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Massification

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In a sense, then, just as the novel of obsolescence’s anxieties about television’s machinic existence reveal less about the television itself than about the novel’s attachment to at times conservative definitions of the human, and as such anxieties about television’s spectacular qualities reveal the novel’s desire to valorize its own uses of language, so the novel’s apparent anxieties about television’s networked status function to support the novel’s own appeal to the Enlightenment individual as the foundation of freedom. Such an appeal requires a vilification of its opposite, the mass, that figure of equal anticommunist and antifascist fervor. As Lynn Spigel suggests in Make Room for TV, anxieties about the relationship of the individual to the communications network are implicated in the earliest popular discourses that surround the introduction of television into the U.S. home, discourses fractured by a profound ambivalence about the new medium. This ambivalence, Spigel argues, “is part of a long history of hopes and fears about technology; . . . communications technologies such as the telegraph, telephone, and radio were all met with a mixture of utopian and dystopian expectations–both in intellectual circles and in popular culture” (3). On the one hand, television could bring the world into the U.S. home; on the other, “television posed the intimidating possibility that private citizens in their own homes might be rendered powerless in the face of a new and curious machine.” These fears, however, though apparently focused on “powerlessness” before the “machine,” are in fact connected to the use of television’s technology in “surveillance and reconnaissance” during World War II (47). That the locus of this anxiety turns on the notion of surveillance reveals that the issue is perhaps less with the machine itself than with the unknown quantity to which the machine is wiring private citizens. If this concern begins to sound a bit familiarly paranoid, as Spigel describes the suburbia that the television network webbed across, the connection becomes increasingly clear:

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 There was an odd sense of connection and disconnection in this new suburbia, an infinite series of separate but identical homes, strung together like Christmas tree lights on a tract with one central switch. And that central switch was the growing communications complex, through which people could keep their distance from the world but at the same time imagine that their domestic spheres were connected to a wider social fabric. (101)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Like Oedipa’s connection of such suburban networks to printed transistor circuits in The Crying of Lot 49, Spigel’s sense that these homes are “separate but identical,” strung together and controlled by the networks of communications, imagining connectedness but longing for distance from the whole, reveals a profoundly cold war”“influenced U.S. anxiety about collectivity, or what happens to individuality when the citizenry is wired not just to a central authority but to one another as well.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The connection between collectivity, or “massness,” and television originates in Marshall McLuhan’s thinking, particularly his suggestion that the “mass” in “mass-production” is not indicative “of size, but of an instant inclusive embrace. Such is also the character of ‘mass media.’ They are an indication, not of the size of their audiences, but of the fact that everybody becomes involved in them at the same time” (349). The mass, according to Lewis Lapham in his introduction to the 1994 edition of McLuhan’s Understanding Media, is what results when “[t]he individual voice and singular point of view disappears into the chorus of a corporate and collective consciousness” (xxi, emphasis mine). Lapham here echoes McLuhan’s own reckoning of the “outering” of the central nervous system produced by the wiring of the United States: “Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man–the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society”Â (3″“4, emphasis mine). The repeated conjunction of “corporate” and “collective” in the network is, for Marxist critics of the postmodern such as Fredric Jameson, inseparable from its capitalist inflection; as Jameson suggests: “our faulty representations of some immense communicational and computer network”–and thus, ostensibly, our representations of the masses who participate in these networks–“are themselves but a distorted figuration of something even deeper, namely, the whole world system of a present-day multinational capitalism” (36). By contrast, for McLuhan, the conjunction of “corporate” and “collective” in considerations of network culture is focused not on the structures of capital built upon the mass but rather on the mass as a kind of superorganism, the unification of multiple parts into one body.[30] “If there is any sense in deploring the growth of corporate and collective art forms such as the film and the press,” McLuhan goes on to argue, “it is surely in relation to the previous individualist technologies that these new forms corrode” (189). Among those individualist technologies, of course, is the novel in its putative obsolescence.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 For contemporary theorists of emergence and complexity, such a process of unification appears radically different than it does for critics of obsolescence. While Jameson imagines McLuhan’s wired-together “global village” as the dehumanized product of the totalization of capital (this despite understanding postmodernism as the late age of capital, wherein no such totalized structures survive), Kelly, for instance, understands the mass less in its “global” than in its “village” implications. Arguing that emergent, adaptive network technologies cannot survive on a mass scale without local adaptability, Kelly insists that “[t]he logic of the network induces regionalism and localism” (173) rather than planetary conformity and domination. The view from the standpoint of obsolescence is of course nowhere near so benign; television, from this perspective, has led to the disappearance of the individual within a mindless, uniform, crushing whole that functions primarily by leading the viewer to misunderstand his or her individuality through the structures of that multinational conglomerate. Thus, as Melley suggests, Lee’s assumption that the network is speaking directly to him through its broadcast of the assassination movies is one of the confusions inherent in the public experience of the media: “a misrecognition of generic, social . . . messages for private communications and sources of individual identity” (152). In this manner, for the novel of obsolescence, the massness of media address continually contradicts and is contradicted by its apparent enunciation of individuality. When the network addresses the individual–as in commercials that exhort the viewer to “be yourself” by purchasing corporate products–the viewer is assumed to overlook naïvely the massness of that address, instead equating individuality with mass consumption. Among the functions of the anxiety of obsolescence is thus to restore awareness of the “mass” in mass media, encouraging readers to return to an ostensibly pure source of individual experience: the novel.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The terror of such “corporate and collective” experiences of the media for the novel of obsolescence, then, encompasses both anxieties about the controlling web of international corporations and anxieties about a more bodily merger of individuals into a superorganism. In David Riesman’s Lonely Crowd, for instance, the media induces a corporate-driven group-think: “The mass media play the chief role in . . . reducing to impersonality and distributing over a wide area the personal styles developed by individuals and groups” (84). By contrast, in Kelly’s Out of Control, the interconnection of individuals via the network will produce rather than group-think a more literal merger, a hive mind: “what is contained in a human that will not emerge until we are all interconnected by wires and politics? The most unexpected things will brew in this bionic hivelike supermind” (13). In many popular representations of the hive mind–the most infamous being Star Trek‘s Borg collective–members of such a network can no longer function as individuals but instead become drones capable only of laboring toward collective goals. This anxiety about the hive mind emerges in part from a confused equation of human experiences of collectivity with the collectivities of beehives and ant colonies, in which “the intelligence of the colony actually relies on the stupidity of its component parts” (Johnson 97). In the equation of human massness with the hive or the colony, critics of obsolescence assume that individual intelligence will of necessity be lost. As Cyrus Patell argues, however, in reading the novels of Rudy Rucker, such loss of individual intelligence is not a given but an ideological assumption: “The utopian and post-individualistic idea that Rucker’s novels imagine is a hive populated not by drones but by individuals. The hive intelligence that would then emerge is beyond our current conception of intelligence as singular. What would it mean, Rucker’s novels ask, if intelligence were plural?” (296). To equate human collectivity with that of an ant colony is to assume that intelligence can be only singular, that it can be resident only within individuals, and that if intelligence begins to develop within a network, it must of necessity evacuate the component parts of the network. Such is one of the founding assumptions of post-Cartesian liberal individualism, which equates the discrete, rational, humanist (and, not incidentally, white, Western, male) individual with the very possibility of intelligence itself.[31]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 What such anxieties about massness and corporate intelligence miss is that, as individuals, we are all already hive minds; human consciousness exists in no unitary location but is rather an emergent phenomenon developed out of the complex interactions of millions of local agents. That the human body, and the brain in particular, may thus be understood as a giant parallel processor is deeply buried, however, under centuries of assumptions about the nature of individuality. As Kelly points out, one “great irony puzzling cognitive scientists is why human consciousness is so unable to think in parallel, despite the fact that the brain runs as a parallel machine” (339). A potential explanation may be found in the ideological assumption that “I” refers to a singular agent, and therefore the “I” of which I am conscious can think only serially. Even postmodernist theories that attempt to disrupt the primacy of the individual in contemporary culture posit a fragmentation of self, which suggests the breaking apart into pieces of a formerly or potentially unitary and coherent self, rather than arguing for that self’s inherent multiplicity. In this manner, just as the individual is imagined to be fractured but nonetheless singular, the participation of that individual in a networked mass is imagined in the novel of obsolescence to create not a plurality of intelligence but rather, as Johnston has suggested, “the ‘de-multiplication’ of human identity” (168). As in the Borg, networked intelligence, and thus networked identity, can never be more than one.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This odd connection between fragmentation and demultiplication of identity in network culture can be seen in Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 in the appropriately named Mucho Maas. Mucho, Oedipa’s husband, is introduced in the novel as “a disk jockey who worked further along the Peninsula and suffered regular crises of conscience about his profession” (12). Mucho’s relationship to his chosen medium is reminiscent of Raoul’s connection to television in V., an uncomfortable combination of dependence and loathing. Like Raoul, Mucho is an extension of the communications network, an encoder of its messages, working in its service–yet, unlike Raoul, as we shall see, it is not his industry’s “sponsor fetishes” he distrusts but the communicated product itself. He is perhaps well to be wary, as radio, part of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “culture industry”–a conjunction of collectivity and the corporate closer in its implications to Jameson’s rendering of multinational capital than to McLuhan–is deeply implicated in the novel’s exploration of the disappearance of the individual. “What is individual,” Horkheimer and Adorno posit, “is no more than the generality’s power to stamp the accidental detail so firmly that it is accepted as such. . . . In this way mass culture discloses the fictitious character of the ‘individual’ in the bourgeois era” (154″“55). The demultiplication of identity performed by the radio network (in an era that might more accurately be described as postbourgeois) creates a faceless mass in which “accidental details” come to replace genuine differences between individuals. The wiring of suburbia thus comes to produce what Lynn Spigel describes as an “antiseptic electrical space” (109), in which radio and television broadcasting serve as “a cultural filter that purifies the essence of an ‘American’ experience, relegating social and ideological differences . . . to a kind of programming ghetto” (112). Through this erasure of difference–a literal demultiplication of human identities–radio and television eliminate the need for uncomfortable contact with others. This process of “purification” is thus in part responsible for the “excluded middles” that Oedipa understands to have eliminated the “chances . . . for diversity” (CL49 181) in the United States; the network has exiled difference to the farthest reaches of the broadcasting spectrum.[32]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Mucho’s crises of conscience about radio seem to have only in part to do with his role in that purification as a sort of huckster for the system. His guilt is intended to be an indictment of radio as a medium of cultural exchange, particularly given his thoughts about his former life as a used-car salesman; he is aware of all of the negative stereotypes of that position, and yet, he claims, “at least he had believed in the cars” (CL49 13), the inference being a complete lack of belief in the products of the radio. His sense of complicity in radio’s exploitation of the least common denominator to construct a hive mind is, however, augmented by his simultaneous need for the medium itself, for the stratifications of the broadcasting spectrum, regardless of its products. Something has driven him into radio despite his clear lack of belief in its ends; Oedipa begins to touch on that something when she reveals her suspicion that “the disk jockey spot . . . was a way of letting the Top 200, and even the news copy that came jabbering out of the machine–all the fraudulent dream of teenage appetites–be a buffer between him and that lot” (15). In fact, Oedipa is not far from the truth, but it is significant to note that it is less the content of the radio–the Top 200, the news copy, the “fraudulent dream”–that serves this purpose for Mucho than the medium itself, the network.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Oedipa begins to understand the distinction by the end of the novel, as she comes to think of the wiring itself as part of “the secular miracle of communication” (CL49 180), a miracle that exists apart from the messages it carries. The networks of communication come to serve an iconic–or even oracular–role for Oedipa, in her quest; however, the object of Oedipa’s quest, unlike that of her (possible) namesake, is not to be discovered in a proper interpretation of the relationships between people, but rather in the relationships among things in their networked interconnections, as though the answer were not provided in the content of the message from the oracle at Delphi but in the mechanism of the oracle itself, the fact that the oracle spoke at all. Radio serves such an oracular function for Mucho, giving him not the answers to the meaning of his dreams but a vehicle by which he can avoid their threat. Mucho is besieged, five years after the fact, with nightmares about the used-car lot; once he is finally able to relate the dream to Oedipa, he reveals the locus of its horror in a sign (of course) hanging in front of the lot: “We were a member of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association. N.A.D.A. Just this creaking metal sign that said nada, nada, against the blue sky” (144). The radio, the “net” of communications, is all that can protect him from the abyss of his used-car-lot nightmares, all that stands between Mucho and nada. Much or nothing: the massness of communications is apparently all that separates Mucho from the void.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 However, this sense that safety from chaos can be found in any technology is, as I have pointed out, always a fundamental error in Pynchon; as Marcuse suggests, mass transportation and communication, mass production and consumption, and mass entertainment all “carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers and, through the latter, to the whole” (4), a connection that produces an ultimate one-dimensionality of society, a sameness. This sameness, as we have seen, is depicted in Pynchon’s early short story “Entropy” as a product of U.S. consumerism, which results in a devolution “from ordered individuality to a kind of chaos” (SL 88). Given the apparently entropic force of such massness, Mucho’s attempt to escape the void by using the networks of mass communication as a shield is doomed to failure.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Mucho’s ultimate merger with the radio network, however, is not metaphoric but frighteningly literal. On his reappearance late in the novel, he evidences an LSD-produced insight into the structures of communication, a bizarre understanding not of the human differences that distort the encoding and decoding process, but of the mysterious noise factor in the mechanical model of communication. In taping a live remote with Oedipa, after Hilarius’s capture, he refers to her as “Mrs. Edna Mosh.” When Oedipa asks, he tells her that “[i]t’ll come out the right way . . . I was allowing for the distortion on these rigs, and then when they put it on tape” (CL49 139). He’s developed a strange synesthesia with the radio, a chemical sense of oneness with the media. But while it’s true that the effects of LSD do seem, for Mucho, to produce the benefits of this understanding and control of communication, among the other effects of this deep interconnection with the media is a total loss of individual identity.[33] Like Gravity’s Rainbow‘s Slothrop, whose oneness with the rocket in the persona of Raketemensch produces a simultaneous fragmentation and massification of self–“Some believe,” the narrator tells us, nearing the end of the tale, “that fragments of Slothrop have grown into consistent personae of their own” (GR 742)–Mucho’s union with the radio triggers both a fracturing of his identity and a merger with some collective technological unconscious, an entry into the hive mind. As Funch, the station manager, tells Oedipa, “they’re calling him the Brothers N. He’s losing his identity, Edna, how else can I put it? Day by day, Wendell is less himself and more generic. He enters a staff meeting and the room is suddenly full of people, you know? He’s a walking assembly of man” (CL49 140). In this assembly of man, however, is not a true multiplicity of self, for the selves Mucho has fragmented into are generic; despite there seeming a crowd present wherever he appears, Mucho is not more in his massness, but less. Mucho, becoming part of the communications network, discovering that he can now do “spectrum analysis” in his head (142), is afflicted by a kind of human entropy, a devolution from individuality into sameness. He explains to Oedipa that he uses LSD not because he’s addicted, but because of the communications he receives: “Because you hear and see things, even smell them, taste like you never could. Because the world is so abundant. No end to it baby. You’re an antenna, sending out your pattern across a million lives a night” (143″“44). Mucho has in fact become an antenna, and a receiver, and in the process has lost his individuality in the “million lives” of the hive; as he attempts to demonstrate, any two people who say the same words–especially media-generated words like “rich, chocolaty goodness” (142)–are indistinguishable, inseparable. For the novel of obsolescence, the media collapses all into one.[34]

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 These anxieties about the disappearance of the individual into the massness produced by the world’s communications networks find their apotheosis in DeLillo’s Mao II. Bill Gray, a Pynchon-like reclusive novelist and the “arch-individualist” of the text, manages in the course of the novel to escape the watchful protection of his assistant, Scott, to emerge from his seclusion–and to enter the world of terrorist violence.[35] Ironically, this reemergence leads to Gray’s ultimate disappearance; hiding from mass culture is perhaps the only safe place for a writer, as “the disappearance of the author would seem in every case to be a disappearance into the materials of contemporary culture” (Tabbi, Postmodern 181).[36] In Mao II, terrorism is connected not simply to the spectacle, as argued in the last chapter, but to the threat of massness as well. The spread of terrorism via both literal explosions and the coverage and transmission of those explosions by television represents the end state of networked communications, the final proliferation of the materials of contemporary culture, and the triumph of the communications complex over the lone voice of the novelist. The fraught relationship between the pervasive violence of televisual communication and a waning print culture is a crisis, however, that has developed over the course of DeLillo’s career; traces of it may be seen as early as Americana. In the last meeting David Bell attends before beginning his nightmarish quest into the heart of America, the executives of David’s television network discuss the potential introduction of the “live satellite pickup” into their coverage of Vietnam. The problem they feel must be solved is, quite simply, that “[r]atings on the warcasts are way down” (62); the immediacy and danger of live transmission would beef things up, bringing the war via the network directly into the U.S. home. Ted Warburton insists, however, that such a connection is “ghoulish beyond belief “ (62). Warburton’s concerns, almost throwaway and ignored within the context of the meeting, are clearly intended to be taken more seriously by the reader. Warburton is, as David’s narration informs us, the “tribal consciousness” (62) of the network, but the “tribe” of a long-gone era must be clearly distinguished from the “mass” of the televisual era. Warburton’s tribal values are displayed in a series of mysterious, anonymous memos distributed to the network at large:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 messages from Zwingli, Lévi-Strauss, Rilke, Chekov, Tillich, William Blake, Charles Olsen and a Kiowa chief named Satanta. Naturally the person responsible for these messages became known throughout the company as the Mad Memo-Writer. I never referred to him that way because it was much too obvious a name. I called him Trotsky. (21)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Trotsky’s memos espouse the values of an older, individualist, print-based culture that theorizes, contemplates, strikes moral stances, a culture Neil Postman has referred to as “Typographic America” (Amusing 30). Warburton’s conscience is that of the writer; his opinion of these live broadcasts from the war zone is closest, perhaps, to the novelist’s own sense of the “ghoulish” power of such intimate connection to images of destruction.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 White Noise reexamines the issue of the mass embrace produced by television’s coverage of violence and disaster from a vantage point of nearly fifteen years later, and it is clear that the live telecasts from Vietnam have directed the development of television over those years. Jack Gladney’s family members, as a rule, enforce their unity by watching television together on Friday nights; one particular Friday night, early in the novel, the entire family is mesmerized by the images of destruction they find there, the “floods, earthquakes, mud slides, erupting volcanoes.” Worse, Gladney’s family gets caught up in the hysteria of these images: “Every disaster made us wish for more, for something bigger, grander, more sweeping” (64). Gladney, on the one hand a scholar (and thus writer), but on the other a self-designated scholar of Hitler studies, of the twentieth-century cult of celebrity, lives in a rather more attenuated relationship to the culture of the mass media than does Americana‘s Ted Warburton, having clearly forsaken the tribe for the mass. Nonetheless, in his discomfort with his reaction to these piped-in pictures of disaster, Gladney seeks out Alfonse Stompanato, the chair of the department of “American environments,” asking him, “Why is it . . . that decent, well-meaning and responsible people find themselves intrigued by catastrophe when they see it on television?” Alfonse responds: “Because we’re suffering from brain fade. We need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information” (64″“65). Jack, still unsettled, tries to clarify: “You’re saying it’s more or less universal, to be fascinated by TV disasters.” Alphonse responds: “For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is” (65). Jack is all too willing to accept this line of reasoning; as a scholar, he thinks of himself as apart from “most people,” and yet the novel progressively makes clear that he, like the rest of his family, is part of a wholly mediated, networked environment. He is wired into the mass consciousness– which wiring makes acceptable his “celebration” of Hitler, given that “[w]e couldn’t have television without him” (63)–but with just enough remaining individual self-consciousness to need to seek absolution for his “universal” fascinations.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 DeLillo’s Mao II is replete with similar communications of mass disaster and hysteria–transmitted within the content of the novel itself, but also reproduced within the still images on the flyleaves separating the novel’s sections–beginning with the mass wedding conducted at Yankee Stadium by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, through post”“soccer game riots, to the desperate grief of the mourners at the funeral of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Interestingly, all these images of massness, as broadcast on television and described in the novel’s content, are given to the reader from the point of view of Karen, Scott’s (and Gray’s) lover. As suggested earlier, Karen is affected by these images almost to the point of delirium; unlike Gladney’s family in White Noise, however, rather than craving greater and greater disasters, she imagines that this absorption into the spectacle can create a common bond of humanity among those who watch it, resulting in an intersubjective experience of human understanding. Mao II repeatedly undermines this reading, however, by treating Karen as its best example of the death of the individual, the wholly vacated subjectivity created by the massness of the electronic media: the drone in the Moonie hive has no identity of her own but takes on those personae of those around her. Gray and Scott, caught up in their own individualist battles, do not read Karen’s overempathic responses as evidence of any void. Karen, says Gray, is “smart about people. Looks right through us. Watches TV and knows what people are going to say next. Not only gets it right but does their voices” (65). But what Gray misses is that Karen in fact bears a striking resemblance to the television; she does not understand people but channels them. She is the multiplicitous and yet demultiplied subject of the future, a future that, as the narrator tells us, “belongs” not to people, but to crowds (16).

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 This anxious acknowledgment of the “mass” created by the media networks that carry daily images of crowd hysteria is symptomatic of the impossibility, for Gray, of maintaining his solipsistic, isolated, writer’s life; as he tells Brita during their photo session: “Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated” (MII 41). This link in Gray’s thought between terrorism and the fall of the novelist, between this fall and an encroaching corporate culture, is a central part of the critique of information society; remember Jameson’s reading of such novelistic renderings of communications networks as “distorted figurations” of multinational capitalism (36). Gray makes this connection literal: the reason writers can no longer affect human consciousness is the fact of their “incorporation”–both bodily assumption and re-creation as commodity–within the consciousness industry. As Joseph Tabbi points out: “Mao II is about all the ways in which the mainstream writer in America can become absorbed and incorporated not only as a ‘consumer event’ but as yet another cultural narrative” (Postmodern 197). The mass absorbs the writer–even the writer who resists–and reincorporates his dissident position as part of the dominant ideology.[37]

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 In this fashion the massification produced by television’s network reveals its deep political implications; the loss of individuality experienced as a demultiplication of identity and an absorption into a hive mind is equated in the novel of obsolescence with the disintegration of the modern political achievements of democracy. Robert Golden describes Pynchon’s concern with the political ramifications of massness, reading in V. his apparent conviction that “the increasing role of the masses in political life means the end of individual choice and responsibility” (5). John Duvall likewise explores, through DeLillo’s representations of television as a mediating force in White Noise, the novelist’s treatment of “the ways in which contemporary America is implicated in protofascist urges” (127). Fascism, however, while the most obvious target of such critique, is not the only potential outcome of the hive mind. In fact, fascism, constructed through the top-down control of an identityless mass of drones, violates the principles of emergence on which the hive mind is founded, producing not a spontaneous self-organization but an imposed structure. A true beehive or ant colony–as already discussed, significantly flawed models for human collectivity–is a bottom-up structure, with no supervising ruler. (As Steven Johnson points out in Emergence, the adoption of human monarchical metaphors to describe bee and ant “queens” misses the fact that in such collectives, the queen’s sole purpose is reproduction; she has no authority whatsoever over the other members of the swarm or over the swarm’s holistic direction.) Such a colony, rather than fascist in its political structure, would be more accurately thought of as communist in nature, the bottom-up self-organization of identityless drones working toward a dimly perceived common good.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 These connections between the hive mind and communism, however, are redolent of the stream of popular films and novels produced during the cold war that depicted the devastation wreaked upon a society of free individuals by an identityless mass of invaders: the pod people in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; the nematodelike multiplication when divided of The Thing; Them!‘s ravenous ants; The Blob‘s amorphous mass of strawberry jam. As Patell points out, however, such anxious cultural representations of the devouring of the individual by teeming masses of identical drones have an earlier precedent in “nineteenth-century yellow peril fictions . . . which depicted all Asians as insect-like automata who, if allowed to immigrate and participate in U.S. democracy, would inevitably overrun the United States and assimilate its culture” (291). That such ethnocentricity and xenophobia may in part still underwrite anxieties about the emergence of hive mind in network culture, even if unconsciously, can be inferred from a number of discomforting representations in the novels of obsolescence previously discussed–Mao II‘s endless images of Middle Eastern terror and hysteria; White Noise‘s disturbing obsession with the races and ethnicities of its tangential characters, as well its central character’s invention of “Hitler studies”–as well as other representations not previously touched upon: Gravity’s Rainbow‘s nervousness about the vivid nature of blackness in contrast to the whiteness of death, as well as the novel’s inclusion of “Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes” (690) among the characters of Slothrop’s final disintegration; Vineland‘s suggested connection between the undead Thanatoids and Eastern mysticism. None of this is to suggest conscious racism on the part of either DeLillo or Pynchon, as each has clearly taken, both in his fiction and in his nonfiction, a series of oppositional stances with respect to the dominant culture; Pynchon, for instance, in his article “A Journey into the Mind of Watts,” expressly confronts the violence inherent in U.S. race relations in the mid-1960s. This is, however, intended to point to the deep alignment between the contemporary U.S. investment in individualism and the hierarchical social structures that have long supported white supremacy and Western domination.[38] It is not accidental that, in a nation in which individualism is represented as the political ideal, otherness is often equated with the loss of individuality; the television network, in binding a disparate citizenry together, thus threatens the loss of the individual’s primacy and the equation of the privileged form of the individual–white, male, Western–with those others he has for so long dominated. Equating such a wired-together populace, a hive mind (not unrelated to that singular “mind” of Watts), with fascism serves as a simultaneous diversionary tactic and a means of protecting individualism’s sanctity.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 As Patell points out, however, in suggesting that intelligence is not necessarily but only ideologically singular, other possibilities for networked emergence nonetheless remain. Remembering that the examples of the ant colony and the beehive are insufficient models for human collectivity, we must ask: if, in the popular imaginary, the top-down organization of mindless drones replicates the political structures of fascism, and the bottom-up organization of mindless drones replicates the structures of communism, what revolutionary possibilities might be contained in the bottom-up organization of complex, plural intelligences? What if more resulted not in the destruction of individual subjectivities and identities in the superorganistic mass, but in a spontaneous self-organization of still-extant individuals? What if more can really be more, rather than less? Johnson points out in exploring the politics of emergence that such structures of bottom-up organization, particularly in their association with technology, are today most frequently aligned with the libertarian Right’s drive to escape governmental interference, but similar weblike emergent political structures are also being explored and used by activists working toward progressive causes, most notably in the organization and coverage of the numerous anti”“World Trade Organization protests by small, independent, but cooperative groups. However one may feel about the anarchists and their tactics, this leaderless group of movements has been, with cause, frequently credited for using both the technologies and the structures of the network in a manner that breathes new life into democracy by reempowering the individuals it was meant to serve.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 More is different, as Kevin Kelly repeatedly points out in Out of Control; moreover, true difference requires more–more individuals who are more interconnected. As Kelly argues: “a plurality of truly divergent components can only remain coherent in a network. No other arrangement–chain, pyramid, tree, circle, hub–can contain true diversity working as a whole” (27).[39] Kelly does indicate that there exists a level of connectivity beyond which networks themselves cease functioning, a point at which more interconnection becomes too much; the possibilities to be gained from networked, distributed intelligences nonetheless outweigh the disadvantages for him: “When the sum of the parts can add up to more than the parts, then that extra being (that something from nothing) is distributed among the parts” (469). For the novelist of obsolescence, the network seems inescapably prone to runaway, to the continual piling up of positive feedback until the system self-destructs. In these novels, the free flow of information across the network results in information’s too-muchness, and in that too-muchness is the end of information’s freedom; by the same token, in the free flow of individuals through the networks’ masses is the too-muchness of humanity, and in that too-muchness is the end of individual freedom. Despite obvious questions that stand to be asked about the nature of the individual–particularly who gets to be one–in such an environment, it seems to the novelist of obsolescence, in a world of information overload and the entropic devolution into sameness, that the individual act of reading an individual text cannot survive.

  • [30] The term “superorganism” arises from the work of William Wheeler, who first began to conceive of emergent behavior by studying ant colonies as wholes rather than as massive numbers of individuals. See Kelley 11″“13 on Wheeler’s contributions to contemporary theories of emergence.
  • [31] See again Melley, who reads such assumptions about the singularity of intelligence in conspiracy theory as a means of perpetuating liberal individualism: “To understand the organization as enemy, one must first make two tacit assumptions. First, one must conceive of the organization not as a system of complex relationships and structures, but as a unified totality. Second, one must imagine it as an active, living agency, against whose will to subdue and incorporate one must struggle. In order to save the imperiled liberal agent from incorporation into a larger controlling body, in other words, that social body must itself be imagined as a liberal individual, as an agent with a coherence and identity of its own, a sort of superindividual” (58).
  • [32] Spigel also points out a dystopian underside to this electrical purity, in which such “cleansing” backfires: “television’s antiseptic spaces were themselves subject to pollution as new social diseases spread through the wires and into the citizen’s home” (113). I return to these fears of ethnic and sexual “otherness” and their connections to mass-mediated society in the concluding chapter.
  • [33] See the discussion in Chapter 3 of the effects in White Noise of Dylar, which opens the individual so completely to the products of the mass media that identity becomes inseparable from it. Along these lines, it is useful to remember that Dylar’s purpose is alleviating the fear of death, and that in Vineland Mucho will reminisce, along with Zoyd, about the knowledge LSD gave him that he would never die.
  • [34] Thus David Foster Wallace, in the title of his essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” reverses the expectations for the novel of obsolescence. See Chapter 5.
  • [35] See DeLillo’s suggestion in Vince Passaro’s “Dangerous Don DeLillo” that Mao II explores the conflict between “the arch individualist and the mass mind” (76).
  • [36] Even more ironically, with the release of Underworld, DeLillo emerged from his own “seclusion” to give numerous interviews and embark upon a limited reading tour. The ironies of this emergence are epitomized by his appearance at the National Book Awards dinner (see Atlas).
  • [37] John Fiske, in Television Culture, thinks interestingly about the reincorporation of the oppositional into the dominant, particularly in terms of what has been called “inoculation theory,” in which a small amount of opposition is “allowed” by the dominant culture as protection against real opposition. One may perhaps see a case of the real-life emergence and incorporation of the writer in the summer 1997 example of DeLillo’s ostensible model for Bill Gray, Thomas Pynchon. With the publication of Mason & Dixon, Pynchon moved into the public spotlight in ways thought unimaginable mere months earlier; his reclusiveness was in fact incorporated by the media as “yet another cultural narrative.” During the buildup to the novel’s release, Nancy Jo Sales’s “Meet Your Neighbor, Thomas Pynchon,” ran in New York magazine, and once the book was out, “Where’s Thomas Pynchon?” aired on CNN and James Bone’s “Mystery Writer” appeared in the London Times Magazine, including a photograph Bone obtained by stalking Pynchon outside his son’s preschool.
  • [38] One might also see Michael Bérubé’s assessment of Pynchon’s attempts at progressive racial politics, which he argues “too often rely on a liberal sentimentalism indistinguishable from exoticization, and whose denunciations of racists and racism are welcome but sometimes cartoonish” (36).
  • [39] Admittedly, the conclusion that Kelly draws from this argument–“This is why the network is nearly synonymous with democracy or the market” (27)–is more aligned with the libertarian ethos of the dot-com “revolution” than with any genuine social change, but the implications of such connection between the network and diversity are revealing nonetheless.
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    Source: http://www.anxietyofobsolescence.com/chapter-4/massification/