Friday, May 20, 2011

In the new issue of The Wire, I have a Retromania essay--not an extract but a sort of a parallel text, titled "Excess All Areas", that picks up on some of the book's themes and extends them, while also grappling with a bunch of fresh preoccupations. Basically it's about the wrenching,traumatic transition from the Analogue System to the Digital System: a process that's now almost complete, which makes it a good point to poke through the wreckage and assess what's been lost as well as what may be gained in terms of emerging possibilities.

The working title was "The Catastrophe... And What Comes After".

In the essay, I have a quote from Lil B: "I'm on computers profusely". I got that from a piece about him and didn't realise until after the Wire essay went to press that it's from a song called... "The Age of Information". An amazing song that in some ways and in its own way says much of what I'm arguing in "Excess All Areas". Now I'm actually not a digiphobe, not really: I've embraced most of the aspects of digiculture, indeed was an early adopter in some areas. My present doubts and misgivings have come through fairly deep immersion. So naturally I was pretty stunned to hear Lil B, who must be half my age and has probably been digi-immersed as long as he can remember, voicing sentiments such as: "The age of information is hell" and "now I feel the Internet has ruined the human race". It does strike me sometimes that digiculture has not increased the sum of human happiness or fulfilment: all it is is a new arena, a different architecture of culture-space, across which we distribute and enact the same old same old: vanity, boredom, isolation, emptiness... Leavened, now and then, by generosity, kindness, empathy, wisdom...

In the piece there's a passing reference to Borges, someone who I never quite managed to work into Retromania, which is a shame as Jorge Luis said it all, or a lot of it anyway, way in advance. Case in point, the 1949 story "The Aleph", which contains:

i/ a sort-of-prophecy of the Internet, of total and constant Connection:

"'I picture him,' he said with an animation that was rather unaccountable, 'in his study, as though in the watchtower of a great city, surrounded by telephones, telegraphs, phonographs, the latest in radio-telephone and motion-picture and magic-lantern equipment, and glossaries and calendars and timetables and bulletins…' He observed that for a man so equipped, the act of travelling was supererogatory; this twentieth century of ours had upended the fable of Muhammad and the mountain--mountains nowadays did in fact come to the modern Muhammad."

ii/ a precocious vision of the datapanik rush, the ecstasy/agony of communication

"one of the points in space that contain all points… the place where, without admixture or confusion, all the places of the world, seen from every angle, coexist... a small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable brightness... at first I thought it was spinning; then I realized that the movement was an illusion produced by the dizzying spectacles inside it…. In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and horrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fact that all occupied the same point, without superimposition and without transparency... universal space was contained inside it..."