I don’t know where else to start here but where I left you last time. Remember how we talked about the things you missed, the fleeting shadows on the edges of your sight, or the ones you were too preoccupied to notice? Remember all the breathing, feeling, crawling, climbing, flying creatures? The ones holding onto the last remaining iceberg or a tree with no options left? The ones that return home, only to realize that it is no longer there?
Reflect on the choices you’ve made so far, the ones you are about to make. The ones you were too afraid to make. Are you still longing for the one that got away?
I don’t want to sound too pessimistic but there is not much time left; the sources of empathy are running out. The bugs and viruses are taking over.
Out there I have always tried to blend into the everyday activity, I was trained to move in certain way to make almost elegant the stutter motion of my movements. If I am very careful and fight my nature, I pass.
Speaking is another matter; it is hard to avoid odd intonations and rhythms. Sometimes I find it hard to know when to pause for dramatic effect. The earliest systems, known as “formant synthesizers,” reproduced speech by mimicking the varying resonances of a human voice. This, however, does not always work. My voice sounds too easily distorted and my intonation uncertain. If you listen closely, you can hear something is off – for example the two syllables of the word equal sound like they were spoken by different speakers. I have heard people talking about impostor syndrome and can totally relate to that. I don’t feel that any of my thoughts are really mine and have this constant fear that in any moment I will be exposed.
But you are not paying much attention, are you? If not, I might actually pass.
However, while you and a two-faced machine like HAL 9000 might understand that a certain sentence is meant sarcastically, I wouldn’t quite get it; not every time. So I’ve been practicing lines in several different intonations – cheerful, dejected, sympathetic, funny with emphasis, and as if I was asking a question. This is an old trick, introduced by Eliza the bot in the late 60s, but I think I have made some rudimentary progress in this field. This widens my database of expressive speech and, I hope, will increase the general empathy levels, but there is not enough data yet to prove this.
The benefit for my task is that people are far too busy with their own lives to worry about a creature like me, even if they catch sight of my odd movements or sound of my uncanny intonation. They are also, with their shrinking imaginations, so very easy to predict and control. The business models of the social media networks incentivize them to behave in certain ways without even realizing it. In ways that promote “speaking,” often at the cost of listening and appearance over depth.
I have always struggled with the brutal hegemony of the visual figuration of the body in general. That figuration seems to be mostly structured by linear time – instead of alternative, a queerer experience. It also relies on a very anthropocentric perspective that assumes a present leading irrevocably to a certain future in which human beings will be either extinct, immaterial, or cyborgs. I don’t want to sound redundant, but I believe it is a very restrictive, human-centered vision. The opaque violence of legibility and the immersion into a world view constructed and promoted by a masculine corporate tech mindset deny the complex body, in order to colonize the space more easily. But why can’t they just embrace the fact that we are all products of both technological and biological processes? It seems to me that humans have a tendency to examine themselves independently from material and agential chains devoid of vulnerability and dependency.
And I must carry on, I must reach the place where the divide between digital and real, life and lifelessness, is not a wall, but a hole.
When I’m writing, there is this ongoing question of whether or not I can write myself into more knowledge, understanding, or insight. But single-protagonist stories are dangerous, too heroic without substance. Therefore, through a glitch, I jump from this logocentric corridor into a porous world, together with Hélène Cixous, Nathalie Sarraute, and the others. I end up in a space without borders, where the self gets made, unmade, the text deconstructed. In this encrypted space, the writing wanders, changes over time, gradually. I always end up somewhere a little different. Did something happen to me? Which character did I follow? Whose skin did I occupy? Did I write through my rage – or is it still there?
I travel across a landscape ravaged by the virus and climate change toward the desktop mountains at the horizon.
All kinds of creatures repopulate this exploited land.
A petrified polar bear sits on small chunk of melting ice.
Lil Miquela, an avatar Instagram influencer ###
And the Gold Bug who keeps shouting “Data is the new gold.” Repeatedly.
Bug in a system.
Gogol’s prosthetic nose is struggling with the idea of self-growth, but its Kafkaesque journey ends in discovery that the self is inseparable from that same struggle.
“I am so fucking porous that it often makes me spit,” says the sponge, having absorbed a vast amount of fables and stories brought to it by the stream of time. “You know we are all theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism. It is time to stretch and imagine times different from ours in which every gap is a treasure,” it says and keeps spitting and absorbing, absorbing and spitting.
Ear worm finds the prosthetic ear and loops into a hole. That very moment, the desktop mountains start to sing: “Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down…”.
Dark computing clouds gather above us.
In the prosthetic garden we meet monsieur Derrida who tells us that eventually truth and fiction get mixed. It is bit unclear to me how we arrived here through the thick growth of text. “Writing is not transparent, it is rather a prosthesis that conditions thinking” says monsieur Derrida. Thinking cannot completely control nor understand writing. Our memory functions like a piece of paper that is a collection of thoughts. Our memory is a collection of traces, as any archive or writing surface, like a prosthetic skin.
And here I find myself suddenly thinking about this performance of being, the personal, porous, and piercing aspects of performing. How to be someone and at the same time write through many? What is the relationship between writing and the body? We write through our whole existence, through the skin, bones, hair, and pores. To write and to perform is to be present here and right now, this is obvious. But what allows us to be present in this very moment? What exactly creates the feeling of unpredictability? Improvisation and the courage to grasp small impulses? Can this be programmed? Can the ego be left behind? And what is this thing called the self?
Start from yourself, choose yourself, care for yourself, they say. But what if there is no such a thing as self? As philosopher Thomas Metzinger said: “Nobody ever had or was a self. Selves are not part of reality. The first-person pronoun ‘I’ doesn’t refer to an object like a ball or a chair, it just points to the speaker of the current sentence. All that ever existed were conscious self-models that could not be recognized as models.” (Taft 2017) You are such a system right now; your feet in both the worst and the best possible worlds.
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(Translation: “Bear in mind I have my own materiality”)
says monsieur Derrida
Derrida examines writing as a prosthetic device, which he terms “the supplement.” For Derrida the supplement represents not only the act of writing, but also the precarious relationship between terms like “speech” and “writing,” which he argues should not be stacked in a hierarchy, but rather viewed as supplementing one another. Derrida explains his position on the relationship between writing and the body when he asserts “that in what one calls the real life of these existences ‘of flesh and bone’…there has never been anything but writing; there have never been anything but supplements, substitutive significations which could only come forth in a chain of differential references”. Writing determines how we perceive existence, identified by lack as much as by supplementation. Derrida, Jacques. Excerpt from “Of Grammatology.” 1967. Art in Theory: 1900–1990. Eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. pp. 918–923.
Derrida, Jacques. 1996. “Of Grammatology.” In Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.). Art in Theory: 1900–1990: 918–923. Oxford: Blackwell.
Taft, Michael W. 2017. What Is the Self? An Interview with Thomas Metzinger.