SUBJECT AND CYBERSPACE
Nowadays, this is the only
Enormous screens on which
Atoms, molecules, moving particles refract.
I would imagine Paradise in the form
Of a library
Jorje Luis Borges
“I wonder, what would Joyce have thought about the combinations of the big game, the internet?”, asks Michel Crepus, reflecting upon books and their uncertain destiny. The knowledge and the written tradition, the relationship between the reader and written speech, the books and libraries, constituted a part of the most refined history of human civilization for centuries. For some, though, knowledge was connected with evil itself: “I have been to a printing house in hell”, Blake notes, “and I witnessed the way knowledge was transferred from generation to generation. In the sixth room of hell, nameless spectral creatures dwelled, which would take the shape of books that were placed on bookcases.”
The library of Alexandria, as a spiritual universe that aspired to complete the pieces of the ancient world, has always exercised a particular attraction on our intellect. The fire that destroyed the library (just as the fire that destroyed the writings of Heracletus in Efessus) perhaps constitutes a symbolism about the very meaning of knowledge: essence does not perish; it is transferred from man to man in a mystical (corporeal?) way, as a distillation of life within existence itself. Nowadays, nonetheless, the presence of Cyberspace that shelters the universal library, seems to plead for a completely new reality: the human body is now condemned into absence.
“The body as a stage, gradually vanishes”, notes Jean Baudrillard. “Our private sphere ceased to be the stage where the drama of the subject in dissent with its objects, but also with its own image, is enacted: we no longer exist as theatrical playwrights or actors, but as terminals of multiple networks… From the point where behavior focuses on specific functional screens […] what remains now appears as nothing more than an enormous useless body, abandoned and doomed. The real itself appears as nothing more than an enormous useless body”.
The abolishment of the real (the conventional space, but also the person) and its transposition to an immaterial sphere, the nomination of which as a “hypertext”, disposes the seduction element beforehand, presents the new morals of human history. Through the Internet, space now acquires a different substance, completely liberated from its common three-dimensional set of boundaries, it extends as a multiplicity of fields, speeds, structures, times, images, sounds, information. The same occurs with the person. It loses its identity, its special structure that, until the present, has absolutely correlated it with space (the community, the nation and all the other stable frames that the notion of space poses). The subject is scattered towards other dimensions, other times, it becomes transcendent, hypersensible, it becomes an image (on Facebook, in cha-trooms), it becomes a plain form, weightless, unconfined, it can “appear” at any time all around the globe, it can coordinate with every partial reality of its collective being, with no need to strive for it: it simply has to tune in with the flow.
Precisely this ec-stasis of communication, (the dis-embodiment, the abolition of matter and all material designation, the multiplication of the icon itself, the invalidation of conventional interaction) creates the new morals of the digital worlds: the autonomization of the subject from conventional grounds of thought, perception, expression, but also social reality that tends to alter the acknowledged human values, in order to create the (vague, so far) new boundaries of human behavior.
The hypertext, as an archive system of the collective knowledge of the planet, (actually, that is the collective intellect), describes a place where everything can converge – languages, nationalities, cultures, races; hence someone would support that globalization, as a tendency of contemporary civilization, is reflected upon the latter and expresses its metaphysics. Nevertheless, for many it constitutes a horrifying reality: the total emancipation of knowledge, its overleaping to a territory completely independent from the subject, the huge augmentation of a power that has transcended its’ creator (since it abolishes real life, in order to erect on the latter’s dead corpse technology itself, to be the ultimate value), cause terror. However, although completely o u t s i d e of the human, the hypertext does not cease to depict all those elements that the “inwardness” has instilled through the ages: science, art, universal meaning, all the cognitive fields of human activity.
With his “Labyrinth”, Borges introduces us to a paradox universe that consists of multiple universes, a space with multiple branchlines, multiple possibilities of spaces, times, experiences, speeds. Hypertext resembles this Borgesian creation, since
…its’ shape embraces the universe
it has neither front nor back side
neither enclosure nor secret center.
(Do not expect the infinite road
that again ramifies to another,
that again ramifies to another,
I read: “The hypertext constitutes an extension to the organizing ability of the brain”. This definition allows us to comprise it within our perception as a part of our own evolution, an evolution that transcended itself, that rises over and beyond its primordial ability, and that is engaged in an infinite multiplication, like a Hydra of information, superior than the human brain, endowed nonetheless with vital human traits (logical order, composition, memory).
Tibetan monks used a special educational system for the storing of memory: the classification of every element in the mind was accomplished by the mental visualization of special groups of drawers, inside which everything took its place categorized. Thus, when the concerned needed a piece of information, they went to the appropriate drawer and recalled it with some sort of spontaneous recovery. The brain’s hard drive could make unbelievable registrations; nothing was ever lost. I’m bringing this up in order to connect the internet brain to the human brain: both are word and image storages. However, the strange Tibetan knowledge bank does not amplify the Internet metaphysics – on the contrary, it undermines it.
Nowadays, that the post-modern landscape forces us to slip into the oblivion of history, the hypertext takes pleasure in appearing as the vehicle that opposes that oblivion (although, at the same time, it realizes the oblivion of the old spiritual ways of man). Orwell’s fear that the future of humanity is threatened by a form of totalitarianism that will banish all information, rather constitutes a tragic irony. Because, totalitarianism in our time emerges exactly from the barrage of data that Cyberspace puts us through, exhibiting the new face of a cultural treaty, according to which the information penetrates all levels of thought, perception, expression, to state the absence of meaning.
The Internet has now become a “physical” reality, the very mark of contemporary civilization. The elders’ distrust towards the new media (due to different experiences in education, culture, communication and interaction), but also the skepticism of the intellectualists that focused on the dangers of the social model’s disturbance by an autonomized technology, belong to the tale of the conflict between the old and the new world. However, there still lies a question: is, perchance, the substance of the subject attacked by its relation to the new media? Sven Birkerts, in his well-known book “The Gutenberg elegies”, where he describes the transition of written civilization (and the linear flow of text) into electronic circuits (and the multiple navigation possibilities of hypertext), conveys a relative question: “All our collective history –the soul of our social system- is recorded in print. If we reject print […] what will become of our perception of the individual, the civilization, its continuity?”
Indisputably, the possibilities of Internet applications constitute a marvel of technology. He who resorts to that universal library to draw information, avoids much toil –like the housewife, that has substituted her trough with a washing machine- and gains precious time (let’s hold on to this “gain”, because I’m planning to subvert it). Cyberspace is an amphitheater of choices, where the cognitive objects parade alluringly, with various themes. But what is the relation between information and real knowledge?
The essence of learning procedure, as we all know from our personal experience, lies in the special connection of the subject to the occasional object that attracts the former’s attention, a connection absolutely erotic. For example, I will refer to poetry: literary taste is a hypothesis that is supplied by texts as well as places, it is an interaction of ideas and feelings in real-life gatherings, it is voices, sounds, memories, wakes, conversations, conflicts, both internal and external, spiritual labors, parts of a true reality that compose a long text of life, everything that is absent from Google. The hypertext cannot supply literary taste, because it is dead. It may inform us, but it cannot mould us. It serves us, but it cannot enchant us. Because it is offered like an easy mistress. No excitement precedes the conquest, no emotional stake exists in the lover’s vindication. The bank mechanically supplies its material and that’s about that.
Some of us think, perhaps, that the hypertext is also the place to promote the collective sensibility of the planet, since it contains a large portion of the global poetic production, as a permanent map of the history of sensibility. Thus many poets hurry to participate in this “great show”, adding their own fireworks on the Cyberspace sky. Although I myself am a user and a creative participant in the hypertext (more because of an inclination to coordinate with the pulse of the present, than of genuine interest), I do not, nevertheless, have the feeling that this participation adds anything to the essence of my poetic activity. In my opinion:
The user that uploads a text onto the Internet and is flattered to believe that this tiny man-made universe –a continuity of his own identity- will travel all round the world, offered to everyone indistinguishably, will soon discover that his work is nothing but yet another product on the shelf of the global bank, completely vanished among the jumble of products. Because, the occasional text abolishes itself within the Internet’s hypertext, in order to feed the vast empire with its flesh, deprived of the slightest possibility to construct any particular substance. Thus, although the poem is written in order to act upon the human soul, diffusing Meaning and Sensation, I’m afraid that inside Cyberspace both these are cancelled and reduced to the order of typesetting registry. To “upload” a poem simply means that the Bank of knowledge mechanically places another part in its drawer. Even worse, the consumption of poetic material is done the same way vegetables are consumed in the supermarket: they are many and various, and that’s exactly why they cause us total lack of interest.
Now to address the question of the new speeds of information, with which Cyberspace allures us, and the time we “gain” because of its services. Time is a relative concept. When is it “gained” and when is it “lost”? the hours that we dispose to real life for the collection, comprehension and assimilation of knowledge (what we spend on long and wearisome occupations) constitutes the measure for our substantial contact with the occasional object of interest. But that time isn’t “lost”, because it is added to the human potential, since it gets “interiorized” through personal toil and ways that accompany a real experience. In this way alone, can knowledge assimilate and acquire support and depth. But I’m afraid I’m writing banalities.
The real waste of time, its squandering, happens on the Internet when we are lost, crushed by the plethora of impressions and the variety of supply. I have the feeling that, for many users, what is sought for, often ends up being the stay and the coordination to the hypertext flow itself – and this exactly describes the contemporary terror: if I forget myself on the Internet, this occurs to me so that I am never available to deal with the real stakes, which are self-consciousness, the flourishing of internal life, the settlement of spiritual issues, the creative use of seconds, the mature communication by means of true relationships. Because, in virtual co-existence, everyone is “absent”.
It is true that internet communication between users (chatting, Facebook, etc) is more often supported by spiritual tendencies that cultivate distance. One way or another, a user here, (if we want to define him according to the classic psychological terms), represents a subtraction, a plain gear in the virtual world of impressions. Because the subject without its’ body, is devoid of its fundamental formation, of that dimension which immediately realizes the incarnation of the spiritual identity. (inside the icon, the self appears as an other, notes Roland Barthes). While the subject retreats, losing its’ flesh and juices, it can no longer be a “face”, because, even when it turns to the other, it constitutes nothing more than an icon meeting another icon. The subject’s identity alternates by its’ own dematerialization, it may not be revoked altogether, but still it does transform, becoming an unidentifiable “other”. Thus, communication on Cyberspace, in most cases, amplifies the role-exchange, the personality thefts, the completely controlled personas. When human intercourse takes place under such painless and protected conditions, we cannot, of course, talk about “friendships”, but about “different types of relationships”, that lie in a far distance from a substantial relationship. I understand, nevertheless, that the spiritual un-loading of the users through these “ light” contacts, regardless of the absence of a deeper stake, might sum up a need to escape from the contemporary violence of the system, and, at other times, a simple inclination for some recreational touring.
Should I want to speak from the perspective of the old world’s values, I would point out that the users consider the possibility to converse with another person on the other side of the planet an exceptional fact, when, at the same time, they don’t care about the slightest contact with the neighbors in their own block. Psychoanalysis would pose them a critical question: do they get attracted by such a form of communication, exactly because it will always remain “in distance”? A real relationship takes time and effort, spiritual potential, a life’s depositions, and of course, it presupposes the difficult responsibility of its’ maintenance. Perhaps the new Internet morals hold the user prisoner of a disfiguring mirror, where the triumph of resignation is preserved (Aldus Huxley, years ago, pointed out that we would become a frivolous society, trapped inside stupe-fying pleasures and conveniences that would render us victims of its’ massive control).
In conclusion, Cyberspace changes the relationship of man with man, because it exerts an influence over our spiritual function, our spiritual constituents, our emotional values (from which many of our social values emanate), our very relationship with the material world and everything the latter implies. Furthermore, as a television offspring, it decisively dislocates the meaning of community, as we have had it in our minds at least, since it creates new virtual communities with loose connection of members who have the opportunity to exhibit individual worlds (often simple narcissistic interfe-rences), exchanging information, news, music, artistic preferences, applications, games, even flirting. It is obvious that the hypertext has altered the ontological dimension of man, since, in a time when the meaning is retreating, the hypertext itself has become the meaning, symbolizing the new morals of internet socialism.
Nevertheless, the Net is founding a regime of exceptional importance to the collective human perception and the evolution of intellectuality (a planetary consciousness), since all the images of the world, social, political, artistic, scientific, and mainly the events that occur and are presented by the special mass media, spherically imprint the Earth’s being. The Cyberspace citizen is urged to conceive a different way of comprehending time and space, to a multicollective view of events, history, intellectuality, an action that immediately makes him a citizen of the world. Thus, while inoculated with the global flow, he is urged to cut off from the limited boundaries of nationality and any other, more partial private sphere.
When Socrates said “I am a citizen of the world”, he transported a personal experience of consciousness, towards which he was driven by the potency of the Word. I think that today, a similar feeling might be activated through the collaboration of Internet materials (images, videos, interviews, documentaries, ecology, music, political analysis), if the individual consciousness of each user is capable to construct the unification of those elements of “real” life, its’ connection to the globe Earth and the latter’s particular realities. Of course, an issue yet remains, as to what extent are these possibilities properly developed by the users.
The powerful counterargument to many of the thoughts I wrote, examining the movement of human emotional life in regards to the new medium, comes from a different point that evaluates the intellectual opening that the Internet creates on the field of the symbolic and our imagination, as of particular importance. While the hypertext forms a “hyper-consciousness” that acts above the individual will, it subjects the contemporary human to an idea: to experience his existence as part of that immense organism, the collective Soul, whose story is imprinted on the Net.
- CHOULIARAS YIORGOS
- CHRYSSOPOULOS CHRISTOS
- CONNOLLY DAVID
- DELIGIORGIS, STAVROS
- GOUTΖOU, SOFIA
- KALTSA, MARIA
- KLEIDONA, EVGENIA
- KOUTSOURELIS, KOSTAS
- LIBERI, KLEOPATRA
- PETROCZI, EVA
- RACHEL BLAU DuPLESSIS
- RAPTI, VASSILIKI
- RESPONSES TO AMERICAN POETRY
- THILYKOU, SARAH
- TSITOURA, MARIA
- TSIVILTIDOU, ZOI
- VEIS YORGOS