Tag Archive | Marc Auge

The strangeness of normality (the uncanniness of 2013)

This year was always going to be one of re-building/coming to terms with falling back into a place that I felt I had to escape (believing it to be now or never) and realising it wasn’t the end of the world after all. This requires one to put things into perspective, not by comparing oneself to those less fortunate (not that they should be ignored) but in realising that nothing matters more and than obtaining that next inhalation of oxygen.

This has been a strange time, where initially the outside world fell away, to the extent that my life felt like it was in a momentary suspension from them, haunted by the (friendly-than-usual) ghosts of my past, and future. Almost felt like I was a actually a ghost hearing the sound of my life passing through the house where I have spent most of it. (The most appropriate musical soundtrack being Kate Bush, who’s music is quintessentially dream-like; but a certain type of dream, a dream where you wake up feeling you have left something behind in it; an haunting from the past, future and an unreachable present. The most apt song being Watching You Without Me (Hounds of Love): “there’s a ghost in our hall just watching you”. Her music may be so powerful to this situation because her earlier music is certainly one of my earliest memories of music, and it was also the music I was listening to in a rather similar situation 10 years ago when I tried and failed to do a course in Manchester. It’s phenomenologically important here.).

To cut all this short, it was a perspective that gave me reason to see the falling apart of the plans engraved into 2012 as anything but a mistake made; that now I could resume my creation of art, without feeling the pressure than I somehow ought to be more. But the rebuilding needs to be slow, like a physical healing process – just because you think you are fully healed it doesn’t mean you are. To go back out into the world too soon, well, this results in stumbling over obstacles that you’d have been floating safely over if you’d left it long enough.

I tried to understand what made me make think I was ready prematurely.

Social media has encroached so far into our lives that its omnipresence has made us blind to our total loss of privacy. The philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote of ‘falling into the world’, losing our ability to be philosophical, being unable to listen to our Being through the din made by society’s asks of us. Heidegger never lived to see the coming on the information-technology age. In this age (the ‘Facebook-age’- such naming of an era may yet prove to be not satirical and ironic at all) it is now almost impossible to refrain from ‘falling into the world’ in our very spaces of privacy.

Marc Augé wrote about this inversion in his book Non-Places, mapping the cultural logic that has landed us in the Facebook age, Augé Writes that the “[t]he individual, finally, is decentred in a sense from himself. He has instruments that place him in constant contact with the remotest parts of the outside world. Portable telephones are also cameras, able to capture still or moving images; they are also televisions and computers. The individual can thus live rather oddly in an intellectual, musical, or visual environment that is wholly independent of his immediate physical surroundings” One is surrounded by communication in the places they retreat to, and I now find myself going outside into the street to be alone with my thoughts. Finding it hard to tune out of the social media world, within a couple of weeks I have found my mind running on overtime. I didn’t have time to ground myself in a philosophically stable place, and my mind was ‘falling into the world’ with tonnes of stored-up energy that should have released at a much slower rate.

The past, present, and future that were previously in an harmless form, began to do immense damage to my well-being again. I don’t think anybody who finds themselves analysing 2013 can feel in a good mental state afterwards, it’s like the fruits of madness, all aging at different rates, all seem to have come to ripen in this year; there’s something uncanny about 2013. Almost as if we have hit a certain gage in our civilisation: now it isn’t a case of having to be unwell to function in an unwell society, you have to be utterly mad to function in society. Nothing looks different at first, but then walking the streets something hits you, the look on faces of utter confusion. Streets filling with the homeless, whilst others look at each other on phone screens. Pastiche and retro to such a saturation-extent that it’s like the entire history of man has been thrown into the same arena. More scandal in the political/media/corporate establishment that we can cope with; we’ve lost all faith in everything but still go through the motions not knowing what else do to. What’s the difference between a dystopia and an insane society? Or is the insanity the infliction that stops us realising it’s a dystopia? Utter confusion; necessary blindness. Just count your blessings that nobody really has the time to notice the moments when you yourself crack.

So I wait and expect social breakdown, but it’s likely that it won’t happen, and the breakdown is merely that my past seems to have collapsed in on my present, and I can’t figure out where next. Perhaps I am the one dummy at the end of history whilst everyone else just potters around until the transition occurs? I’m 29 now, and it feels like my 20’s were just a single year, but yet not for everyone around, who appears to have somehow merged into a walk of life. I’m still locked in these years not knowing where to go next. After the calm start to the last year of my 20’s I’ve suddenly found myself locked into a lifestyle which feels like I’m trying to finish the business of the entirety of my 20’s – not really knowing what that business is, just that some conclusion needs to arrived at. The conclusion was probably being arrived at until I fell into the omnipresent world, unable to escape social media. It certainy feels that some grasp on normality (a relationship with someone for example) would serve as an immense anesthetising tool, stop me staring too much into the uncanny, frightening 2013, but would it?

Looking at the world teaches you to be cold, emotionless, when you can’t help feeling that the future will be dark, you shut down your senses to prepare for it. It surprises people how honest I can be about my life, whilst also being so unemotional about it, as if I’m not speaking of my past but a record collection. It really doesn’t bother me at all, but I often fear I scare friends with what I say, but I can’t see it, because my emotions are now merely references for conversation to prove my points. I can speak of emotion but I can’t act on it; I could easily inform you if I was having a massive breakdown whilst calmly asking you to pass me the salt. Of course I don’t want to be like this, but like with everything else, re-learning takes time – I struggle to find this time, when the superhighways are flying past my eyes and ears.

Momentarily feeling the need to ‘stand my ground’

The assumption that those living in more urban areas/areas more integrated into the sprawl of humanity look down on people like myself who are still seemingly embedded in much smaller settlements isn’t misplaced. Towns, such as the one I still reside in, are openly mocked and belittled by society. It is thought of as being unambitious, and being intentionally backwards, always yearning for the rustic, to stay in such areas.
But, far from desiring to stay here, my own (miss)understanding of late-capitalist reality has meant that the ‘get up and go’ language us children of the 1980’s/90’s are supposed to have inbuilt (in the same way we had Alex The Kidd built into our Segas) has somewhat left me behind, like the Motorway cutting through my village with no slip road to join, so one can only watch the other candles burning much brighter as they fly by. Likewise, I spend most of the days I have off work in the nearest and affordable-to-get-to urban sprawls (the Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Sheffield) precisely because of these reasons, and the shining lights attract me on vain like a moth, but a moth in search of meaning or love, or whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to find in a city.
However, all this is irrelevant because everybody hooked up to the Internet, cell phone networks, and subjected to matrix of images and signs that make up late-capitalism, through these devices, is a virtual urban dweller, and there is truly very few human beings these days who could be called rural dwellers, in regards to how we interact and the frequency with which we interact with the rest of the human world. Likewise, when I visit the biggest city in this country, I don’t feel like it’s a new experience, or an experience I rarely have, just a compression of my usual experiences and an exacerbation of them: it just feels like I’m traveling down one of the main arteries of the now endless city, instead of one of the smaller ones.
One now feels as lonely in front of a screen showing their facebook homepage, as they did traditionally in a city all by themselves. This is the feeling of a true urbanite. Yes, I am, in a sense as much an urban creature in the small ex-coal mining town of Barnsley, as somebody using the tube in central London is. The endless city has materialised in a way much unpredicted in much of the 20Th century science fiction, where the world was envisioned as becoming one big physical city; cyberspace has created this, with the added inversion of reality, where nothing seems real because nearly everything happens in a place exempt from the physical reality where we still have to get out oxygen and food from.
Obviously there is still so much more to do in the real physical city, places to go to experience culture or revel, but somehow these things don’t seem of note once one is there, or at least don’t have the effect one would expect them to have after all they’ve read about them. Walking around the British Museum, I really couldn’t appreciate the historical significance of the ancient artifacts I was walking past; partly down to this and partly down to the glaring truth of the place, I took on board the 2Nd history of them; the history of their colonial appropriation; the reason why Egyptian/Greek relics are in London.
Yet, as much as this not very rosy truth needs to be acknowledged, the reason for purposefully looking at them in this way was because I really couldn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel from seeing things which are supposed to be ‘wonders’, so I had to put on my critical poker face. Seeing image after image on screens of things that are far away, right through my life; talking to people through cyberspace; listening to music from far off studios on my mp3 player; walking down streets I know by clicking computer buttons; all this seems to detract from (or least tamper with) the worth of things in the physical world (especially things which are suppose to be of great cultural/historical significance). Nothing in the physical world seems more real than that in the virtual world, and nothing much surprises because it could just be from another television drama or documentary.
And When one is next to these/experiencing these things we are told are of significance, they are most likely going to be taking photos of these things/or writing on phones to people about them, sending their existences back into the endless city, rather than the concrete biggest of cities they are currently stood in. An anxiety about what to do arises, because we can’t feel anymore/or don’t know what we are supposed to feel. So we must document, or consume by appropriating photographic images of it, continuing the Pumping of the physical into the virtual.
The physical city has been negated and the virtual city promoted until they have blended with one another, and we are all now urban dwellers, in an endless city. But an endless city would surely be desirable? Unlike an endless village, where everybody clings to their prejudices and tribalism’s. The apparatus’s which reinforce a village mentality within us, rather than an acceptance of cosmopolitanism within an endless human city, would require a critique of the current system of domination and the way it uses technology, and I think the Internet is currently generating both, but one may eventually win over the other. However, the intention of writing this was that I was feeling the eyes of those physical city dwellers, and just wanted to explain how a small town resident becomes just as urbanised as someone living in the centre of London in the Internet age.