Janei had always been interested in the connection between theory and reality, how to grasp the external world from within the theory, and she refused to live in a world that conflated theory with reality by claiming they were one. She believed that things were different depending on the viewpoint.
Her viewpoint had been colored by postmodern and post-structuralist, and in particular Luhmannian, thought in the past six years. But not, or at least not in the first place, because she wanted to pursue an academic career, not because it gave her something to hold on to in the face of social pressure to make up online versions of herself, but because it told her something about the nature of reality. For the last four years she had been convinced that this is similar to saying that it told her something about media.
Heidegger’s work tries only to describe the functioning of media, in his later work applied to technology. But then how did this functioning of media technology change how she made sense of herself? Did she really look at herself as increasingly molded into an identity-model that was more in line with her self in technology, than to her humane self? And if so, was this because indeed she gave away more and more of her conscious self, which Flusser thought synonymous with unhappiness, to her profiled versions online? And were the 7 or 8 proposed ‘media themes’ – themes that ‘gel well with media’ – really also increasingly applicable to her own identification with ‘self’, in turn for a little more happiness? The questions were too many and too complex, but they were good! She decided she was on the right track.
Janei was visiting her life-long best friend Bormaus, whom she had met in the grammar school sandbox when they were both three years old. Bormaus had accidentally elbowed his girlfriend Laetitia on the head, which had left her with a heavy concussion. She had to rest for at least a month and became ‘wowsy’ every time something in her environment overstimulated her senses. She could not watch TV, hear loud music, scream, read, or drive a car.
A little earlier that day (it was the fifth day of her ten-day research period, she had visited another good friend, Uzram, with whom she had produced a short documentary about lonely and homeless people in Amsterdam. But he had had no time at all for her (she visited unexpectedly) due to his busy schedule. Even while they talked for 10 minutes about their lives, Uzram had to check his phone trice and run to the computer twice to check whether his Ebay advertisement for a piece of camera equipment could be sold for 400 instead of 360 Euro.
As her notebook was busily recording a conversation between Bormaus and Laetitia, Janei had offered to take Laetitia’s tiny Chihuahua-dog out for a walk right before dinner time.
“Janei won’t talk your ears from your head,” Bormaus explained to Laetitia, “she can be very quiet but very busy as well. It’s just like you in a way, you can be very quiet but busy as well.”
“I put those insurance papers in the closet next to the cards because if someone comes in it’s better if they don’t see them. … This is no sight. A woman of 2m with a Chihuahua. Ha.Ha.Ha.” They were both looking out the window at Janei walking the half-pint dog.
“She’s even taking her all the way. Is she just trying to be polite?“ Laetitia wanted to know.
“No, she likes it. I know that. She would absolutely not do it if she didn’t like it.” Laetitia received a phone call and started talking about her condition. “Hey, yeah I walked all the way to the Banne and back. I had to stand still a couple of times along the way. Elenore came by for lunch, to use the proper word.” After a while she started to make jokes over the phone about Janei walking the mini-dog.
Surely Janei was walking outside looking ridiculous with the nearly invisible dog to her side, but was that reason enough to make fun of her behind her back? Yes, it was. It was not only what people are inclined to do anyway, it was also not hurting Janei in any way. It could only hurt those that could not think the ‘who’ that they thought they were as a fallacy. She had recognized that as wisdom and had basically trained herself to be good at seeing the void that ‘self’ was.
For Sigmund Freud, the mode of searching for inner existence seemed to coincide with splitting the person from the ego and being left with the subject. The subject could not be known since it was only itself and nothing outside of it; as such, it could not exist for others. That was that. In Melancholy Gender/Refused Identification (2004: 247), Judith Butler described this process as melancholic incorporation. If the object (in Janei’s case: the self) could no longer exist in the external world, it would exist internally.
This internalization was a way to “disavow the loss, to keep it at bay, to stay or postpone the recognition and suffering of loss”. The experience of inner identification could therefore, according to German author Gerard Hauptmann, be described as having no outlet and processing mental dispersive matters internally. It was unclear to him whether a person had to go through hard times (i.e. loss, hurt) in order to become sensitized to this insight into the self, or whether one could be born with a melancholic trait. This should not be of importance, though, since one could assume that all persons sometimes went through darker periods.
It was something entirely different to think that society aimed to minimize the time in which persons would suffer from life in the first place. For Janei, that would come close to forcing a person to be happy, excruciating his unhappy conscious. This would force the individual out of its melancholic state, the only state that, following Freud, makes internal identification possible.
The unknown is known, however, to the extent that the transcendental is understood as part of our everyday lives, not as separate from, but as metaphorically integrated. This integration was particularly important to Janei, as mentioned earlier. There should be a way, she thought, to do this without it becoming overly mystifying. If she would just consider it her task not to mention this metaphor of integration and keep it within the taboo-realm of meaningless drivel, the ambivalence would slowly dissolve.
The metaphor was a tough cookie to forget about, however, and seemed to leave no trace of difference, while replacing the fact instead of complementing it. It created its own realm of meaning, which attained the freedom to be meaningful, even when it was not. As Kittler (1989: 33) noted, “alleged identities of meaning or even functions of consciousness would come into play. Phonographs do not think, therefore they are possible”.
Once more, Janei told herself, as long as she could just think the phonograph as a metaphor for the brain, it would be a meaningful metaphor. If the phonograph becomes the brain, however, then she would no longer see the difference between both and the metaphor would become meaningless, again. If the medium would become synonymous with the human, it would also become impossible to uphold the metaphor and she would no longer make sense. To herself. Let alone to anyone else. Ever.
Janei had reached Bormaus’ front door and rang the bell. The mini-dog had behaved well. It was faster than she had thought it would be. Laetitia was still on her cell.
“What is that I did that in school myself. Aah, no. One can better look each other in the eye that way. What is she talking about? Funny. Yes. So. Yes, everybody joins in then? Good. It’s economically limited, that’s true.” It was hard to embed and understand anything of what she was saying.
– “Did it work, Janei?” Bormaus inquired.
“Looked cool outside. Did she pull you forth? It’s nice to walk here, in the morning I’m going in my morning gown. You like everything? Sprouts?”
“They had my bike, the rear tire, you remember the ones in Slagharen?” Laetitia said, still on her cell, “the rear tire exploded. He wanted to renew the rear tire, but when I have holidays I’m going to look for a new one. Slowly, when I’m better.”
“Ne me quitte pas,” sang Bormaus.
A little while later, Janei joined Bormaus in a visit to a nearby construction market. In Bormaus’ car, they talked about whether or not it came in handy that they were considered ‘softies’ growing up. Janei insisted that they had been free enough to choose that role and had both benefited from that, having the tough, ‘hand-wrecking’ guys as the aggressor to go up against. They reminisced catching geese with a fish hook instead of being one of the tough guys.
Janei did not quite remember that part very vividly and thought that must have been pretty tough on the geese and not at all something ‘softies’ would do. But it turned out the geese-incident, while they kept on talking, had resulted in the two of them actually starting up a wild animal relief club called Safety Action, Action!. Janei did remember establishing this club but she had been convinced it had just come out of their ‘softy’ feelings for animals with oily wings (as seen on tv) or broken legs.
Janei still doubted whether Bormaus (and not the both of them) had tortured geese for a while and out of remorse decided to help animals. Even though they were ‘softies’ themselves, Janei and Bormaus had over the years developed a whole array of standardized jokes or guaranteed laughs, ridiculing other ‘softies’ in their home town. They had asked other ‘softies’ to join their club because they felt they were as ‘softy’ as they were. In retrospect, of course, both Janei and Bormaus managed to leave the ‘townies’ culture behind and establish themselves in cities of international allure – not so ‘softy’ after all.
A couple hours later, after dinner, Janei hung around for some more conversation. They talked about mothers and how they act. About where people were going in their lives. Bormaus had gotten new shoes from Laetitia, as a present. Just like that. Which had almost led to big trouble.
“At first I did not want to accept,” Bormaus explained.
– “I had first bought different ones,” Laetitia explained.
“But it’s not a payment.”
“We got into a fight at Buikslotermeerplein, but you have to start at the beginning.” Janei had learned from her earlier relationships that if a story had to be told in a specific order, it was capable of hurting someone.
“We were shopping and I mentioned that I wanted Nike Air max,” Bormaus started anew.
“I have leather shoes, walked on them all of New Year’s Eve and now wearing them all Summer,” said Janei, but she was not sure why, and neither were Bormaus and Laetitia.
“So he was fitting shoes,” Laetitia took over.
“Miss. Laetitia said: I’m getting the Air Max.”
“I didn’t believed her, but she came back and had the Footlocker bag behind her back. But I said, and I experienced some fear of commitment, that when I was young, I hesitantly asked my mother whether I could have Nikes. I hardly knew how to write it. And then we had bought it. And I felt guilty. It were white Nikes, and I was showing them off in class, which I thought was very cool.”
“Moms are dominant,” Janei tried to sound convincing. “I bought a jacket worth 200 Euro just ’cause my mom stood there and said it was perfect. But how was it that everyone wanted Nikes in those days?“ Her attention was suddenly grabbed by the possibility of having wanted Nikes so much because they had been advertised on TV.
“Agassi was hip back then,” Bormaus knew. “But I felt guilty and it was the only time my mom bought me something expensive and I readily started buying things on my own. It was overwhelming when I saw she’d bought this for me and I wanted to return them right away.”
“He was angry right away,” Laetitia added.
“She said she was taking the bus home,” Bormaus explained.
“I told Laetitia’s parents I was angry with her,” Bormaus went on.
“My moms said she understood both of us.”
“That’s how moms also are, dominant but diplomatic,” Bormaus knew.
“They hide at the right moment,” Janei tried again, this time somewhat convincingly.
“But then I returned them and got different ones. These are good. But those Air Max from back in the days, they were cool.”
“I had different ones,” Janei remembered. She had had the blue-green Nike Air Max she had been in love with all Summer of ’94. At the end of that Summer, she had bought them from her own money, earned through working with tulips. white ones later on as well.”
“I’m going to boil some water.”
An hour later or so, Janei was still hanging out on Bormaus’ balcony, with birds singing in the recording’s background. Het told a story about how Janei once calculated how long she had been waiting for Bormaus over the course of her entire life. It came down to about 17 days, which Bormaus thought was not very long.
A while later, Bormaus and Laetitia had a heated debate about the meaning of the word ‘zo’ in Dutch. In the US one has the word ‘so’, but they were particularly discussing the word when used in the sentence “I’ll see you in a bit”. A bit apparently has a very different meaning for Bormaus than for Laetitia. She thought he would be there in fifteen to thirty minutes, but instead he came home 4 hours later. Laetitia mentioned that this could be a matter of cultural difference. Her friend Elenore had said she has different cultures in school, which she thinks is interesting. Mimi, the Chihuahua-dog, for instance, is used to dwarf-people instead of to 2m tall people.
A little while later, Janei talked with Kuolu, Bormaus’ sister, over Bormaus’ phone. They discussed her research a bit, and where Janei was going when she got her degree – somewhere on earth she might know some job that she could take on.