On the unbearable likeness of being; or who the fuck is Alice?
by Jeremy Fernando (sb rmx)
The question that haunts all modern society is that of the individual. It takes the form of either "who am I" (the question of identity) or "what is my place in society" (the question of relative value). Even though they may seem to be unrelated they are actually the same question, for the notion of individuality is meaningless without a point of reference, an externality: in other words, there is no self without another, the other, all others.
And here, if we listen carefully, we can hear an echo of Jean-Luc Nancy's beautiful phrase, singular-plural. In order for any singularity, we have to take into account plurality: which also means that the selection of any singular version, meaning, act, is always already a moment of violence against all other existing possibilities. For if every act is but one of the potentially infinite possibilities (since they are possibilities, one cannot know in advance how many variations there are) there is no way to know if the decision made is a good or bad one till it happens; more than that, there is no way to legitimately choose one over any — every — other. Hence decisions, acts, choices, are always already made in blindness; all one can know is that one is choosing.
But as Milan Kundera so aptly points out, the fact that each decision is made "in an instant of madness" (Kierkegaard) does not make it any easier: the "lightness" is indeed rather unbearable. For the lightness of each decision does not refer to us, but rather to the fact that there is no grund: thus, the onus, and hence responsibility, for each decision falls squarely on our shoulders.
This, though, merely exacerbates the paradoxical situation of individuality: in order to be responsible one has to be able to take responsibility, which would entail a certain notion of the self, and more precisely a self that is independent of all the other factors affecting that same self. Otherwise we would be able to escape this responsibility by pulling an Adolf Eichmann: "I was merely following orders."
But if the notion of a self is meaningless without correspondence to other(s), where would this singular notion be located?
We can hear echoes of this very same question in blogs; where the very notion of the self and its relation to the other, every other, is being addressed. For in order to be a 'blog' it has to be a singular object (even if two, or more, blogs share the same name, each blog is a singular entity onto itself and no other); however, in order for its existence to be known it has to be acknowledged by another, some entity other than itself. Even if the blog was the work of a single person, and (s)he was the only other that referenced it, it would still, and only, be known if that referencing happened in another venue, platform, site.
Hence, what is crucial is that there are two separate situations in place, and more importantly, there is an exchange between them. One must never forget that an exchange can only take place when there is a ground of similarity; whether real or simulated (even if there was a difference) is irrelevant. Even in their difference (for, there would be no need for any exchange if they were exactly the same), there has to be a certain sameness, likeness. Perhaps it is in the very paradox of similarity and difference that the true profundity of likeness comes to light: the alikeness of the exchange must first be liked before the differences that allow this very exchange come into play. And what is being exchanged is nothing other than data.
Here, we must not forget all data bears echoes of datum (thing given). More specifically, the situation of this giving is one where the parties involved are of an unequal standing (for instance, a master to a slave): hence, there is no expected reciprocation of this gift. This is opposed to munus which is a ritualised gift, and where exchange is the order of the day. Since a datum is an unexchangeable gift, this suggests that it can also be objectless: in other words, what remains important is that the gift is in the giving. And it is this aspect of the gift that Marcel Mauss, Georges Bataille, and Jacques Derrida, focus on when they explicate their notions of a pure gift. And if the giving of the gift is the gift itself, perhaps one can argue that the reception is equally important. This suggests that what truly matters in this notion of giving is time itself: what is sacrificed (for, in giving, something is given even if there is no object), a sacrifice that is objectless, "that doesn’t have to be consumed by fire" (Bataille), is the time taken to both give, and receive.
In the context of blogs, it is the time taken to link, share, give, and the time taken to read, re-post, re-link.
Which brings us back to the question that we were attempting to meditate on. The singularity of the self is not located in some notion of self, but rather in that moment of decision, choice, where the self has no choice but to reify momentarily in making that choice. In this moment of absolute blindness — where one is choosing despite lacking any legitimacy — the self is doing nothing but exposing its own unknowability, its own otherness.
At the moment of sharing a blog, the blog is exposed as nothing but the moment of sharing. In other words, all blogs only are singular, are itself, at the point of being shared — sent, read, spoken about, written on.
And it is in this spirit that I am sharing a dear friend’s blog. I present to you, one of my favourite thinkers, writers, photographers: http://alicereneztay.com/
And if you’re still wanting to know who Alice is, surely you’re missing the point . . .
Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and is the author of 5 books, the most recent being Writing Death. Exploring other media has led him to film, art, and music; 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.