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Dear All Those Who Dwell in WordPress Land,


SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM…sort of? I guess so. But, seriously…


Just a quick message to let all of y’all know that my blog is connected to a Facebook page, which is aptly and obviously named Fiction, Amongst Other Things (stroke of undeniable genius, I know). I’ve no idea whether or not this would be of any interest to any of you, but hey, thought I’d evince to you all anyways.

All of my posts from here automatically appear there (ah, the power of social media integration!) but, additionally, I share and repost a whole bunch of other stuff when it tickles my fancy/floats my boat/fills my mind brain with bolts of excitement. Anything from lame inspirational stuff to advice from writers, and quotes and links to other stuff, appear there; it’s a bit of a menagerie, really. A poetic menagerie. A menagerie for writers. Maybe. I dunno. Have a look and see if your fancy can be tickled or your boat floated, and so on and so forth, etc, etc.




Over at The New Inquiry, Rob Horning posted an article concerning selflessness and self-absorption in eighteenth century art, and how it applies to social media. He draws on arguments from the 1980 book by art historian Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality. This work reveals how French artists in the late eighteenth century “started to paint people who are totally absorbed in the moment — engrossed in what they are doing and oblivious to the possibility that they could be observed.”

Horning proceeds to compare two artists, Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, to illustrate how this idea of capturing a subject in complete self-absorption was problematic. Capitalism enabled “the emergence of a socially mobile middle class,” who “made ritualized emotional displays suddenly suspect.” Being seen in public, partaking in activities usually reserved for the aristocracy, was now fair game for the rising bourgeoise and, therefore, considered suspicious. Chardin captured subjects who were entirely lost in the moment, so self-absorbed and genuine that they are oblivious to the painter and the audience of viewers. Whereas, Greuze’s works tended to appear more conscious of the viewer by negating them (“…the painting effaces us so we can experience the bliss of self-forgetting…”) whilst invoking certain emotions, which, as Horning argues, can be related to the rise of the novel. Greuze’s paintings find a way to make us forget our own situation and become engrossed in the situation on the canvas and Chardin’s provoke a certain quietude in the viewer. The former can be considered forced emotions, whereas the latter provokes them through its authenticity.

So, where is all this going and how does it relate to social media? I hear you ask.

Well, Horning’s argues that social media requires something similar to what happens with Greuze’s art, an emotional reciprocation. The thought that someone would post something to, say, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, with no want of response has become something of a past dream. Like Chardin’s art. Displaying a message or photo on a social media platform for the sake of oneself, not wanting any kind of reply, is impossible. It would defeat the purpose of social media and the idea of putting anything on the Internet. That’s what your diary/journal/a piece of paper is for. And Horning is right. Social media is more akin to what occurs in Greuze’s art, only on a far more personal level because the artist can respond in turn. But within this want of response, it is possible to see a divide: a want of emotional reciprocation and a want of intellectual/academic response. To illustrate, I’ll use some lenient examples from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Facebook. If one of my friends—let’s call them ‘A’—posted a status update outlining how horrible their day was. Chances are they want to elicit a response out of someone. ‘A’ has posted it to gain some kind of sympathy, for reasons unknown. And what occurs more often than not is some other person—’B’— will comment on it with phrases like ‘you’ll be OK babe’ or ‘love you’, and most certainly ‘xxx’ (OK, I’m being a little ignorant. Obviously some people won’t respond this way; their grammar could be better or they could say something with more meaning). ‘B’ has willingly read the status of ‘A’ and that status—along with other variables, such as their mood, the level of friendship, etc.—has forced them to place themselves in the shoes of ‘A’, allowing them to respond with sympathy. Just like in Greuze’s art where the viewer is effaced and experiences self-forgetting.

Instagram. Essentially, we take photos, put a vintage-esque filter on it, artificially adjust the aperture and post the photo for our followers to see. This is far closer to the idea behind Greuze’s art, given the photographer is in the photo or is at least photographing the situation they’re in. Instagram is extremely self-indulgent and works, in terms of wanting emotional reciprocation, especially when it comes to ‘selfies’. But it can extend into a want of intellectual/academic  response. It isn’t uncommon among the people I follow to post photos of books of passages from books, or perhaps even the title of a movie. Some of the time—not always—when someone posts a photo like this, a discussion about it ensues. It’s an odd platform for this to happen but, thankfully, it does happen.

Twitter. When Twitter first made its way into the social media spotlight, I thought it was just a platform for putting up status updates in merely 140 characters. And that’s what it was, for a while. Then the creation of URL shortening sites allowed for people to post lengthy web site addresses in their tweets, linking their followers to pages they might find interesting or educational. Many people, such as celebrities, use Twitter as a way of keeping their fans informed of their day-to-day lives, which is cool, if you’re into that. The idea of wanting an emotional response is still quite likely when some people tweet but, in my experience, Twitter has become a vehicle for eliciting intellectual/academic responses. I follow many web sites and people who centre their writing around academia, literature, film, philosophy, ethics, etc., and if they’re not tweeting something interesting from their own mind, it’s likely they’re linking to an article or essay that’s worth reading and subsequently discussing. And the fact that your response to this can only be 140 characters means one must be extremely succinct, which is always a good thing.

[Aside: the intellectual/academic response idea can apply to Facebook but, in my opinion, it’s harder to cultivate this with so much other information constantly cascading down the page. There’s more room to respond—compared with Twitter—but it’s easier to lose track of conversation threads.]

When we look at social media the way Horning has, using the 17th century art of Chardin and Grueze as a lens, it’s possible to see that using social media in the same way Chardin created his art, is impossible. Users of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are more akin to Greuze’s art, in that users post things to elicit a response from their intended audience. Depending on the platform, the user will want a response in an emotional capacity, or, perhaps, an intellectual/academic response, possibly sparking debate or discussion. Personally, I don’t enjoy reading posts that require an emotional response, but when posts force me to think about an issue or an idea or read something interesting, I become one happy guy. And I’m not implying that one response is more important than the other. It’s all subjective. Yet I believe using social media to prompt an intellectual/academic response sits somewhere between the selflessness and self-absorption that Horning talks about, which is a really good place to be.


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