At a talk, a familiar thread: the younger generation and their computers; they don’t have a connection to materiality, they don’t think about medium, or place, or tradition, or history. This time it was poets; the last time architects. Their products are equally ungrounded, and to someone with even a modicum of ‘local’ historical knowledge exude an unavoidable sense of pointlessness. One of the speakers argues that their stylistic concerns are probably alien to an Internet generation confronted instead with the ability to “let it all go,” a kind of terrible freedom where one can throw out margins, typeface, privacy, manners, the whole deal. I try to identify. Sure, when I travel I sometimes have a hard time telling the location apart from the facebook album, though the same has been said about photography in general. I can’t really remember anything, I don’t really care where I live, nor do I really understand how to get worked up anymore over matters of taste — having been able to get any sort of music imaginable since college has taught me I can ‘like’ almost anything with minimal effort — but I can’t say my experience of any of these things comes with a greater sense of ‘freedom.’
Is there any mode of writing more constricting than Internet writing? I mean in terms of form, of course, not (unless one is dealing with censorship) content. Another helpful analogy can be drawn to taste. It’s often claimed that the Internet offers its users unprecedented possibilities for self-fashioning, by opening an ever-expanding archive of culture to sampling, editing, remixing, reproduction, etc. The problem is how to filter all this information in interesting and/or useful ways; essentially how to theorize it.
I find this perspective superficial. For one, it assumes that variety automatically equals freedom. Even if we go along with its implicit restriction of our view to the field of consumption, we have to acknowledge that all the Internet does is reduce the distance between advertisement and product and expand its potential reach, thus accelerating the cycle for each individual product. In order to follow a scene, I’m immediately obligated to become conversant in whatever it is the second it shows up on the blogs — nothing is hard to find anymore, I have no excuse not to know it and have little time to develop a personal taste that is any more than irrelevant dilettantism; if something is encountered by ‘chance’ it has no time to sink in, only to immediately become part of a scene or disappear. There is an expanding universe of tastes, but they are not individual. The work of constructing and participating in one or more scenes is increasingly the point, leaving far behind the old humanist ideal of self-knowledge through a deep personal experience of art. The Internet is another terrain for the capture of subjectivities, is able to do so more quickly and in some ways more comprehensively than print, cinema, or television, and leaves even less room for personal ‘freedom.’ If the avant-gardes were split between l’art pour l’art and its destruction through collision with everyday life, today we could say the principle of motion for art in the Internet Age is scenes for their own sake. An anemic conception to be sure, but poised on a powder keg, or, depending on your interests, a big pile of money.
Which brings me to the next faulty assumption: that all this variety should lead to increased creativity. If we mean creativity in the kind of general market-friendly sense that every Flickr photo is creative, then obviously it does. However, the Internet is a giant parody of the idea that novelty, as the engine of cultural development, is produced by recombining previous material into new forms. Though it seems nice and rational, its assumption that everything is always already translatable (that everything can potentially be ‘recombined’) inevitably leads to the romantic notion of original ideas as mysterious, uncaused, etc. We can call this the entropic-messianic theory of cultural production, wherein all means of establishing sense are assumed to have collapsed into an equilibrium state and we’re all just waiting around for Godot. Or we could just call it postmodernism. But significant art — the language is so outmoded — is generated through struggle with tradition or with something else, not a full shopping cart. The components have to mean something before they can be used for anything besides derivatives. Comparatively information-deprived regional cultures and their unpredictable relations have produced most of humanity’s stock of ‘masterpieces.’ As an aside, maybe it’s time to look beyond (or before) novelty as the ultimate standard for culture.
Writing on the Internet immediately threatens ‘authors’ with their ‘audience’ — the moment one stops thinking of oneself as an isolated performer on stage is when conversation can begin, but doing this requires the abandonment of all concern for developing one’s ‘craft.’ When language fully enters a sphere of universal equivalence as text, (and can be translated, quantified, plugged into search algorithms); then communicability and transparency of meaning are finally God; one retires from the divine the more readily one can define one’s addressees against the universal, ‘common reader’ (which is not to say that there is such a thing). I should add that putting writing on the Internet is not quite the same thing as Internet writing. The former is frequently the object, but never the subject of the latter, and can always be skipped.
But we are (as ever) rapidly approaching a redefinition of the term ‘art,’ and at the moment I’m forced to beat a hasty retreat.