All the Easy Roads

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Aspiration is what makes the world spin in greedy circles.

This is just a stab at clarifying some points that have come up in your comments.

What’s literary is any competent text-induced semantic effect that is counter-cultural, which is to say, artfully cuts against the received assumptions of real readers. My argument is that the rules of resemblance that we presently use to define ‘literature,’ are producing fewer and fewer of these effects because of rapidly changing social, economic, and technological conditions: our transformation into an ‘e-Harmony World.’ The reason I continually fret about the commercial utility of this blog is simply because I’ve never left my old working class ears behind: I am keenly aware how pompous this must sound, especially to many readers of genre. “Just fuckin write, will you? Get. Over. Yourself. I mean, really? Who gives a shit about all this?”

Well, anyone who wants to be part of the solution. Cultural transformation requires a horde of ‘pompous geeks’ like me pulling the rope in a different direction. And this is just to say that it requires a great amount of faith. A cause.

A guess worth taking risks for.

Nothing is ideologically inert. All communication encodes assumptions. And everybody possesses a hardwired tendency to prefer confirmation. These aren’t controversial claims: they’re simply fact.

If the ideology you read is invisible to you, it usually means that it’s your ideology, by and large. Entertainment reinforces implicit values and assumptions. It will always be the status quo preference, for both writers and readers (but this simply means the pompous geeks have that much more work to do).

I happen to think that much entertainment is relatively innocuous simply because I don’t think all our values are problematic. Some of it may even be ‘helpful’ in a personal (as opposed to) a social sense. But I also think that our culture is caught in a kind of paradoxical positive feedback trap: the technologies that were supposed to universalize access to dissenting points of view have actually had a contrary effect, facilitating the pairing of values and consumers instead. Fox News was just the beginning. In the old, geo-semantically constrained world, if you wanted to debate you had to talk to your neighbour, who could believe any old thing. You had to take what you could get, and you found yourself dragged over the rough rocks of dissent as a result. Nowadays, you tell your neighbour to go fuck himself, or ‘politely refrain’ from discussing anything divisive, and go online to haggle cultural minutae with people who generally share your values and interests.

Information technology has rendered the cultural industry far more responsive consumer desire–which sounds like a good thing until you realize how often that desire is the product of our innate cognitive shortcomings. Information technology is allowing the markets to exploit our weaknesses–and at a time when we need to be as clearheaded as can be.

And remember, markets, as the primary organizing principle of our society, are the keel of culture. A definition of fantasy could be, the satisfaction of desire absent the constraint of reality. In this sense, you can say that information technology is facilitating the growth of a new, even more extreme fantasy culture (I say ‘more extreme’ simply because I think our psychology inevitably renders all cultures more or less fantastic).

Knowledge. If everything is information, as many physicists are now wont to claim, then all human action becomes hacking. And this is what I fear we are doing: using our knowledge to hack ourselves, to sidestep our defenses, to embed fragments of malicious code, to steal cooperation. We are evolving a culture bent on indirect manipulation, on pushing all the buttons that cannot be seen, the opposite of what it pretends to be: a culture bent on emancipation. And literary culture, I think, is the greatest pretender of all.

Exploitation of desire arises out of the very structure of markets. When it comes to the desire to eat, this is undoubtably a good thing. When it comes to the desire to fuck, this is a controversial, problematic thing. When it comes to the desire to be ideologically pampered, it is disastrous, plain and simple.

There has to be some kind of push back. The technological roller coaster ride is just beginning, folks: there’s a good chance that we will all be screwed before the century is through. We live in Pandora’s World. All of our institutions, from democracy to marriage, are the products of past social conditions: animals adapted to what was. Only the tendency of the social future to resemble the social past allows them to function the way they do. That tendency has almost run its course.

There has to be some kind of push back, some kind of understanding of how we are fast becoming our own worst enemy. In today’s world there is no challenge, no literature, short of work, a self-conscious reaching for dissenting audiences. And the best way to accomplish that, I’m saying, is to write genre. The path of least resistence–writing for your peers–pretty much guarantees you are simply reinforcing the status quo.

In today’s world, all the easy roads lead to entertainment.