Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a student regarding the new communications technologies. Both of us have been around long enough to have lived through the communications revolution. We’ve both seen a world prior to cheaply available personal computers, cell phones, internet, cable (or cheaply available cable), 24 hour reporting and all the rest. As Harvey puts it in The Condition of Postmodernity, we’ve thus lived at the interstices between two worlds. In my life, at least, the eruption of the internet was an instance of what Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense, called “aion”. There was the world before the internet and the world after the internet, and the two are entirely different worlds. For me, the world before the internet, the world prior to 1994 (god, I have students now that were born that year), was a world where I could only find books at crappy mall bookstores like Walden Books and B Daltons. I had heard of Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and many others, but only could get some books by Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Russell, Whitehead (strangely), Spinoza, and a few others. I had to scour the country side, driving for hours to find whatever I happened to come across: an obscure translation of Kant’s first Critique with uncut pages, Santayana, Josiah Royce, Unamuno, Gassett, Proust, and a host of others. This was all in the early 90s. I read whatever fell into my hands. And when my grandmother gave me a copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time, Husserl’s Ideas (actually I stole it from the community college library, don’t tell), and the then official translation of Kant’s first Critique, I felt as if I’d received something tremendously valuable, like illuminated texts. My highschool friends weren’t impressed. It was also a world pervaded by loneliness and where conversations were entirely random. My discussions would be with the schizophrenics that happened to show up at the coffee shop (always interesting and knowledgeable folk, I found), the religious nut I happened to encounter, the person obsessed with theosophy, the local bitter Marxist, poets, angry college students, etc. It’s sad that we’ve seen the decline of the cafe. They were great. Two bucks, a bottomless cup of coffee, a place to smoke and stay warm, and conversations with vagrants, bag ladies, artists, farmers, the unemployed, religious fanatics, and schizophrenics. I don’t think it can beat and worry that it will never be repeated. I’ve met my fair share of Artaud’s, and while they could be infuriating, I learned a lot. I also met a number of Luther’s. I loved them too. I guess I love all the cranks. I’m one myself, after all.
After the internet, the world was entirely different. I worked for a time at Walden books when I was in highschool– two years –and never got a paycheck. During that time I would obsessively go through the microfiche, ordering all the books I couldn’t find. They’d stack up in the back room and I’d have to pay them off with my paycheck. You had to go through reams and rims of film– assuming the store had the records –to find anything. After the internet, suddenly an entire universe of books opened up. Nearly anything could be found. I remember the shock I experienced when I found unpublished translations of Lacan’s seminars. Somewhere or other Freud suggests that if all of our wishes were to suddenly be satisfied, we’d suddenly collapse into psychosis (the reality principle being founded on disappointment and delayed gratification). Well that’s how I felt. But it wasn’t just the availability of books, it was the availability of communities. There were IRC chats devoted to philosophy, AOL chat rooms, there were email discussion lists devoted to Deleuze, Derrida, Bataille, Peirce, Spencer-Brown, anarchism, Lacan, Freud, cybernetics, and so on. It was glorious. It was the Greek Agora. Suddenly all the freaks could talk to one another. We annoyed the hell out of each other, but we learned a lot and had fun annoying one another. We encountered references that we would have never otherwise encountered. We organized things. We grew up together and grew old together. Some of us who were old grew young. Some of us who were young grew old. We were pretentious. We were petty. We were self-assured. But we were exposed. Like intellectual flashers, we not only exposed our over-inflated egos (and still do), but we made ourselves vulnerable before anonymous eyes, we allowed ourselves to be mocked, ribbed, and stabbed by strangers. And we left a record of all of it! It’s all still there on the Lacan-list, the Badiou-list, the Deleuze and Guattari Spoon Collective. It’s all still there. And it’s embarrassing and grand.
And in my experience, no matter how cruel and vindictive we were to each other we loved each other. Paul Bains and I, for example, have known each other now for over a decade, longer than my daughter has been alive. We’ve fought like cats and dogs, but we talk after all these years. And I’ve learned from the bastard. I would have never read Deely, Peirce, Sebeok, Maturana and Varela, and Floyd Merrell were it not for that creep. Asshole. I’m corrupted forever. How many men and women have I embraced at conferences, mortal enemies online, who I nonetheless grasped as dear friends upon meeting them as meat. It’s been as if we were grizzled, battle hardened, greyed, and sharing of secrets as a result of our encounters. Luhmann was right. Controversy can sometimes be more valuable than consensus. This was true of my Artaudian friends in particular, who “
wrote through” my Apollonian prose– is it a secret that I have a will to mastery despite being an anarchist and that I denounce my own demons and desires? –subverting it and contributing to the explosion of the Deleuze and Guattari Spoon Collective. Beautiful creatures. And we did things. We stormed journals, we stormed the academy, we wrote books together, we occupied conferences, we founded journals, we founded new trajectories of thought, we founded presses, and we opened things up beyond disciplinary boundaries. We exposed ourselves, refused disciplines, and became philistines or conglomerations between philosophers, media studies theorists, poets, artists, activists, housewives, farmers, crank scientists, architects, geographers, literary theorists, medievalists, and a host of others. Some of us even became psychoanalysts for a time as a result of these encounters and had unconsciousnesses that were written about by psychoanalysts in their books. The carnies and queers stormed the gates of the academy, and the academy gasped and moaned. “Those kids these days!” We were anarchists; anarchists composed of crank Marxists, queer theorists, media theorists, semioticians, religious nuts, schizophrenics, poets, novelists, experts in obscure figures, and wrecked, tormented, lonely people. We refused Euclidean geometry in the name of non-Euclidean geometry, and Sokal mocked us for it. But we had seen what the likes of Sokal did during May of 68 in France and the Clinton administration.
So this began as a post on Plato’s Phaedrus— which I’ll write at some point –and ended up as a sappy, self-congratulatory post on anarchic collectives. I’ll be mocked for it, but in this non-Euclidean space, I’m not inexperienced with that. Apologies and thank you to my student for making me recollect all these things. I side with the carnies and cranks.