Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I entered this book self-consciously wearing that habitual anger I now continuously try to transcend, mostly failing. The author herself did this to me by that point in her preface where she supplies jacket-copy which would be faithfully paraphrased by the Amazon come-on which reeled me in. As though it were some critic's take: "Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet." Dogfooding, right? No, I don't think that's the right term. Press-release confused as news. I knew that I would be duped, that I had been had.
Except for on the Internet, you're not allowed to suggest greatness for yourself, and I already knew there would be no theory here. I wanted a means by which to comprehend the Internet, that same thing McLuhan tantalizingly seemed to supply to media before it would seeming soon engulf us. I'd never heard of Heffernan, and easily bought the Kindle version because Amazon had credited me with some remainder from lawyer-enriching suits against price-fixing Apple. Something like that. I was willing to be had. Evidently. I own an iPhone. Kindle as an app, twice removed from thingness, not yet the cloud-reader.
Heffernan's version of history collapses so thoroughly into the NOW, that only a few years hence if there are any readers left of her, they will be required to parse her references in the same way that Rosetta Stone codexes are decoded, as though a random find of a fragment could allow a more-clear gaze into the lossy past if one just gazes hard enough. But just now, I get all her references, resenting her as I do for chest-pounding academy-baiting journalistic almost Blink-grade hubris. What's his name. You know. Gladwell. Phew!
It angers me too that she does actually remember those matters in recent history already gone to me. For me. Gone. Details etched for her in more youthful memory, trained to recall references as she has been, and I still won't forgive myself for not knowing who she is, this Virginia, namesake of my own for-the-unreconstructed-State-named mother, whose own being is reduced to a present which must be the inverse of that state of consciousness achieved by drowning in my youth. When the entirety of my life to that point was simultaneously there. Soon Mom will not remember my name. I cannot care less.
Eventually she calls the artifice of rose (you thought it a natural flower?) by its name - Kurtzweil demented - and wins me back and calms my anger, although it will be hard to forgive her abiding adulation of that which is destroying us, embrace of Nobodaddy, Destroyer of Worlds, it was not the atom - as she transmutes those to digital bits instead - which would release the horrible power of mankind's collapse of irony into Singularity with engendered God.
I want theory, dammit. My heart was already here when history longed for it. Nor cloud nor other metaphor will seduce me onto profane eternity. Art in earnest is not art, though Metaphor's figure constrains us to think so. Idealist Platonic reduction, as though the Internet, like the painting, is not the thing itself, representing nothing other.
Toward close of virtual book (for me. I hear there is a real one) she does reveal that there is a mathematics of life too, and that it has won the Nobel prize for its author (can you tell that I also would tantalize you to read this book, shill for someone I wouldn't dare actually to know).
Because I have not mind to remember anything, nor ever have had, and therefore feared dead-ending among wrong references followed; in something like the philosophy of language say, if there is such a thing, I've mostly done amateur sleuthing into Chinese literary figures, figuring that as a natural language there is no end to it, as there might be to endless particulate physics, say, or certainly critical literary study which can't stop global warming anyhow.
If one wants to exit idealist philosophy, one has to enter an entirely different world, where Metaphor is not the main conceit. Chinese will soon overtake English on the Internet. There there never was any concept of representational art, or ideas expressed, which is something that happens when you press a dog's bladder, or post a fart, but not in commune with the uncarved blockhead.
By the time which spans my brief life that keyboarding Chinese was reduced by power of so-called artificial intelligence (machine prediction, more properly) from acreage of indexed type, through analytical encoding, to pin yin sound-reversal, the power of digital to destroy the motor-memory embodied written word was already complete. Whole textual histories dissolve into the alzheimer's order from which I cannot retrieve a single remembered so-called photograph from the cloud into which I dutifully dump them. I suppose that it must be enough to know that I could if I were to really want to. Soon enough not.
Anyhow, nevermind theory. The Internet simply and totally means that the self is already gone and that it was our clawing for individual identity which caused the melt-down. College presidents now are first qualified as millionaires or named celebrities or ex-governing leaders, in some inverse proportion to the power of their school's name (But the University of Calfornia??!!! Really????). This is institutional isomorphism, aping Jobs and Gates, with students as widgets (scary nasty dangerous cut-throat widgets if you follow Heffernan to Harvard). Ditto identity. I won't wear blue-jeans ever. See? Journalists stand in as serious thinkers, sanctioned to make fun of scholarship in almost the same way as what's-his-name - Governor of Florida after Jeb - did or does or has. Authenticity is my enemy too, see, I am one with the masses. Of?
Damn if this Virginia isn't a hell of a lot more genius than you or me. She nails the titans of industry, men all, to the wall or to the crossroads of history. I'd like her to nail me too. But apart from being a brilliant writer, she's wrong on nearly every single point. Well, except for Creationism. She got that right. And discovered that irony is lost on the Internet along the way. Tant pis, dommage and a Deus. Vaya con Dios.
Yes, Virginia, there is a clause. It laughs, is fat, is witless. A safety clause. An exit clause. I watched pirated YouTube video of Eddie Van Halen at the Hollywood Bowl mid-reading and wished I could have been there. He is his guitar his guitar is him. I watched through the length of it mostly to preserve my suspense against the moment when copyright-security would shutter the unlicensed camera. Better than to be there. Better story. Close up and real. Ending more true-to-life.
Internet is not art so much as it is the representation of art now that art is dead and gone. This, in brief, the thesis of the book. Burn incense, bow, and keep that departed soul alive. It takes care not prayer to keep the heart alive. The Internet sucks all my living up to a sky Goddess wearing Prada is all I know for sure. I am left with nothing. And yet I cannot turn away.
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