Friday, June 13, 2008

The Meme Whose Head Expanded

Fair Warning: This is a big'un, so before you get all "tl;dr" on me, simply click here to download the MP3 mix, you goldfish-minded brat.
Coming or going?

During my recent revisitation of bachelordom (to find it, take a left past the gates of Dis), I spent quite some time fencing myself in with films about misanthropy and mindlessly strumming the elliptical looped riff of "Wings". Around the same time, Mark K-Punk was returning to the territory he indisputably rules: academic dissections (post-mortems?) of the mind of Mark E. Smith. This dragged Perverted By Language out of psychic deep storage and myself out of a deepening well of paranoia. The single step towards salvation was articulated thusly:
"Turn that bloody blimey space invader off!"
The virtual world appears near-complete in its construction, with corporations, counterculturalists, cliques, cops, criminals, celebrities, snake-oil salesmen, schemers, dreamers, has-beens, and also-rans populating the pixelated landscape. The structure is seamless enough that, alongside The Sims and Second Life, "reality" becomes a bit redundant - but only insofar as "reality" is irrelevant to people ensconced in The Matrix. There is sufficient static & tension between the two worlds that the transition is traumatic. Being a wizard behind the keyboard often translates to being a hermit, a shut-in, or at least an awkward git in the "real" world. As the world shrinks around an individual, the greater the place the individual seems to occupy until they seemingly fill the screen. Simply put: the smaller the scope, the greater the solipsism, until all that remains is an all-roads-lead-to-Rome paranoia.
"The man who's head expanded explained:
The scriptwriter would follow him around,
of this he was convinced. It was no coincidence."
Now, the great paradox of paranoia is that it typically grows inversely proportionate to one's active participation & functional relevence. Unlike Smith's antihero, neither TV nor video games were (or are) prevalent in my routine. But my quotidian existence had withered down to whatever flashed across my laptop screen. The few external encounters I had - grocery shopping, riding the subway, helping the senile pensioner nextdoor find his keys - became unbearable intrusions. I was working damned hard to make myself as "non-" a non-entity within the civic context as possible. Yet I started finding my own memetic footprints, wayward traces of myself, scattered about online. Noted tastemakers would ape song selections I'd already posted. Digital flotsam I'd passed around would suddenly pop up in high-profile places. Then it began cutting too close: all these other cats were listening to the same songs I'd been playing on repeat for the past month. How'd they find out? Have I been spending too much time with one Onion and not the other? What does a Scanner see?

Of course, the obvious answer was: fuckin' get over yourself, dude. Not only is my taste in no way singular, but here I was bouncing between like-minded blogs, somehow expecting their enthusiasms to lie far afield from mine. Well done indeed. Much in the same manner that conspiracy theories fulfill the same function as religious faith, paranoia becomes a substitute for meaningful friendships: an ornately-spun and meticulously-balanced web of associations with a first-person locus.

As I've previously explained, I have become more or less irrelevant to my immediate environment - or perhaps simply disillusioned regarding my general relevancy. Either way, in my less level-headed moments, I'd sypathise with those who'd deliberately destroyed their brains to anaesthetise themselves to the chronic dysphoria of waking life: addiction as a 9-to-5 in the most grimly minimal, bottom-line, existential sense. Then came the sunny revelation that mors ontologica not only runs, but gallops in my family. A particular case set such an uncanny precedent that it was less like some melodramatic familial folklore than a funhouse-mirror What If? scenario, wherein all my darker, destructive tendencies had played themselves out to the end.

Suddenly, my intuitive fear & loathing of self-medication & applied personal chemistry seemed less monastic cowardice than an inborn failsafe - that I'd distilled an instinct from a soupy psychic miasma of suspicions, allusions, innuendos, and anecdotal fragments over the years. Looking back, I glimpsed what could have lay ahead, had I taken myself too seriously. It all looked remarkably like K-Punk's imagining of MES' nightmarish realization that
"At a certain point the powers will start to wane. The voices that speak through you will no longer make themselves heard. The words will not come. Your eyes will blink open and you will find yourself trapped in the most miserable reality, no longer able to make it take flight, or to yourself flee it. When all those egresses into other worlds recede, then this world will close around you, greasy with fried chicken fat, glossy with discarded celebrity trash, as seamless as a shopping mall, as interminable as a dreary videogame to which there is no level 2."
Mercifully, all this was learned with ample time to make a choice: No Future, Or... wherein the space after the "or" has yet to be blacked out. If, indeed, "the drive of unliving things is stronger than the drive of living things," then there is little difference between an amphetamine-burned, psychotropically-scarred zombie and staring at a computer screen all the time. Tuned in to the scanner, parsing the static, self-Googling, obsessing over infinitesimal details, becoming enraged over the smallest glitches in the Matrix, parasitic, paranoid, a stimulus-response somnambulist... a scanner or a speedfreak? Is there a difference, and does it particularly matter?

Not to me. Not yet. To stimuli, I can still choose from an arsenal of responses. An awareness of inertia is an awareness of the other condition as well. The voices still come; one has to stop thinking of oneself as "one self" and welcome them.

I'm going for a walk.

Saying Uncle

1. Buck 65 - "Achilles and the Tortoise" (00:00)
2. The Fall - "Wings" (03:18)
3. The Velvet Underground - "I Can't Stand It" (07:48)
4. The Rolling Stones - "19th Nervous Breakdown" (11:06)
5. Brian Eno - "Golden Hours" (15:08)
6. The Focus Group - "Reflected Message" (18:53)
7. Sonic Youth - "Schizophrenia" (20:27)
8. Shit and Shine - "Practicing To Be a Doctor" (25:04)
9. Tarentel - "Fever Sleep" (32:24)
10. Sonic Boom - "Help Me Please" (34:04)
11. Soul Coughing - "$300" (38:41)
12. Hüsker Dü - "The Tooth Fairy and the Princess" (41:35)
13. Public Image Ltd. - "Death Disco/Swan Lake" (43:51)
14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Mansion In the Sky" (48:23)
15. Spacemen 3 - "Suicide" (50:36)
16. The Billy Nayer Show - "My Funeral" (01:02:08)
17. Scott Walker - "30th Century Man" (01:05:43)

Totally Nonsequitorial Postscript: I just saw the video for the new Sigur Ros single, "Gobbledigook". My guess is the only thing stopping Animal Collective from suing the shit out of those Icelanders is that the A.C. boys are way too burned to know the difference.

No comments: