Essay Issue 22


Marc Pasco


The contemporary age of the virtual has ushered in a way of life that has become undeniably violent to history. With the miniaturization of information and knowledge into Facebook statuses and tweets, history has been reduced to a commodity in the cultural economy of memes, lists, and sound bites that warrants at the most a lengthy reply or a counter-tweet. Context, for all its hermeneutic relevance has given way to the allure of immediate transference and codification. What we now face, therefore, is a Gordian knot that cannot be untangled by any traditional hermeneutic key precisely because this problem of violence against history has, since the start of the age of simulation, transformed into a parody of itself. As the past is called upon to make its historical weight bear upon the present, the virtual medium, by default, configures its host into a hyperrealistic mode of existence in which history, understood as an event that once gathered human consciousness and circumstance that produced meaning, becomes exploited and sabotaged by its very meaningfulness. There is no shortage of meaning to be mined in history and the virtual medium cannot store the facts of history without sacrificing the integrity of its truth, its wholeness, its happening. It must inevitably give in to the allure of the spectacle—the spectacle, a known devourer of context and a neutralizer of conscience. By spectacularizing history through effortless reproducibility and dissemination in social media, virtual technologies are able to accommodate the citizen’s penchant for resolution, that is, their clamor for the “final word.” By offering various models of historical narrativity through virtual means, stories, interpretations, conspiracy theories, parodies pile up and eventually extinguish meaning in history by replacing it with different yet alternatable resolutions to the same story. It diminishes meaning by reproducing meaning. It allows history to speak to us in the present, but only in 140 characters or less. The truth of history becomes a function of the apparatus of reproducibility—spectacle. Today, the final word of history is no longer anchored in truth, but in farce that masquerades itself as “trending topic.”

The problem, it seems, is that today’s virtual medium feeds on the latent ultra-meaningfulness of history by imploding the imagined gaps between the said and the unsaid, between the dogmatized historiographical validity of what has been recorded and taught in our schools and the politically silenced voices of errancy, misinterpretation and gossip that occupy the tiny cracks of dissent and resentment from the margins—those who found themselves on the wrong side of history after the votes were counted. The virtual medium exploits these gaps to produce violent bursts and upheavals that take the form of clever memes, tweets, and even sites and is justified solely by the number of times it gets re-tweeted or shared in the virtual realm of social discourse. In this game of shadows, the citizenry is left in some sort of a democratic stupor, unable to act with rational intent due to the unprecedented density of history it encounters in small black screens that essentially serve as their last remaining window to history. The present is now a site of perpetual revolt, but not the kind of revolution that is grounded in ideology or even an imagined cause. We are witnessing the revolt of history as sponsored and sustained by the medium of virtuality—a revolution consisting of indistinct chatter and the perpetual parade of signs with no signifiers, virtually liberated from the demands of reason, narrative integrity and hermeneutic consistency. What must be done? To quote an (in)famous philosopher, “Perhaps only a god can save us now.”