I’d love for this whole thing to be more conversational.1This includes a missive to you, Dear Reader — please feel free to strike up a conversation either here in the comments or on Mastodon if something I say on here makes you think, or feel, or just want to say something. Don’t hold back. It’s the new 1999, there’s no rules — all we have is how we decide to go about things. Inherent to social media is that most of what you say is gonna be ephemeral — if the web is people, a
tweet toot is a sentence whispered to yourself, and if you’re lucky somebody else hears it and you connect. I’m not a Dead Internet2From the Atlantic: “The Internet Is Mostly Bots” (archive.is) and “Maybe You Missed It, But The Internet ‘Died’ Five Years Ago.” (archive.is) truther,3Hm, a loaded word. but at its worst — my worst, maybe — I can’t deny that the Old Place sometimes felt like that. Being online, even though the web is not a sea, sure felt like a scream into the water sometimes. Unheard by all but nearby fish.
The opposite of that feeling, on the Old Place anyway, was the couple times a year somebody, often a bot, often a person doing very specific searches, would like/fave or otherwise acknowledge a post from Too Long Ago. And this felt RUDE. To confront me with my own words in the notifications column that should’ve been a safe space? I don’t even like myself from two weeks ago, and this is from two years ago? Wow, okay.4That’s why it felt rude to me, anyway, but I feel like this is a common sentiment.
But that’s not conversation. So let’s start talking.
I’ve been clicking around blogs. Old blogs, current blogs, pandemic blogs, blogs by people who you might have heard of, blogs by people nobody remembers, blogs the people who were there hold up as the great blogs, passion project blogs with two decades of dedicated writing on it. It’s funny how something from 1999 can resonate while something from 2016 utterly fails to. Allow me to quote the thing that inspired me to write this, a conversation between bloggers from 2010 that managed to resonate.
Below the fold, other people’s words.
Liz Danzico, Celestial history, May 15, 2010
Teaching constellations is an exercise in storytelling. You see, dots, these anonymous light encrusted patterns, must be memorized and categorized, and it’s only through stories that one can make sense of them. Starting with the north star, and systematically creating relationships in the winter sky among Hercules and Sagittarius, Libra and Polaris, we told tales. We’d trade stories on top of the old stone building in the middle of dark campus until late into the night. Creating these stories, giving Hercules a relationship to Cassiopeia — true or not, good or not, believable or not, it didn’t matter — what mattered were that patterns were found and marked.
Isn’t the spangling of stars in the sky just basically random noise onto which we’ve projected patterns and then stories? And if that’s been successful—and it toootally has—doesn’t it imply that you could do the same with just about any kind of random noise? What sort of weird wacky stuff could you spread across your desk to tell stories with?
Tim Carmody, in the comments below that:
After the Copernican revolution, a constellation isn’t even a constellation. Instead, it’s a two-dimensional flattening of a three-dimensional reality. Actually, we should probably say a FOUR-dimensional reality. The light from stars at varying distances, leaving their sources at various times in the distant past, gets mistaken, from our earthbound point-of-view, as a simultaneous two-dimensional pattern.
BUT! That distortion, that accident, produces something extremely powerful — both imaginatively and practically.
Take “constellational thinking” and apply it to something besides stars in space. Let’s say — history.
Over here, you’ve got the Roman Republic, over there, the French Revolution. Distant in time, distant in geography, no kind of causal proximity let alone a relationship between them.
But bam! Slap them together. View them as a single event, a collapse of time.
Now you begin to see the French Revolution the way part of the Revolution saw itself, as an explosion of the continuum of history.
Constellational thinking. There’s a powerful thought technology in there, I thought. Except, is it a thought technology? Or is that literally already how I’m being taught to teach art history? The world my students6Oh, that’s a scary phrase for a second there.7I started writing this in September. It’s not as scary now.8See, here I am, in a constellational conversation with myself. are fifteen in has radically changed from the world I was fifteen in, and that world was already radically different from the one my own parents were fifteen in.
You can’t, today, just give a dry 50-minute lecture about the Renaissance, you can’t just show them the art and tell them the history and expect it to stick, you really have to tell a story, and connect it to the modern world they live in. And so, in my 31 October art history class, I drew connections — lines9Not literally, actually. Though next week I’m gonna make them draw the lines. — between the Mona Lisa, a commission I did of somebody’s dog, Daleks, the building we were standing in and one we weren’t, stories from the Bible, Vitruvius, how statues evolved, Saudi Arabian views of the nude male form, and St Peter’s Basilica. What is that, if not a two-dimensional flattening of a four-dimensional reality? What is that, if not constellational?
Old web forums have trained me10Us. to feel like constellational thinking and talking is a deadly sin. But in blogging it feels like engaging. And in teaching, it’s fucking essential. None of this has to be ephemeral, a scream into the sea.
So let’s start talking.
- 1This includes a missive to you, Dear Reader — please feel free to strike up a conversation either here in the comments or on Mastodon if something I say on here makes you think, or feel, or just want to say something. Don’t hold back. It’s the new 1999, there’s no rules — all we have is how we decide to go about things.
- 2From the Atlantic: “The Internet Is Mostly Bots” (archive.is) and “Maybe You Missed It, But The Internet ‘Died’ Five Years Ago.” (archive.is)
- 3Hm, a loaded word.
- 4That’s why it felt rude to me, anyway, but I feel like this is a common sentiment.
- 5Super worth reading through the comments on this one.
- 6Oh, that’s a scary phrase for a second there.
- 7I started writing this in September. It’s not as scary now.
- 8See, here I am, in a constellational conversation with myself.
- 9Not literally, actually. Though next week I’m gonna make them draw the lines.