by Russell Bennetts and Jeremy Fernando
If writing brings with it the notion of scribbling, scribere, tearing, with one’s hand, digital writing perhaps opens the possibility that it is our fingers (digits) that are doing the feeling, walking, seeing, whilst opening — by touching, caressing — the typewriter, keyboard, screen. Thus, a response to the object of one’s critique, inquiry, thinking, comes through — with — the skin of our very fingers; where one, like a surgeon examining bodies, is attempting to see through touch, by stroking around; where one is performing a criticism through seeing without seeing, as it were; by feel. Where the digital critic is doing nothing other than playing jazz.
Lone facts are wasted online. Pessimism of the click. A click, a sound — sent out into the world. And like all postcards, one knows not where it lands, nor even if it does. But, perhaps, our fingers do: the revolution might not be televised, but will almost certainly be seen by your fingertips.
(Holy) spectre of print: fingered ink, Rorschachian stains. And, if stains, staining, quite possibly always also painting. Typed, tapped onto the canvas that we call reality: where in playing this jazz, the digital critic is constantly shaping, shifting, the very canvas itself. When, doubled-down, a closed reading spills, and where, perhaps, it is precisely in these spills — these movements that form a new, another, canvas — that one can catch a glimpse of the text itself.
The digital critic (once more): some deadened soul transmuted through plenitude. Where all she can do is to type, write, feel, caress the screen, whilst doing this in memory of a pulped memory. A memory castigated in (countless) cross-referenced screen pathways. A turned blog, read only when blue. Mustering a digital language is faster than it seems. One is examining the screen tears.
Tears. Tearing. Crying. Keeping in mind that to write, that writing, écriture, always already brings with it the possibility of a cri, a crying out, or — as Nietzsche taught us — a scream. The scream of the screen. When the scrolling trigger digits once clicked in despair, are now sounding out for readers. Here: Sontag’s lists. Here: Auden’s screengrabbed verse.
The screen: a mirror. But perhaps never our, your, mirror. A mirror that looks back at one while whispering, I’ll not be your mirror. For, as Baudrillard taught us, what seems clear, transparent, is always also potentially evil, that la transparence du mal. Not because it only pretends to let us see, but precisely because it allows us to see too much. That it appears that we now know, can understand, exactly what happens, that the machinery has been exposed. After which, we forget that there exists a ghost in the machine, one that remains beyond us. And in thinking that we know, all that we are doing is to make meaning where there is none. A modulated distraction, wherein feedback severs (after Kracauer).
And perhaps in severing, in cutting, it always also forms a scar, a scab: what is both the remainder, the trace, mark, of what has gone, is always already done, and also a formation, a protection of what is already there, and also a potential for what is coming, what is quite possibly to come. In which the severing is what also brings forth, serves to help us catch a glimpse of potentiality. Where, what severs might well also be the server itself. A formless swell of words. And, of course, an incision. When the reader folds into her phone. How to write her into being when her very tactility comes into question?
A cut, perhaps always also a caesura. Without which, though, we would also never be able to know movement, motion — perhaps more importantly, without which we would never be able to even begin to detect, make, create meaning, never be able to read, or respond. Where perhaps, the very first cut, the very first break, puncture, punctum, is the moment where one first comes into contact with the object that one is attempting to respond with — touch as cut; with one’s fingers no less.
Electronic riverrun. To edit the bankrupt, to publish and to steal. A reproducing digital mass: endlessly generating, regenerating, bringing forth generations of itself. One that might well be the same, but — as our Thai friends have long taught us — is always also same same but different.
The digitalness of criticism. Where to touch — nay, to feel — is always already to be critical. Not just to know, to attempt to find out, but to potentially tear apart. Which is not to say that this does not come at an ever present risk — for, what might well be torn apart is our very selves.
Each existence of a critical writing bleeds the next one. To bleed, perchance to dream. For, to think, to respond to, to be with, needs, perhaps even necessitates, a relationality. And even if not that of a blood relation, perhaps always already a consanguinity of sorts. A little criticism leads away from bleeding, a lot of criticism leads back to blood (repeated after Schopenhauer, after Bacon). Repeating after Beckett? Certainly nothing to say about waiting; but, perhaps, that waiting is nothing other than the possibility of waiting itself. On the one hand, the reader, refreshing. On the other, our forgetful critic. A forgetting that parses meaning and, once published, erases the spectre.
It is not the screen that shows, but the one staring at the screen who is shown. Shown to be nothing other than the one who is screened. Pity the trigger thumbed digital reader. Scrolling.
This essay was adapted from a chapter in The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online (2017) edited by Houman Barekat, Robert Barry and David Winters
Russell Bennetts is the founder and editor of Berfrois.
Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and has written nineteen books, including Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, and in fidelity. His writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Arte al Límite, Berfrois, CTheory, Full Bleed, Qui Parle, TimeOut, and VICE, amongst others; and has been translated into French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and the visual arts; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.
Featured Image Credit: Whiskey Radish