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May 14, 2006

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Virgil Johnson

Jodi, I read your entire post on Long Sunday, it posed many questions for self-reflection. Sometimes I believe that what we post, and how we interact is not merely who we are and what we would chose to say in person - but it is that image we have of ourselves. Especially when we face those who have a view of whatever subject, or life in general, different than our own.

Unfortunately, the cloistered lives we lead rarely venture beyond our own experience. Our posting is merely a reflection of what we believe ourselves to be or represent - and I am convinced that much what we believe about ourselves is just part and parcel of what we perceive life to be. It is a vicious circle - and when this is challenged either in "real life" or on the web we react predictably. In person we have a tendency to further mask our reaction, and it holds beneath the surface - because of the seeming impersonal element of the web, it just becomes the overbearing revelation of what we have hidden with personal encounter.

The only possible redeeming quality of the web blog is that we would reveal more, because we do not view it as a personal encounter. If more of this could take place, we could get to the bottom of many personal and public issues - and perhaps eventually see these issues resolved.

I think that is the best case scenario, we just need the "bridge" from one to the other - easier said than done, because all of the fears we have in real life hinder us from expressing and eventually achieving what we desire. There is this disconnect from what we feel is real and tangible (our "real" lives), and what is artifical and etheral (our web persona).

It is unfortunate, but I believe that only the loss of our fantasies in real life - perhaps a traumatic jolt, will unearth who and what we are. Until than, what we conceive life to be will reign (no matter how much external and self-deception is involved), this is simply because many of us cannot even face the first dictum of "know thyself."

Especially if this truth of who and what we are isolates us from what is percieved to be societal norm(s), because as much as we despise to acknowledge that we are social creatures, we are just that - with a desire to live in community. However, when the community has been poisoned, it is like being torn apart to dissent.

A professor a long time ago said something to me and I have never forgotten it - "sometimes thought that takes us beyond the conventional isolates us, we become like the mountain peaks which dwell in terrible solitude, that is only broken when the clouds occasionally disperse." What is the price we are willing to pay to live and interact like true human beings in a world community?

Julian

Jodi, This is a fascinating post -perhaps it tells us a lot about the appeal of the web...

Your contrast with face-to-face interaction brings in a Levinasian edge, of course. The face resists with the unpredictability of the other's response, and this can be unsettling of the fantasies of the self that Virgil described. Yet face-to-face interactions are also often haunted by the same dangers, even if they also resist them more. There are plenty of people who are just as transferential [!] in face-to-face interactions - we all know them from classes... sometimes as the teachers.

One might suggest that the lack of "real" community in the blogosphere creates this - we drop in or out, perhaps never reading the blog again after a period of close engagement - but I notice that the worst transference among contributors seems to be among those who know each other best - or that's how it appears from someone on the outside. In other words, perhaps to the extent that there is a community that community is least conducive to conversation (perhaps the same is true of many families who know each other too well for conversation!). Newcomers, more uncertain of reception and conventions might be more attentive and less full of themselves...

Levinas once wrote about the "false sociality" of the cafe: "Here you are, each at your own little table with your cup or your glass. You relax completely to the point of not being obligated to anyone or anything; and it is because it is possible to go and relax in a cafe that one tolerates the horrors and injustices of a world without a soul. The world as a game from which everyone can pull out and exist only for himself, a place of forgetfulness - of forgetfulness of the other - that is the cafe."

Isn't something similar true of the internet and blogs, despite the much lauded hopes for a transformative society online. Both constitute a space where we can believe we are social yet where we are actually not interacting so much as appearing in public - just as we go to cafes to be seen. What is a blog but an attempt to be seen? What is a post in response but a quest for recognition?

I'm struck by the ideal that drives educational interactions. What I detect in your post is the ideal of a great dinner-party conversation (I think this is true for many discussion-based teachers too). Yet to what extent is that not also a false sociality? Perhaps an attempt to reconstruct an imagined cafe-society discussion at home? Aren't such dinner discussions some of the most carefully constructed performances ever (the food, music, candles, wine...)?

Meanwhile, just as in Joyce's "The Dead", snow is falling all over Ireland, even on Michael Furey's grave, and on the lives of many others who suffer.

The problem is that I cannot make this argument without both falling into the trap of transference that you identified and without falling into the trap I describe in this post [was that point profound enough to justify moving on to the cheese course?]

Ha!

Jodi

Thanks Virgil, Thanks Julian. Julian, I was wondering about the face aspect as well. On one hand, it seems inseparable. Yet, on another, we clearly separate face and voice: blogging we might put a picture with the word that we type. We talk on the phone. Funny results are achieved on television when the wrong voice is put with the wrong face. Looking at our lovers we may want them just to shut up. Or, conversely, we may want them to, well, converse. So, face and voice are linked, and perhaps in thinking about these links and their limits we might get some place.

You are likely right about transference being more common when people frequent the same blogs. And, I am embarassed to admit, but you are likely also right about the disappointed ideal lurking underneath my post. It is so odd to me, although it shouldn't be, conversations are rarely what one would have them be. And, it seems that my phrasing suggests why: conversations are not matters that 'one' would 'have'--they unfold and take place and often in predictable, unfortunately seemingly unavoidable ways.

Julian

Indeed,

On the phone, why do adolescents love it so? Like a blog it offers communication without vulnerability and with the possibility of transference. Ditto the internet.

Levinas would say that there is a huge difference between the face as an object (in a photo, say) and the face-to-face. Even videophones do not work as one does not look into the other's eyes but at one's monitor - hence one can only see the other's face as an object. One "notices the color of his/her eyes" and thus it is not a face-to-face in his terms.

But perhaps the entire endeavor of "political" discussion is doomed to get no further - except in Arendt's sense of action (a very non-Marxist sense). We are all bound up by our transferential desires and that, perhaps, is the game that the internet never escapes. That only would be to make it all too human.

Why did we never take Arendt more seriously on this?

J

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