I am very aware that I’m posting a lot at the moment and I’m creating a confused web of content that is incessantly referring to itself. Apologies for that. As I start this post I’m paranoid that I might be getting hard to follow and keep up with. The paradox is that the more I post, the more aware I am of the lack of quality control. I know that I should let things stew for a bit longer but never in my entire blogging life have I managed to give my thoughts the time they deserve when presented in this format. Rapidfire posting is my preferred mode of production.
This posting frequency is definitely counter-intuitive to being read — and I’m okay with that — but I am also appreciative of the support I get from the few people who do sometimes read what I word-vomit up here and I don’t want to overwhelm and bore those people with unnecessary buckets of the stuff…
— tobias ewé (@sonocculturist) January 25, 2018
This blog is only six months old (although there is far more than six months worth of material here by now) and the most flattering comments I’ve received about it so far have been about how my fervour is encouraging others to (re)engage with the blogosphere themselves. I’d like that more than anything. The last thing I want to feel like I’m doing here is talking to myself (even though that is surely an inevitability no matter how many people I add to my blogroll). Twitter offsets that feeling somewhat but engaging in conversation with others over long-form posts is something I would definitely like to encourage.
There is always a reticence to do so, however, and there is perhaps a feeling that to blog (especially if you are involved or pursuing academia) is inherently onanistic. Axxonnhorror, new to blogosphere (welcome!), captures the feeling well. I’m sure their first post will speak truth to many people’s blogging experiences. How many times I’ve found myself writing posts like this, interrogating the desire to write by writing and not writing.
Most of the time I’m steeped in self-critical indolences, so always considered the idea of creating and maintaining a blog to be pathetic self-indulgence and a wasteful addition of never-to-be-read words to the vast information oceans. I’ve felt it was a safeguard too: to spare myself the future painful awkwardness of rereading or even merely knowing about the existence of formerly written sentences I immediately loathe. I’ve decided to accept the inevitable embarrassment, as perhaps surprisingly, there still exists some primal impulse towards cognitive action in my unpleasant brain, some desire to write cogent posts, organise mental activity, thoughts, and information. A will-to-think? No, mostly it’s just a means to more worthily procrastinate my degree (maths), devoting some part of my dilettante behaviour to blogging, which is marginally better than some of the alternatives of wasting time.
I’ve been asked a few times how I manage to write so much and for tips on making writing into a habit but the drive behind what I do is just as Axxonnhorror describes it. It makes me wonder what kind of image people have of me in their minds: a studious guy who lounges around all day reading and writing, furiously typing out essays on a daily basis. I only wish that were the case.
To tell you the truth, at the moment I have very little time on my hands. My day jobs have been relentless so far this year and I was sick for most of December and January, run down but unable to afford a break. (No sick leave for the precariat). The time needed to write in-depth essays or work on other projects was something I lost around the time this blog came into being but without such projects I’m left feeling purposeless. This blog a hobby I take far too seriously as I desperately look for job satisfaction from everywhere but the jobs I’m paid for. In essence, it is an excuse to turn my otherwise languorous depression into a neurotically productive one.
Productive depression is something I think is alien to most, and that’s no surprise when we function under the auspices of being productive members of society — that central spire around which all mental illness turns: if you’re not productive, of course you’re unwell.
For me, when I’m depressed and anxious, writing becomes a quick fix and a distraction. There is a self-destructive mania to working on a post at the expense of other life tasks. It is an opportunity to step into and live inside my own head in a way that the majority of my day forbids. It’s an attempt at privately grounding myself whilst, at the same time, being an attempt to public flaying myself.
Now I wake up every morning and feel that constant and insatiable WordPress itch that I am desperate to scratch, like a cigarette craving. I have an unhealthy dependence on the endorphin hit that comes from pushing that “Publish…” button. In this way, hitting that button is closely associated with my own sense of self-worth. It’s all a superficial attempt to keep depression at bay which is, in itself, fuelled by depression. If I was content with my life, I probably wouldn’t be spending so much time here. The WordPress phone app doesn’t help with this as I’m able to work on posts in every spare moment of the day (and I do). Writing is jouissance is suffering. I don’t blog from home, picking at my library of knowledge. I blog from the bus, trying to forget about the day I’ve had or am going to have.
All of this is, I hope, obvious; a reality that is generally known but left unsaid. The intention is not to respond to the question “Woah how do you blog so much?” with a glib “I hate myself”. The currents at play are complex but the discomfort of talking about them frankly risks contaminating the function of the outlet. There is, perhaps, a more impersonal way to approach this that allows for a return to our usual programming…
I enjoyed reading this short post by 0xdeadbabe the other day which attempted to excavate a truth from the photographs featured in this viral tweet:
In a way, it’s an infuriating article to read in its familiarity (which is no criticism of 0xdeadbabe). Their thesis is, of course, entirely correct.
This is the anxiety that has always haunted photography and one that most famously haunted Roland Barthes in his 1980 book Camera Lucida (touched upon here and here). It has become the central tension around which countless photographer’s attempt to frame their practices, acknowledging and capitalising on the way photography has been anchored on shifting grounds.
Take the equally celebrated and derided photographer Roe Ethridge, the comment below from an article about him in Frieze:
Photography is all about arbitrary borders, about the illusion of self-containment and completeness. We want to believe that we’ve got the whole picture.
Photography epitomises our morbid fascination with identity in this way. The four hard edges of the frame show us all we need to see but in some circumstances they start to fluctuate under the pressure of intense viewing, distorting at the edges in a way that makes you wonder what is bending: the image or yourself. (There is no spoon!)
This Ethridge portrait is one that has always disturbed me. The woman’s expression is typical but uncertain. A blank smile, contorting as it is captured midway through a transition to something else. The blank Polaroid insinuates an image to come of an Outside we can’t and will never see. The passport framing, the head-and-shoulders crop, gives the image an intensity, a tunnel-vision, exacerbating its fragmentary nature. The longer I look at it, the more claustrophobic it makes me feel, in my gaze and in my own skin.
What I find most interesting about 0xdeadbabe’s post, in their excavation of a photograph’s meaning using all the latest computational mod cons, is that it shows how much more entrenched this anxiety now is (as opposed to alleviated) by contemporary technologies.
Whereas a melancholic Roland Barthes romanticised the inadequacy of the medium when he looked at a photograph of Little Ernest — “It is possible that Ernest is still alive today: but where? How? What a novel!” — there is something distressing today about the accessibility of powerful research tools that nonetheless fail to bring us the answers that we seek.
This has always been photography’s inadequacy but is it now the inadequacy of all information in the digital age? When the social media filter bubble burst in the UK following an unexpected election result, this same tunnel-vision became horrifyingly apparent to the nation. Questions were asked of pollsters, online news, social media… “This is detrimental to democracy!” But it was not an unfamiliar phenomenon. It is everywhere, surfing along the wave of accelerating information technologies of which blogging is a part and which photography arguably heralded back in 1855.
Has the Internet now democratised this inadequacy that has always been there, making it clear for all to see, intensifying the terror of what we don’t know?
You’d be forgiven for wondering what all this really has to do with blogging, but surely it has everything to do with it, as a part of these informative systems that are becoming more and more self-conscious by the day. The anxiety of being a masturbatory blogger mirrors the anxiety of reflexive social strata that seems to be threatening to collapse under its own weight. No one wants to contribute too much energy to coming singularity of the social self and the black hole that will follow. In truth, there is probably little we can do but steel ourselves before the split. Knees bent, ready for an impact that we likely won’t feel as we’re imperceptibly turned inside out.
In Roland Barthes’ 1975 essay, The Pleasure of the Text, he declares that every writer’s motto should be: “mad I cannot be, sane I do not deign to be, neurotic I am.” The neurosis of photography as explored above is no different, if easier to diagnose.
Barthes speaks of pleasure, specifically the pleasure we get from reading, and how, when this pleasure is paramount, it becomes jouissance.
This jouissance solely comes, for Barthes, from the aesthetic encounter with art. Interestingly, the counter of this in literary terms is found in, he says,
so-called “erotic” books [which] represent not so much the erotic scene as the expectation of it, the preparation for it, its ascent; that is what makes them “exciting”; and when the scene occurs, naturally there is disappointment, deflation. In other words, these are books of Desire, not of Pleasure.
In which camp do these viral images of “leszbikus szerelem” fall? Do they represent Desire or Pleasure? It seems that the certainty of their eroticism is precisely what is being argued for. How is the pleasure of their light eroticism contaminated by the desire for a certain truth that never comes?
These photographs represent an expectation of understanding, but a fully-formed and complete understanding eludes us. This is where we find the displeasure of these photographs, in their incompleteness; in their question-without-answer.
Today, the blogosphere and social media seem to become sites of Desire that continuously disappoint in much the same way. Clickbaiting us to apathy. There is no certainty; no pleasurable wholeness. Blogs run on the fuel of disappointment, governed by a “neurosys”, and this blog is no exception, defined by its process of thinking aloud, a final concrete thesis never quite arriving.
Elsewhere, “Fake news” becomes news. Conspiracies proliferate. Localism concerns the whole world. The LD50 shitstorm is surely a great example of this, but again it is nothing new.
An even better example is Nick Land himself, and in particular his jettisoned and much-debated essay, “Neurosys: On the Fictional Psychopathology of Abstract Horror”, recently published by the CEO.
Land, in all his blogospheric productivity, is surely as neurotic as the rest of us, if not more so, but no one else has managed to make their neurosis so infectious as he. The irony that an essay on neurosis would occasion the very neurosis it is talking about is inspired.
The application of neurosis, as a category, produces an instantaneous dissolution of the theoretical into the psychological. Suggestions revert to symptoms, whose propositional characteristics are collapsed — by controlled explosion — into their own genesis. How could anyone think such things? Pathologization economizes the question.
Land is talking about Lovecraft here but the echoes of the reception to his own work are hard to ignore. In probing Lovecraft’s racism, again echoing accusations of his own, Land drills down to find neurosys at the very core of the self.
Biological origins are intrinsically uncertain. They provide an indistinct object for scientific curiosity precisely because they exceed causal comprehension. What would it be, then, to ‘fall back’ upon identity? There is no home there, to which one might safely return, but only the dark secrets of ancestry, contaminated with hidden, alien strains, and destining a return to the sea. No insight is more distinctively ‘Lovecraftian’ than that which glimpses the cryptic Outsideness of the inside, and then recoils, seized by unbounded repulsion, into the delusive security of some unstable, liminal space — such as the edge of a mirror, or family portrait — where interiority is compromised beyond recognition. The hideous other is found — rediscovered — deep inside (where exact natural science, too, is sure to find it).
Prior to this, he writes: “Disproportion is the Great Connector.” Barthes’ connection between photography and death itself epitomised his neurosis. Land’s connection of neurosis to itself reveals more occluded circuitries.
Blogging, in all its forms (including the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter), now sits at the heart of all of this. Another connection, amplified by the original inadequacy of photography, that epitomises the now-magnified inadequacy of word and self. Of course any consideration of why we’re all here and why we post like we do sounds cringingly overdramatic. How could it not? Neurotic we most certainly are.