Jan 31, 2018

version #1

Life is elsewhere: Telegram and the Writing of Immediacy

Nima Parzham

Solitude cannot be uttered without immediately ceasing to be. It can only be written at a distance, protected from the eye that will read it.

“Of Solitude as the Space of Writing”, Edmond Jabès1

Apparently the increasing and hasty tendency of individuals to be in social media is accompanied with often the same individuals’ growing criticism of these media with the theme of rupturing social, familial and other relationships. It seems that here again we are facing another example of the famous definition of late capitalism: they know what they do and they still do it. However, one should not forget that the pervasive spread of virtual relations does not leave such a great range of choices for us; we defenseless subjects, we vulnerable isolated atoms. What can one do to resist against this trend? The first answer that crosses one’s mind is avoiding them. In fact my personal choice with regard to Facebook was this act. But after a while when a friend told me that “those who are not in Facebook are still in Facebook”, it made me think again. Although this remark was clearly indicating a presence through absence or with the mediation of absence, after the emergence of Viber, WhatsApp and finally the widespread use of Telegram, I was faced with more empirical aspects of this powerful determinism: one who still persists on avoiding virtual relations would eventually realize that day by day he is becoming more alienated from the social environments in his daily life, and gradually he notices that he cannot understand the jokes of his acquaintances with one another since he is not aware of the common background of their remarks. Therefore, he finally comes to this understanding that it is a while that he is not able to satisfy some of his needs and he realizes that transferring files, photos, movies and important personal, professional and general news is only carried out via the virtual media, whether at workplace or among his friends and family. Here we are facing the ridiculous and banal actualization of Rimbaud’s famous line: “Life is elsewhere!” It will not take long that if one is still concerned with resistance, he is obliged to decide to experience these virtual relations in a controlled and careful manner instead of avoiding them. Probably in most cases there is not a long way from this point to severe addiction.

However, where does this addictive satisfying feeling of experiencing Telegram come from? What void does Telegram fill in our lives? Undoubtedly one has to be suspicious of this common sense idea about the virtual social media, which most often is part of the addiction process to them, that “they ruin the immediate and alive familial and social relationships”. The issue at hand is certainly more complex. We all know that in modern society dominated by capitalism, human beings are transformed to isolated atoms, a kind of extreme individualism which apparently and logically is supposed to create a beautiful and diverse plurality of colorful differences. Paradoxically, the more this plurality of differences is expounded and diversified, the differences themselves become less significant to the point that the afore-mentioned process eventually homogenizes this plural spectrum and leads to a type of herd uniformity . Adorno and Horkheimer, in a passage entitled “Isolation by Communication” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, provide an excellent example to explain this process:

The railroad has been supplanted by cars. The making of travel acquaintances is reduced by the private automobile to half-threatening encounters with hitchhikers. People travel on rubber tires in strict isolation from one another. What is talked about in one family automobile is the same as in another; in the nuclear family, conversation is regulated by practical interests. Just as every family with a certain income spends the same percentage on housing, cinema, cigarettes, exactly as statistics prescribe, the subject matter of conversations is schematized according to the class of automobile.2 (p. 184)

The emergence of Telegram should be considered in the background of this logic. What Telegram steals from people’s lives is not alive and organic social relationships. What this claim hides is that these organic relations in modern society have been already transformed and to a great extent have become ruptured and fragmented. In fact it is common that people warn one another in gatherings not to trade away these moments of gathering around for virtual socializing. What Telegram steals from people is not only their fragmented and often worthless daily socializing but more importantly their solitude, where the rupture of relations and the poverty of collective experience manifest itself as a void. Telegram transforms the individuals’ solitude to virtual socializing.

But the most important evidence for this claim is the theme residing in the heart of virtual media phenomenon: Writing.

Today the discussions of leading left thinkers about voice have convinced us increasingly that Derrida hastened to identify voice with the “metaphysics of presence” in order to defend writing, and he ignored the enigmatic and amazing nature of voice. However, the structural significance of writing should not be forgotten. Human sound is based on the immediacy of presence. Speaking presupposes the presence of the speaker and the listener. Writing, on the other hand, rests upon the absence of one of them in the presence of the other. Therefore, writing is indeed a kind of positive organization of absence. With regard to the immemorial link between immediacy and ideology, it is clear that writing has in fact more ability to resist against the domination of ideology, and the improvisation and immediacy in most conversations make them more vulnerable in this respect. Compare the written war of words between two thinkers in the successive volumes of a monthly magazine to the face to face debate of the same thinkers. Although the dramatic feature of the latter might render it more effective in some aspects, the former, no longer restrained to the fast rhythm imposed by the logic of present conversation, has at least the condition and the capability to be more coherent and more resistant to the sophistries caused by repartee and flattery. As mentioned before, if Telegram not just steals the worthless daily socializing of people but also and more importantly their solitude, it can be claimed that Telegram tries to transform absence and writing to, respectively, presence and speech. Thus, our experience of the act of writing in Telegram is often close to the experience of present conversation with regard to the amount of immediacy, timing, and irresistible acceleration of rhythm. In Telegram, the metaphysics of presence haunts writing like a specter and changes its nature. Writing in Telegram is a haunted writing, a writing captured in the immediate logic of speech which has become its midday shadow.

This is how social media extracts surplus value from our social relations in the same society that renders these relations impossible. That is why these networks at the same time become a tool to produce these relationships virtually for the sake of filling the apparent void in humans’ solitude which reveals the absence of these relationships. Therefore, social networks tame and domesticate humans’ solitude and cover up its cracks.

But does a controlled and careful participation in Telegram or showing some degree of subjective resistance even have a meaning and is it possible? Although clearly it seems way more optimistic, it should not be forgotten that the presence and participation of human subjects in this programmed and systematic environment ultimately contains an amount of tension in the subject which renders impossible the complete assimilation of the subject in the system. That this amount of subjectivity would be able to tame and control this pre-programmed environment by a certain strategy or discipline might be possible in a determinate level yet not with much success. In such a case, subjects (in both senses, i.e. agents and the ones who are subjected) should be able to reduce as much as possible the acceleration of that torrent of naked texts which are emptied out the historical substance of language, carrying the mud of passing conversations. They have to try to still preserve their fragile solitude, put limits on their presence in the limitless and indeterminate space of these networks, and (using Badiou’s words) become their own “relentless censors”3. They have to exorcize haunted writings. However, beyond all these speculations, certainly the most important issue is that the subjects desiring to resist should instead of flattering themselves that they are resisting within virtual networks recall during their presence in social media that life is really elsewhere.

Writing is organizing absence. We should use writing, like translation, in a more general sense. If Telegram transforms the void, which has been resulted from the absence of real social relations and collective and alive traditions of resistance, to immediate writing or “metaphysics of presence”, we should look to save writing in a more general sense. But what does writing in a more general sense mean? Is it not that in psychoanalysis symptoms are the writings of language which are inscribed violently on the subjects’ bodies? Is it not that Benjamin talked of a prose which would break “the chains of writing” and is “festively celebrated”4? What does releasing writing from its chains mean and how can it lead beyond the text to a festive celebration in agora? Can one speak of the writing of politics? In that case, what does the writing of politics, and not politics of writing, mean?

The writing of politics is not the politics or strategy of writing; if writing is the positive organization of absence, then the writing of politics is a writing which organizes the absence of politics. The writing of politics means the formulation of the absence of immediate politics before or after its contingent and Evental emergences and reveals itself in a social manifestation which is the positive organization of that absence. In other words, the writing of politics is organization, i.e. the positive and practical registering and formulating of the remained traces of politics in the time of its absence from social manifestations. The writing of politics is “the elsewhere” in which the residue of people’s faulty lives takes shelter in the hope of salvation so that it might break the chains of writing and can be experienced like a festive celebration.

Translator: Farid Dabirmoghaddam

  1. The Little Book of Unsuspected Subversion. Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop. California: Stanford University Press, 1996.
  2. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. California: Stanford University Press, 2002.
  3. Badiou, Alain. “Third Sketch of Affirmationist Art”. Polemics. Trans. Steve Corcoran. Verso, 2006. p. 148
  4. Agamben, Giorgio. “Language and History: Linguistic and Historical Categories in Benjamin’s Thought”. Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. California: Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 48.
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