We tend to equate the virtual with things that bear the label of the digital. And as such, we often fall into the trap that this association sets for us.
Let’s take a look at a few things. What exactly are the criticisms formulated against social networks, of all things?
- That they’re solipsistic to the point of turning us antisocial
- That they’re privatizing the essence of public speech and, therefore, are likely to harbor elements dangerous to society (the list never changes: extremists, pedophiles, terrorists, etc., etc., etc.)
- That they are undermining a presumed righteous core of the public soul with their guerilla tactics
- That they’ve put public valor under a gigantic question mark, throwing us all into regrettable immoral mire, making us a tribe of selfish cowards
- That they spread misinformation, second-grade truths, often falsity
- That, because of the above, they’re terroristic to a high degree
- That they have no cause, no real cause, and that, consequently, they enjoy ranting and running about like an empire of headless chickens
- That they’re so goddamn anonymous they obfuscate all attempts at creating a ‘decent’ (yes, the word gets mentioned pretty often!) discussion based on the acknowledgment of the enemy
- That, because of them, enemies are no longer what they used to be
Rumors are widely spread that social networks act subversively, in the shadows of good-and-healthy, i.e. acceptable, interaction.
|Source: Cinematic Catharsis|
But this (this terror, this argument of fear) is not about social networks. Or not exactly about their inherent iconoclasm. This is about writing at large.
The ill sentiments caused by social networks must indeed be due to the ill sentiments engendered by writing at large.
Social networks, and all things online for that matter, have flourished out of writing’s virtual nature. And that’s a truth we must not overlook.
Avoiding direct gaze
Simply put, writing makes it possible to avoid the face-to-face. Verba volant, scripta manent – this is the dictum that articulates the power of script over speech. But at the same time, it is an argument for an act that takes place in solitude, far from the madding crowd, in one’s closet, in one’s own work space.
As Alain Badiou has put it recently, “thought resides in the solitude of labor.” As such, a thought always poses a threat, in the way the private sphere has been posing threats against the public domain ever since the two categories started being discussed together. What happens in the privacy of an individual life risks escaping control, and therefore becomes undesirable.
That’s our writing, right there. Solipsistic, relying on a separation from public life, the process of writing is as dubious as the process of thinking out of control. Publication is, therefore, the sanction of ideology given to writing. In order for writing to be validated, it needs to appear; it needs to come about. Appearing in print is the most public of forms taken by writing. Of course, writing appears in many other forms. Writing, for instance, appears when a social subject of no particular distinction becomes a writer; when he/she has produced a text that hasn’t been read yet. We’re talking pre-publication. We’re talking a state that’s more akin to thought production: devoid of public value, unacknowledged, “residing in the solitude of labor.”
Fictions we enjoy
Written words are nothing but that: words. They are not truths. Truth transgresses the printed page. We have invested writing with this strange attribute which has become a kind of obligation: to produce truth, to deal in irrefutability, to describe things as they are. But it’s always been too much to think of writing in these terms. Written manipulation, propaganda, ideological scriptures, the belief in logos – these are no guarantors of writing’s ability to produce truths. On the contrary, they show how weak writing truly is, since it needs the suspension of our disbelief in order to operate at all. Only if we buy into the fictionality of written discourses can writing work as a persuasive tool.
|Source: Cinematic Catharsis|
Not to mention that persuasion itself is not production of truth but production of assent. If I’m good enough at manipulating rhetorical devices, I can persuade you of anything. Even of an untruth.
If this sounds like prestidigitation, it is. Magicians do precisely that: they make beliefs. They persuade you, against your better judgment, that a coin can be fished out of one’s ear or that rabbits can inhabit peacefully the insides of a top hat.
But we know that all of the above is untrue. We know, yet we indulge. We know that writing gives birth to fictions, yet we take these fictions at face value.
Since we know with certitude that writing produces deceits, we know, at the same time, that the pleasure we get from it is a guilty pleasure. From Plato onwards, writing has been reprimanded many times for this departure from truth. And so, to trust writing is to trust something that is fundamentally flawed. The direct consequence of this is that we cannot swear allegiance to writing unless we reinforce it with the armor of ideology, which is about believing in spite of the otherwise.
Afraid and alone
Writing had to withdraw into the writer’s solitude, since, like all forms of prestidigitation, it must rely on a secret, on a truth untold and unsayable. Public writing (if such is ever allowed to exist) must be avoided precisely because of this sanction of the public sphere, where standards of objectivity demand full display.
What we do witness publicly is not writing but its offspring, reading. The act of reading is the public negotiation of the written discourse. It’s where we all end up as soon as we’ve been spotted by an audience, be it as small as it may be – the audience of one, if you like.
Writing is, for this reason, suitable mostly for introverts or for those afflicted by speech impediments. For those who, in the able words of Rammstein, are disposed towards declaring: “wir haben Angst und sind allein” (We are afraid and alone).
|Source: Bergen Filmklubb|
I’ll leave it to the suspicious to return to the beginning of this post and draw the lines between writing and social networks, then. I hope they’re clearer now. If they only listened to Myra Breckinridge, the job would be so much easier: “The novel being dead, there is no point to writing made-up stories.” If we know writing to be what it is, is it still fun to indulge in its abilities?