compassionate critique, anonymous inquiry, quantum lulzology
In the Introduction to Pink Snow: Homotextual Possibilities in Canadian Fiction, Terry Goldie provides useful descriptions of homosexual subjectivity across the domains of Canadian literary discourse, Canadian society and culture and his personal experience as a queer Canadian academic. He argues that identity, volition and agency for the Canadian homosexual, like the modern “self,” exist in a critical relation to the broader social, cultural and discursive communities he examines that is tenuous at best, agonizing at worst and always in gradients of subjective awareness. With respect to gay males and lesbians in “homosexual studies,” Goldie notes that one need only look at the “myriad aspects of culture to see the extreme division” between people whose individual subjectivities are reduced and amalgamated under banners like “homosexual studies” and are constantly confounded by their differences as a result. Like a festering wound, the homosexual and the self’s existence is pathologically affected by the crisis of modernity.
Like the voice of the Canadian homosexual, Goldie’s study, the voice of the modern self (knowingly or not) has been mediated, obfuscated and appropriated by the dominant systems of modernity (by ‘popular’ culture, heteronormative discourse, etc..), and as a result receded, hidden in and among a cacophony of other meandering perceptions, inscribed subjectivities and virtual ontologies. Goldie’s description of the assumptions present in contemporary Canadian “homosexual studies” which variously interpret Bishop Berkeley’s observation that “to exist is to be perceived,” is not used to articulate a common (if not unspoken) tendency in contemporary critique that eschews new or useful analysis, but instead to shame and condemn the “strange nominalization” or “game of orientation exposure,” that was common practice in the gay and tabloid presses at the time.
Despite Goldie’s scathing moralization of the press and culture of his time, (which obviously represented homosexuality in a disparaging, negative and violent valence), insight from the various astute descriptions of the complicated nature of homosexual subjectivity, gleaned through Berkley’s thought, once creatively conjoined by ellipses and stripped of any dutiful, authorial (authoritative) citations, can be used to reveal a hidden voice articulating in a single breath, the schizophrenic nature common to both the homosexual and the anonymous modern self:
…I exist as a subject because I perceive and you exist as a subject because I perceive you perceiving… You are you because I perceive you perceiving as you… You are one with me because I perceive you perceiving in my way (4).
By remixing and stripping Goldie’s text of obfuscating authorial interference, a clear proclamation of the plural, diffuse existence of the modern homosexual- which subsumes the apparently conflicting majority view of the minority culture with position of the minority individual’s own immanent outlook- can be heard. It is an identity and perspective, like the modern self, that perpetually defers coherence and resists identification, and it’s person is simultaneously “I”, “you,” “we” and “they”- though not any of these in particular.
In an attempt to clarify and isolate between the diametric, disparate interpretations of Berkley’s thought, Goldie articulates a cogent conception of the homosexual identity, but in the end concedes that the situation is indeed outside the scope of his analytic framework: “It is more about the active subjectivity of the individual, whether that subjectivity is viewed from without or from within. It is more akin to the position of minority religion, defined by the individual’s own claim to belong, an assertion of faith” (4). By remaining within the contemporary critical tradition of his time and dismissing the real relation between the schizophrenic homosexual perspective and the individual’s assertion of faith in “minority religion,” Goldie misses an opportunity to uncover new meaning because it lay outside the bounds of traditional academic critique (4).
What if to better understand the messy and untenable distinctions between majority and minority subjective and communal positions that stymies Goldie’s analysis are instead assumed to be simultaneously possible and impossible? For modern anonymous users interacting online today, not only is this speculation a distinct possibility, it is becoming an essential and actual mode of relation. The “active subjectivity” which Goldie dismisses and attributes to mere faith of religious minorities, is becoming affectively embodied online in and between material (between objects and things like smartphones and laptops) semiotic (between concepts and structures like ideology and culture) relations. Anonymous users relating constantly in cybertext are becoming less limited to the traditional opposing binary views of either/or which have plagued thought and action since the Enlightenment and before. Instead, for the first time in history modern anonymous users are beginning to experience shared aspects of wildly disaparate, mutually exclusive and simultaneously common and shared subjective positions in online virtual experiences that are affecting their social lives and political actions in the world. Anonymous, alone, together in isolation with legions of other anonymous users, unlikely alliances and assemblages are forming, stabilizing and relating in the user mode and making new modes of possible agency, volition and existence.
The negative assumptions, that Goldie’s describes as the “aura of the secret,” in the context of North American culture and gay studies and criticism are not limited to the local experiences, discourses and cultures examined in Pink Snow, but thrive (and always have) wherever human beings relate in the world . Online, as more and more people engage through material semiotic means, the schizophrenic anonymous nature of a given user is given local community is becoming the default assumption and remaining active and circulated by anomalous users who act as living proof. These users, whatever community they inhabit, are known as ‘trolls’. Although Goldie is unable to determine precisely what the ‘aura of the secret’ is in the limited context of his analysis, he (and many other contemporary critics) describe and analyze it repeatedly (and have for some time) with vicious precision and intimidating rigour.
In order to better understand this hidden relation that is shared tacitly online everyday, a new critical stance is required. It is this practical and theoretical awareness that Goldie (intentionally or not) schizophrenically articulates by smushing toghether (and of course citing) the ideas of Eve Sedgwick, Paul de Man, Lee Edelman and Jaques Derrida in a single, powerful sentence fragment: “all similarities are ultimately different, in which meaning is never grasped but always deferred:” (7). A mode of anonymous inquiry that is theoretically free from the illusions of history and tradition (a theory made practical by frequent recourse to the vast information databases and tools like Google and Wikipedia, copy/paste, and control-F techniques) and not limited by academic codes or authorial attribution may be used to embrace this theoretical awareness to create new meaning and interesting new debate.
In the vital, continuous, ephemeral relations between cybertext, users and media the isolated and entrenched subjective positions of text-author-reader-critic collapse into a singularity of the user. Free from the constraints of materiality, discursivity and spatio-temporality the user mode stabilizes in a unique and radical new stance through the mediation and dialogic communication within a given assemblage that affectively sticks in and between material semiotic relations and social life in the world. Online, the users subjectivity becomes concrete and viral in the form of cyberculture . Each heterogenous subjective user (knowingly or not) affects each other, like so many sparks dancing on a Great gasoline lake. Sometimes, the sparks reach a density and intensity capable of penetrating their liquid foundation and ignite in an explosive eruption of network activity and communicative exchange. In these combustive moments of emergence, the paradoxical anonymous disunity of subjective becomings, becoming something different all together.
Presently this new, unexpected form of subjectivity is emerging from the fray of shimmering relations of users, increasingly operating in an anonymous mode. Anonymity diffuses users perceptions of their individual intractability, vulnerability and isolation and overcomes (affectively short-circuts) this fear by sharing instances of it in and between the posts, comments, image memes, emails and profiles of a given local community of others who tend to relate in kind and perpetuate the sharing and circulation of support and assurance. The effect of this new, highly affective process of material semiotic exchange is the tendency for assemblages of seemingly isolated users to discover the kindred nature of their subjective experiences and the recognition of this relation then strengthens and stabilizes assemblages which tend to become more aware of their common situations, desires and volitions which in turn yield more confidence and coherence locally which then spread to adjunct communities, strengthening the possibility of unified articulation, agency and becoming in turn.