|Some Scattered Thoughts on the Web
by José Luis Brea
‘The only way to talk to Andy is on the telephone. Then he has the shield of that receiver, and he talks
through his protection.’
H. Geldzahler, Andy Warhol
‘The authors counter these centralised systems with acentralised systems, networks of finite automatons
where communication is conducted from one neighbour to any other, where all of the individuals are
interchangeable - they are defined only by a state at a given moment, so that local operations are coordinated, and the final result is synchronised independently of acentral authority.’
‘These singularities, however, communicate only in the empty space of example, without being linked by any common property, by any identity. They are expropriated of any identity whatsoever in order to
appropriate belonging itself like E. Tricksters or slackers, assistants or toons; these are specimens of the
G. Agamben, The Coming Community
Surely, what is most absolutely unique to the Web is that it offers a totally unprecedented conversational situation. It does not involve speech – even in spoken chat rooms, the words in one's own voice are mediated by a deflector which synthesises them - and because of that, any illusions of stability in the economies of production or transmission of meaning are completely ruled out. Even when chatting is
done in supposed real time, between each sending and each reception, between each thought and its being typed out, there is an inevitable microsecond. Within it, any illusion of simultaneity falls into an abyss, into the depths of the forgotten. The Web produces the illusion of sharing a space – but in each of its extremes adifferent internal, radically separated time is inhabited. If the illusion of a full presence
of the meaning of words is fed by the deceptive impression of mutual intelligence produced – in the experience of live conversation – by the simultaneity of the acts of speaking and of listening, we have here the explanation for why the act of encounter that is produced on the Web remains completely free of this ‘pressure of meaning’.
The internaut is a navigator of the routes of the signifier, who is aware of the unbridgeable distance that (still) separates them from those of meaning.
Put another way: these who chat on the Web are not where their words are; they inhabit an insurmountable delay with regard to them. The words that circulate are always anonymous, writing without asubject. What they say, they say for themselves – they are completely lacking in the supposed subject who enunciates them. A chat room is a game for latter-day Surrealists – producers of genuine exquisite cadavers – given over to the succulent experience of confirming how a text speaks only to the extent that it moves around – and perhaps, to the extent that in moving around, it pronounces them.
We are never dealing here – therefore – with words, but with a text. Not with the logos, but with the graph, not with the word, but with writing. Writing that is exchanged in a regime that is somewhat archaeological, native, of an anthropological nature. A regime in which signs were still exchangeable as objects, in their dark and splendorous materiality. Not as bearers of a meaning, yet, but above all
as witnesses to aconnection, to the free establishment of ties between peers, between anybody within acommunity - manufactured precisely by that rite. The internaut is a neo-primitive devoted to re-experiencing barter, the primal ritual of the gift.
The gift that is exchanged on the Web is the sacred gift of writing, of the primal graph. It is aremote, first-generation writing. A writing-gram, a writing-sign, which we could not differentiate from pure image, from pure graphic gesture. On the Web, writing and image enjoy the same status – we
experience them both equally. They reach us like a message sent from far away, materiality bursting with ‘intention’ and not with meaning, with will and not with representation, like effects charged with a principal finality: that of giving testimony to the existence of another. Our first gaze brims over in the recognition of this graphomanic, libidinal quality: intensive, mute, and material.
Never underestimate – it has been said – the power of an image. And the image reigns here.
We can, then, begin to read – or not begin. Rather, indifferently given over to the experience of the pure
superficiality and visuality of the signs, we ‘look at’ the texts as we look at images – as witnesses or tracks, as mere traces of the existence of the other. Surely, the maximum subversive potential of the medium resides in this quality. On the Web, the collusion of the regimes of image and writing is absolute.
And its reciprocal subversion: it moves writing away from the word –from meaning, as given – but it also moves the images away from its innocuousness, from its value as representation. It – and here this is also made evident – has to be read, interpreted. Like writing, infinitely. No look – no reading – can wear it out.
The Web – as an unlimited club of ‘readers’ of images, as a secret society with an innumerable number of ‘voyeurs’ of writings, of graphemes.
The very nature of writing – which is revealed with more clarity by being put on the Web, as long as the ‘book’ device does not weigh it down to force its temporal one dimensionality on the sole axis of legibility – is multidimensional, it expands in various directions, which can be travelled without a predetermined order. It is the power of the word, and its expression as a sound in time, which impeded perception of the multidirectionality that is characteristic of the graph: akind of writing that explodes in all directions, and that connects in all directions, for which there is no before and after, for which space is not the determination of order, but rather the potentiality of an encounter. How hallucinating, how forceful, would be an image which, like writing, could be able to find the possibility to develop like that: multidirectional and not successive, open and not fixed.
On the one hand, all of the power of the still image – of the ‘plastic’ artwork, whose refusal to ‘occur’ in time imbues the images with an incredibly powerful infernal potential, of existing outside of time – in its own time of significance which the posterity ofreadings must open.
On the other hand, all the power of film, of story-telling – but no longer subjected to the unilinear axis of duration itself, of things happening (which due to happening in a same place, had to occur, until now, some before, some after). But that is all over – and therein resides the highest metaphysical potential of the Web.
What is the most characteristic ‘conversational situation’ that is produced on the Web - a situation that we have not hesitated in calling absolutely unique? Its peculiar cocktail of public/private. The fact that it is offered as a place in the public domain – in a time during which the public has been deactivated, engulfed by the pressure of the media and the entertainment industry – to which there is both access and projection from the extreme privacy of one’s own experience. The attraction of the Web for the subject of experience resides right there – and that connotes the way in which subjects express themselves, maintain their singular form of ‘conversation’, at once private and public. One the one hand it offers the experience – lost to contemporary society – of the public domain, of the agora in which to meet and converse, before many, with the other. But simultaneously, it enables us to accede to this place – whether as mere receptors or spectators, or as broadcasters – in the full reserve of privacy, in full contact with what is absolutely unique about one’s own experience.
One who chats on the Web – or one who listens – does it with this dual passion. On the one hand, the passion with which we address ourselves in public to anyone. One the other, with which we hear resounding, in the echo of the others’ voices, that profound sense of the absolutely unique loneliness of their own lives, their own spirit, their own world of experience.
The matter of secrecy is, for all these reasons, the key. But not to preserve either the identity of the members or the nature of the society which they form – sporadically. Rather, precisely to preserve the most important of the secrets that the Web keeps – that is has none.
The moment of entering is therefore – and contrary to the classic that confabulates the one who joins a secret society – the last in which participants have their own names. From then on, subjects can move around freely, namelessly, without public responsibility – their movements are secret, private. The self-advertising of the Web depends on this ability to offer full guarantees of secrecy, of privacy – to the observer, not to the observed.
The Web makes the world transparent, it completely empties it of secrets – and the hacker, as a figure of the new, more subversive wise man, is in charge of ensuring the penetrability of every place on it. There is no form of encryption or password impeding the most absolute transparency. All of the data, all of the knowledge in the world, are accessible to this new incarnation of the Absolute Spirit – to this new avatar of the Encyclopaedia of the world, which is the Web. In return, it should ensure –even though, in so doing, it lies – the complete anonymity of net-surfers.
The multiplication of security instruments, of programs for guaranteeing privacy offered by the different web sites, is therefore vital. The net-surfer – the reader – is a nobody. And the one who writes – afictitious being, always invented. That is why on the Web everything is pseudonyms, aliases, heteronyms, fake names.
‘Navigating is necessary; living is not’. The calibrated motto of the Argonauts is today, and with more reason, that of all the innumerable, faceless people who, in the dead nights of their lives, wander around the Web every day.
To acertain extent, the Web brings back some of our childhood dreams. Being able to go down the infinite passageways of an interminable castle – of one's own house, every nook of the garden, every shelf of the kitchen, every secret drawer of every piece of furniture in the attic – without ever reaching the end. On the Web, everyone explores the multisecret of the hidden treasure, sure of being able to find it. By infinitely putting off finding it, the dream of being able to do so someday never ends – this feeds the adventure of surfing on. Unlimitedly.
Moving around the Web has nothing to do with discovery, with finding the truth. Rather, just the opposite, with the experience of pure search, of misunderstandings. With the experience of infinite interpretation, of interminable reading, which the Web feeds, constituted as amachine of the multiplication of readings, of the proliferation of texts and signs.
It is illusory to think that the Web has to do with communication, or even with information. It is untrue that there are two Webs: the official Web, born under the wing of the institutionalised knowledge industry – academies, libraries, universities, research centres – and another rhizomatic ‘anti-Web’ that maintains atransversal and disseminating relationship with the same objects of knowledge, with the same information.
It is senseless to seek ‘information’ or knowledge on the Web. The very nature of the medium sabotages any diurnal pretension of a relationship with it. All knowledge put on the Web creates rhizomes, it fans out and propagates irrepressibly, it overflows its uncontrolled connection with other places, other
knowledge. Impossible to ignore that any information, that any significant content, must be reached through another. The Web is the very map of a dissemination of knowledge which, in its impossible contemporary obesity, makes any pretension of taking it in, of centralising it, unrealistic.
Therefore, it is amistake apropos of the Web to envision a political horizon defined in terms of some ‘ethics of communication’ - let us say a certain ‘democratism of the new information order’ or something of the sort. Political meaning on the Web lies in recognising that its very nature triggers achange in the ‘ethics of interpretation’ – or, to be more precise, of the ‘uncompromising multiplicity of interpretations’.
The political potential of the Web lies precisely in its capacity to subvert any pretensions of veracity of communication or information, to show that the very condition of any effect of significance is that of merely giving oneself over – unfinished – to the infinite play of all possible readings, of all possible interpretations.
The Web is, therefore and always, anti-Web. It is the mirror image of the exhaustive conditioning of contemporary life around the world by the communication and entertainment industries. It is their subversive counter-figure: where the former produce – or aim to produce – ‘information’, ‘reality’, or ‘communication’, the latter merely revokes any pretension of ‘reality’; at best it leads us to the recognition of the ‘little piece of reality’ which, as subjects of experience in the contemporary world, it is our lot to enjoy. This is why the Web feeds – to such an extent – our melancholy.
We cannot ignore, in any case, the heavy investment that major corporations in the communications world are making in the Web – or consequently the danger of instrumentation and out-and-out commercialisation of the medium which this involves. But they are mistaken in taking this way – we would like to think. I can only imagine one thing more idiotic than reading a newspaper on a web site, or follow a news broadcast on one: to pay for it
In itself, the existence of the Web is witness to the tragic insufficiencies which, faced with the communications industry, the citizens of our times experience. They do not find in it almost anything that really interests them. And much less do they find in it the possibility of expressing what really interests them. The Web is an irrevocable cry of rebellion that a humanity, silenced in what matters to it, lifts minute by minute towards the insulting contemporary mandarinate of journalists.
Although thinking about an ‘anti-Web’ seems irrelevant to us – due to the fact that we believe that it is the only one there; the one on which it is superimposed has its days numbered – we do find extremely interesting any ideas about an intra-Web. Indeed: the effect of the Web's ‘globalness’ could never be fulfilled under afigure of universality that supposed denial of differences – but precisely an irrevocably
multivocal expression of them. That is why the idea of a single, global Web, of amacro-Web, is in the end repugnant to the subversive nature – hybrid and multicultural – that characterises its nature. Only at the cost of thinking of it as a ‘Web of webs’, therefore, can we talk about the Internet.
What in the anarchic polyphony of the exploded totality of infinite voices is mere noise, becomes dialogue and intelligence when the scoop is centred, when the chorus of voices is modulated. What for the universal community – for the global Web – occurs as final, adding mere redundancy, dis-communication – for the micro-communities and infra-Webs that reverberate within it – occurs as clear and splendid
pertinence. A community of micro-communities, aWeb of anti-Webs. All effect of political pertinence – and all value of production of significance – attributable to the Web is due to the capacity to activate the micro, even the meso, within a global, unlimited paradigm in which every effect of identity remains suspended.
‘So if men, instead of still looking for their own identities in the now inappropriate and senseless form of identity, came to support this inappropriateness as such, to make of their very being not an identity and an individual belonging, but rather a singularity without identity, acommon and absolutely manifest singularity – if men could not be thus, in this or that particular biographical identity, but rather be merely the thusness, its singular exteriority and its face – then humanity would attain for the first time a community without budgets and without subjects, a communication that would know the incommunicable no more. To select in the new planetary humanity those characters able to permit its survival, to
remove the subtle diaphragm separating bad media publicity from the perfect exteriority that communicates only with itself – this is the political task of our generation.’
G. Agamben, The Corning Community.
It is, therefore, a matter of exploiting the possibilities that the Web offers to establish fleeting forms of community – which would express only ‘moments of community’, specific vectors of a community of interests, or concerns, or of desires, momentary and unstable code-lines established in the free flows of difference. Not some community regulated by the effects of identity – ethnic, cultural, political; nothing about State or even individual – but mere fluctuating communities regulated only by the instantaneous and ephemeral expression effects of difference – trans-identity communities, hybrid, multiform and pluricultural from their very foundations. In them, there will be no more ‘subjects’ or ‘individuals’ – rather the circulation of pure effects of identity, equipment and machines of production of subjectivity – mere expressions of free difference.
On the strength of this dual evidence, the Web could also announce ‘the coming community’. Forcing us to awaken from the despotising delirium of an already millenary system, it could indeed become its most horrific nightmare – and therefore, the sweetest of our dreams.