside the experience of what's on display. How can we ever begin to relate to visual and cognitive sensibilities of others?

People's frames for reading experience are so fascinating, and what I wouldn't give to inhabit someone else's mind, truly. Anyone's. I'd love to know how differently others relate to routines, their social engagements, what they struggle with internally, what gives them moments of pause and happiness in their everyday experience, what thoughts they cycle through over and over again, what feels like enlightenment to them, what they would never hesitate over that I can't help but stumble on. Knowing how someone else deals with their self consciousness and how they conjure acts of will, wow, I simply can't imagine. It's so unattainable, regardless of what we term connectivity. It's a little crazy making to consider how much we can never really access someone else's internal self.

Susan Sontag wrote in a letter to Borges that the thing she feared or lamented about a future where books as she knew them would become obsolete and digitized, was that it meant "the death of inwardness."

Yet what our digital selves seem to allow for are exaggerations and dramatizations of our inwardness- interior creatures like myself fall easily into internet k-holes- we read, we observe, we reflect quietly in this dialogue with our inwardness. More external people find avenues to perform their interests, wear their influences, expose their habits and creative selves.

I think it's so funny that people all over the world love silly cats doing stupid shit- it's that rare thing where enjoyment of it transcends class, identity, ideology. Enjoyment of cute animal memes is, as long as one has access to technology that is, the great equalizer in matters of aesthetic taste. Who knew?

I am being silly. I know what Sontag was really addressing was a bit bigger than this- the loss of reading books is the loss of a particular way of being in the world, where careful consideration of voluminous amounts of information does something to the brain that allows it to resist information that is corrosive and false in spectacle culture. It builds the muscles of the mind and creates empathy and love for others' idiosyncrasies, because one can't really inhabit a character going through all sorts of triumphs and despair without having some measure of sympathy for said character. I have never-ending ambivalence and confusion about which paths to follow into the modern world, which formulas work, what decisions are the right ones. I look forward to the end of the semester when I might immerse myself in a huge novel that will help me re-orient myself to the modern world, and understand things in a deeper, sweeter, more expansive way than the way I do now, where my knowledge feels so fragmented, and I have trouble pulling myself out of it, and most of my thoughts outside of Pieter Bruegel and Augustine de Hippo and Derrida and Walter Benjamin and the agency of "things" revolve around Rebecca fucking Black and what it must be like to be a teenager in America right now and whether things are "empire" or "post-empire." I suppose a mind that treats information like some kind of game is not the worst thing, it's a sort of play. And play might be the thing to keep us sane when everything seems like so much detritus.

Do thoughts recorded without severe editing just render them hopelessly facile? Perhaps only my wandering thoughts. Le sigh.