When Power Speaks of Freedom

A lack of consideration: can we trace it by silhouette?

The world is always too much, and there is not enough to know it by. What makes me think that life in a big city, with an “important” job would be any closer to reality than this? We only know what we ourselves see, and what we invent is a product of what we see (hence the power of propaganda, of discourse). Speaking of which: I worry I am slowly beginning to treat every online comment as if it were part of a misinformation campaign, having spent too much time reading about cybersecurity and various ingenuous and terrifying “hacks.” News stories of course reflect their institutional and editorial biases, but comments…well, “comment is free.” I really think that a lot of the extremist voices online—for every position—are merely trolls, or agents with ulterior motives beyond their rhetoric. Well, not exactly ulterior: their motive is the rhetoric, the decisive nature of it, the obfuscation of reality, the subjugation of the ability to investigate, to wrangle, to reinterpret.

All online speech seems to be converging. Reddit comments quoted by the FT seem the absolute symbol of that process: whereby all that we create is this distributed massive hive-mind, where all the descriptions are shared, and language and thought itself become appendages to these greater facsimiles of living. As someone who is deeply penetrated by digital technolgies, whose life is wrapped around virtual spaces, I reject calls to “return” to a more “natural” state. That said, I can feel the draw of this idealized nature: When was the last time I watched a bird? Like really watched a bird, looked at something so often trivialized, so often neglected and forgotten and blended by our attention into the milieu: when was the last time I sat and marveled at these tiny flying descendants of the dinosaur?

And no, I am not speaking about recent #GME stock movements, which sparked an online rapture-of-the-bots. Or maybe they were real people, who can tell? Troll armies are cheap, and simple “AIs” quite passably human. Gaming a system to make content look like it came from real people is remarkably easy.

Hidden Attentions

  • To believe what one believes, without knowing the history of those beliefs and (at least a few) alternatives, is to be indoctrinated.
  • Of course, knowing why one believes a thing and wanting to enumerate on those knowings are different things.

I was surprised recently to see Lauren Oyler popping up _all over_ my internet scramblings. Her new book «Fake Accounts» is coming out, and the hype machine is well at work. I will almost certainly end up buying the book, based on a strange adoration for Oyler’s work since her essay «Ha ha! Ha ha!» in the London Review of Books. And probably «Uncanny Valley» by Anna Wiener, based on the review and this quote:

An “entire culture had been seduced” by “ambitious, aggressive, arrogant young men from America’s soft suburbs.” Wiener is from Brooklyn, a perspective that occasionally shades her narrative.

Lauren Oyler, “Review of Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener” NYT

Oyler’s piece on autofiction’s moral obsession (which I think is potentially a more anglophonic development, but then, so little is translated into English) that I really can’t say.To me, this connects with Elif Batuman’s observation/critique that, while modern novels will undoubtedly be very well written, they are unlikely to be good. I think this trend towards vaguely autofictional binary moralizing has become more prevalent even when authors are writing fiction—that characterization, plotting, etc are crafted less for what makes world-sense and more to subvert (or inform or assuage) the reader. I see elements of what Lindsay Ellis described happening when a studio changed the “twist” of an episode because…*gasp* the audience on Reddit had guessed it! While the moralization of an unreliable narrator might not seem to be related to a writing team’s decision to retroactively rework a show to avoid being “found out” I think both happen due to the meta-awareness of reception that is enabled by participatory mediums like Reddit and Twitter.

I was delighted to discover that Oyler’s reviews are notorious—to learn that she is wildly popular; that I was the one so out of the loop, rather than talent going unappreciated—her “takedowns,” in the language of the online frenzy, are wonderful criticism, and apparently it is rare(?) for a “critic” to take an explicitly…critical stance on a work in question. But maybe I am confused about the _purpose_ that book critics serve: to drum up sales? Are the publications and book publisher all part of the same mega-umbrellacorp? Probably.

In confession, I’m jealous of her writing, and wholly unqualified to discuss it. It is clean and honest (even when she states, honestly, that she is not being honest), and _funny_. As someone who is chronicaly unfunny, I have always been doubly enamored and envious of those with the ability to elicit laughter from others. Whether too serious or too awkward, likely some combination, it took me well into university to learn how to manage small talk. I am also told I am charming (or can be). I wish I could more reliably be that version of myself. Times were easier before I was aware I was supposed to be aware of being aware! But then, being unaware is not a very “good” thing.

But from her face I knew she had seen in my face a look that had finally revealed I knew she knew I knew.

Samuel Delany «Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones» (PDF)

But then what is this writing for, if not processing the too-aware into something other people can see, judge, and interact with?

«Paracosm» Washed Out