July 21, 2017 (Friday)

by Yule Heibel on July 20, 2018

Lately I’ve been waking up with headaches again. It’s annoying. I don’t take painkillers, and it’s usually gone pretty quickly. I’m wondering if it’s something skeletomuscular, a tension headache I develop during sleep. Or else it’s the tail-end of that chest flu trying to claw its way into my sinuses to set up shop there.

I just remembered a Twitter account I once got almost chatty with. I thought of it because I was about to take my first sip of coffee just now, and the account has the word “coffee” in its handle. I nearly simultaneously recalled that this person, who initially had an avatar of herself (if indeed it ever was a “herself”) as a youngish woman who looked sort of laid back cool. But before recalling this photo (now long gone, replaced by a coffee cup), I remembered that when I saw “her” account recently (we stopped being in touch some time ago), it had grown to hundreds of thousands of followers (and it’s exclusively political now, ragingly so). For some reason, wondering who or what entity has the time and energy to tweet incessantly (literally) and to grow an account in that way unless there’s some kind of underlying monetization involved, I thought of “her” as being a late-middle-aged woman with nothing else to do all day except cultivate her Twitter. (The account is anonymous and has no links to anything. It’s quite literally a dead end.) And that “she”‘s doing this “cultivation” simply because the actual size of the following and the interactions (such as they are; it’s mostly one-way broadcasting now) give “her” (if it is a real person, female or otherwise) all the purpose, satisfaction, and validation she needs in life.

And the whole point of this circuitous coffee thought-train was to put me on the Via Negativa, to make me realize that Twitter success would not be my criterion for a fulfilled life. Granted, it didn’t tell me what my Via Positiva might be, but I think it might be more like this: to create lasting things, near-permanent things, antifragile things.

So, back to antifragile, and how individually we are fragile (we die), but our DNA lasts, it’s antifragile. And our DNA can be passed along not just through our children, but also through our productions – books, art, culture, etc. Through learning, scholarship, and so on. Unless your social media interactions feed into the production of something lasting (your DNA), they’re a diversion, like TV-watching. It’s interesting that Taleb, whose writing on antifragility informs my thinking here, is himself quite active on Twitter. But he seems to use it relatively sparingly, not like some who never stop. You can not look at Taleb’s feed for a day, even two or three days, and still get caught up within the hour. Others, you don’t check their feed for a day and it would take three to catch up because they literally tweet every ten minutes, often on contentious issues. So tiresome. But (and this is important) all of this Twitter activity feeds into a larger than life image or brand, and the brand informs the product (in Taleb’s case, his books – it’s a vehicle for the products, for the DNA).

As for me, I don’t think I could ever work on Twitter in this way. I’d find it exhausting in the extreme – and I’d never muster the cojones to think that my brand was my DNA because I’d constantly be questioning my brand’s (or image’s) value, second-guessing it – and thereby second-guessing my DNA (so fragile!). What’s real? (Or, that old scary word, “authentic”??) It seems a brand can only be attached to something, like it’s a label or an aura. Therefore, actually, interesting question: does this mean that aura today is (merely) attached? (And if it’s just attached, can it be detached?) The old definition of aura was that it’s something ineffable which emanates from within, from the “je n’est sais quoi” properties inherent in the thing. It wasn’t attached, wasn’t on the surface: it was inherent. But maybe that’s what Walter Benjamin was sensing when he questioned the artwork’s “aura” in the then-new age of mechanical reproducibility. I think that, today, after decades of simulacra (reproductions), maybe we do think, quite naturally as it were, of aura as “attachable,” as something inherent in the brand (which is mobile and can attach to multiple products). It’s the brand which gives its blessings – its label – to things. Can those brand-blessed things be trusted, though, if their aura – their authenticity – is (merely) attached via branding?

Surrealism and the sense of the uncanny…

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