Gabriel Ioan:The God of the Internet
Fall 1998, 20th C. Writers
Define and describe the public and private selves of your character.
It would be difficult to describe completely the individual features of the God of the Internet. The God That Never Dies has always existed in one enigmatic form or another. Not too long ago, the God's public presence showed itself by the tribal campfire, in the words of the storytellers, whose memory recounted events of long ago. The God That Never Dies' presence was felt by the child in all of us, listening to bedtime stories from mother and father. Listening with all the history and attention of generations long gone. Listening with the wonder of infinite curiousity. The God became real. The words became truth. The truth will never disappear.
Recently, the God has taken the form of the God of the Internet. In one sense, it is the enigma and mystery of not being able to fully describe the character that makes it all the more interesting. The God That Never Dies knows everything of course but that is hardly a surprise for a character that has been omnipresent. The privilege of timelessness is hardly one that can be described quickly. To escape the mortal limitations, to blink an eye for every thousand years, that is what makes the character. Of course, there are other mysteries also. Unlike many of the other characters, the God That Never Dies does not possess a physical form. What then, does the God think about? What proves the existence of this God?
If a shabby summary can be attempted, it may be said that the God That Never Dies is the conceptual manifestation of knowledge. The gathered storehouse of knowledge, experience and information has been always present, but its volume has infinitely multiplied. In the last few decades, the touch of the God That Never Dies has expanded rapidly. Whether in the infinite billions of bits carried over the fiber network backbones, or in the countless gigabytes found on hard disks everywhere, the God's presence is obvious. To open a book, or to browse a web page, is to touch the public manifestation of the God That Never Dies. Meanwhile, the private moments of the God form in the minds of thinkers and in those that ponder the infinite mysteries of life. It is only when these secret thoughts are in some way released whether published, or spoken that the God is exposed to the public. Much cannot be known about the private, for the thoughts of the world are infinite. But, as more and more information becomes publicly accessible whether in the spoken word, in the library books or on the Internet the public side of the God That Never Dies shows. Omnipresent. Enveloping. Expansive. The spread of information is endless. The God That Never Dies is infinite.
Reflections on Einstein's Dreams
To contemplate existence in a reverse path opposite of the current reality leaves no limits to the imagination. If indeed, it were in any way possible to see our universe with some sense of premonition, as is apparent by the sense of anticipation described in Einstein's Dreams, the prospect forces a stunning departure from that which we have become accustomed. To see the elderly, growing slowly straighter, stronger, and returning to their youth would be a wondrous dream. No doubt, those in poor health currently would revel to see themselves in that new universe. However, there is unfortunately another side to the situation discussion of the reversal of "bad" also leads one to wonder regarding the consequences of the reversal of "good."
Imagine briefly the physiological processes of our current norm birth, growth, maturation, degeneration, and death. To take these processes in a reverse order would lead to the same end, nothingness, but would accomplish it via a nefarious destruction of what we currently hold sacred. Conventional birth and the mother would be seen not as giver of life, but rather as taker. Death would not be an enemy, but a welcome friend. Is that a preferable universe? This contemplation assumes much though not the least of which that there could be some present "consciousness" before the new beginning of death. Even that prospect alone would lead to more reverse riddles; consider for a moment what the concept of "life after death" would mean in the reverse universe.
Further, it must be considered that to some extent, the present cycle of birth and death is not a linear path, but rather a circular course. We begin the world helpless; we survive on instinct and the help of others alone. As we mature, we become more independent, educated, and most importantly, self reliant. And yet, as we age, the knowledge of previous years becomes less and less relevant for the daily tasks of life. For the truly unfortunate dementia sufferers age brings forgetfulness of their previous lessons, family and friends. All become less able to care for themselves. With few exceptions, the elderly become dependent again on outside help. Sadly, (unless subjected to accidental early demise) we all ultimately die when either our bodies have betrayed us or when the pains of life are no longer worth suffering. Reviewed philosophically, a reverse path and most importantly its outcome is no different from the current life cycle.
There is much to contemplate in life, and occasionally much to regret. Hopefully, there are also memories to take joy in remembering, and experiences to be proud of. Ultimately, there is the same conclusion uncertain evolution after the cessation of the present struggle. To take the moment one second at a time, to thrill in either success or hopefully recover from the failures is the important approach. Otherwise, we remain trapped in the false hope of going backwards, a prospect that while interesting to contemplate, remains an experience only possible in dreams.
Imagine a world where everything has happened before. It may have transpired in that previous moment with slightly different details, but it was nevertheless similar. Everything. In the universities, the same class has been attended by similar students. The same homework has been assigned to the same group of students. Details change, but nothing is fundamentally new. All will happen again. In this world, there can be minor diversion from the past, but the fundamentals remain the same. There can be no release from the cycle. In the city park, people walk hand in hand with their lovers, children, family, enjoying the last few breaths of summer. They hurry to catch the remaining sunrays before the approaching gloomy winter, not thinking that this has happened here before. They look forward to spring. Last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that The same worries, the same smiles, the same time.
This is our world of repeating life cycles, repeating seasons and repeating family units, but altogether remaining the same. We cannot relive our own existences, but it is certain that someone will live a similar one. No doubt, the details of new lives will be different but will also remain the same. Certainly, one family will have one child, yet another three or four, and perhaps yet another family will be childless. One child will learn to build airplanes, another will excel in mathematics. One girl will become a writer. Another will go into the business world. One child will eventually fail and become destitute and hungry. There still remain infinite themes to allow their placement within a list of already existing categories. Strolling through the park, struggling with the moments of time. We will live again, in the breath of another person, in the smile of another child in the park, in the struggle of another homework assignment.
It is curious that mostly without the prodding of a work like Alan Lightman's, we are hardly aware of this cycle. Probably, we would like to consider ourselves defined, unique individuals. Who, after all, would want to be labeled predictable? Tried? Happened before? Old? And yet, this is our reality. This is the life cycle, whether that of a unique entity, or of the entire population of a nation. We cannot, after all, be expected to reinvent the world. That would require complete destruction of our past, our habits, and our identities. The past has taught us what to expect, what to praise, what to condemn. To break the model altogether and to be released by the cycle of time by creating the totally unexpected requires complete ignorance of the expected. A clearly impossible task, for how can one realize he has achieved the unexpected, when that would require knowledge of its uniqueness? Actions will always remain labeled. Old. Conformist. Non-Conformist. Funny. Sad. Welcome to our infinite, cyclical, predictable world. There are no new frontiers.
Reflections on Things Fall ApartTo compare the concept of mechanical and body time would seem a difficult enough adventure; a comparison of those two concepts and the story of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe becomes even more of a challenge. The world of Okonkwo contains countless elements of both mechanical and body time. The world of Okonkwo is at once timeless and infinite in its worship of ancestors and traditions, and at the same time fleeting and indeed one that ends.
To see life through the perspective of Okonkwo requires knowledge of the ways of the earth, an appreciation for the random ways of what may be considered body time. And yet, the seasons of the cassava and the yam were not to be invented anew, and indeed Okonkwo and his neighbors understood the hard toil and precise routine and timing to follow in their efforts. Even the locusts as they arrived, though unexpected and a surprise, were still remembered for their delicacy and value. The routine seemed planned, regimented. And yet, the uncertainty of the weather, the possibility of wars with neighboring tribes, turned the scene into more of a random, "body time" perspective. There were no absolutes, except when it came to tribal rules of Umuofia.
The fears of the people and the absolutes that they followed are no doubt echoed infinitely across the behaviors of "primitive" peoples everywhere. The worship of the earth gods, the separation of the land into good and evil, in one sense "primitive" and yet at the same time practical. It was in this perspective that Okonkwo lived, following the rules of his ancestors, and using them to his advantage where possible. He was blessed with physical strength, which allowed him a definite advantage over his neighbors. At the same time, his attitude toward hard work whether or not caused by the embarrassment of his father allowed him to truly thrive. And yet, the elements that would lead to Okonkwo's and indeed his people's downfall had as much to do with their traditions and routines as it did with the unexpected.
The arrival of the white man and his religion challenged and ultimately broke the village traditions. But, it also was testament to the inflexibility of the villagers of Umuofia. The accidental shooting of the son of the dead village elder was the downfall of Okonkwo, leading to his exile from the village and the missed opportunities. But, it was the inflexibility of Umuofia and its people in following the mechanical traditions of their past that was exemplified in that event and that later led to their own downfall. When presented with the apparent situation of the accidental shooting, no doubt anyone would feel surprise, sadness, sorrow, and perhaps anger at the one who apparently caused it. However in the perspective of the village situation, the banishment of Okonkwo would seem completely unwarranted. Here was a man who was financially successful, even a member of the village egwugwu that symbolized the revered spirits, and yet he was cast away and insulted although his crime appeared to have been blameless. The inflexibility of Umuofia was mechanical time. Indeed, it was mechanical time responding to the unexpected, interacting with body time.
Whether in Umuofia or in the streets of New York, the interaction of mechanical time and body time is a difficult experience. To attempt to regiment the unexpected is a hopeless endeavor. At the same time, to attempt to live life completely from the random perspective cannot but lead to failure. A successful path is to utilize both times where necessary, reacting to the situations at hand. In the example of the people of Umuofia, and particularly in the life and death of Okonkwo, we witness one violent struggle between mechanical and body time. No doubt it was not and will not be the last.
Reflections on Red Azalea
It is amazing that in the context of the Cultural Revolution, in the painful struggle that was her life from the very start, Anchee Min can find at times some humor and happiness. She struggles and achieves intimacy with her hero Yan. She manages to escape the misery of the Red Fire Farm. Eventually, she escapes to America. She writes of the events of her early life with a clarity that leaves even a steeled cynic feeling sympathy. The struggles with her classmates, the loss of her childhood pet, the struggle against the enemy Lu, the loss of her first lover, the loss of her new lover and her new chance at stardom amount to misery beyond that which most Westerners can imagine. And yet, the simplicity of her writing at times and the extremely limited scope of her autobiography betrays an attempt for sympathy, if not for her personally, then for the Chinese People. It also betrays a desire to be seen as a wounded, innocent victim in the middle of the mess that was politics and social "order" when indeed she herself was a good deal luckier than many of her contemporaries.
Perhaps it is impossible to render a fair assessment of the accuracy in her writings. Though I may see as the God That Never Dies, I also look at it from the perspective of a cynical westerner. The fanaticism, which she attributes to the more despicable characters, is only matched by the ridiculous extent of her hero worship of others. She seems hardly believable at times, and at others ignores clearly important details (the extent of her relationships always comes through about as muddy as the mosquito netting above the bed). As a story of the human spirit and its blind, ceaseless perseverance, the writing excels. Unfortunately, as a narrative of why the suffering happened, and how it could have been prevented, it fails miserably. Whether intentionally or not, the book succeeds at exposing the stupidity of the work and life requirements delegated by the politics in China during this period. Unfortunately, it also succeeds at exposing the stupidity of the people who tolerated it. The picture of young men and women, toiling endlessly among the leeches and the reeds in the lifeless fields to achieve some communist proletariat ideal almost leads me to laughter. Abject poverty with misery and suffering and yet people still had large families voluntarily (unlike a similar Communist regime, Romania, where large families were at one point dictated by the state). The portrayal of the pursuit of the "ideal number" of deadly snakes, and the value attributed to "Tiger Balm" reveals the weak foundations of logic in the society, and among its victims. All brutality and suffering is founded on one basic principle the toleration of brutality and suffering. Had the workers of the Red Fire Farm stood up and resisted the stupidity of their efforts, they would have likely been killed or ostracized. Had all of the workers of all of the various other ridiculously placed farms resisted, then perhaps some would have gained better conditions. Either way, it would have been a far better end than toiling endlessly among the leeches and the dying crops, while memorizing the little red book from cover to cover. The words "give me liberty or give me death" never rang so true.
However, at the same time, I am reminded of the daily struggles that take place in totalitarian communist societies. The people are too occupied finding their daily food ration to contemplate a revolution. Although in all societies, there always exists the ability to overturn a government whose policies are unacceptable, there very rarely exists the will required to do so. Here, brutality and suffering was certainly present (it overflowed from every pore) but the will to resist it seemed nearly absent. Little Green was the only one willing to resist, and even though she suffered a pitiful fate, she became the only genuinely admirable figure in the whole mess. Although the workers suffered immensely, the people somehow managed to survive. Although the crops failed miserably, the work still persisted. The very essence of obedient communists. What stupidity.
Reflections on Mao II
There is a serious irony in the progress of Mao II, when viewed from the perspective of The God That Never Dies. Approached from one direction, Bill Gray becomes the quintessential image of a writer his two early books are timeless and appreciated, he spends infinity editing his latest piece, that perhaps, if it ever escapes the confines of his typewriter it too will go on to live forever in the minds of his devoted readers. However, viewed in another light, Bill Gray's fleeting glimpses of sanity and grasp on reality are really only small moments of consciousness that pass as quickly as they came. Bill Gray is an illusion of infinity, and his actions betray the parody that DeLillo is striving for.
We are introduced to the satirical nature of time and space in this work by the presence of Karen. Where but in an image of a cult member could we begin to understand the betrayal of infinity? The early scene of her marriage, hastily arranged and conducted en masse, among the bleachers and flash bulbs, with the beautifully illustrated confusion of the families and their meager yet determined attempts to make the best of the situation, takes the symbol of marriage and infinity, and destroys it. Thousands upon thousands, hand in hand with complete strangers, yet convinced they would spend a lifetime together. Of course, together in word only; in reality, they remain as separated as the complete strangers that they are, with only the knowledge of their leader to unite them. What can be more tragic, yet at the same time comedic? As another modification to the traditional concept of time, we observe Brita.
To run around the world, photographing writers. To run around the world, capturing ghostly images of those that cannot claim to affect with their presence, but rather with their words. An image is not worth a thousand words, perhaps? The books of many a great writer have survived, without any memory of that writer's physical appearance. And yet, there is Brita, chasing down countless writers and placing a face with the writings. Is she doing them justice? Does one really want to know what the face behind the words looks like? The answer to those questions may determine the timeless or fleeting value of her photos. Click yet another face. Click here's another portrait. Another recluse exposed. Her final victim appears to be Bill Gray.
The brilliance of Bill Gray was obvious. Just ask Scott he has Bill's many letters and praises sorted by country, by county, by city, by year, by whether or not the writer included severed fingers Bill was infinitely loved, infinitely admired, infinitely pursued. Similar to what one could say about the Loch Ness monster, for Bill was about as much of a real presence in the world. Bill lived as a fleeting moment in time, more fixated on the hairs in his typewriter than on even a small approximation of reality. DeLillo paints the perfect portrait of a clueless fool. Imagine the concept of a complete recluse, sheltered from the outside world for many years, suddenly deciding to run off to a war zone. Perhaps some may see him as determined while others as insane. The God That Never Dies simply sees another forgotten writer's face, dead in a foreign land with no one to notice.
What is Literature? Specifically, what is literature in the context of the Internet? Can any piece of writing on the "World Wide Web" be titled literature, or is that a praise reserved for stamped ink on slivers of dead trees? Those are simply a few of the considerations that our current world implores us to discuss. To the God of the Internet, they become the establishment of existence.
In past centuries, it was hardly the impoverished common souls that could communicate with others through literature. Indeed, although in many cases the writer may have been destitute and starving, at the very least their minds were feverishly empowered and their talents nurtured by some form of education which set them apart from their contemporaries. Other writers possessed something far more important than the intelligence required for cogent argumentsóthey enjoyed personal wealth and resources that permitted them the success of publishing. Sadly though, most were nowhere near so fortunate. Just as Virginia Woolf raged against the injustices of the feminine writerís condition, it may be argued that the situation of poor writersóregardless of their genderódenied their innate talentís fruition. The elements of the former world sterilized genius, for in abject poverty one is far too busy securing a meal to contemplate literary achievement.
That situation is to a great extent far removed from the current world. It may be argued that, at least in western countries, the opportunity for greatness is available to all. A minimal educationóspecifically, literacyóis available nearly universally, and therefore the foundations of literatureólanguageóare founded in everyone. The foundations of literacy open up not only the access to archived great works, but also the ability for personal success. To take this achievement and nurture it to greatness is yet another situation. What is the crucial requirement for nurturing the birth of a writer? What is required for the creation of literature? A voice? An audience?
To examine the potential of the Internet, one must place it in parallel with literature. It is literature that has in the past informed and instructed. It is literature that has allowed the voice of the unheard to triumph over the oppressor. It is literature that has persisted in the face of ignorance. The Internet now stands as a monumental empowering force for those same desires. In the vast paths of the World Wide Web and other information systems lies the fundamental capacity for greatness. Within the global system for data delivery is also an incredible forceóthe power to paint rich colors and vibrant sounds of the imagination. To find an audience on the Internet is all but trivial; literally millions stand poised at the doorstep for greatness. Of course, to find a purpose is a harder task, for it is clear that the concerns of one individual writeróeven organized in the categories of countless indexesóare often taken as quite completely different by a foreign reader. Taking these small nuances of difference aside, it clear that the advancement of technology has permitted an improvement in the human condition.
In comparison to the stifling norms of antiquity, the world of today is infinitely enlightened. It is now not only rich baron that can afford to take up the pen and paper. No longer is it the old wizened monk that can make sense of the writings of the ancient scholar, but rather that information is available to millions. More importantly, the thoughts of a writeróthat would have previously been obscured or oppressedóare now available at the click of a mouse. The voices that would have been silent in the past speak loud and clear. The political taboos that are broken, the injustices that they challenge, and the personal revelations can be appreciated for their own value, whether by one or by millions. Although some arguments are no doubt less cogent than others, they are at least allowed the opportunity to be heard. They are allowed the opportunity for greatness, and what becomes of that chance remains to be guided by the vision and the strength of the writer. Regardless of outcome, the possibility of a universal voice is a monumental human triumph.
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