Inventing the Self

Viegener, and the Unabashed Narcissim of Facebook

November 4th, 2013 by John Giunta · 6 Comments

“Everyday I try to say something new, yet still random. And every day I have less to say. I tire of facts. I long for fiction.” #24, lviii

“Random”, in my understanding, is somewhat related to “coincidence”, except that coincidences have something that tie them together (usually the person who is perceiving the coincidences) but they must be, like, cousins? Or dependent upon one another – coincidences are random until they are associated by the perceiver (it’s getting complicated). In this way, “coincidence” is really a construction, in the mind of the beholder. Which unsettles the notion of “random”, I’d think, because randomness is so dependent on perspective, on appearances. In any case, I’m not sure if Viegener is providing a strong argument for the success of random listing, or destabilizing the idea of some kind of Platonic, chaotic Randomness and instead proving something that falls in line with what I’m struggling to say here, that is, that randomness under scrutiny becomes more and more patterned, structured, and intentional. Randomness practiced yields way to routine.

The truth is Viegener’s lists are amazingly fun to read – his project has yielded up some remarkable observations and a great many one-liners and non-sequiturs; a much younger me might want to re-tweet or facebook some of the less subjective blurbs, as they manage to convey a sort of worldly cynicism that is still funny, sad, and sometimes heartbreaking (I had typed heartwarming first, and now I don’t think either fits. Heart-something.) Facebook and the other great plethora of social networking cites thrive on a kind of economy of communication – there’s a skill to expression within specific constraints that I have not exactly mastered, that I think is interesting in light of Nancy K. Miller’s idea about the memoir as memorandum, the autobiography as prosthesis for memory. This is a very interesting wording – as I am interested in our understanding of technology and prosthesis and the line at which we draw a division between the two (or don’t). To extrapolate a bit, I’d argue that Miller is suggesting the readers use memoirs and autobiography (and celebrity? does that become too much like fiction?) as framework to help understand their own lives, to lend them structure by either association or disassociation, which become Miller’s terms of identification or disidentification. What would she make of current social networking sites, the rise of the hashtag or the meme, the apparent homogenization of communication through the popularity of certain recurring phrases or styles of speech? Again, this could be due to my relative lack of social networking skillz, but I become a bit dismayed by how similar people on my various friendslists end up sounding; there were pop songs and then pop stars and now there are pop phrases, pop activities made just for facebook and instagram, like hashtagging every possible emotion or photographing every meal. These frameworks for interaction become like zombie viruses – is this how the meme is supposed to behave? I have very little knowledge of the original context in which Dawkins introduces the term, so if anyone could summarize it for me that’d be awesome.

So is this contributing to narcissism (a narcissism, any narcissism), this ability to generate autobiographical material all day long, every day, and have it validated by hundreds of like-minded people? The anxiety about memory that Miller has located has only worsened, as the philosophical question of the age becomes “If it wasn’t instagrammed, did it really happen?” (and now I’m doing it, capitulating to popular phrases). It seems that the social network as memoir has found that collective community which Miller discusses, and is now merely propagating itself by generating new memes, new hashtags, new pop activities and crazes to document and discuss.

I’m being a bit unfair – it seems I have a tendency to attack that I picked up somewhere in undergrad (in the classroom or otherwheres) – as social networking at its finest can yield up things like Viegener’s duration project, and at its worse still act as a place where people can vocalize virtually anything they want, and it’s remembered forever on the internet, if you can find it.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • John Giunta // Nov 4th 2013 at 10:07 am

    Poll question: I’ve read three things that mention Kathy Acker in the last week (Neil Gaiman, an article about cyberpunk, and this, the Viegener), and a preliminary wikipedia search reveals she’s a writer/artist/a lot of other things, does anyone know a good Acker-jumping on point for woefully out of the loop people like myself?

  • Jason Tougaw (he/him/his) // Nov 4th 2013 at 10:40 am

    I’m no expert, but Kathy Acker’s most widely read works are Blood and Guts in High School and Don Quixote.

  • Shona Mari Sapphire // Nov 4th 2013 at 9:26 pm

    “Memoir works like a kind of interactive remembering – where the screen prompts the construction of memory itself.” (7)
    I think Miller’s statement here on the way reading someone else’s memoir excites one’s own life-recollection might be translated differently in the present day climate of mass ego dissemination. Today, the “remembering” which takes place in the social media sphere seems less interactive and more imitative – a false recollection of the original idea you thought you had before you realized it was actually a “re-tweet/whatever” of a “re-whatever” that you then “re-whatevered”. And I agree, the framework does start to sound like a “zombe virus.” What holds meaning when all is broadcast, everywhere, all the time, and to everyone?

  • Jason Scaglione // Nov 5th 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Dawkins introduced the meme as a kind of mental analogue to the gene, so the “for-itself-ness” you observe is actually right on point (for better or worse).

    The genes inherited by an organism (genotype) become expressed within an environment in various ways (phenotype). These expressions either lead genes to their successful reproduction, or not. Dawkins considers memes similarly, in that certain ideas induce expression in ways that lead further to their successful reproduction. He uses religion as an example.

    “These frameworks for interaction become like zombie viruses.”

    Viruses are actually very precise examples of this drive to reproduction—the logical conclusion to biological selfishness. However, these “frameworks for interaction” I think are your real target, which are not themselves memes. Social networks—like Facebook or Twitter or this blog—structure our interaction, viz. they represent the environment within which memes can be expressed.

    So the reproduction of memes within these environments, I think, does become something like “pop activity.” Not related just to memory, or just to the kind of identification/disidentification Miller describes—but it’s kind of like all at once? It’s like we’re simultaneously authoring and consuming our own memoir…

  • Kristina Bodetti // Nov 6th 2013 at 1:10 pm

    First, I have to comment on your post’s title. What a great attention grabber!

    As for what you wrote…
    I’m not fully clear on what you began with, about randomness and coincidence (though it seems you were aware of a clarity that was missing) but I do understand the premise of what random and perhaps natural tending toward some order and random being a word not meaning lack of order but rather referring to an order we can’t yet see. Its an interesting concept that a lot has been written about but I’m not certain how far that really goes.
    I would also tend to agree with your assessment of social media as narcissistic. I’m one who believes that social media finds ways to ruin everything from basic communication to music, movies, and even in a certain way education (if u no wat i meen). But there is that rare occasion when something actually worth-while like this book pops up. But to me that’s just the exception that proves the rule.

  • matthew finston // Nov 6th 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Why does it have to be a younger you that would ‘retweet’ Viegener’s post? I think you do pose an interesting problem. But I am wondering if academics are too quick to denigrate “Facebook” “Twitter” as a cite for memoir. It is, I believe, a question of function over form. What is gained and lost through the medium? Also, why is narcissism seen as such a negative trait? How is the idea of narcissism a sociological method of disciplining deviant subjects? Is narcissism so bad?

    In my view, the books we have read about consciousness are exemplary models are academic narcissism. They couch it in the context of Consicousness studies. But let’s be honest, it is just a fancy way for people to talk about themselves without admitting they are talking about themself.

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