Sally Jane Norman on Thu, 8 Apr 1999 18:59:29 +0200

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Syndicate: cumbersome sequel to unuseful expression of solidarity

Dear friends
Strange and strained weeks of physical and electronic episcopal onslaughts. 
Here in my mindâ??s screen eye addressing the people I know, since so many 
people I donâ??t are making themselves heard on the list at present for 
reasons obvious and laudable. Again the reluctance to encumber vital 
communication channels, again the prelude/ apologia : if youâ??re needing/ 
seeking pragmatic info skip and forgive this intrusion into precious network 
space-time-energy. But conversations with a number of Syndicate friends over the 
past days have convinced me, rightly or wrongly no doubt depending on how you 
look at it, that our community needs to be able to air and hear its own voices, 
to confront sentiments and ideas that are ensuing from this singular context, 
even if theyâ??re not fraught with the ultimate mortal urgency of other 
messages being sent at present. Because Syndicate has existed for years in a 
spirit of exchange of creative thinking and a common striving to uphold open 
dialogue. Not wanting to sound like the old guard, like the hard core pioneers, 
like those SIGGRAPH old-timers who flash their array of conference ribbons the 
way Russian generals and black market hawkers flash medals. Sometimes the list 
has taken on a patently "billboard" facade but for those whoâ??ve 
followed it at greater length, this has always been attenuated by the fact that 
(at least) dozens of us are familiar with posts and authors that go beyond this 
advertising circuit with its specific but also largely indefinable ideological 
and geocultural terrain. The "bottom line" being attempts at some kind 
of critical awareness. Including self-critical. 
Talking with these Syndicate friends brought it home how much this situation 
in the Balkans has perversely silenced us. I and possibly many on the list are 
dumb, leaving the floor to others. To people with emergency messages.Those who 
are coordinating refugee and humanitarian aid, who are indicating the safest 
routes out of town, who are acting as relays for "missing" persons, 
who are battling to uphold communications systems, those who are an essential 
lifeline. Alongside emergency messages there are enlightening visions and 
versions of history, long gone and fresh from yesterday. People with articulate 
knowledge and experience that are (in-)valuable and that others like me can only 
"passively" consume. Including people with knowledge and experience 
(because they are) currently caught in the crossfire, who are immediately 
threatened by the nightmare present of this history in the making, and whose 
words therefore seem to rightfully deserve more attention than ours. (But by 
what criteria?) And there are the burgeoning news postings about activity and 
reactivity. A daily stash of press clippings that zap you through the biggest 
satellite bouquet imaginable stuck up in the stars like a vortex, an imploding 
black hole of accounts of events that just go on getting worse. Some fucking 
nightmare scrapbook. And the wrangling occurring round all of this, around what 
and where is an emergency and for whom and why, which is just the flayed, 
immediate skin of history perhaps, hot off the parchment press, before it goes 
cold and gets archived forever. 
And there are the understandably angry messages of newcomers for whom this 
list is the only place for such understandably angry messages to be heard, 
because of its specific but also largely indefinable ideological and geocultural 
terrain, and because we know why theyâ??re angry and empathise with their 
anger we listen. And occasionally somebody not tuned in to the same angry 
wavelength at the same depth, someone whoâ??s missed the wavelength 
altogether, makes a shamefully breezy contribution and an angry person tells 
them angrily where to get off and we listen still and are not exactly tempted to 
speak. Like, you have to sound steeled and tempered and wisened by Father Time, 
don the grey locks or shaven head of zen desert fathers, in order to dare to air 
anything thatâ??s neither an emergency message nor a sufficiently solemnly 
meaty piece of useful reflection. So meanwhile whatâ??s happened to the 
list, whatâ??s happened to our community? What is Syndicate and what is the 
place within Syndicate of the friends who built this community in the first 
place, or do we obligingly die off like dinosaurs who just copped a furtive 
comet on their silly little atrophied heads? Do I start getting territorial here 
about my network tribe? Like, xenophobic about my virtual community? 
We had something like this discussion at the Nettime reader presentation in 
Rotterdam last November; it was a kind of "coming out party" therapy 
session, after the traumatic development from cool list to still pretty cool or 
even more cool reader to Book (oh shit!). Something about evolutivity of lists, 
communities, about the rules and (self-)definitions whereby a "virtual 
community" is constituted and upheld, about population expansions and 
breakaway communities and about the necessity to respect "natural" 
growth phenomena. Sounds like Spencer or a Santa Fe textbook. Or like the reason 
the Maori people took to their canoes and crossed the Pacific to find new land. 
Simple demographics. Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi/ The old net is cast 
aside, the new net goes fishing. 
The problem being, as always, how to strike a balance. Because the 
beatifically conciliatory approach, the go with the flow stuff, it sounds great 
and peace and flowers and all that, but after a while if this is all 
youâ??re doing and proning, you get mushland. What are the points of 
cohesion and convergence, the nodes in our reticulum, the asperities, the 
identifying features, that make this community any more recognisable and 
defendable than another? There must surely be some, in order for this community 
to have suddenly attracted so many newcomers. And thereâ??s surely a limit 
to how indefinable a community can be if it can be defined as a community. 
Otherwise it canâ??t. I mean, you donâ??t have to be Wittgenstein to get 
that far. What about a community that simply lets itself get taken over by 
another as a function of external events: is this in fact a community, or rather 
just a location, a platform, a niche, a harbour? What do you do with/about the 
locals? Do they/we exist, or are we just sporadic postings that wax and wane? 
(donâ??t worry this oneâ??s waning) Itâ??s not a matter of being 
paranoid and insecure and wanting to keep it in the family or anything. Just the 
puzzlement of no longer knowing whoâ??s round, who weâ??re talking to. 
Other than those in the thick of the action whose every post is greeted with 
relief. So how online is my compassion? 
Occasionally lately Iâ??ve felt like I came to the wrong place even 
though I maybe somehow helped to build it. Itâ??s not that whatâ??s 
happening there doesnâ??t deeply concern me, but simply the fact that this 
was a place where some of us would meet and talk and right now we canâ??t 
because our talk appears indecently untimely and incidental in light of topical 
events. And sometimes I feel like Iâ??m trying to sneak out of the door and 
donâ??t know how loudly I should say goodbye and to whom. Or even whether. 
Should I be polite? Embarrassed? A distasteful and definitely not politically 
correct metaphor for which I apologise because I simply canâ??t find another 
one that translates this feeling. Can already sense the wrath of angry people 
brewing except I know that the really angry ones gave up on this mail long ago. 
Please, itâ??s not meant to be a slight on whatâ??s happening at this 
place. I have no problem being a wallflower, story of my life, and am watching 
and listening with increasingly weary anguish and trying to learn from this shit 
and to grow up a bit through it, but should I be saying this here, to my 
friends, with all you new people getting irritated, or should I go somewhere 
else and build another place because there are much more important and urgent 
things to do now at what was once my place. And I fully agree with their 
importance and Iâ??m very glad that this place is proving somehow 
useful.Those who are caught in the fire right now and who have been on this list 
for some are for me like pilot fish or something; they continue to show access 
routes in this information low/high/by/way land and to make it feel like 
something more than a reportersâ?? list. Because I can see and hear them. 
Because they are my friends. Even those who make me angry. I bet some of you 
piss me off just as much as I piss you off. 
Talked about this with Syndicate friends. About reticence to reflect right 
now in any formal way on the changes in our virtual community (hate that stupid 
buzzword; how can a community thatâ??s grounded in anything human be 
anything but real? Versailles could be seen as a virtual community insofar as 
the blazons and symbols of power on which it was built were extraordinarily 
virtualâ?¦). Not wanting to do a Sherry Turkle or anything, life and death 
on a screen, god help us, but at the same time, if we donâ??t think about 
these phenomena now, in vivo, we wonâ??t have any "hold points" to 
look back to when we do start thinking about them. Talking to Lisa and Andreas 
about it. Why and in what guise and to what extent do we vindicate Syndicate? 
(yeah that was cheap). 
So many of us are torn by the gaping discrepancy between our 
"train-train quotidien" and the war that hits us in the eyes and gut 
every day, every time the modem reins in another batch of horror stories. Not 
knowing how/whether to say anything any more. We canâ??t even discuss simple 
things like trust without sounding corny although this has always been the basis 
of our communication; we can all hear the big marching boots in the background 
even though theyâ??re largely airborne for the time being, even if 
weâ??re comfortably installed outside stalker Zone. But youâ??re right 
Andreas, thereâ??s a strange absence of certain kinds of input that once 
were the grist of this group. I think itâ??s because weâ??re all 
listening and battling with ourselves and trying to work out how and whether to 
respond. I think our silence is prompted by a poisonous mix of shock and respect 
for those who have vital information to communicate. And Andreas, on a few 
occasions, youâ??ve had to stick your neck out and ask for our respect for 
others to be treated with the same respect by those others. But of course 
itâ??s hard, because that quickly degenerates into a "them and us" 
situation which is one of the the bases of warâ?¦ You say that people are 
signing on and off, that in many cases new names and addresses no doubt account 
for this, and I think we all see what we do see of the subscribe/ unsubscribe 
data (the visible part of the iceberg) with a certain amount of apprehension, 
because fleeing refugee subscriber/ unsubscribers are so prominently in our 
minds. Friends who fall silent. Those in physical danger and those in banal 
mental turmoil. Like me. Momentarily smitten with logorrhea, with a five hour 
train trip and two fresh batteries.Tough. For people who donâ??t like 
reading this kinda stuff three words of advice : donâ??t read it.
Read recently about dying Central European fauna, about a rare eagle and many 
other species on the verge of extinction after so many years of human fighting 
poisoning the elements â?? the air, ground, water. Tumatauenga, god of war 
and technology, has struck hard. But I think youâ??re right, Melentie : 
Tumatauengaâ??s tools have to be used to build anew. The new net has to be 
made and it has to go fishing. Ka hao te rangatahi.
Kia ora
Sally Jane Norman
Paris - Porirua