Yesterday’s comments on my post really gave me pause for thought, particularly over the breakdown of the distinction between private and public life to which Ms Make Tea drew attention, and over the concept of the confessional memoir that the Literate Kitten mentioned. I’ve spoken before about the obscenification of the everyday, the way that what was once off- or ob-scene is now placed centre stage, and it seems to me that our contemporary culture has managed to confuse significance with visibility, so that the concept of ‘revelation’ no longer means a spiritual epiphany, but rather a public undressing. Let’s talk about that most degraded and corrupted of all 21st century concepts, celebrity. If ever there was a modern rewrite of Faust’s pact with the devil, celebrity is surely it. It used to be the case that people became well known because they had something tangible to offer the world – a talent, insight, wisdom, skill. Nowadays the criterion for celebrity is a willingness to be turned inside out for public consumption (and don’t get me started on the irresponsibility of the media – we could be here all day). Yet there is clearly a demand for such a structure of interaction based, I can only deduce, on the erroneous assumption that some form of intimacy arises from it. That celebrities feel gratified in some way by being ‘known’ to the public and that the public feel excited to be somehow ‘closer’ to the images on the screen. All this leads me to think that it is the notion of intimacy which has suffered most in the modern world, and that the permissiveness of our society has not in fact lead to a form of emotional utopia, but to a heightened awareness of our own isolation and a longing for ever more intense forms of recognition.
Two thoughts occur to me, the first being that humans have always overinvested in the power of their own image. In psychoanalysis, the supreme moment of identity formation occurs when the young child recognises itself in the mirror for the first time. It’s known as the mirror stage and is readily recognisable in toddlers who laugh and point and can remain fascinated for long stretches of time by their own reflection. All kinds of important things happen here: the child, who has up until this point experienced their body as a random, fragmented assortment of sensations, now has a neat carapace under which to house a sense of self. S/he abandons the confusing body and latches onto the lovely mirror image of wholeness. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was very scathing about humanity’s adoration of the mirror. Chimpanzees, he said, also recognise their reflections but have the sense to just walk on by. They don’t invest an entire sense of subjectivity in an image outside of themselves. However, the mirror stage is also understood as fixing in place the structure for language acquisition. If a child can make the leap of imagination that unites its bodily reality with an image, then it is ready to accept that a symbol, like a word, can stand in the place of the thing itself. It’s not like we can choose to be without the mirror stage – it’s a fundamental part of human development, but the fascination with the empty image speaks to me, once again, of a certain regressive tendency in contemporary society.
The second thought that occurs to me is to see how these elements of intimacy and recognition are played out in the blogosphere. What intrigues me is the way that they are entirely differently organised to any of the other modern forms of media. Whilst blogs have a highly visual dimension, and are often the site for montages of photos and images, it is very rare indeed to find those images glorifying the self who writes. In fact, bloggers are notable for maintaining anonymity. Yet at the same time they are platforms from which their owners speak to gain recognition for their views. So what I’m working my way around to saying, is that blogging is a way of making visible what is on the inside of a person as opposed to creating a cult out of externality. Bloggers then, are people who venture through – and beyond – the looking glass. Rather than become arrested at the level of the mirror, we seek instead to regain contact with that jumble of sensations, thoughts and feelings that constitute the more authentic subject. This is not to say that bloggers write their own online version of confessional memoirs – a few do, but it seems to me that the vast majority of even what are termed personal blogs are not detailing their lives in order to obtain ‘celebrity’ but to bear witness to their own authentic voice. What I’m saying is that bloggers shun, more than anything else, the artificiality with which the modern subject seems so enamoured in other contemporary forms of media, in order to reconnect with a more complex, genuine sense of self.