Friday, February 13, 2009

The Invisible Cord

There is a passage in Edmund White's great biography of the French bard of prisons, Jean Genet, in which the scribe has a mid-life crisis of sorts, pivoting on a singular vision. The moment occurs when Genet is sitting across from another man on the Metro. He envisages a hitherto invisible cord which extends out from the man's spine and extends across the width of the car, connected to a similar cord of interwoven silky tendrils (or something) emanating from Genet. The implicit revelation: that all humanity was somehow connected. For Genet this was unutterably depressing, and represented a huge failure of imagination (on the part of the creator perhaps?), the conclusion being that if everyone is connected in this way, then everyone is interchangeable, and no one unique or special. For an artist one can surmise that such a vision would be a crushing blow, and it came tellingly at a point when Genet's most prolific years were behind him.

I thought of this sequence recently while pondering my ambivalence about that hydra-headed Internet phenom, Facebook. Could FB friends be grouped into subcategories? Granted there are scads of people who had betrayed me, and I never forget such things, the people who I always respected but somehow we lost touch, and people whom I loathed from the get-go who somehow seem to think that the remove of time and space somehow exculpates their crimes.

Then there are the ciphers, and they are at the crux of what I am getting at here. The ones who, perhaps by default or association, somehow, at some point, insinuated themselves into your life, and have come to indiscriminately stake their claim to FB immortality by accruing as many "friends" as humanly possible. You're somehow, by virtue of living in the Matrix, inextricably linked to these people.

I remember a few years ago I was in the first phases of dating someone, shortly after the luster had worn off and you begin to question. Although I was somewhat smitten, and the physical delights were sublime, there was also a kind of rot at the core of the relationship which revealed itself in these thoughts that all there is? Is that all there is to dating a gorgeous, sweet, ostensibly intelligent guy? And then I had my own vision which later recognized itself in the Genet anecdote: this really nice, moderately intelligent, middle class,earnest guy could be replaced by just about any such guy of his generation and elicit the same effect in me: a persistent blandness of aspect. Suffice it to say, being crushed under the weight of both our expectations (and his bipolar disorder) the "relationship" was an abject failure.

But back to the Facebook conundrum. I look at all these forgotten faces suddenly resurfacing on the crest of a wave of a fad, and I realize that the ones who stuck are the only ones I am interested in, and there is a reason why the others had been siphoned off, intentionally or not. If I really want to hear the opinionated, hollow ramblings of some domineering or insane mediocrity, I'm sure I could find some other empty vessel to fulfill the exact same function in my present tense, thank you very much. That much alone can be gleaned from 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

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