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To Stay Alive: A Method by Michel Houellebecq
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace The Dimensionist Manifesto
Pandora’s Vox: On Community In Cyberspace

TO STAY ALIVE: A method By Michel Houellebecq


(Traduction Richard Davis), 1999
Cette traduction inédite de Rester vivant a été réalisée par un de nos adhérents de Chicago, Ill., Richard Davis, qui nous a autorisés, en accord avec Michel Houellebecq, à la publier ici. ——————————————————————————–

TO STAY ALIVE A method By Michel Houellebecq Translated by Richard Davis

FIRST, SUFFERING

“The universe cries. The concrete blocks of a wall bear a record of the violence with which they have been struck. Concrete cries. Grass moans between the teeth of animals. And man? What shall we say of man?”

The world is suffering unfolded. At its origin it is a node of suffering. All existence is an expansion, and a crushing. All things suffer into existence. Nothingness vibrates with pain until it arrives at being, in an abject paroxysm. Beings diversify and become complex without losing anything of their original nature. Once a certain level of consciousness is reached, the cry is produced. Poetry derives from it. Articulate language, equally. The first step for the poet is to return to the origin; that is, to suffering. The modalities of suffering are important; they are not essential. All suffering is good. All suffering is useful. All suffering bears fruit. All suffering is a universe.
Henri is one year old. He is lying on the floor. His diapers are dirty. He is bawling. His mother is walking back and forth, her heels clicking against the tiles of the floor, looking for her bra and her skirt. She is in a hurry to go to her evening rendezvous. This little thing covered with shit, moving around on the tiles, exasperates her. She begins to cry herself. Henri bawls all the more. Then she goes out. Henri has got off to a good start in his career as a poet.
Marc is ten years old. His father is dying of cancer in the hospital. This pile of worn machinery, with tubes going down the throat, and intravenous drips: this is his father. Only his eyes are alive; they express suffering and fear. Marc suffers too. He too is afraid. He loves his father. And at the same time he is beginning to wish that his father would die, and to feel guilty about it.
Marc has work to do. He should cultivate in himself this suffering, so particular and so fertile: this Most Holy Guilt.
Michel is fifteen. He has never been kissed by a girl. He would like to dance with Sylvie, but Sylvie is dancing with Patrice, and she is manifestly enjoying it. He is frozen. The music penetrates to the deepest core of his being. It is a magnificent slow dance of surreal beauty. He never knew he could suffer so much. His childhood, up until now, had been happy.
Michel will never forget the contrast between his heart, frozen with suffering, and the overwhelming beauty of the music. His sensibility is being formed.
If the world is composed of suffering, this is because it is, essentially, free. Suffering is the necessary consequence of the free play of the parts of the system. You ought to know this; you ought to say it.
It will not be possible for you to transform this suffering into a goal. Suffering is, and by consequence can never become a goal. In the wounds which it inflicts upon us, life alternates between the brutal and the insidious. Know these two forms. Study them closely. Acquire a complete knowledge of them. Distinguish that which separates them, and that which unites them. Many contradictions will then be resolved. Your voice will gain in force, and in amplitude. Given the characteristics of the modern era, love can scarcely manifest itself anymore. Yet the ideal of love has not diminished. Being, like all ideals, fundamentally atemporal, it can neither diminish nor disappear. Whence a particularly striking discordance between real and ideal, and a particularly rich source of suffering.
The adolescent years are important. Once you have developed a sufficiently ideal, noble, and perfect sense of love, you are done for.
Nothing, henceforth, will suffice.
If you do not date women (whether through shyness, ugliness, or for some other reason), read women’s magazines. You will experience suffering that is almost equivalent. Go right to the bottom of the absence of love. Cultivate self-hatred. Hatred of oneself, contempt for others. Hatred of others, contempt for oneself. Mix it all up. Form a synthesis. In the tumult of life, always be the loser. The universe is like a discotheque. Accumulate frustrations in great number. To learn to become a poet is to unlearn how to live.
Love your past or hate it, but let it remain present to you. You should acquire a complete knowledge of yourself. Thus, little by little, your deep self will detach itself from you, and slip beyond the sun, while your body will remain in place, swollen, blistered, irritated, ripe for new sufferings.
Life is a series of destruction tests. Pass the first of them, and fail the later ones. Ruin your life, but not by much. And suffer, always suffer. You should learn to feel the pain in every one of your pores. Each fragment of the universe should be a personal injury to you. And yet, you must stay alive—at least for a certain time. Timidity is not to be looked down upon. It has been considered the sole source of inner wealth; this is not far wrong. In fact, it is in the moment of delay between will and act that interesting mental phenomena begin to be manifest. The man for whom this delay is absent remains little more than an animal. Timidity is an excellent point of departure for a poet.
Develop in yourself a profound resentment toward life. This resentment is necessary for any veritable artistic creation.
Sometimes, it is true, life will appear to you as simply an incongruous experience. But your resentment should never be far, never out of reach—even if you choose not to express it. And return always to the origin, which is suffering.
When you provoke in others a mixture of horrified pity and contempt, you will know that you are on the right track. You can begin to write.

TO ARTICULATE

“A force becomes movement once it enters into action and develops in time.”

If you do not succeed in articulating your suffering within a well-defined structure, you are done for. Suffering will swallow you whole, from the inside, before you have had the time to write anything at all. Structure is the sole means of escaping suicide. And suicide resolves nothing. Imagine if Baudelaire had succeeded in his attempt at suicide, at twenty-four. Believe in structure. Believe in the ancient metrics, equally. Versification is a powerful tool for the liberation of the inner life.
Do not feel obliged to invent a new form. New forms are rare. One per century is already a brisk pace. And it is not necessarily the greatest poets who are at the origin of them. Poetry is not a reworking of language, not essentially. Words are the responsibility of society as a whole. Most new forms are not produced from scratch, but by slow deviation from an antecedent form. The tool is adapted, little by little; it undergoes light modifications; the novelty which results from their conjoined effect generally does not appear until the end, once the work is written. It is entirely comparable to the evolution of speciesYou will emit, at first, inarticulate cries. And you will often be tempted to regress to that stage. This is normal. Poetry, in reality, precedes articulate language, though not by much. Plunge again into inarticulate cries, each time you feel the need. It is a rejuvenating bath. But do not forget: if you do not manage, at least from time to time, to emerge from it, you will die. The human organism has its limits.
At the height of your suffering, you will not be able to write. If you feel you have it in you to do so, try all the same. The result will probably be bad—probably, but not certainly. Never work. Writing poems is not work; it is a charge. If the use of a specific form (the alexandrine, for example) requires an effort, renounce it. This type of effort never pays off. The same cannot be said of the general, on-going, and consistent effort to overcome apathy. This is indispensable. On the matter of form, never hesitate to contradict yourself. Bifurcate, change direction as often as necessary. Do not try too hard to have a coherent personality; this personality exists, whether you like it or not.
Neglect nothing which could possibly procure for you a modicum of equilibrium. In any case, happiness is not for you; this has been established, and for quite some time. But if you can manage to grasp one of its simulacra, do so. Without hesitation. In any case, it will not last.
Your existence is nothing more than a tissue of sufferings. You think you can manage to lay them out in a coherent form. Your objective, at this stage: to live long enough to do it.

TO SURVIVE

“The literary career is all the same the only one where you can make no money without looking ridiculous.” (Jules Renard)

A dead poet does not write. Whence the importance of remaining alive. This simple reasoning will sometimes be difficult for you to adhere to. In particular during periods of prolonged creative sterility. Your clinging to life will appear, at these times, painfully pointless; in any case, you will not be writing.
To this, only one reply: ultimately, you know nothing about it. If you examine yourself honestly, you will have to agree. Strange cases have been known to occur.
If you are no longer writing, this is perhaps a prelude to a change of form. Or a change of theme. Or both. Or it is perhaps, in effect, a prelude to your creative death. But you know nothing about it. You will never really know this part of yourself which compels you to write. You will know it only through contradictory forms which merely approach it. Egotism or devotion? Cruelty or compassion? Any of these possibilities could be argued for. Proof that, ultimately, you know nothing about it; thus, do not behave as if you did. Before your own ignorance, before this mysterious part of yourself, remain honest and humble.
Not only do poets who live to an old age produce more work overall, but old age is the seat of particular physical and mental processes, of which it would be a shame to be ignorant.
That said, survival is extremely difficult. One could consider adopting what could be called Pessoa’s strategy: find a little job, publish nothing, and await death peacefully. In practice, one would be going forward to meet significant difficulties: the feeling that one is wasting one’s time, that one is not in one’s place, that one is not being esteemed at one’s true value. . . All this would rapidly become unbearable. Drinking would be difficult to avoid. In the end, bitterness and acrimony would lie in wait at the end of the road, soon to be followed by apathy and irreversible creative sterility.
This solution, then, has its disadvantages, but it is generally the only one. Do not forget psychiatrists, who have at their disposal the power to grant sick-leave. However, a prolonged stay at a psychiatric hospital is to be proscribed: too destructive. One should use this only as a last resort, as an alternative to destitution. The mechanisms of the welfare state (unemployment payments, etc.) should be taken full advantage of, as well as the financial support of friends who are better off. Do not cultivate excessive guilt with regard to this. The poet is a sacred parasite.
The poet is a sacred parasite: like the scarabs of ancient Egypt, he can thrive upon the body of wealthy societies in a state of decay. Yet he also has his place at the heart of frugal and strong societies.
You do not have to fight. Boxers fight, not poets. All the same, it is necessary to publish a little bit; this is a necessary condition for posthumous recognition to take place. If you do not publish a certain minimal amount (be it only a handful of texts in some second-rate review), you will go unnoticed by posterity—just as unnoticed as you were during your life. Even the most perfect genius must leave behind a trace; leave it to the literary archaeologists to exhume the rest.
This can fail; it often fails. You should repeat to yourself at least once a day that the important thing is to do your best.
Studying the biographies of your favorite poets may be useful to you; this may permit you to avoid certain errors. Never forget that as a general rule, there is no good solution to the problem of material survival, although there are many very bad ones.
The problem of where you spend your life will generally not present itself; you will live where you can. Try simply to avoid overly noisy neighbors, who are capable quite by themselves of bringing on a definitive intellectual death.
A little professional experience can provide some knowledge, usable eventually in a later work, about the functioning of society. But a period of destitution, where you would plunge into marginality, can provide other kinds of knowledge. The ideal is to alternate.
Other realities of life—such as a harmonious sex life, marriage, and children—are both beneficial and fruitful. But these are almost impossible to attain: as far as art is concerned, they are virtually unknown territories.
In a general way, you will be tossed back and forth between bitterness and anguish. In both cases, alcohol will help. The important thing is to obtain the few moments of remission that will permit the realization of your œuvre. They will be brief; make an effort to seize them.
Have no fear of happiness; it does not exist.

STRIKE WHERE IT COUNTS

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15)

Do not pursue knowledge for its own sake. All that which does not precede directly from emotion is, in poetry, of no value. (The word “emotion” should be understood, of course, in the broadest sense. Certain emotions are neither agreeable nor disagreeable; this is in general the case with the feeling of strangeness.) Emotion abolishes the causal chain. It alone is capable of making possible the perception of things in themselves. The transmission of this perception is the object of all poetry.
This shared goal of philosophy and poetry is the source of the secret complicity which links the two. This does not manifest itself essentially through the writing of philosophical poems; poetry must discover reality in its own, purely intuitive ways, without passing through the filter of an intellectual reconstruction of the world. Much less through philosophy expressed in poetic form, which is most often nothing other than a miserable dupery. Yet it is always among poets that a new philosophy finds its most serious, most attentive, and most fruitful readers. Likewise, only certain philosophers will be capable of discerning, of bringing to light, and of using the truths hidden in poetry. It is in poetry, almost as much as in direct contemplation—and much more than in antecedent philosophies—that they will find material for new representations of the world.
Respect philosophers; do not imitate them. Your path, unfortunately, lies elsewhere. It is indissociable from neurosis. The poetic experience and the neurotic experience are two paths which cross, intersect, and most often end up merging; this by dissolution of poetic ore in the bloody torrent of neurosis. But you have no choice. There is no other way.
Your unceasing working over of your obsessions will end up transforming you into a pathetic wreck, consumed by anguish and devastated by apathy. But, I repeat, there is no other way. You must attain the point of no return. Break the circle. And produce some poems, before crushing yourself into the ground. You will have glimpsed immense spaces. Every great passion opens up a prospect on eternity.
Ultimately, love resolves all problems. Likewise, every great passion leads ultimately to a zone of truth. To a different space, an extremely painful one, but from which one can see far, and clearly. Where purified objects appear in all their clarity, their limpid truth. Believe in the identity of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
The goal of the society where you live is to destroy you. You have the same goal with regard to society. The weapon that it will use is indifference. You cannot allow yourself to have the same attitude. Attack!
All societies have their points of least resistance, their wounds. Put your finger on the wound, and press down hard.
Delve into the subjects that no one wants to hear about. The other side of the scenery. Insist upon sickness, agony, ugliness. Speak of death, and of oblivion. Of jealousy, of indifference, of frustration, of the absence of love. Be abject, and you will be true.
Belong to nothing. Or else belong, and then immediately betray. No theoretical engagement should hold you up for very long. Militancy makes one happy, and yours is not to be happy. You are on the side of unhappiness; you are the dark adversary.
Your mission is not, above all, to propose, neither is it to construct. If you can do this, do it. If you end up with insupportable contradictions, say so. Because your most profound mission is to delve toward the True. You are the grave-digger, and you are the cadaver. You are the body of society. You are responsible for the body of society. You are all responsible, in equal measure. Embrace the earth, you scum!
Determine innocence, and guilt. First in yourself; this will furnish you with a guide. But also in others. Consider their behavior, and their excuses; then judge, in all impartiality. You have not spared yourself; spare no one. You are rich. You know Good, you know Evil. Never renounce the separation of the two. Do not get bogged down in tolerance, that poor stigma of the age. Poetry is capable of establishing definitive moral truths. You should hate liberty with all your force.
The truth is scandalous. But without it, nothing has any worth. An honest and naïve vision of the world is already a masterpiece. Compared with this prerequisite, originality matters little. Do not preoccupy yourself with it. In any event, a certain originality will necessarily emerge from the sum of your defects. Of that with which you are concerned, simply say the truth; simply say the truth, neither more nor less.
You cannot love the truth and the world. But you have already chosen. The problem now is to adhere to this choice. I urge you to keep up your courage. Not that you have the least cause for hope. On the contrary, know that you will be very alone. Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.
As you approach the truth, your solitude will increase. The edifice is splendid, but deserted. You are walking through empty halls, which send back to you the echo of your footsteps. The atmosphere is limpid and invariable; the objects seem turned to statues. At times you begin to weep, so cruel is the clarity of your vision. You would love to turn back, into the fog of ignorance, but ultimately you know that it is already too late.
Continue. Have no fear. The worst is already past. To be sure, life will tear you apart again, but, from your point of view, you do not really have that much more to do with life. Remember this: fundamentally, you are already dead. You are now face to face with eternity.

© 1997 Flammarion pour le texte original.
© 2000 Richard Davis pour la traduction anglaise. Tous droits réservés.

[Taken From: here]

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

by John Perry Barlow

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland

February 8, 1996

(Taken from here)

The Dimensionist Manifesto

Charles Sirato, Paris, 1936

Dimensionism is one of the living and leading examples of the Kunstwollen of our age. Its unconscious origins reach back to Cubism and Futurism. Nearly every cultured nation of civilization has been working on its development since that time.

It is the essence and theory of this great, universal and synoptic artistic movement which is made conscious in our manifesto.

It is, on the one hand, the modern spirit’s completely new conception of space and time (the development of which, in geometry, mathematics and physics — from Bólyai through Einstein — is ongoing in our days), and on the other, the technical givens of our age, that have called Dimensionism to life.

Evolution, the instinct that breaks through all barriers, has sent the pioneers of creative art on their way towards completely new realms, leaving older forms and exhausted essences as prey for less demanding artists!

We must accept the fact that space and time are not separate categories — absolutes in opposition to one another — as was earlier believed and taken for granted, but rather that they are related dimensions in the sense of the non-Euclidean conception. By intuiting this fact, or by making it our own through conscious means, all the old borders and barriers of the arts suddenly disappear.

This new ideology has elicited a veritable earthquake, a landslide, in the old artistic system. We designate the totality of relevant artistic phenomena by the term “Dimensionism.” (The formula “N + 1” expresses the Dimensionist development of the arts. It was through Planism, the theory of two-dimensional literature, that we noted its relevance to the arts. We generalized its application in order that we might attribute — in the most natural way possible — the seemingly chaotic, unsystematic and inexplicable artistic phenomena of our age to one single common law .)
ANIMATED BY A NEW FEELING FOR THE WORLD, THE ARTS — IN COLLECTIVE FERMENTATION (Their Interpenetration) — HAVE BEEN SET INTO MOTION, AND EACH HAS ABSORBED A NEW DIMENSION, EACH HAS FOUND A NEW FORM OF EXPRESSION INHERENT IN THE NEXT DIMENSION (N + 1), opening the way to the weighty spiritual/intellectual consequence of this fundamental change.

The Dimensionist tendency has led to:

I. Literature leaving the line and entering the plane : Calligrammes , Typograms, Planism, Electric Poems.

II. Painting leaving the plane and entering space : Peinture dans l’espace . Compositions Poly-matérielles , Constructivism. Spatial constructions. Surrealist objects.

III. Sculpture stepping out of closed, immobile forms (i.e. out of forms conceived of in Euclidean space), in order that it appropriate for artistic expression Minkowski’s four-dimensional space .

It has been, above all, “solid sculpture” that has opened itself up, first to inner space, and then to movement; this is the sequence of developments: Perforated sculpture; sculpture-ouverte , Mobile sculpture; Kinetic sculpture.

IV. And after this a completely new art form will develop: Cosmic Art. The Vaporisation of Sculpture: “matter-music.” The artistic conquest of four-dimensional space, which to date has been completely art-free. The human being, rather than regarding the art object from the exterior, becomes the centre and five-sensed [öt-érzékszervü] subject of the artwork, which operates within a closed and completely controlled cosmic space.

This is how one would most concisely summarize the essence of Dimensionism: Deductive with respect to the past. Inductive with respect to the future. Alive in the present.
The following artists signed the DIMENSIONIST MANIFESTO in Paris in 1936:

HANS ARP; FRANCIS PICABIA; KANDINSKY; ROBERT DELAUNAY; MARCEL DUCHAMP; PRAMPOLINI; CÉSAR DOMELA; CAMILLE BRYEN; SONIA DELAUNAY-TERK; SOPHIE TAUBER-ARP; ERVAND KOTCHAR; PIERRE ALBERT-BIROT; FREDERICK KANN; PRINNER; MARIO NISSIM; NINA NEGRI; SIRI RATHSMAN; CHARLES SIRATÓ

The following foreign endorsements appeared in the first(movemental) edition of the manifesto:

BEN NICHOLSON (London); ALEXANDER CALDER (New York); VINCENTE HUIDOBRO (Santiago de Chile); KAKABADZE (Tbilisi) ; KOBRO (Warsaw); JOAN MIRÓ (Barcelona); LÁSZLÓ MOHOLY-NAGY (London); ANTONIO PEDRO (Lisbon).

(Taken From here)

Pandora’s Vox: On Community In Cyberspace

by humdog (1994)

when i went into cyberspace i went into it thinking that it was a place like any other place and that it would be a human interaction like any other human interaction. i was wrong when i thought that. it was a terrible mistake.

the very first understanding that i had that it was not a place like any place and that the interaction would be different was when people began to talk to me as though i were a man. when they wrote about me in the third person, they would say “he.” it interested me to have people think i was “he” instead of “she” and so at first i did not say anything. i grinned and let them think i was “he.” this went on for a little while and it was fun but after a while i was uncomfortable. finally i said unto them that i, humdog, was a woman and not a man. this surprised them. at that moment i realized that the dissolution of gender-category was something that was happening everywhere, and perhaps it was only just very obvious on the net. this is the extent of my homage to Gender On The Net.

i suspect that cyberspace exists because it is the purest manifestation of the mass (masse) as Jean Beaudrilliard described it. it is a black hole; it absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as spectacle. people tend to express their vision of the mass as a kind of imaginary parade of blue-collar workers, their muscle-bound arms raised in defiant salute. sometimes in this vision they are holding wrenches in their hands. anyway, this image has its origins in Marx and it is as Romantic as a dozen long-stemmed red roses. the mass is more like one of those faceless dolls you find in nostalgia-craft shops: limp, cute, and silent. when i say “cute” i am including its macabre and sinister aspects within my definition.

it is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some kind of _island of the blessed_ where people are free to indulge and express their Individuality. some people write about cyberspace as though it were a 60′s utopia. in reality, this is not true. major online services, like compuserv and america online, regular guide and censor discourse. even some allegedly free-wheeling (albeit politically correct) boards like the WELL censor discourse. the difference is only a matter of the method and degree. what interests me about this, however, is that to the mass, the debate about freedom of expression exists only in terms of whether or not you can say fuck or look at sexually explicit pictures. i have a quaint view that makes me think that discussing the ability to write “fuck” or worrying about the ability to look at pictures of sexual acts constitutes The Least Of Our Problems surrounding freedom of expression.

western society has a problem with appearance and reality. it keeps wanting to split them off from each other, make one more real than the other, invest one with more meaning than it does the other. there are two people who have something to say about this: Nietzsche and Beaudrilliard. i invoke their names in case somebody thinks i made this up. Nietzsche thinks that the conflict over these ideas cannot be resolved. Beaudrilliard thinks that it was resolved and that this is how come some people think that communities can be virtual: we prefer simulation (simulacra) to reality. image and simulacra exert tremendous power upon culture. and it is this tension, that informs all the debates about Real and Not-Real that infect cyberspace with regards to identity, relationship, gender, discourse, and community. almost every discussion in cyberspace, about cyberspace, boils down to some sort of debate about Truth-In-Packaging.

cyberspace is a mostly a silent place. in its silence it shows itself to be an expression of the mass. one might question the idea of silence in a place where millions of user-ids parade around like angels of light, looking to see whom they might, so to speak, consume. the silence is nonetheless present and it is most present, paradoxically at the moment that the user-id speaks. when the user-id posts to a board, it does so while dwelling within an illusion that no one is present. language in cyberspace is a frozen landscape.

i have seen many people spill their guts on-line, and i did so myself until, at last, i began to see that i had commodified myself. commodification means that you turn something into a product which has a money-value. in the nineteenth century, commodities were made in factories, which karl marx called “the means of production.” capitalists were people who owned the means of production, and the commodities were made by workers who were mostly exploited. i created my interior thoughts as a means of production for the corporation that owned the board i was posting to, and that commodity was being sold to other commodity/consumer entities as entertainment. that means that i sold my soul like a tennis shoe and i derived no profit from the sale of my soul. people who post frequently on boards appear to know that they are factory equipment and tennis shoes, and sometimes trade sends and email about how their contributions are not appreciated by management.

as if this were not enough, all of my words were made immortal by means of tape backups. furthermore, i was paying two bucks an hour for the privilege of commodifying and exposing myself. worse still, i was subjecting myself to the possibility of scrutiny by such friendly folks as the FBI: they can, and have, downloaded pretty much whatever they damn well please. the rhetoric in cyberspace is liberation-speak. the reality is that cyberspace is an increasingly efficient tool of surveillance with which people have a voluntary relationship.

proponents of so-called cyber-communities rarely emphasize the economic, business-mind nature of the community: many cyber-communities are businesses that rely upon the commodification of human interaction. they market their businesses by appeal to hysterical identification and fetishism no more or less than the corporations that brought us the two hundred dollar athletic shoe. proponents of cyber- community do not often mention that these conferencing systems are rarely culturally or ethnically diverse, although they are quick to embrace the idea of cultural and ethnic diversity. they rarely address the whitebread demographics of cyberspace except when these demographics conflict with the upward-mobility concerns of white, middle class females under the rubric of orthodox academic Feminism.

the ideology of electronic community appears to contain three elements. first, the idea of the social; second, eco-greenness; and lastly, the assumption that technology equals progress in a kind of nineteenth century sense. all of these ideas break down under analysis into forms of banality.

as beaudrilliard has said, socialization is measured according to the amount of exposure to information, specifically, exposure to media. the social itself is a dinosaur: people are withdrawing into activities that are more about consumption than anything else. even the Evil Newt says that. ( i watched his class.) so-called electronic communities encourage participation in fragmented, mostly silent, microgroups who are primarily engaged in dialogues of self-congratulation. in other words, most people lurk; and the ones who post, are pleased with themselves.

eco-green is a social concept that is about making people feel good. what they feel good about is that they are getting a handle on what amounts to the trashing of planet earth by industrialists of the second industrial revolution. it is a good and desirable feeling, especially during a time where semioticists are trying to figure out how they are going to explain radiation- waste dumps to people thirty thousand years in the future. eco-green is also a way to re-package calvinistic values under a more palatable sign. americans are calvinists, i am sorry to say. they can’t help it: it arrived on the mayflower.

i also think that the idea of electronic community is a manifestation of the triumph of sign-value over worth-value. there is nothing that goes on in electronic community that is not infested with sign- value. if electronic community were anything other than exercise in sign-value, identity hacking, which is entirely about surface-sign, would be much more difficult. signs proclaiming electronic technology as green abound in cyberspace: the attitude of political correctness; the “green” computer, the “paperless” office and the illusion that identity in cyberspace can be manipulated to obscure gender, ethnicity, and other emblems of cultural diversity; the latter of course being both the most persistent and most ridiculous. both of these concepts, the social and the eco-green, are directly nourished by an idea of progress that would not have appeared unfamiliar to an industrialist in the nineteenth century.

i give you an example: the WELL, a conferencing system based in Sausalito, California, is often touted as an example of a “social cluster” in cyberspace. originally part of the Point Foundation, which is also associated with the Whole Earth Review and the Whole Earth Catalogues, the WELL occupies an interesting niche in the electronic-community marketplace. it markets itself as a conferencing system for the literate, bookish and creative individual. it markets itself as an agent for social change, and it is, in reality, calvinist and more than a little green. the WELL is also afflicted with an old fashioned hippie aura that lead to some remarkably touching ideas about society and culture. no one, by the way, should kid themselves that the WELL is any different than bigger services like America OnLine or Prodigy–all of these outfits are businesses and all of these services are owned by large corporations. the WELL is just, by reason of clunky interface, a little bit less obvious about it.

in july of 1993, in a case that received national media coverage, a man’s reputation was destroyed on the WELL, by WELLpeople, because he had dared to have a relationship with more than one woman at the same time, and because he did not conform to WELL social protocol. i will not say that he did not conform to ethical standards, because i believe that the ethic of truthfulness in cyberspace is sometimes such as to render the word ethics meaningless. in cyberspace, for example, identity can be an art-form. but the issues held within the topic, called News 1290,(now archived) were very complex and spoke to the heart of the problem of cyberspace: the desire to invest the simulacrum with the weight of reality.

the women involved in 1290 accepted the attention of the man simultaneously on several levels: most importantly, they believed in the reality of his sign and invested it with meaning. they made love to his sign and there is no doubt that the relationship affected them and that they felt pain and distress when it ended badly. at the same time it appears that the man involved did not invest their signs with the same meaning that they had his, and it is also clear that all parties did not discuss their perceptions of one another. consequently the miscommunication that occurred was ascribed to the man’s exploitation of the women he was involved with, and a conclusion was made that he had used them as sexual objects. the women, for their parts, were comfortable in the role of victim and so the games began. of the hundreds of voices heard in this topic, only a very few were astute enough to express the idea that the events had been in actuality caused more by the medium than by the persons who suffered the consequences of the events. persons of that view addressed the ideas of “missing cues” like body language, tone of voice, and physical appearance. none of this, they said, is present in cyberspace, and so people create unrealistic images of the Other. these opinions were in the minority, though. most people made suggestions that would have shocked the organizers of the Reign of Terror. even the words “thought criminal” were used and suggestions about lynching were made.

hysterical identification is a mental device that enables one person to take on the sufferings of a group of persons. it is something that until the 1880′s was considered a problem of females. in our society, many decisions about who a person is, are made through the device of hysterical identification. in many cases, this is brought about by the miracle of commercial advertising which invests products with magical qualities, making them into fetishes. buy the fetish, and the identification promised by the advertisement is yours. it is tidy, easy, and requires no investment other than money.

in october of 1994, couples topic 163 was opened. in this topic, user Z came on to discuss her marital problems, which involved a daughter who was emotionally disturbed. it began in a very ordinary way for this type of thing, with the woman asking for and receiving advice about what to do. in just a few days, though, the situation escalated, and the woman put another voice on the wire, who was alleged to be her daughter, X. the alleged daughter exposed her problems and expressed her feelings about them, and the problems appeared to be life-threatening. this seemed to set something off within the conference, and a real orgy began as voices began to appear to express their identification with the mysterious and troubled daughter X. the nature of the identifications and the tone of the posts became stranger and stranger and finally user Z set the frightening crown upon the whole situation by posting a twistedly lyrical monologue of maternal comfort and consolation directed at the virtual Inner Children who had appeared to take refuge within her soft, enveloping arms. the more that the Inner Children wept, the more that the Virtual Mommy lyricized and comforted. this spectacle, which horrified more than one trained mental health professional who read it on the WELL, went on and on for several days and was discussed privately in several places in disbelieving tones. when the topic imploded, the Virtual Mommy withdrew reluctantly insisting that only a barbarian would believe that she would commodify her own tragedy.

one of the interesting things about both of these incidents, to me, is that they were expunged from the record. News1290 exists in archive. that means that it is stored in an electronic cabinet, sort of like what the Vatican did with the transcripts of the trial of Galileo. it’s there, but you have to look for it, and mention of 1290 makes WELLpeople nervous. Couples 163 was killed. that means it was destroyed, and does not exist at all anymore, except on back- up tape or in the hard disks of those persons (like me) who downloaded it for their own reasons. what i am getting at here is that electronic community is a commercial enterprise that dovetails nicely with the increasing trend towards dehumanization in our society: it wants to commodify human interaction, enjoy the spectacle regardless of the human cost. if and when the spectacle proves incovenient or alarming, it engages in creative history like, like any good banana republic.

this, however, should not surprise anybody. aesthetically, electronic community of the kind likely to be extolled in the gentle, new-age press, contains both elements of the modernist resistance to depth and appeal to surface combined with the postmodern aesthetic of fragment. the electronic community leaves a permanent record which is open to scrutiny while maintaining an illusion of transience. in doing this, it somehow manages to satisfy the needs of the orwellian and the psycho-archeologist.

people can talk about cyberspace as a Utopian community only because it is literature, and therefore subject to editorial revision. these two events plus another where a woman’s death was choreographed as spectacle online, made me think about what electronic community was, and how it probably really did not exist, except like i said, as a kind of market for the consumption of sign-value.

increasingly, consumption is micro-managed, as the great marxists alvin and heidi toffler suggest when they talk about “de-massing.” so-called electronic community may be seen as a kind of micro-marketing of the social to a self-selected elite. this denies the possibility of human relationship, from which all authentic community proceeds. if one exists merely as sign-value, as a series of white letters, as a subset, then of course it is perfectly fine and we can talk about a community of signs, nicely boxed, categorized and inventoried, ready for consumption.

many times in cyberspace, i felt it necessary to say that i was human. once, i was told that i existed primarily as a voice in somebody’s head. lots of times, i need to see handwriting on paper or a photograph or a phone conversation to confirm the humanity of the voice, but that is the way that i am. i resist being boxed and inventoried and i guess i take william gibson seriously when he writes about machine intelligence and constructs. i do not like it. i suspect that my words have been extracted and that when this essay shows up, they will be extracted some more. when i left cyberspace, i left early one morning and forgot to take out the trash. two friends called me on the phone afterwards and said, hummie your directory is still there. and i said OH. and they knew and i knew, that it was possible that people had been entertaining themselves with the contents of my directories. the amusement never ends, as peter gabriel wrote. maybe sometime i will rant again if something interesting comes up. in the meantime, give my love to the FBI.

Taken From: here
About Carmen Hermosillo (aka humdog)
Sister’s response to suicide allegations
Confessions of a Gorean Slave: 1 2 3
For interested Second Lifers, the above essay was recently quoted in the Adam Curtis documentary: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

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