[-empyre-] FW: V

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Wed Oct 10 14:44:23 EST 2012


My initial problems brought to Cybermind were again clichés. How did people maintain the order that allowed them to write, without apparent recourse to physical violence and thus the threat of direct pain and suffering (which is, of course, the basis of much offline power)? How did words create the realities that made the space that made the list, that created the presence in which we could live together, in the hesitant way that people who are strangers become together?  How did words create separations and hurts and lacunae? What did the creation of the space of the list do for the List? How did people remember and what did that memory do for them, and how was it shared? Did memory fade more online in the onrush of  new people? Why did people talk of the internet in ‘magical’ terms? 

Later on, some of these problems seemed to become paradoxes. Ways of ordering produced disruption, words created and destroyed presence, presence itself was ambiguous and this produced problems which had to be resolved. The problem cycle was endless.

Perhaps I was wrong but it seemed to me that the first step I should take was to dispose of ‘the virtual’ and all it stood for. If there is a virtual it is not present in online life more than in offline life. Online life is far too passionate, obdurate, disrupting and embodied to be ‘virtual’ in the sense that people used virtual in those days.  ‘Virtuality’ always seemed foreclosed in spirit, soul, or intellect, with the offline considered as material, no matter how people tried to be otherwise (I once posted a short history of the use of the term ‘virtual’ which is now probably lost).  Yet the two intertwined, there is no online without the offline. Online life is as real as offline. We make the soul seem real by deleting the body, and make online ‘real’ by deleting the offline, even though the online is bounded by the offline, by cables, by computers, by space, by time, by the bodies of those involved, by language, by custom and so on.

One reason why I was concerned with going against the virtual was the ongoing implication that living life online is simply not 'real', it is unreal' a dimnishment, a falling away. This is an ongoing media trope. You only have to think of 'the shallows', of baroness Greenfield, of the endless play of the online as trivial, as barren, as impervious.... It seems again that the passions, pains and pleasures, needed to be elaborated, and not confined by the binary of everything being real offline and diminished online, even if intertwined. Which is also why, it seems to me, that online life takes priority over more abstract events, as a research priority

Given my previous researches in alchemy, I was troubled by binaries, in particular this implied soul/body binary troubled me - the implication that reality was inert bothered me. Once reality is taken as inert then there is no suffering - suffering (whatever it is) is 'logically' not real. It is an ultimately undecidable question, but for me reality is alive and moving, it is at least as alive as I am myself.

I was not sure why binaries were so powerful. The west had a tradition that asserted the human was tripartite.  St Paul talks about psyche, pneuma and flesh, a division followed by other writers in his tradition.  The Hebrew scriptures likewise do not have a mind body split. Indeed, what then would be the third in the virtual embodied split? Cyborg is the easy answer, but the cyborg myth has its own propulsions, and warns more about the triumph of the machine, or suppresses the suffering of flesh, but it does express an easy imperialism of incorporation into the wider machine. Perhaps virtual could do this work, but again it would seem that the word has other trajectories whatever we might intend. Other traditions had more complex views still of the relationship between bodies and lives and imaginings and shadows. These might prove fruitful to explore.

So I too was then torn between multiplying explanatory factors and diminishing them.  There is nothing in writing which is not embodied, and does not manifest as symptoms if looked at and classified in that way. Mis-takes, mis-ventures, the cloud of uncertainty and failure to signify.


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