Friday, August 15, 2014

On directing "the madness of crowds to unexamined targets of outrage"

While I certainly don't agree with everything in Gary Indiana's review of a new biography of William Burroughs (is it really necessary to disparage realism and coherent narrative in praising more experimental fiction? I think not), it is certainly a readable engagement with an author about whose work I know far too little.

In any case, I also liked these passages:

The radically anti-authoritarian, left-libertarian notions he espoused probably look like irresponsible nihilism (or ‘antinomian morality’, in Schjeldahl’s solecism) to many of those ensconced at their computer screens during most of their waking life, or bedazzled by mobiles and ubiquitous electronic signage in a society overloaded with information yet drained of authentic experience. It now seems almost logical that the insight Burroughs offers into the brain-scrambling technical synaesthesia spreading everywhere would be precisely what brands him a crackpot, rather than the silly religions and fatuous disciplines he so often became fascinated by. Still, I feel it’s necessary to say how stupid this inverted logic is.

On social media legions of isolated individuals, with the brainless malice of a concierge, spread ‘the real dirt’ on artists, writers, actors, musicians, athletes and others in the public eye. A tsunami of ugly feelings surges across the global clothesline at the mere mention of ‘Woody Allen’ or ‘Roman Polanski’ in the press; Burroughs, too, has an anti-claque of Torquemada wannabes, enraged over his accidental shooting of his wife in 1951. Social media can launch a witch hunt or pogrom just as readily as a ‘progressive’ uprising, and in either instance directs the madness of crowds to unexamined targets of outrage; the technology itself is probably as addictive as heroin, since it acts directly on neural synapses, and its instantaneous transmission eliminates any space for reflection or analysis between emotional impulse and action. 

It rather seriously overworks the biological analogy of the-internet-as-drug, but as a description of the ultimately frustrating nature of social media discussions these days (one wave of overheated tribal screaming after another...), it certainly struck a chord with me.