While writing text for Black Haunts in the Anthropocene, I have been struck by my recurring sense of what it means to experience things that happen with or without me. One the one hand it is just not that interesting. That is simply what it means to live in the world. It happens with or without me. I rarely think about it, because underlying this is a nascent intimation of my own mortality. “With or without me” is a statement about will; my choices are irrelevant in the flow of time. It is also a statement about materiality. The world is never contingent on my presence, and that statement can never be reversed. If you think back to the poem, “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal,” this is the fundamental irony inherent in setting its aural breathiness against the obdurate materiality– corporeality, mortality– visualized by the poem ⇢ Rocks, stones, trees, me. This poem about the dead breathes, and the dead thus become “the dead,” virtually alive.
Against such contemplation, we breath. Social media feeds, however, force us to self-consciously live in the space between virtuality and embodiment. I open a window and enter the stream. The stream, algorithmically tuned to me, is there waiting for me. In its attenuation to me it is generated by an idea of what “I” am. This is different from my me-ness, which is now irrelevant since it no longer needs me. It only needed me to come into being once, maybe twice, and it will continue to represent me even when I am gone, feeding itself with a future of me that has already been made, that I am making right now.
We might be reminded here of Toni Morrison's notion of rememory, the conceptual modus operandi for her novel Beloved. Rememory helps us to understand the myriad traumas of our experience in digital spaces. Indeed, rememory is a way of considering how we have always been digital, and that the modes of representation and experience that we today refer to as such cannot be separated from previous human experience. It is thus reasonable to see the digital as a constitutive component of the past. ⇢
(Before you move on, if it is in your head and you can’t get it out, this. Now you can move on ⇢