Contemporary literature’s dyadic and subtle writing is nearly passive aggressively avoidant on the net. It isn’t a meaningful way to talk about the networked self, because by definition you aren’t just yourself when you’re on the network. You are a smeared entity, multiply identitied. You are different in every packet, sometimes the receiver, sometime transmitter, mostly all at once. You are a node, like a forgotten memory to everyone else, just as they are to you. The sum of human knowledge is your latent, unthought thoughts, the words of all the other humans your memories to never be remembered. Your potentiality is diffuse in the ocean of human imagination, and all of it is there for you to drink.
We often fall into a trap: if we make net life just like real life, we can write about it! But net life is real life. It deserves its own aesthetic of language, and it only suffers the paucities it’s accused of when clumsily translated to our old ways of being in the world.
And if ever we needed evidence, it is this: when it steps back into real life it brings its strange back with it. These are examples of graffiti from the Egyptian revolution, they are values of an incorporeal world, made corporeal, to the great disruption of accepted political structures. This is the Polish parliament, taking on the momentary identity of a 4chan based non-group that first materialized four years earlier to harass the Church of Scientology, to protest an intellectual property treaty. These protests eventually destroyed the international treaty, and no one really knows how it happened.
Consider the case of Pepper Spray Cop. We know it as a meme, a sudden idea that went across the network and was integrated by thousands of people into every scene and every artwork people could reach for. We could describe it in terms of people getting the idea and sitting at their computers, carefully redrawing Lt Pike in one scene after another, uploading and downloading him in his brief, infinite, variety. But have we captured anything there? Are we defeated by of computer interaction that can’t discern Pepper Spray Cop from a love letter, and neither of them from the day work of an insurance adjuster?
We are defeated. We are stuck with facial expressions at a monitor, the little clicking and tapping of prone hands, maybe if we’re daring, even a description of the screen. We are further cursed by the fact and an insurance adjuster could very well be penning a love letter while making her own pepper spray cop. As writers and artists our literal tools are not only locked out of the loop between humans and their computers, but distantly removed from the drama of their networks.
But what if we reached for the language of myth and magic to describe Pepper Spray Cop?
What if, instead, we say his sin was so shocking that it scarred the collective dream of the net, that it reverberated so widely it was heard from heaven to hell, pressed its way into the imaginative ocean, from Guernica to Star Wars? We can call it more, we can call it a moment where the net collectively dreamed of police brutality, and the networked creatures were ever so slightly changed. A new signal received, a new wariness, perhaps undreampt of yet by any particular network creature, but at the very least latent for all.
We could say more… we can say the net reared back and laughed, horrified, and cursed him. It placed on him a terrible form of one of its many kinds of fame, such that everywhere he goes in life, all he will be known for is his inescapable moment, like some ancient greek disfigured by the gods. In this, haven’t we said many more true things than if we counted the number of pepper spray cops, or remarked how they were made, or even the apparent mindstates of those who made them?
The network is a place of corporeal metaphors, intellectual landscapes painted out of math. Perhaps we should write about network life like we write about art. Or see it as a kind of magic, best approached with mystical description. We don’t understand what we’re doing, what we’re writing about, our own creation has surpassed the methods of reductionism we used to create it. Isn’t it more honest and true to write about it with a kind of vetted mythology?