Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Twittering Machine. Richard Seymour. From Internet Addiction to “post-Truth” politics.

leave a comment »

Image result for the twittering machine

 

The Twittering Machine. Richard Seymour. The Indigo Press. 2019.

This month Benjamin Griveaux, candidate for Paris Mayor from President Macron’s party, La République en Marche, stood down. Peter Pavlinski had posted on the Internet a video of the Macronist stalwart having ‘virtual sex’. Images of the candidate tossing himself off in a previous online exchange with the Russian exile’s girlfriend, Alexandra de Taddeo, had been taken, without, he claims, her knowledge, from her computer. Published on Paveninski’s site, Pornopolitique, it looked like a victory on the Web for those challenging what Richard Seymour in the Foreword to his new book calls the monopoly “formerly enjoyed by media and entertainment companies”. Pavlinski called it a blow against the “hypocrisy” of politicians.

The Twittering Machine is “an attempt” “to work out a new language into what is coming into being” in this “new techno-political system”. The title is short for the whole range of digital platforms. The book is a sustained critique of the “techno-utopians” dream of “creative autonomy” that has gone with the rise of the “bloom of the web”. Beyond being an “addiction machine” it has important political effects. Nobody is any doubt that the Affaire Griveaux would not have happened without the Net’s “ubiquitous publicity. This may be added to the growth of what Seymour calls “cyber-cynicism”.

Debate has raged over making public these “sextos”, and more online regulation, with some defending the confidentiality of intimate relations ( Griveaux scandal revives France’s will to regulate social media). For others it illustrates how “connectivity” can become the fantasy of sharing solitary pleasure. Others relate it to the  #MeToo movement, ,#BalanceTonPorc, and the way sexual issues, from harassment, and rape to infidelity, are no longer considered private in France.

Political Twilight Zone.

Less noticed internationally is the presence of Juan Branco. The author of Crépuscule (2018) and self-styled leftist he is one of the lawyers for Julian Assange. The advocate now represents Pavlinski and is, in effect, part of his public voice (Le Monde. Derrière la chute de Benjamin Griveaux, enquête sur le rôle d’un trio sans foi ni loi.)

Announcing the twilight of President Macron, the book (initially available for free on the Net) has been fiercely criticised on the left for its portrait of high-society plots, the international ‘Gotha’ of the international, elite schooling, moralism, dislike of ‘degenerates’ and venom against homosexuals. Crépuscule is studded with lengthy passages on the networks and manoeuvring of one gay man, Gabriel Attal, charged with organising Macron’s youth wing. For at least some this would-be Revolutionary Prosecutor looks more at home in the world of far-right ‘anti-globalists’ and 4Chan than the left. It comes as no surprise that Branco vaunts how, on Twitter, he had exposed media cover-ups of the oligarchs’ activities. (1)

Richard Seymour offers a way of looking at how figures like Branco and Pavlinski have become political players. Some readers will be disappointed at the absence of discussion about Lenin’s Tomb, Race-play BDSM and the merits of poking fun at people with severe facial injuries. But they will find that the author puts such “anti-celebrities”, the “propagandists of human failure” in their place. Seymour has also written a thoroughly readable thoughtful book.

Trolls and Trolling.

Many of the stories set out in The Twittering Machine, are more tragic than the fate of Benjamin Griveaux. Between our addiction to the instant rewards of ‘like’ on Facebook, the ‘community’ run for profit, the surveillance capitalism, we have the space where trolls gloated on young people’s plight and helped drive them to suicide. The taunting of Océane, her death in front of a high-speed train, her “protest” against an ex-boyfriend’s rape, her remote father, “a profiteer in the sex industry”, and society, made us weep. Seymour, in a sensitive account, talks of the yearning for popularity, for renown, and puts charge of self-regard in its place, “complaints about narcissism are almost always, as Kristin Dombek writes, about the ‘selfishness of others’.” (Page 94) In this world of intense self-promotion come moments of pack hunting. Vigilantes react against the baiting. “Trolling, and the backlash against trolling, is for the most part good money.” (Page 123)

Citing Jean Baudrillard it becomes clear that in a world of simulacra there is a “darkly dystopian potential”. In “post-truth politics” “new fascisms are emerging round micro celebrities, mini-patriarchs and the flow of homogenised messages.” Racist propaganda has “compensatory, antidepressant effects”. The Islamic State, ISIS, another “far right social movement” based on religious-racism spread on the Web with “snuff videos”, “It self-consciously incarnated the antithesis of everything liberal modernity stood for” (Page 187) These “collective hallucinations” have real effects, far-right murders, Daesh’s genocidal state. And there is the first “Twitter President” Donald Trump….

Digital Democracy? 

Can the Internet still have progressive potential? The Twittering Machine cites the role of the early pre-Net French system, Minitel a videotex online service. Seymour says that this played a role in student protests way back in 1986 – although while present out of solidarity at many of them, including the most violent, I failed to notice its impact. Have its successors now become a “sub-hegemonic practice” keeping us in line to the “emerging techno-political regime”? This is at least is certain.

Yet, it was not the technology used but that anti-democratic folk politics principle of “consensus” decision-making that hampered movements like Occupy, accelerating their own lack of a political strategy that could have an effect. The scope of “digital democracy” remains open. Parties organised digitally, like La France insoumise, have their own ways of blocking dissenting voices, by prohibiting any organised opposition. It is impossible to imagine the modern left without social media platforms, Blogs, YouTube, web sites, even Instagram, and the use of Twitter during protests.

In its opening chapters  The Twittering Machine speculates on the “subterranean” drives that attach us to a world in which “we are all scripturient”, writers of texts. The seemingly detached cyberspace in which letters are typed is equally one where we work “without remuneration the better to sell us as a product” (Page 215) Behind lies a taste of B.F. Skinner’s behaviourist ‘utopia’ for business, as surveillance capitalism shadowing the Twitter Machine. Behind the digital revolution and the time consuming Monster, the ‘Chronophage’, is profit from human lab rats. .

The Twittering Machine raises more questions than than it offers plausible conclusions. No left activist in the heat of a political struggle is going to leave behind her mobile, tablet, laptop, or PC and stroll in “the park with nothing but a notepad and a nice pen”. Nobody who wishes to express his or her views is going to rely on speaking or the postal system. Perhaps the “post-Baudrillard” writers, Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serrory are onto something when they write that amongst the promotion of the self, and the aesthetic capitalism on Facebook and the Net, may also inspire people to see in themselves their own artistic desires, that it may also allow personal creativity outside of mass consummation and simulacra. This leaves a place for a “utopia”, not exclusively of writing, but certainly fit to occupy the “dreamspace”. (2)

******

(1) Crépuscule ou l’erreur de la confusion. À propos de l’idole BrancoAjoutez aussi –- car tout y est — ses pulsions homophobes, qui transparaissent dans une note où l’effondrement de notre civilisation est associé à deux figures gay — Gabriel Attal et Edouard Louis — si dissemblables qu’on se demande ce qui peut les réunir si ce n’est l’homophobie de l’auteur et le vieux thème de la décadence homosexuelle.

On the alt-right use of the Internet see: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right Angela Nagel. 2017 Zed Books.

(2) Pages 479 – 480 Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serror. L’esthétisation du monde. 2013. Folio.

______________

See also, RS 21.

Review: The Twittering Machine Mark Murphy

Notably,

It is important to note that the last major book ‘left-wing’ book that gave an account of the impact of social media on our politics was Angela Nagel’s Kill All Normies. The problem with her writing is that it is less a description of the material circumstances of our current digital predicament and more of a moralising screed against the current state of left-wing politics. Likewise, before Nagel, we had Exiting the Vampire Castle by Mark Fisher, who began tracing the jouissance (toxic pleasure) laden tendencies that social media brought out in the left. He tells us that the Vampire Castle – his metaphor for the horror story of social media – is driven by a ‘priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ The problem with Fisher and Nagel’s work, in short, is that they have both become a resource for those who moralise against moralism rather than explain our addiction to moralism.

Seymour’s work is vital because he refuses to be drawn into any form of moralising. The psychoanalytic insight, which underpins Seymour’s work, therefore resists externalising, moralising and fetishising the return of the writing repressed. Instead, he argues that it needs to be looked at honestly as we are a part of it whether we like it or not. Against the all too common ‘techlash’ theme, he argues that social media does indeed bring out fascistic and conspiratorial impulses, but it has also given a voice to the marginalised. Moreover, even if the Twittering Machine does give the marginalised more voice, it does so at the expense of handing power to huge corporate entities like Google that monetise our attention.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: