Bodies have been central lately: their vulnerability, their fallibility, their messy awkwardness, their ichorous instability, their lack of durability, their strange capacity to harm their owner. I have been thinking a lot about this. But mostly I’ve been answering my phone. It goes beep (more like chirrup, chirrup, to get onomatopoeic) an awful lot these days and my basic misanthropic settings have been messed with severely. SMS, email, voicemails, DMs, and the rest of the 57 channels all go chirrup, chirrup with frightening regularity, day after day, as enquiries are made about the status of the body.
All these conversations, such as they are, tend toward a corporeal agathism framed by a worried horror. What all these conversations require of me is to engage on the basis of a coherent and predictable narrative, to speak from knowledge and make it comprehensible. I have endeavoured to do this but the more I have done so, the more I recognise that everything I say is disingenuous. I have information, some information (though a long way from all the information, or enough information) and the body can be represented through that information, but the information isn’t the body.
The body is material, and it doesn’t matter if the narratologically-tamed information I provide is positive or negative because it doesn’t affect the body. Affecting the body is an intimate thing but none of my conversations about the body are actually intimate. They approximate intimacy, a zooming motion of closeness unavoidably mediated by and through the 57 channels, as well as my haphazard narratives. It’ll do, for the purposes of keeping people advised, but I have been struck by the presumption of intimacy that instantaneous communication allows.
The medical professionals are in a different movie: they aren’t texting one another about the body they treat, they are writing to each other in nicely addressed envelopes, with stamps. For a while I thought this was cute: all that Messrs, Sir, Doctor, and Mister is very retro, like the little watches that nurses pin to their tunics. But now I think this is a construction of distance. The professionalism of medical professionals is produced by this distance, designed to deny the intimacy of their actions. Medical professionals affect the body intimately but in order to do so they must stand apart: they aren’t doing a favour, and they aren’t helping out. They maintain a practice of formal civility so that it doesn’t matter that they saw what bodies don’t display, socially. In my conversations, on the 57 channels, this distance is not there. The body is framed as social display, a status bar for the self. In this way the social has begun to overwhelm the civil. The civil is cast aside as an uncool formalism, fusty stuffiness.
The decentredness of all this, the 57 channels, arises from the separation of the court from courtesy. Without a central authority from which the codes of propriety trickle down in a neatly coherent structure (base-superstructure, I guess) it is no big deal to merge immediacy with access and see no distance between any of us within this particular information economy, a flat earth of collegiality. There are lots of cheerleaders for this sort of universal franchise, democratisation and all that, citizens of communication. But I don’t buy it. The distance matters. The distance is a practice of respect for otherness, for the particularity of others. Facebook friends, followers, contacts, leads: these are collections of people to be spoken of as accoutrements of digital lifestyle. I don’t dig it. It’s really a kind of accrual: inputs that can be journaled to some greater ledger of personal acclaim, another context in which proliferation is seen as progress and vanity as virtue. You don’t need to be Evgeny Morozov to know this is bollocks.