Friday, March 11, 2011

The Meme, The Retweet, and the Destruction of the Human Soul

Retweet (verb) [ri-twit'] - to promulgate the same message as has already been said. The equivalent of saying I want to say the same thing as that person has said.

It is also the most dastardly thing that Satan's Chatbox could have done to humanity.

Let's consider the genre of the meme, for a second. For the uninitiated, the meme is that phenomenon where a blogger, Fb user, tweeter, etc. etc. fills in forms of a survey or answers specific questions. The prompt - the meme - is generated, but the answers are user-specified and -specific. The meme is the Talmud of social media, the illuminated manuscript: the basic text and format must remain the same, but the marginalia will be exciting and different.

The retweet is the mindless, bastardized version of that process, the listless bureaucrat against whom Gogol' characterizes Akakii Akakievich. It is the reason why Ayn Rand has already failed:
[Ellsworth Toohey to his niece, Catherine] “…All growth demands destruction. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. You must be willing to suffer, to be cruel, to be dishonest, to be unclean- anything, my dear, anything to kill the most stubborn of roots, the ego. And only when it is dead, when you care no longer, when you have lost your identity and forgotten the name of your soul – only then will you know the kind of happiness I spoke about, and the gates of spiritual grandeur will fall open before you.”

“But, Uncle Ellsworth,” she whispered, “when the gates fall open, who is it that’s going to enter?”

He laughed aloud, crisply. It sounded like a laugh of appreciation. “My dear,” he said, “I never thought you could surprise me.”
It is the reason why Orwell's fears of Big Brother will never come to pass: there are not enough independent thoughts left to necessitate a watchdog system.

But, Icarus, they'll ask, Where is this rage coming from? Your existence is an amalgamation of quotes and references. Isn't that part of the Neurogia you and Briullov espouse?

Yes and no (a typical response). Yes, because I must admit to my own brand of mindlessness. No, because I would flatter myself that there is something different to using oblique references metaphorically, to forcing the reader to contemplate in what way the quote fits, as opposed to this shallow, one-to-one repetition. If I intentionally repeat something that's been said before, I do not mean, literally, that I want to contemplate what dark secrets I've spoken to the night, the dark bower closing in around me. I mean to create resonances, allusions, to "play the game" of intellectual creation and referentialism.

The retweet function of Satan's chatbox, and this overall, quasi-plagiarist practice of using exactly the words someone else has used to crow about your new toy, your new car, your home, your day, your love, your soul -- that's unfortunately from the same field of culture that inspired beautiful artifacts like the Talmud and the illuminated manuscript. That phenomenon is driven by that field's same impetus to destroy.

I want to say the same thing as that person has said is not the correct definition for a retweet, because it allows for humans actually to be thinking and participating in an activity that is the summary denigration of all human thought and agency. It is wanted in this context to show that this body-construct can reify the same thing that's already been promulgated by other body-constructs.


The Teej said...

I think what you say here is provocative adn interesting, although I bristle at your use of the Talmud adn illuminated manuscript as mere rote repetition designed to 'destroy.' My own personal positionality acknowledge, that reads to me as the worst kind of self-centered intellectual colonialism of the past, of re-interpreting technologies of communication through a self-interested need to be presentist and original. And that's destructive.

Justin said...

Can I re-blog this post?

Andrew said...

TJ: No, no, I am EXTREMELY sorry that it came across that way. I meant, rather, to CONTRAST retweeting to those practices. There are specific points necessary to include in those genres - just as the meme dictates what one would need to answer - but just as any individual creating beautiful manuscripts or participating in the commentary of the Talmud could imbue it with (usually) his own personality, so, too, is the meme all about the individual's response.

Perhaps I shouldn't have called the retweet a "version" of them, but I nevertheless maintain that the retweet, as a form of social control, comes from the same field of culture as those modes of communication.

Justin: yes.

The Teej said...

"the retweet, as a form of social control, comes from the same field of culture as those modes of communication."

I don't really follow the reason trail here.

Andrew said...

I think it's more than just a formalist relationship between religious moral authority, which derives its power from the attempt to homogenize and streamline individual opinions towards a central dogma, and the retweets, which I'm [somewhat hyperbolically] alluding to as a secular analogue.