Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Immediacy and Mediation

Immersed as I've been in the Hegel/Marx tradition, and in particular "Western Marxism" (Adorno, Marcuse, and Debord), I tend to frame problems in terms of the relationship between "immediacy" and "mediation." (One can even see criticisms of Hegel in terms of this frame -- for example, by reading Deleuze as responding to Hegel's critique of pure immediacy.)

This frame of reference opened up for me a certain picture of Internet communication. It may seem, to the naive, as though the Internet in general, and blogging in particular, has made possible a new avenue of immediate encounter between human beings. And there is something both true and seductive about this naivete. But this must not be allowed to obscure the fact that I am sitting alone in my apartment as I type this, in a state of undress that would not be widely received in public, and that as you read these words under conditions entirely outside of my capacity to affect.

The situation is not dissimilar from writing in general -- and some theorists have argued for a causal relation between writing as technology and the cognitive transformation that made abstract thought possible -- but for the instantaneous character of Internet communications. The previously unimaginable speed of Internet communications have seemingly collapsed the distance between "the private" (me, in my apartment, lounging in a bathrobe) and "the public" (everyone else).

Yet the distance has only been transformed. When we talk with others in our real lives, the interplay of voices takes place within a context of somatic sounds -- sighs, breaths, pauses, grunts, sniffs . . . lively debates while eating or drinking result in a dialectic of what is going into one's mouth and what is coming out. (Sips of coffee or beer create the openings in which another may speak.) The art of writing removes the somatic cues and rhythms, but in all writing up to the Electronic Age, this was implicitly acknowledged; consequently there was an art of writing in which grammatical and rhetorical structures complemented the loss of somatic context. But the art was informed by a sense of time -- a sense that writing well required an investment of one's time, and that it took time also to read well.

In the Electronic Age, we do not read -- we scan -- and consequently we no longer write in order to be read. What is written is to be read immediately, thereby instilling in us a false sense of immediacy. The mediation is concealed.


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