Attention conservation notice: Yet another semi-crank pet notion, nursed quietly for many years, now posted
in the absence of new thoughtsbecause reading The Half-Made World brought it back to mind.
The Singularity has happened; we call it “the industrial revolution” or “the long nineteenth century”. It was over by the close of 1918.
Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses)? Check.
Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality and social organization? Check.
Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check.
Embrace of the fusion of humanity and machines? Check.
Creation of vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication and control, “the coldest of all cold monsters”? Check; we call them “the self-regulating market system” and “modern bureaucracies” (public or private), and they treat men and women, even those whose minds and bodies instantiate them, like straw dogs.
An implacable drive on the part of those networks to expand, to entrain more and more of the world within their own sphere? Check. (“Drive” is the best I can do; words like “agenda” or “purpose” are too anthropomorphic, and fail to acknowledge the radical novely and strangeness of these assemblages, which are not even intelligent, as we experience intelligence, yet ceaselessly calculating.)
Why, then, since the Singularity is so plainly, even intrusively, visible in our past, does science fiction persist in placing a pale mirage of it in our future? Perhaps: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk; and we are in the late afternoon, fitfully dreaming of the half-glimpsed events of the day, waiting for the stars to come out.
I want to feel love
Get caught in the echo chamber
I want to get crushed
In the beautiful machine
This essay of hers is in no small part why I’m writing here and now. There are practical reasons underneath that as well as emotional-symbolic ones, but the point remains. I know who I am here, and I can say things here, in a way I otherwise can’t.
The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.
—David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”
Written in 1990. The whole thing is tight and enlightening. Amazing how much has changed, and how much hasn’t.
There we were—demented children mincing about in clothes that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing each other with wooden swords, hollow protestations of faith hurled after empty promises of vengeance—and every gesture, every pose, vanishing into the thin unpopulated air. We ransomed our dignity to the clouds, and the uncomprehending birds listened. Don’t you see?! We’re actors—we’re the opposite of people!
–Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
To assume you can somehow escape ethnocentricity and that there is some objective position that stands outside your culture from which, “freely and rightly,” you can criticize other groups who are “trapped” in theirs is the moment of blindness from which grow all the abuses of the dominant, unmarked state when that particular state, whatever it is, obtains dominance—which, if it is culturally useful enough, it will.
Go read the whole thing.
It’s almost better with the sound off—I’m forced to focus on their body language.
It’s interesting to me how much less demonstrative the queer couples are than the straight couples. That matches my experience.
I want to write stories that feel like this.
See I’m not walkin’ on it
Or tryin to run around it
This ain’t no acrobatics
You either follow or you lead, yeah
I’m talkin’ bout you,
Or keep on blaming the machine, yeah
I’m talkin’ bout it,
T-t-t-talkin’ bout it
I can’t complain about it
I gotta keep my balance
And just keep dancin on it
We gettin funky on the scene
I didn’t need this comic as much today as I might have some other days, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need it at all.
(Some cool Scott McCloud-style screen-as-infinite-page stuff going on too.)
This song resonates a lot for me. I think it does for a lot of us.
(I couldn’t find a good video of Idina Menzel performing this live, I’m afraid, or I’d have included it here.)
A song for 2013, and maybe 2014 too.