What difference does it make who is speaking?

Thanks to an ongoing discussion with @twigz that has now taken place over so many days and channels that I expect she’s ready to unfriend me (or worse), I’ve been thinking on the role of the author in networked digital culture and how it might be different from the established role of the author.

At the very end of his essay, What is an author?, Michel Foucault imagines a dramatic shift in the cultural role the author plays in the “modern” era that he so carefully lays out in the rest of the essay:

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W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn

As our inaugural book, we read W.G. Sebald‘s Rings of Saturn.



I suppose it is submerged memories that give to dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?


This then, I thought, as I looked round about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.


Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish-hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away.


Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.

Things that came up during the discussion (in no particular order):

In keeping with the theme of quasi-autobiographic meandering rants, our next reading will be Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit, 1932). We will meet at 3:30pm PT Sunday, 22 November 2009.

The Insteadness You’ve Been Waiting For! Now Online!

The other day, my wife and I went to hear this writer, Jonathan Lethem, speak at the Portland Arts & Lectures series.

Mr Lethem gave a very interesting—and funny—talk about a variety of things. I think I’ll read some of his books. But what really happened was his talk made me start a new website: insteadness.com.

The most interesting thing to me in his talk was when he started explaining this word/concept he had made up: insteadness.

As I understand insteadness, it is the thing we focus on when we should maybe focus on something else. Jonathan told a longish—but funny—joke to explain it, but I don’t think it would be that funny to repeat here. It involved a conference of parapsychologists and a goat—you get the idea.

Suffice it to say that Jonathan’s idea of insteadness was pretty rich: you could see insteadnesses as bad (they distract us from what we should be paying attention to) and as good (maybe all art is really the creation of insteadnesses).

So I decided that maybe this whole idea of insteadness needs more work, and, for lack of a better idea, I set up a website at insteadness.com so we can get started.

I invited Jonathan to weigh in/help out at insteadness.com, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. He’s probably busy with something else instead.

I put up one insteadness already as an example, but we need more.