Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reception Velocity, Posts, Parataxis

If Internet Theory is to be developed, it may be profitable to establish and define some terms that will act as semantic nodes for the theory. I have discussed "velocity," as it applies to the Net and to digital consciousness. More specifically, Reception Velocity is a concept that adds gravitas to a theory that would particularize and attempt a critique of Net discourse. Reception Velocity is what distinguishes blog discourse from print discourse. It is in some ways, a kind of return to “court culture,” in which poems, plays, and other texts rapidly circulated among small, contained groups of people. The primary difference is in geographic comprehensiveness: a blog is not contained by place. It travels instantaneously over an enormous landscape, and is comparatively boundless. Reception, thus, has an arbitrary element to it that is hard to avoid. Many blogs are “stumbled onto,” which radically destabilizes a “court” comparison. Reception thus has at least two levels: a conventional level, in which a coterie audience ingest an expected, and (we hope) welcomed digital text (which may or may not, in and of itself, manifest digital consciousness, in all its “unrehearsed” presence), and an unconventional level, in which non-coterie members happen upon the post through Google, a mailing list, a link, or word of mouth. There are intermediate levels. An established blog will generally have a somewhat “layered” audience: those who come every day, those good for once a week, those on special occasions, etc. What this creates is a digitalized version of Bakhtin’s “carnival,” where formality and spontaneity interweave to create a matrix of interrelationships.

This holds true for bloggers, as well as for audiences. Sitemeter insures a perpetual state of intrigue and uncertainty: by letting bloggers know where (geographically) their hits are coming from, Sitemeter gives blogging the quality of a rich, particularized guessing game. So “Reception Velocity” has a dual meaning: it applies both to pieces of digital text being posted, and to bloggers receiving hits from a wide range of locales (which are tracked by Sitemeter and other such programs.) This means that blogging engenders a special kind of reciprocity. It allows immediate contact with a wide audience in a manner that print texts cannot. Velocity of contact can be either intimately satisfying or disorienting, as when an unknown person decides to leave a nasty comment. Yet negativity on blogs gives digital discourse a pungency that it would not otherwise have. It only becomes a pure negative in instances of “blog stalking” (and I have, indeed, been blog stalked), where negative comments are consistent and abusive. I am guessing that commodification of the Net will (if it happens) iron out these irregularities. Yet if it is true that, as Blake says, the crooked roads without improvement are the roads of genius, the current, “crooked” Net is preferable to a sanitized version of same.

Literary parataxis is often distinguished by heterogeneous parts, not narratively linked, forming a whole. This tends to be how it appears in poetry. In ordinary grammar, it can simply mean a lack of conjunctions. Parataxis is relevant to blogs because there are no "conjunctions" as such between posts. This means that, as in poetry, parataxis is a formal property of blogs. However, this is somewhat misleading. Parataxis-as-form is completely volitional. It is the choice of the blogger. There is no reason why blog posts, like circumscribed speech acts (lectures, poetry readings, classes) cannot be connected and extended over days, weeks, months, or even years. Parataxis-as-form allows for unusual discursive fluidity: post titles can create subtle variations, and thus new rubrics for discourses that progress at a tangent to earlier ones. It is, again, in the hands of the blogger to what level of formal rigor a given blog aspires to. There is nothing preventing a poet, novelist, or theorist from effectively composing a book online; posts can be rehearsed, revised, reworked, and perfected, just as parts of a book can. The tendency now, of course, is towards impulsivity and spontaneity. However, if blogs begin to be taken more seriously by a wide, discerning public, posting will cease to be a casual act and start to become an act with consequences. On the other hand, parataxis can breathe new life into old literary tropes and create a sense of excitement. It is a bit like playing "bumper cars" at an amusement park. Ideally, a serious blogger is capable of using parataxis both ways: to move discourses in unusual directions, and to create a sense of the unexpected, of possible frisson. Institutionalization of the Net, I am guessing, would do away with the bumper cars. Digital consciousness would be forced into print parameters.

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