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The Hermetic Comfort Zone of The Post-Modern Self

Tethered — Untethered. Both are mirages
Devoured and so deeply absorbed by the expression and survival of the self; petrified by the influx of doubt and failures inherent to the creative process with its increasingly higher challenges; hiding numb in the golden prisons of the corporate world; are we missing the point?

Chien–Chi Chang @Magnum Photos On Instagram Photography from new book JET LAG ‘Wanderlust becomes rootlessness: the masterful demystification of a myth’
A requiem for a massacre is playing full volume in the Middle East. We don’t hear. A sectarian battlefield — open air to everyone’s knowledge, has become the cradle of one of the most violent state-projects –“Rush, O Muslims, to your state,” declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS’s leader, with its accessible propaganda material live on YouTube defying the darkest cynicism of some video games and Hollywood 3D peplums, with pompous symphonies.

The summer is in transit in Syria. It makes no difference.

Headset pulled back on. We curl in. Click ‘Mood’ on Spotify. Pick ‘Feelin Good’. Shuffle the playlist with Get Up Offa That Thing by James Brown. We don’t. Curved on the iPhone, caressing its oblong shell with clap dancing fingers, we’re multi-tasking. Busy.

Are we in denial? Despite today’s most sophisticated information technologies, we’re left impotent facing the Syrian dark maize. Not as good a story as say Dante’s Hollywood Inferno: ‘Martin Sheen’s War’ (2011) greatly narrated by Mark Seal (@VanityFair), or the beautifully written and so personal ‘The Death of Patient Zero (Stephanie)’ by Tom Junod (@Esquire)? And who would have understood anything about ISIS without What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood (@TheAtlantic)? Is it partly because rare are the ones assigned for Syrian stories to reach us with the same passion and line of credit?

“No one doubts that innocent men, women and children have been the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. And there no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime.” –Joe Biden, US Vice President since 2009.

For the last four years, Syria has played in front of our screens a slo–mo dance of death; fragmented stories dispersed along millions of other snippets of information. What is left to build empathy if we cannot collectively care with devoted attention to the massacre of a people? What if we were stripped out of our identity, territory, and safety — denied long-term asylum in a seemingly growing indifference? Undesired. Pariah.

Why does it all seem so far and abstract until migrants are infiltrating holiday mooners’ cars on highways, ruining their road trip to the sea? “The migration of poor people to rich countries is a phenomenon overloaded with toxic associations, a subject politicised before it has been analysed.” — That is how Ian Birrell (@guardian) starts his review on Paul Collier’s book ‘Exodus: ‘Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century’.

‘Close your eyes’. The new curated self.

Enclosed in the altered reality of The New Curated Self and its dual identity, physical and virtual, we are curators as never before. Even our relation to others seems layered into invisible hierarchies and systems: the ‘friends’ we trace and copycat on FB to perfect our social ascension; the ‘friends’ we mock on the same platform for their changes, misfortunes, or weakness; the celebrities we trace (sadistically?) to watch their rise and fall with not much empathy either; to the people we ‘delete’ in a blink of eyes when they ‘drag’ us down the social echelons. We want to control risks, reduce the hypothesis of pain, and stay away from any form of ‘depressive’ otherness. Why?
Photography series extract from book CLOSE YOUR EYES (SPBH) by Gareth McConnell
Photography series extract from book CLOSE YOUR EYES (SPBH) by Gareth McConnell
Photography series extract from book CLOSE YOUR EYES (SPBH) by Gareth McConnell Interview by Dazed Magazine
“There is something deeply suffocating in the life today in the prosperous West. The suburbanisation of the soul proceeds at an unnerving pace. Tyranny becomes docile and subservient, and a soft totalitarianism prevails, as obsequious as a wine waiter. Nothing is allowed to distress or unsettle us. The politics of the playground rules us all.”
J.G. Ballard, Extremes Metaphors (2004 interview with Jeannette Baxter)
‘Liquid Modernity’ Shifting away from the whirling motion of anxiety angst
In 2000, in his book ‘Liquid Modernity’, the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman ‘examines how we have moved away from a ‘heavy’ and ‘solid’, hardware-focused modernity to a ‘light’ and ‘liquid’, software-based modernity’.

‘He stresses the new burden of responsibility that fluid modernism placed on the individual when traditional patterns would be replaced by self-chosen ones. The result is a normative mindset with emphasis on shifting rather than on staying which can lead a person astray towards a prison of their own existential creation.’

Skin branding. Retract in self-adornment.

As a prelude of the radicalisation of the individual cult, the short documentary Skin Branding (2006) questions the act of tattooing. The surge of tattoos and its proliferation in just a few years, turned its consumers and artists into radical publishers, building a state in the state with its self-created memorials, political statements, gods and muses, art and museums. The act of tattooing, a joyful — although painful practice, for its dangerously limited space of permanent printing, might be one of the most tamed seditions of a double role: the master and the jailer, accomplices of the individual journey and its imperial narrative. Between self-esteem and selfdefense, highs and lows, free will and its talismans, the act of tattooing is the revolution petrified in an autocracy.

When removing ‘outdated’ tattoos, the self-inflicting tyranny — notably an increased pain, induces the intrinsic right to fail as part of the creative process. Alike the Torah scrolls buried in a cemetery of sacred texts, not to be destroyed; the body buries its scars soon recovered with new messages. In Skin Branding, Amber tells us about the pain felt to remove her lion — along with seven other testimonies ‘on wearing tattoos’ by eight New Yorkers (at the time, under 30). Their voices intertwine with East-Village (cult) tattoo artist, Stephanie Tamez, and her reflections on her craft.

In David Lynch’s film Wild at Heart (1990), actor Nick Cage says: “This is a snakeskin jacket… and for me it’s a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.”

Twenty-five years later, the body is the ‘snakeskin’ of branded self-expression and belief in personal freedom; ‘I’m the Brand’ individual carries his layers of personal history, as if tattoos preluded to the 21st migratory condition. With its talismans, the body is shifting from places to places, loaded of memories; erasing traces in the snow.
“…The assumption that our bodies are an extension of the ‘American Dream’ — blank canvases of a meritocracy where we can paint our own dreams and achieve our goals if we devote enough hard work, money and time to get the job done — the puritan ethic interpreted within the culture of narcissism.”
“Human beings push each other into such enormous situations in the name of love, and unless you are able to develop yourself, understand yourself, you will die inside.” In Pearly Gates, Anastasiya Lazurenko investigates sexuality ‘to understand what is behind the cliches and stereotypes that men and women have about the notion of ‘sexy’.”
The body-caravan moves on. The dogs bark.

Ethereal silhouettes slide with tiny rolling cases from airports to airports, loading their digital toys with ever more self-portraits and intimate diaries. Online, the claim to take back full control is now palpable. The fantasy to escape digital traceability and its data driven user-generated content, claims for a new human right: the right to be forgotten. That’s also what Amy Winehouse in the documentary Amy by Asif Kapadia, claims for: “If I could give it all back just to walk down the street with no hassles, I would do it.”

‘The right to be forgotten’ will instead fuel a frenzy of businesses focusing on ‘time-capsule repackaging’, ‘data blasting techniques’ and even ‘time-capsule urns’. That’s the irony: we can’t be left with nothing at all. Our need of memorabilia will always turn us into our best enemies for accumulation.

In ‘Liquid Modernity’, Bauman’s vision is prescient of an eel-world of perpetual movement. We — the radical individuals sealed in the projection and contemplation of the self (its endless creation), are drifting apart. Irresponsible. Assertive. Alienated to freedom. Facing abyssal solitude at each crossroad. Surviving landslides of failed decisions veiled behind powered postures. Neurotic travellers of a concentric journey; getting high in transit, crying on planes, fucking behind slammed doors; vanishing soon after. Tinder ‘un-matching’. Zero commitment. Moving and moving out of anxiety level peaks where even meditation itself becomes sterile. Moving without clear destination or hardly any long view… What for? The collective construct is a dead narrative.
“Narcissism isn’t Kardashian’s thing, per se; it’s solipsism, or a mode of living in which the world outside the self doesn’t really, materially exist…”
Vanessa Grigoriadis: Kim Kardashian, American Woman @Rollingstone
“Another November is situated in a deliberately nostalgic present where memories are constructed and irrevocably discolour, looking back to a past not yet acquainted with loss. Yet, it is a reminder that time, the arranger of all things, moves only in one direction.” Laura Stevens [site] __laurastevens__ [instagram]
‘You like me but I don’t like you.’ Voluptuous solipsism and its psychedelic high.

The inner voyage is solitary. The new dandies fake careless beards obsessively groomed or ‘Sheer Glow’ foundations, sliding along borderless Google city maps forming a constellation of promises — never kept. In Airbnb rooms on semi-long term settings to leave no name on a local contract, sooner or later delusion insidiously sets in too when the sparks of discovery morph into metaphysical emptiness. No pick-me-up (cocktail or substance) will wash it up. Living the reality of the megalopolis — its visceral and compulsive materiality, is unbearable. Hence dandies leave on a whim soon attracted and whirling around another mirage; crashing on friends’ sofa with cheap Chilean wine and travel anecdotes for appetisers.
In the depth of the soul, the ultimate desire is to be alone and listen once more to the broken-record playlist ‘Feelin Good’. Desire is to be entertained on trains, on planes, in transit, brushing off potential anxiety rising with ‘instant-check’ heart rate Azumio (app) or stretching brain muscles with Elevate (app).

Face riveted to the screen, mirroring in its graceful Pantone 2935 C blue abyss, the very self is indulging; the obsessively carved and sculpted self with its narrowing convictions.

The information revolution arises. The self is forced to permanent change. Virtual identity increases the challenge. To re-invent the self is mandatory. ‘Silence is the bad review’
On stage, ‘beautiful (winners soon) losers’ (another broken narrative: the winner and looser) wave or collide in synoptic spectacles simulating the perpetual attempts between rises and falls. Pop culture turned post-modern. From music to cinema, arts legitimate the freak, his frailty and failures, his gender fluid, his gender confusion, his crepuscular erotism and visual bacchanalia. In its interstice, the media vultures are lurking, prompt to investigate the faux-pas, feeding a string of dodgy informers, intimate traitors, and corruptible employees.

The inner world builds mind-resistance to the outer world. Virtual space and its fantasy of an ethereal and free mobility was another mirage. Only the dark web resists. Physical and virtual identities are tethered in open-space-time-capsules called ‘data’. Facebook is the new mass media of luck cold content built for a comfort zone of cultural cohesion (previously the role of the television).

The couch is removed. The family cell pulverised. Couples move to long-distance to short-distance relationships yet acutely separated by their laptop portals, and polyamory arrangements (re/ ‘Tales from the Millennials’ Sexual Revolution’ @rollingstone). Alienated to the ‘liquid modernity’, ‘the self’ walks endlessly on trembling nets built by intimate strangers. When left alone, ‘the self’ retracts in post-modern mental digressions of the real. Shielding from its triviality and its capacity to hurt or be rejected.
“As a resident of West Virginia I have always been aware of the views others hold of my home, and they have guided me to create my own version of life in the hills. My Appalachia is a granulated depiction based on the false impressions of others, my idealizations and personal experiences.” Photography from series ‘Born And Raised’. Aaron Blum [site] aaronblumphoto [instagram]
“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? …/…Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication. There is the real illness.”
Philip K. Dick, American writer
‘Moments de solitude’ Photos: Philippe aka Elyaou Bialobos [instagram]
In the darkness of the darkest web, an insidious song captures the lonely. ‘Daech’ (ISIS) recruits the candidates of its caliphate on social media. In its interstices of new solitudes, the promised land resonates among the youth.
Because it is real
Because it is a community

Because it is fenced

Because it is the promise

Of an unchanging life

Read: “Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.” — Extract of article: ‘ISIS and the Lonely Young American’ by Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi @nytimes

August 2, 2015: @BBC asks ‘How many people have gone to Syria to fight?’ This is: “the largest foreign fighter mobilisation of Islamist foreign fighters in history” says Thomas Hegghammer, a director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.

Thank you to all the ‘poets of the real’ — included in this essay.

The playlist on Spotify could start like that:

Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1977) by Henryk Górecki

Suicide (from 1980 eponym album) by Alan Vega and Martin Rev

Songs from Liquid Days (Album 1986) Philip Glass

Gabriel by Lamb (Album ‘What Sound’ 2001)

Music for Egon Schiele by the Rachel’s (album 1996)

— To be continued…

This essay is an revised version of my contribution to Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts (May 2015) by Adam Bell and Charles H. Traub (eds.)

‘The ubiquity of digital images has profoundly changed the responsibilities and capabilities of anyone and everyone who uses them. Thanks to a range of innovations, from the convergence of moving and still image in the latest DSLR cameras to the growing potential of interactive and online photographic work, the lens and screen have emerged as central tools for many artists. Vision Anew brings together a diverse selection of texts by practitioners, critics, and scholars to explore the evolving nature of the lens-based arts.’
Claudine Boeglin is a creative director in digital and print media. She has worked as managing editor of Colors Magazine. She managed the editorial team and conceived the first multimedia prototypes at Boeglin has served as creative director of Magnum Photos where she co-founded Magnum In Motion, Magnum’s multimedia digital studio and recently she was the multimedia director of Thomson Reuters Foundation. She is Dandy Vagabonds. Follow her on Twitter.

First publication on Aug 3, 2015.

© Dandy Vagabonds 2019