“. . . the narcissistic play of Internet surfing in one way fulfills the Protestant ethic, which stressed a radical focus on the self.”
Bruce Benderson, “Sex and Isolation,” 2007
"You cannot have it both ways. You can see it all but the price you pay is to sabotage emotional involvement. In the sense of having an engaging story and so on so on... In Gonzo sex you see a camera man, and the camera man tells to the actors, 'move like that,' and a woman who is being screwed slides to the camera and asks 'am I ok like this' and they make fun... I think this is the high point of censorship. They are afraid of even a minimum of narrative."
This room is in an apartment complex and yet being in it is the furthest from another human being you could possibly be. It's dark and there is the dim glow of a Macbook which is plugged into an outlet a few feet from the desk. A series of vague search engine terms leads to a wave of untrustworthy Russian filesharing websites. Putting the machine at risk, a kind of risk which is better than the alternative, which might be taken anyway, if the chance was there. There's no sound other than the clicking of keys and hum of fans inside the machine.
Sometimes figures move in the hallway and small shadows break up the solid yellow crack of light underneath the door. Not too often, because it's late. So there's the question of what the people attached to those shadows are doing outside their own apartments. The only imaginable answer is walking to the staircase. They move swiftly down the three flights, and out a block and a half to the 7-11. There everything is bright fluorescence and kaleidoscopic rows of candy wrappers. Not far removed from the Macbook screen if your vision is blurry enough. Anyway reach for something along the lines of a Red Bull, AMP, 5-Hour Energy, Monster, Mountain Dew, NOS, Pepsi Max, or Rockstar. Because the desire to sleep is an outmoded one tied to the idea of a physically active workday. The kind of day that exhausts you in a biologically understandable way. Exhaustion as it exists now makes it difficult to actually fall asleep, and requires huge doses of caffeine and sugar (at minimum) to push the body through its malfunctioning. Greater and greater chemical effort to push the revolting body through less time for sleep and more time for feet on gas pedals and eyes on screens.
Finally the screen is filled with a stranger's public confessional and there are the images: a black eye and a bruised collarbone. This and that. The bodies are flattened and incandescent: made available, and cheap, and their cheapness and availability makes everything seem so open. Creators of content, and the consumers of content, and maybe even the people who are hurt in order that they be made into content, always believe in the openness of everything even as everything is closed off from them. You can see this: the images are paired with single lines of lowercase text, uninflected bits of commentary, the surface features of a life which reduce narrative and context down to what it always has been in real pornography, which is nothing. Nothing except in the case that it furthers the reach of the image pornographically. Pornography being, of course, in the end, a use. There is nothing sexual here.
The glow of the LCD screen is refracted into every space imaginable. It lights the path away from the world. And the path leads to a field of barren soil which is scraped up with bare aching hands until there is only a shadow at the bottom of a deep crater. A man clicking away in the dark, picking at a scab, a hole that can't be dug out completely.
“The aim of the Process is a profound transformation of consciousness.”
General Jorge Rafael Videla, 1976
Lost in that hole for a moment. Then awake in a small crowd of others, all in baby blue hospital gowns, bare legs, folding chairs, curved ceiling, facing a podium. The Doctor. Coat all white, gloves all white, hair and glasses flat black. Seeming somehow to be real and yet merely projected at once. Like looking at a picture with 3D glasses.
“The essential parts of you are going to be brought out into the air where they belong.” He speaks with some kind of centipede voice. It gives you a headache. The crowd nods along and tries to ignore it. He has no body language: when he speaks, his mouth is the only thing that moves. Rigid.
“Your body will be made fully visible and observable. Which is the safest any of us can hope to be. Flesh opened up and out, mind sealed inside. And you will be there in your room, fully yourself for the first time. It is important to understand how vital you all are in the furtherance of our project here. Many people are not so lucky to be born with the strength of character which has allowed all of you to receive this opportunity. The limited resources of the Hospital do not allow us to perform this operation on everyone. Hopefully that day will come. But keep in mind: many remain in the basements and sub-basements from which you have all risen, and you are the ones who have proven yourselves worthy of this new way of life.”
The gathered crowd applauds politely. The Doctor doesn't move. The lights come up and people are led away one by one back to their rooms.
It's dark. Then slowly: cold surface, white light, sterile room. Feeling in the pit of –
The light is breaking up. Red lines cut through buzzing fluorescence. Feeling in the pit of my stomach. The lines coalesce. A shadow forms and a ceiling is outlined. Three dimensions. Eyes no longer lolling in my head but move with purpose and I can see the red lines are coming out of me: wiggling flesh cords which emerge out of a gash in my gut. There isn't anything like pain. Can't –
Body inert. Eyes working only. Stomach opened like a pair of soft cabinet doors. Amorphous shapes of human organs floating in the empty white room anchored to a mass of flesh. Blood glistening flesh tethers. My body is inside out. Vivisected and spread around this bare cell like a dozen balloons tied to a chair in a waiting room. I can't look at it anymore. Shut my eyes tight for a long time. Feel that I expected this somehow. Try to move arms and legs: nothing. Find that head and neck however have a limited range. Turn slowly and lay my cheek cold against the metal slab. Open my eyes and avoid the sight of my condition in everything but peripheral vision. Look.
There is a door off to the side. It leads into a hallway. I can only see the bare outline: floor and walls and ceiling exactly like this room – glowing empty white – but recessed, different kinds of shadows, outline of another door half-visible across the hall. Stare into that space for a long time, wait for someone to pass by. Something does: a gray silhouette, shade of a shade, nearing insubstantial, wisps and smoky feelers, passes by and opens the other door just wide enough to fit inside. Gone.
Nothing happens for a long time. I can feel my gut ache, vaguely. Then a nurse appears: coat and gloves white, glasses and hair flat black. Syringe full of bubbly yellow fluid. I look up at her and don't know what to say or if I should or can say anything. She presses the needle into the little ridge of skin around the wound in my stomach.
Somewhere an alarm goes off.
Morning and evening.
Morning and evening.
“The technological and political conquest of the transcending factors in human existence, so characteristic of advanced industrial civilization, here asserts itself in the instinctual sphere: satisfaction in a way which generates submission and weakens the rationality of protest.”
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, 1964
A sliver of sky is visible through the tiny window near the bed. Seen from this odd angle it forms a red and gold isosceles triangle framed on all sides by dusky white walls. Sets hazy gray lines in the corner where the ceiling meets two walls. This is an oppressively heavy morning. Okay. Nothing seems really capable of moving for a long time. A perfectly still room like this can be uncanny to a degree that seems ridiculous. The round chair which sits at an odd angle near the desk seems at once to repel any human presence – its design is self-evidently uncomfortable if you have any knowledge of human anatomy or the usual design of furniture designed for sitting – and yet demand it. And it doesn't move, either way. Which is why the morning is so heavy. It's wrought with this kind of feeling. A room that demands and refuses any action. A room that is full of objects, none of which are alive, that need to be manipulated. Naturally there comes an expectation that at some point they're going to start manipulating themselves, or someone else is going to come in and starting stealing or wrecking things, or something. And speculation that maybe that would be the better situation. Regardless of the explanation, the feeling is there.
Up. The laptop opens smoothly and after a tap the screen lights up. Calming because things are being done. Entered password and cracked open can of Redbull. Refrigerator empty. Sizzling yellow liquid drains itself out of the narrow can. Old emails cascade across the browser window.
Clock on the bottom right of the screen reads 7:15. Clothes. Spray deodorant. Door opened and closed. Down the hallways, staircase. Outside. Everything half-lit. The parking lot feels perfectly natural compared to the bedroom or the red sky above it. Each car being an extension of its owner to a much more personal degree than anything else. Which is why all the expensive cars sitting outside this rathole apartment building are so beautiful, but the cheap ones are just depressing. You can feel a person rising above his station if he has a nice car, even if it sits outside a trash living space. A car is all American dream and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps. Macbooks too. They're invigorating: you really can't help but believe the advertising. What kind of cynic would you be otherwise?
Unfortunately this particular car isn't as inspiring as some others in the lot. Gray scratched and dented money sink. The mark of a person who hasn't yet come to believe in himself: if he did, he'd have a better job and a nicer car, and be on his way to getting out of this building. Every ding on this vehicle denotes a lack of self-respect. People who love themselves show it by owning the right things. Loving yourself is loving your appearance. Not caring for your appearance is not caring. Ugliness is wrong. Amoral. Depraved. Of course not much that can be done about it at this point.
The gray car rolls out of the lot and onto a series of narrow streets. Eventually onto the parkway. A strip of loving earth-mother greenery separates two lanes of disciplined industrial hypermasculinity. The term parkway techncally refers to a specific type of highway with those nice tree-lined medians or some otherwise landscaped surroundings. Usually controlled-access: filthy soot-covered signs before the exits remind truckers they are not welcome here. Americana. An experience of nature not too far removed from literally any other in this world. Glittering silver coins fall into the gaping maw of the automatic toll booth.
Who cares how many hours later and they're falling again. Now the light is dusky in a different way: it has a levity to it, not weighed down by the receding night. Back to the apartment building, the buzzy light of the stairwell, the little room with the Macbook. Water boils on the stove as a video loads on the screen. A little fleshy red bar tracks the progress of a video diary entry. It's not much of a video diary since the screen is completely black for the duration of the video. Nothing but the quavering voice of what sounds like a young man. Talking, endlessly. A suicide attempt is related; several dreams; personal accounts of emptiness and unfulfilled desires. The name on the account that uploaded the videos is “Poiesis.”
One video and then the next. A third is titled “Another Dream of the White Door.” A fourth, “Failures of Industrial Civilization.” Fifth, “Suffering.” The titles sit in cemetery rows above what would otherwise be the place where the action occurs. The last video, “IATROPHOBIA,” plays through twice. Then a third time.
Then the account information pops up and one sentence reads: “I'm done with this project, I think, and won't be participating in this community anymore – there's not much to be gotten out of it, and it's time to move on to pursuits more grounded in reality.” And the next reads: “I might check this account rarely for messages from people who stumble upon it, but I don't see myself doing that for very long.” A little box underneath the last video says Published on August 6, 2010. The date in the bottom right corner of the computer screen reads 4/26/2012.
“ […] a half dozen other ex-military men directly involved in kidnapping, torture, and murder in the secret camps also came forward and were featured, day after day, in radio and television, in newspapers and magazines. They included […] 'Dr. Death,' an obstetrician/gynecologist who tortured and sold babies as a member of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police.”
– Marguerite Feitlowitz, A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture, 1999
I open my eyes and find myself in the white room still. My guts aren't hanging out of me: not even a scar. I touch my stomach. It's bare. I don't remember how this happened.
I want to know where the shade went when it disappeared into that door across the hall.
I get up and walk slowly over to my own open doorway. Queasy. Peek out and see a nurse walking away from me, down the hall to the left. I don't know if it's the same one from before. She walks with this almost parodically hyper-exaggerated sultry '50s housewife style.
I look the other way, see nothing, cross the hallway and touch the handle to the door. I can't move for a while. Some kind of absurd, gnashing dread fills up in me when I touch the door. Black pit of tar in my gut. The hallway seems to rotate. I'm in front of a black wall surrounded by trees. Firing squad in front of me. Everything seems to freeze even as the white fluorescent lights in the ceiling continue to buzz and at the same time, almost behind it, I can't stop watching myself get shot against a wall by the Doctor . Eventually the image settles into a single static frame and slowly, slowly dissipates and I'm left with my hand on the door, the hallway, the white corners, the handle turning –
Black maw. Falling. The door is a hungry mouth. Into its gullet. Landing. Out for a while, then – The apparition. Everything dark but faint gray silhouette ahead of me. Ground soft and giving. Walk toward it but don't get any closer. Long time walking. Then a point of light. Getting bigger. The ghost escapes into it. I follow. Black wall. Line of trees. Line of men in white coats. Guns. The silhouette is gone, dissolved in the sunlight.
The Doctor. Shark mouth. Cramped crowded rows of teeth. White coat, white gloves, black hair, black eyes.
Somewhere an alarm goes off.
I can picture you rolling in that blackness and speaking, just loud enough to break up the static of your machine. I wonder where you are since you told us you had said everything you wanted to say. The little bit of work you left us is all we have to go on, and there is something cruel and desperate about our situation that you maybe don’t see in your own anymore. You’re either dead or locked up or just the way you were, maybe still doing the same things under a different name. I can’t imagine what’s in that blackness even as I squint into it, get my face up close to the screen hoping to catch a glimpse of light under your bedroom door, a digital clock, or something. I can picture your brown hair thrown down across your face in a halfway conscious swoop, your black clothes, your pale face, your skinny torso which always seems to be held crooked in air. I see you prone on your floor relating the compulsive facts of your life. I don’t know who your parents are. I’m sure you live with them. There is so much I want to know about how you live and what’s happened to you. How. What I can’t find the words for now is the situation that’s lead us to this, the buildup of this much cultural ephemera (and I know culture is the thing you hate most), the backwaters of the stupid fucking internet that brought me into your pitch black bedroom like a blind child. I have to reject you and yet I feel like I’m attached to you to a degree that prevents my usual prejudices from getting in the way. I know who I am right now, but there is always that black pit, with you rolling around inside it, whispering failures and inevitabilities that I don’t know how to break down yet.
The cursor is a white arrow framed in a single black line. It hovers over a gray rectangle labeled SEND. Hovers. Hovers.