InstaGlam: Sharing Is [S]caring
by Stan Lee Ghoti
By now the Saussurean notion that it is the structure of language that creates meaning is well understood: semioticians and structuralist critics see these relationships as necessary for our understanding of text. The structure of the system of signs, they posit, itself creates the text as such. These notions have lead to the idea of the death of the author, an idea unsurprisingly ignored by authors but fully embraced by critics, publishers, and the world at large, as if the latter categories had been waiting, finally, to be free from the prison-house of authorship that had kept a stranglehold on the author’s unearned arrogance, self-obsession, externalized social awkwardness, and wine and cheese parties for centuries prior.
The crisis of the intervening decades have included the rise and fall of minimalism, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, neoformalism, maximalism, and Roxette.
It has only been in the last decade as technology has caught up with what had always been true that the problem of “zombie authorship”--authorship arising from the structure of the language rather than the illusion of the individual author—could be sufficiently revealed.
The ability of individual language users to instantly share images and swap the scraps of words that float through their heads on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram are literally the parole assembling itself, the manifestation of human communication outside of the depredations and power structures underlying the langue. To witness the activities of these sites is to witness language in its purest form.
Here we see an opossum hanging from its tail on an overgrown tomato plant. The caption reads “OMG THIS MORNING !!!1!” A click away a sunset. “Gorgeous!” Thomasina Truex responds, her profile picture a cheese grater next to a pile of shredded Parmesan. Another link brings us to a pair of patent-leather pumps, seemingly ordinary-looking, with “WANT” beneath them, posted by TrumpChick47.
Beside all this scrolling, a strip of ads meant, one supposes, to coincide with the scroller’s preferences, dictated, rather, by the structure of what’s clicked, typed, OK-Googled, trending from that particular IP: a set of designer, rolling suitcases, a miracle weight-loss pill, a set of cookware already purchased and trucking in from an Amazon warehouse someplace whence.
What may appear to be simple juxtaposition, the random shuffling of various instances of acted-upon attention, are, instead, text in the act of creating itself, the true story, if you will, of human will within the structures and the sutures of language. It is life as lived through language, a semiotic sieve of All Thought, providing a kind of clarity that feeble attempts at “authorship” only serve to obscure.
In many ways, the main attempts of Modernism, its programs of isms and and sub-isms, movements and manifesti, was just what Instagram and its ilk have automated: to move past the pretense of presentation in its various forms, such as realism, Romanticism, neoclassicism, rationalism. It moves into the very realm of what-is-ness. Joyce is noted as Modernism’s master because of the degree to which he subsumed himself into the text, not bothering with noting his own passing as author, lingering just long enough to arrange a few cairn-like puns along the way. Joyce is a middle finger raised to all who thought they could master authorship through interpretation as Finnegan’s Wake closed around them.
Here we see a plea for money or for prayer, a lost rent check or a dying liver, or a plea for friendship itself: “Share this status if . . .” a tortured form of emotional blackmail by the truly desperate at the phone’s lonely end.
Cities and towns, clay tablets and papyrus, ink and paper and printing, TV and radio, the high-speed press have all failed at getting to what is actually going on: the real is the imagined self, the self as born into the system of signs. Rather than sharing a status or a picture, a meme or the latest quiz (“Which Depression-Era Cocktail Are You?”) substituting for genuine relationships, these “shares” are the only genuine human ways of relating: all else is bestial instinct or pretentious interpretive artifice. Those who would fact-check a quote or debunk a meme are missing the point: those efforts are about a person’s need to impose a highly localized will upon the very structure that gave birth to both truth and myth, to both delusion and rationality. Those things surely exist, but only in contradistinction to one another.
Here a butter pat and words attributed to Paula Deen; there a kitten, bright-eyed and batting playfully at a Confederate battle flag. The context is the life led on the other side of the screen, past the wi-fi and along the millions of miles of fiber-optic cable. It only means into being within the the text itself. It’s never “only” a symbol: it only “is” through its symbolization, through its assimilation into the system of signs. We “sign in,” after all, and we “stay signed in”; we check incessantly what our “friends” are up to, what they’re posting, even when we’re with them, physically watching them posting what we’re checking on them posting. Mere witness surpasseth understanding, and only in seeing it in the chatmosphere can we acknowledge it as understood, liked, +1-ed. The moment is not, was never, quite enough, but its memory, coughed up a year later by some algorithm which is also a subset of the system of signs, confirming its having been.
Authorship, then, was never an act of creation but an act of preservation, its power not in its pretense but in its forethought: I am that I am this arrangement of signs, proof within it that I was. The practical application, the Instagram, the Pinterest, is recognition: your recipe for salted-caramel cheesecake, my call for more civility and maybe an invite to my Scentsy party?
In the end, there is no end; the fabric has no edges.
The system is the structure.
Log on. Log off. Proof that you were here, binary bound, the most basic of all semiotic positionings.