Though opinions abound in this media saturated era (sites devoted to snarkiness launch daily), thoughtful, incisive essays are as rare as ever. That's why I've decided to use this space to, on a weekly basis, highlight compelling and timely cultural criticism that examines literature's role today. Any suggestions will be warmly embraced.
This week's feature: On the Poverty of Internet Life: a Call for Poets by Jasper Bernes. Bernes' essay, which appears in Action, Yes Online Quarterly's Autumn 2007 volume (it's dated, but not so much that it doesn't still feel right on time), questions the disembodied geography of the internet, pointing out that the internet is not as freeing and democratizing as we so badly want to believe.
The essay inhabits its subject, taking on the web-specific obtuseness that keeps us feeling distanced from what's around us. Yet it still caters to an internet attention span, packaging ideas into short, numbered paragraphs.
On the Poverty of Internet Life ultimately calls for offline poetic action that works against online information dispersion. Writes Bernes, "let’s continue doing what we are doing now—writing, posting to blogs, giving readings, publishing books. But let’s also devote some small portion of our energy to using our creative skillz for the injection of radical content into the public sphere at large—that is, the land-based public sphere." Calls for poetic intervention have been issued before, but Bernes' invitation seems especially relevant now, when culture is seemingly secured behind LCD screens.
The first few sections of the essay appear below, but read the rest at Actionyes.org.
(The above image is “The Other Google” by Porous Walker)
On the Poverty of Internet Life: a Call for Poets
1 The entire life of those societies in which the modern mode of production prevails presents itself as “an immense accumulation” of connections, of links, of networks, of people become roadside motels for fugitive information.
[Chain Gang/Daisy Chain]
1.1 In the rain, regnant, of these interleaving screens, the webs of these non-scenes, we read a new topography of opportunism and cynicism, of margins without a center and centers without a margin, a topography of the totality’s investments of every site with a refractory universe of information.
2 In this, the funhouse mirror of the commodity, in which things appear to be more real than the social relations that produce them, in which commodities appear, in fact, to produce those relations—in this, the primary inversion of the commodity fetish that Marx described is itself inverted in the pseudo-emancipatory fetish of de-fetishization that is the user-generated internet. Opposed to relationships, here products and objects seem, in fact, the mere effluvia of an immense, acephalous process in which one futilely stakes out a section of the common and calls it “mine” or, more colloquially, “my shit.”
2.1 Relationships, then, are the commodities here (along with tones, desires, ideas). They are what is produced and what is consumed. Or perhaps it is more fitting that we call these produced relationships para-commodities, since they obey the law of circulation without achieving a direct, clear, material form of value.
2.1.1 What we took for society, for company turns out to be unpaid job training for the company, unpaid work. And so, it appears, now we are all deputy market analysts at Google and Microsoft, producing value whose redemption is scheduled for a future to which we will not be invited.
2.2 In this, the course of capitalism, in which relations of production between people ossify into commodities, and the commodities themselves, massified into slow-moving glaciers, seem to give value to and promote things that are, at base, an immaterial angst kerneled around a social need, just air, thinner, this logic in its final stage seems to have returned to its very feudal beginnings, where the social relationships between classes and races and sexes and sexualities are totally transparent in their absurd, unabashed brutality.
2.3 In the internet, the commodity appears to have committed suicide. This is the “communism of capital.” The abundance of the developed world, those final fruits of a half millennium of exploitation, are delivered right to your living room, as form, as conform, annealed in the hard light of corporate standards. They are manipulable, plastic; they have a history that recedes into the future. But they are also completely purged of all substance. An equality without qualia. Everyone gets their fifteen embarrassing minutes of fame, yes, but everyone is always someone else.