Friday, April 17, 2009
Digital language exists in an intermediate space; it is situated somewhere between speech acts, as they have come to be known, and print texts. Digital language is, in essence, an intermediate language. Until it becomes normative, a term will be useful to distinguish it from speech acts, on the one side, and print text on the other. The intermediate quality of digital text can be distinguished in calling it “speech-as-text.” Like speech acts, digital text partakes (potentially) of spontaneity, affectivity, reactivity, and the previously posited “velocity”; conversely, like print text, digital text can demonstrate the virtues of craft, rhetorical calculation, discursive subtlety, and semantic nuance. As an intermediate language, speech-as-text is, in its manifestation, already heteroglot; because people speak differently than they write (though this differential varies greatly from person to person.) Bakhtin’s formulations can be embodied by, or within, individuals. Speech-as-text resolves self-bifurcation, even as it creates a new textual self. The “between” quality of speech-as-text will no longer be apparent once it establishes itself and becomes normative (to what degree it may become as normative as print text is up for debate); speech acts, digital and print texts will be an established triad. What is important is that the widespread establishment of a new form of both self-consciousness and self-representation has implications that are simultaneously political, aesthetic, intellectual, and subversive. I want to focus on the political and subversive aspects to speech-as-text, for one simple, salient reason: discourses that are both genuinely subversive and genuinely political in the United States (and in other places) in 2009 are rare indeed. How did it get this way? In the answer, we may feel urgency in the pursuit of digital consciousness as a possible bridge to a new era.
A brief look at the era we live in now will first be necessary. When we look back at the Aughts in America, I believe a central contradiction will be apparent. This is, in many ways, an era of extremes. Mainstream media outlets are dominated by personalities to whom it is impossible (for thinking people) to be charitable. These personalities are, almost without exception, imbeciles. They have created a social environment that goes beyond the “Disney Land” paradigm posited by Baudrillard; it is more like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, in which acts of terrible violence are committed (though these are displaced into verbiosity), and all to comic effect a few notches beneath burlesque. This is extreme; the obvious incompetence of the Bush regime has been equally extreme. Yet, what has my generation’s response been? What have young intellectuals accomplished in America? Have we sought to balance these negative extremities with “positive extremities” of our own (effective thought translated into effective action)? Culturally, the answer is manifestly yes, from Philadelphia on out; politically, much less so.
The consequence of our lack of action has been a sense of socio-political stagnation. If our passivity is in any way defensible, it is because “outlets,” in the traditional sense, have been unavailable. Organizations have not been established, organic political institutions (in the sense of “grass roots” rather than strictly “natural”) have not developed, few marches have been organized, few demonstrations staged. What has been accomplished has been ignored, more or less, by mainstream media outlets. Now, I am attempting to legitimize a new outlet for the creation of discourse. The Internet has already been used, freely and even-handedly, as an economic mode of production (I am thinking of the Obama campaign.) As a tool for the dissemination of high-level discourse, that would be capable of creating a new, revitalized sense of socio-political engagement among artists and intellectuals, we have not, to my knowledge, seen easy and swift vertical progress. Easy, swift, and vertical are all characteristics of digital consciousness— but until its terms are named, to the satisfaction of those for whom terms are a sine qua non, it will not be privileged as a unique medium in which new cognitive forays can be initiated.
Speech-as-text, as I have defined it, is capable of moving minds into new spaces. When intellectual purviews are expanded, we may see a renascence in America (and other places) to a realm in which societal and institutional structures do not appear as reified as they do now. Any new self that is fashioned holds the possibility of reaching the Other in ways that could not perforce be imagined. A state of being “between” at least moves the mind out of the slough of an overdetermined, vastly configured milieu. “Between” is active; it is dynamic rather than static or essential. In short, it offers advantages. I am hoping that those who want to see things start to progress again can honor the conceptual ground I am staking. The formal parameters of the Net, its heteroglossia and potentiality for the development of new literary forms (like blogs) make it one of the few things remaining in American society that can legitimately be called democratic. In a time of stagnation that, beyond the socio-political level, is marked by economic strife, any outlet that can still be called democratic must be clung to like a life-raft. An argument can be made that speech-as-text, falling in between speech and print text, winds up falling beneath them (falling short, in a bifurcation, of two “wholenesses.”) I respectfully disagree. An intensification of two time-worn linguistic forms, shot through with the urgency of crisis and criticism: this is how I would describe the (admittedly idealized) speech-as-text I have in mind.