699 stories

max read validates my opinions on the internet’s impact on culture: thank you max read

1 Share

I’m of two minds about it: On the one hand, there’s a self-flattering conventional wisdom about the emptiness or unoriginality of contemporary culture crudescing among my peers that seems worth resisting, or at least attending to. Why would or should yuppie parents like us be aware of the “scintillating and new”? (Surely the most damning thing you can say about Dimes Square is that people like me are aware of it?) What are we doing ourselves to seek out challenging or even just adult culture, rather than just assume it should be served up to us or dominate whatever passes for “the conversation”? And boy doesn’t it seem like a convenient coincidence that culture was more dynamic at a time when we didn’t get tired at 8 p.m.?

Hidden in un-site-post-ified annotations are about a thousand iterations of me whining about this. The Kids These Days.

Also, I suspect there’s something to the idea that “the conversation” no longer takes place in as public of venues as it did during the gatekept era or the very beginning of the un-gatekept Internet era. There is a warhead’s worth of Discourse constituting “debate” about cultural works but it’s happening on Discord servers. Still not really gatekept: the investment needed to participate is no higher than the investment needed to be aware of it, but that investment is a time-and-social-engagement investment.

“Boredom,” I don’t know, but the music writer Ted Gioia, in a newsletter from January, pointed out that “the new music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.”

I am decreasingly impressed with Ted Gioia.

And the film writer Farran Smith Nehme took a tour through the last 100 years of box-office hits and found that well-reviewed, popular movies aimed at adults have all but vanished from view:Of the 120 top-10 box office hits for 2008–2019, 42.5% were aimed at children/youths; 25% were superhero movies; 11.7% were Star Wars/science fiction; 13.3% were thrill rides; 2.5% were whatever the Hobbit was supposed to be; 1.7% were poorly reviewed movies for adults; and 3.3% were well-reviewed movies for adults. This is not necessarily evidence…

I’m immediately suspicious of percentages, but happy to go sniff through this.

For example: I haven’t been through the source there yet, but if you saw a static quantity of quality movies for adults and an unrelated increase in children’s entertainment, you might expect a move toward this kind of pie chart break down. Or if quality movies for adults now involve more sci-fi or “thrill rides” than they used to, you might be at a loss.

Still, I am being an iamverysmart critic here, so don’t put weight on this.

But it does suggest that most of what we get these days, in terms of what’s most widely consumed and covered, is pap. Ross Douthat has described these trends as a symptom of cultural decadence.

A. When has this not been true? Haven’t there always been people bemoaning that the lowest-common-denominator that gets biggest play is valueless?

B. You’re telling me to pay attention to Ross Douthat?

C. “The things that are most consumed” and “most of what we consume” do not exist in static relation.

D. Neither do “what’s most widely consumed” and “what’s most widely covered”.

I think what gives me trouble here, actually, is that the account seems incomplete. It tells us about the demand side of cultural production over the last several decades: There is less demand for intellectually challenging culture (the argument goes) because it is less valuable to consumers as a means of rising in a social hierarchy. But what about the supply side? What about the companies and institutions that create culture? It would be unsophisticated to think that they’re merely responding to some natural market signal, wouldn’t it? The word “money” doesn’t appear in either Goldberg or Marx’s posts, which seems odd to me for posts putting forward an argument about class. As big a story as the expansion of the internet over the last few decades has been the rise of a finance-led asset economy, in which rising asset prices (in stocks as in homes) are prioritized over wages, productivity, semiconductor chips, halfway decent 90-minute movies, etc. What role does all the investment-seeking money play in supposed cultural boredom? Major labels and movie studios tend to belong these days to public, integrated multinational conglomerates, which prize consistent returns – whether from multi-season television shows, or established and wholly owned I.P. – over any particular kind of innovation, creativity, or daring.

awww SHIT tell ‘em

Seriously, though, this is it. To me it seems like there is tons of super vibrant work in every field I happen to go near and it’s being done by students and struggling creators. Then you look at the jobs they’re supposed to be getting, and the money machines seem to prefer to fund spiritual deadness.

We might go a step more meta and observe that capitalism-brain encourages us to endlessly analyze our consumer choices, leading to Demand Discourse across topics, but does not encourage structural analyses of power, leading to gaps in Supply Discourse1.

  1. Would that we only had gaps in Discourse Supply! 

Read the whole story
22 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story

No land for you

1 Share

Join me on this trip, friend.

You leave the office on a Friday at 14:00. This is much earlier than usual. It was quiet for whatever reason. Yet you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, depleted. As you take the usual 40-minute walk back home, you receive a message: “Plans for tonight? How about a gin-n-tonic?”

You don’t reply. You can’t muster the strength to explain why you don’t want to go out. It is not the other person’s fault. Who doesn’t like a drink in the presence of nice company? It’s not even that you quit drinking alcohol: a mere long drink is nothing compared to what you are used to. And the place is not that bad, either. What gives?

After 20 minutes, you pick up the phone and text back: “I can’t. Will tell you later”. You then switch off the device and change course. Instead of going home, you are heading to a forest on the other side of the town’s outskirts. If you are to hide, you might as well do it properly, right?

You are overburdened by troubling thoughts. The responsibilities of the model professional have taken their toll on you. There is this people-pleasing propensity to help everyone out, usually at your own expense. You provide assistance to them to receive some validation that you too are good at something. It is a token of recognition. Perhaps they might even like you!

Though there is something else: the growing sense of emptiness stemming from the realisation that nobody knows you. How is that even possible? You have literally hundreds of acquaintances plus all those who tell you how your “fame precedes you”. Please! Yes, there are those who work with you, drink with you, fuck with you… So what? They don’t know you. It’s all a trick of the moment.

No-one knows you because you don’t know yourself. What you show is an act. You have been leading a life of role-playing. Behold the “good worker” and “reliable colleague”! Everyone calls you when they need a good worker and reliable colleague. They aren’t asking for you, though. The call is for someone who fits these criteria, an avatar of the relevant expectations. You? You are only relevant insofar as you identify with that avatar. Otherwise you are replaceable, disposable, irrelevant.

How can you know who you are when all your experiences are contingent on that initial lie? You please others to feel better about yourself. Deep down, you are scared, afraid that no-one likes you and that if you dare answer negatively they will have no reason to ever be with you. You dread being rejected. It is not loneliness per se, it is the dismissal that brings about this eventuality. That is what you cannot face up to.

Come Monday, you have no plan to return to the office. You know they can and will replace you swiftly with another one of those “model professionals”. What’s the going rate for a dozen, anyway? You’re being torn apart by that false duty to please others, while your nucleus of self-preservation still urges you to quit.

Your dutiful part would like it to be just another Monday. Everybody goes to office at 09:00, but you are there at 08:00. Others leave at 17:00, while you stay until 18:00 or at least wait for everyone to leave first before making it to the exit. The secret desire is to be seen; to have someone think “now this is professionalism!”

What do those accolades give you? Comfort, of course. They feed into your narrative of selfhood. It is presumptuous, as it starts from the baseless belief that you are ugly and find no approval among your peers. It is biased: it conditions you to behave in a manner that seeks to win everyone’s approval. Hence the people-pleasing attitude; hence the insecurity of confronting the possibility of rejection.

A Monday like all others is yet another sacrifice to the altars of hypocrisy and self-denial. You keep performing the same ritual over-and-over as it provides a solid basis for your operations: a stable income, a fancy job, a decent apartment. It could’ve been much worse. You’ve been there and experienced as much, like those days you were begging to work for a second 8-hour shift just to break even. This sort of stability is worth the cost, it seems.

In truth, you persist on your routines as you harbour the hope that you will be discovered. The gem amidst the dirt, no? Your behaviour conforms with the tired trope of the powerless damsel who can only wish that the knight in shining armour saves the day. You keep acting to play it safe, to preserve this otherwise eerie stability, while secretly waiting for your own saviour: the “special one” who will have the clarity of mind to see past your charade and understand that there is a troubled and misunderstood person under all this apparent eagerness for work.

Many Mondays have gone by. Summer gave way to winter multiple times over. You dare not make the first move as there is always the chance of being rejected. Instead, you wait. Your 18th birthday was long ago and you insist on waiting. You are closer to your hair turning grey. But you are stubborn. Such are the boundaries of your comfort zone: please others, fill your actual emptiness with the placebo of superficial validation, and keep the delusion alive. The special one is right around the corner.

This walk is unlike the others: there will be no Monday after. It ends here at this forest. You left the office for the last time. Until this morning you were still thinking that there exists a more suitable workplace or some other milieu that will welcome you better. What does “welcome” and “better” entail? Perhaps to do more of the same with a greater degree of effectiveness?

Those fancies quickly fade away. You imagine the beautiful eyes you’ve never seen before yet already fallen in love with and think what you would do for them. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever! Cowards don’t just do stuff. You still fear rejection. Imagine being enamoured with someone you’ve never met, seen, or heard, and still fearing you will be turned down. What will that expose, really? This puts an end to your daydreaming… The eyes vanish. Their colour is one with the pond on this clear day.

You are no coward though. You have never hesitated to mark your own path. The problem is comfort, too much comfort. You mistook this stability for a benign equilibrium in your life. The money, the sociability, the “friends with benefits but come Monday I pretend to not know you”… Connected bodies in an experience akin to a drive-through. Superficialities! It was not going anywhere. You managed to fit in by mutilating yourself.

Now you know. You toss it all to the wind and discard the phone you just broke into pieces. There is no country in this world that will welcome you as somebody else. You will always be taken for who you appear to be, even by those with sincere intentions. Who are you, after all?

The plan has changed. There will be no Monday. It is time for a new beginning. You have no answers. Any such attempt is an exercise in prejudice, in claiming to know more than you actually do. Instead, you remain honest and thus silent. Your talking henceforth will come from a position of knowledge. You have no notion of what is to come. You just know that your life hitherto has been an elaborate lie. In this hour of crisis you have found what you always lacked: the fortitude to persevere in the face of uncertainty.

There is no land to escape to; no home to save you. Of course! How can the milieu be at fault for something that you have been carrying inside of you all this time? The dread of rejection, the insecurity of being alone. Whatever exit you make is simply a means of physically removing yourself from the Mondays. There is no delusion that you will find solace in some miraculous mountain.

The poison in the mind is what is making you this peculiar brand of coward: all those biases you have taken for granted, all these unfair views about yourself that you have woven together into a coherent narrative. They are biased and unfair because they are based on nothing but your aggrandised fears. This forest is where it all begins. The grand cleansing, the thoroughgoing reform, the remaking.

You are on the move, though in a deep meditative state. You know this is possible. It has happened before and will probably become the norm going forward. You are tearing down all monuments to the truth you had constructed. You shall learn to say “no” and will stop acting as selfless the whole time, for you are not self-less.

The insecurities are not yours. Now you recognise it. They are a learnt disposition, a burden you had accumulated through the years of denial. The insipid poison is the belief that you own this burden. There is a misplaced sense of duty towards it: to live up to the challenge of carrying it, to be strong, and to just do what you must. “Duty”, “must”… Who even decides those? To take them for granted is the sign of foolishness; foolishness of the highest order. Now you know that none of this is yours. The travels, the acquaintances, the kisses, the lies… Nothing belongs to you. It is alienable.

You still lack strength to conduct yourself in a way that is consistent with those thoughts. You threw away the phone and will not report at the office because you cannot take it all at once. That’s okay. The key is to take it slow and start small. You are now in the process of deconstructing all those edifices you had laboriously set up over the years. These are the products of a bygone era; an era of heteronomy (rule by another).

You are no longer searching for a promised land. It all happens here. The burdens will come with you if you keep carrying them. Abolish all such property, stop being invested in its preservation, and you shall find peace.

You are now home and are packing the essentials. One of the perks of having enough savings is that you can implement change rapidly. This Monday you will be far away from your usual location. Though not because you think of your destination as your salvation. No. The change comes from within. It consists in an altogether different disposition. You plan to be remade.

You are still weak and fragile, albeit with a newfound inexorable determination. Will there ever be another gin-n-tonic? No, not if it emanates from the same place as the last ones. No more drive-throughs! Any new event will either be rooted in honesty or it will not transpire with your consent.

Read the whole story
25 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story

When the cosplaying dolphins met the cosplaying French philosophers

1 Share

My favourite kind of folktales are the kind that are so microscopic and so esoteric that they take approx a thousand words to set up.

In that spirit, some necessary background:

Mastodon is an online social thing which is a little bit like Twitter, in that you post little status updates in the form of words and pictures, and you follow loads of friends who are doing the same.

UNLIKE Twitter, it’s not owned and run by a single company. Mastodon is divided up into tons of separate communities – and I mean actually divided as opposed to “separate but all ultimately in the same place” like subreddits on reddit. From the Mastodon website:

Mastodon isn’t a single website like Twitter or Facebook, it’s a network of thousands of servers operated by different organizations and individuals that provide a seamless social media experience.

(4.4 million people use Mastodon, which isn’t huge compared to Twitter’s 229 million daily actives, but it ain’t peanuts neither. You can join up at the official website above, and if you do then please do follow me. I’m It’s where we’ll go when Twitter finally implodes.)

The Mastodon servers are networked together into the “fediverse” so at first sight the experience is like Twitter in that you can follow people pretty much anyway and it feels global… but look a bit closer and there’s way more variety.

Because: individual Mastodon servers have autonomy. They can have their own policies; they can choose to enforce certain behaviours; they have their own “global” timelines, which means they take on their own character. If they disagree with another server, they can simply stop relaying messages from it – imagine you and your friends on Twitter able to just cutting off the angry politics people.

(I’ve been following virtual private neighbourhoods as a trend for a while. This is a post that continues that thread.)

The autonomy inherent in Mastodon means nooks, niches, and corners in which high weirdness may flourish.


Back in 2017, internet artist Darius Kazemi (a.k.a. Tiny Subversions) founded a new Mastodon instance:

The rule of Dolphin Town is that users can only post the letter ‘e’.

Some indicative posts:

Eeee ee eeee eee e e e eeee? SHOW MORE

E eeeee eee!


[EEEEEE] Eee e eeeee EEeeEee, Eee ee. E, e, Eee!

And also,


It got a mention in Vice magazine.

Sooooo you can join Dolphin Town here and if this is the community that gets you into Mastodon for the first time then I love you already.


I am well-disposed to dolphins because of that slightly wild period in the 1960s when everyone was convinced that we would be speaking with dolphins in the very near future, and we would be sharing the planet with them as a second human-style sentient species. To this day dolphins look after nuclear sites for various navies. Much effort went into attempting to open lines of cetacean communication, including feeding them LSD, because?, I don’t know because.

One wonderful idea was that of the Dolphin Embassy, proposed by the architect collective Ant Form in 1974 – in an article in Esquire magazine it turns out.

Here’s a history of the idea.

Here’s a collection of architectural sketches. One blueprint shows the deck of a raft on which humans have their media pod, galley, command station and so on, and in the centre is a circular pool, with steps going down to it, and the pool is open to the depths, meaning that dolphins can swim up and appear inside it. So while the human raft sits on and is contained by the ocean, the pool is contained by the raft, and there’s an elegant symmetry to that, a place for a meeting of peers.


So another thing on Mastodon is You can sign up.

Oulipo (Wikipedia) is a community and writing constraint that was born out of ‘pataphysics in 1960. Its singular law: that which you can say on Dolphin Town, you can’t say in Oulipo.

(A Void is a full book in Oulipo – pretty amazing.)

Ouilipo’s Mastodon community has a matching constraint: look at many posts in this story.

(As it turns out, Darius did Dolphin Town shortly following, not first. But this arrow of causality is not my point.)

(Btw Oulipo is hard.)

ANYWAY this is when I finally get to the microfolktale!

In 2018, taking advantage of the federated messaging afforded by the Mastodon system, a user from ventured forth and made overtures to Dolphin Town:

@e salutations! i am a diplomat from oulipo dot social on a diplomatic mission to curtail any bad blood and start working towards a harmonious tomorrow

@e replied: "@kit EEEEEEE"


And the visit quickly came to a bitter end:

@e uhm wowww, okay. is that how you talk to all visiting diplomats? with such profanity? i found my way to this town of dolphins in good faith, ignoring many a warning, hoping to build a concord and this is how you act? in all my days as a spy diplomat, this is a first.

[angrily] good day to you! good day!

(The dolphin response: "EEE eee eeeee–eeee-ee-e-eee-e, e, e".)

That it, that’s the whole story.

I love this tiny interaction that occurred 3.5 years ago SO MUCH.

In microcosm it is exactly how difference should encounter difference on the internet.

I don’t mean playfully, really, I mean I’m taking this at face value here. We’re not kidding around, there is no larping online, on the internet no-one knows you’re a dog, I mean, let’s make our assessment of this entirely in-world: it’s an interaction where no common ground was found, fundamentally, followed by a backing-away.

Which is… what should happen? Instead of it contributing to the all-consuming conflagration which is the Culture War?

My take is that detente is possible only because of the self-determination of Mastodon instances. When it’s always on the table to cut ties, you don’t yell in anyone’s face – because they’ll just leave. There’s no point. Counter-intuitively the ability to walk away leads to a greater effort to find ways to stay together.

A LESSON from the cosplaying dolphins and French philosophers. Art eh. Gets you every time.

Also: embassies! Diplomatic missions! Just… visiting!

I would love to see this pattern all over social software.

I want the ability to one Discord server to dispatch an ambassador to a second, with the intention of establishing a shared channel.

I want Disney+ to open an embassy in Netflix and throw parties (uh, exclusive content shared for only a month, let’s say) and vice versa.

There should be a formal program like SETI that attempts to make first contact with the intelligence inside GPT-3 and DALL-E and so on. The UN should be treating every new AI for the next decade as a potential locked-in sentience until proved otherwise.

And, reversing this, Twitter and Facebook and so on should be broken up into federated self-governing communities, each with the ability to walk away. It’s not working, this experiment of putting everyone in the same melting pot without even the hope of getting some distance. Good fences make good neighbours etc.

eeee eeeeee EEEE eeee EEEEEeeeee eee.

Read the whole story
78 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story

Γιατί δεν μας διαβάζουν στο εξωτερικό; (του Νίκου Α. Μάντη)

1 Share



του Νίκου Α. Μάντη


Το ερώτημα του τίτλου αναφύεται συχνά πυκνά στο δημόσιο διάλογο περί τη λογοτεχνία στη χώρα μας (στο βαθμό που αυτός συνεχίζει να υφίσταται).

Εδώ και αρκετά χρόνια και με διάφορες αφορμές προβληματισμού επί του θέματος (ιδίως από το 2001 και δώθε, όταν η μεγαλύτερη ευκαιρία προβολής της εθνικής μας λογοτεχνίας, η διεθνής έκθεση Φραγκφούρτης στην οποία ήμασταν τιμώμενη χώρα, πήγε επί της ουσίας χαμένη) τόσο οι συγγραφείς όσο και οι περί αυτούς μελετητές δείχνουν κατά καιρούς να αναρωτιούνται. Ασφαλώς βιβλία μεταφράζονται και εκδίδονται σε ξένες γλώσσες, ωστόσο η ζωή τους στα ράφια των βιβλιοπωλείων του εξωτερικού παραμένει σύντομη – με την εξαίρεση των πανεπιστημιακών βιβλιοθηκών, ενδεχομένως. Σχεδόν κανένας τίτλος δεν καταφέρνει να αποκτήσει, όχι το καθεστώς κλασικού, αλλά έστω μια μικρή αναγνωρισιμότητα μεταξύ του διεθνούς κοινού. Οι απαντήσεις που δίνονται στο πρόβλημα κινούνται συνήθως σε δύο κατευθύνσεις: αφενός εκείνη που το θέλει να συνιστά προβληματισμό ουσίας για την ποιότητα της λογοτεχνίας μας (και που είναι μάλλον η μειοψηφική) και αφετέρου αυτή που αποδίδει το ζήτημα σε περισσότερο τεχνικές ή συγκυριακές αιτίες, λόγω π.χ. της μικρής εμβέλειας της γλώσσας μας, ή της απουσίας σχετικών προγραμμάτων επιδοτούμενων μεταφράσεων για την προώθηση των βιβλίων στο εξωτερικό (που είναι θα λέγαμε η κρατούσα, στο πλαίσιο της δημοφιλούς στην Ελλάδα -και εν πολλοίς δικαιολογημένης- «γκρίνιας» για την γενικευμένη απουσία κρατικών πολιτικών). Στο σύντομο κείμενο που θα ακολουθήσει, θα προσπαθήσω να ψηλαφίσω αιτίες και λόγους που αφορούν την πρώτη κατηγορία σκέψης, αφήνοντας κατά μέρος τη δεύτερη. (Άλλωστε η ανάγκη προβολής οφείλει πάντα να έπεται ουσιαστικότερων σταθμίσεων, όπως τι είναι αυτό που θα προβληθεί και κατά πόσο αξίζει κάτι τέτοιο.)

Άποψη του γράφοντος αποτελεί ότι το αναντίρρητα επιβεβαιωμένο φαινόμενο της μηδαμινής παρουσίας της λογοτεχνίας μας στο εξωτερικό, και δη της πεζογραφίας, η οποία και θα μας απασχολήσει στο πλαίσιο του ανά χείρας κειμένου -καθώς η ποίηση διέπεται από διαφορετικούς όρους πρόσληψης, αποδοχής και συνεπώς προβολής- είναι ότι αυτό συνιστά γεγονός σημαντικό, γεγονός με μεγάλη βαρύτητα για τη διαδικασία αποτίμησης και αξιολόγησης της εγχώριας παραγωγής, που πρέπει να αποτελέσει κεντρικό κριτήριο για την ανωτέρω αξιολόγηση, και όχι μια ασήμαντη παράμετρο, οφειλόμενη εν πολλοίς στην τύχη ή στα καπρίτσια του διεθνούς κοινού. Και εν τέλει, ότι δεν αποτελεί κάποια «παρεξήγηση», αλλά, αντιθέτως, μια σαφή ένδειξη ουσίας.

Κατά τη γνώμη μου, το γεγονός της υστέρησης που καταγράφεται, οφείλεται σε τρεις κύριους λόγους, οι οποίοι σχετίζονται τόσο με τη φύση, όσο και με τη συγκυρία της πνευματικής παραγωγής στη χώρα μας, αλλά -και εδώ υπεισέρχεται το τυχαίο- και της γεωγραφικής και ιστορικής της συγκρότησης.

Ως πρώτο λόγο, θα πρότεινα την ίδια την διαχρονική κοινωνική διαμόρφωση του ανθρωπότυπου που αποκαλείται «νεοέλληνας», τόσο μέσα από την κρατική του μορφή, από τον τρόπο που τον κοινωνικοποιεί δηλαδή το εκπαιδευτικό σύστημα και αργότερα η διοικητική οργάνωση του κράτους, όσο και από τις αμέτρητες συνειδητές και ασυνείδητες προσλαμβάνουσες που του παρέχουν η οικογένεια (έτερος μεγάλος πυλώνας αυτοσυνειδησίας στη χώρα) η εκκλησία, οι πολιτισμικές δομές και η επαγγελματική διαστρωμάτωση της κοινωνίας, αλλά και όλες οι υπόλοιπες μικρές ή μεγάλες εγχώριες συσσωματώσεις. Γνώμη μου είναι ότι ο ανθρωπότυπος αυτός είναι βαθιά αντιπνευματικός, μιλώντας πάντα για τον κανόνα και όχι για τις συχνές -και λαμπρές- εξαιρέσεις. Έχοντας παραδοσιακά να αντιμετωπίσει μία ατροφική κοινωνία/οικονομία, ένα αβέβαιο εθνικό και πολιτικό περιβάλλον και ένα κράτος που φυτοζωούσε πάντα στα όρια της κατάρρευσης, ο μέσος κάτοικος της Ελλάδας διαμόρφωσε μια νοοτροπία που ευνοούσε ασχολίες με επιβιωτικό πρόσημο: προτιμούνταν όσα είχαν να κάνουν με «την σήμερον», δίχως πρόνοιες ή ανησυχίες για το μέλλον, το οποίο παρέμενε εν πολλοίς άδηλο. Αποφεύγονταν έτσι τα «μεγάλα έργα», εκείνα που θα είχαν διάρκεια ή που θα μνημειώνονταν στο χρόνο, προς όφελος των ταπεινών και των σίγουρων. Όχι βιομηχανία, αλλά εμπόριο, όχι αρχιτεκτονική μεγέθους, αλλά μικροϊδιοκτησίες, παντού κατακερματισμός και «χαμηλή κλίμακα». Με τον καιρό αυτό εμπεδώθηκε και απέκτησε τον χαρακτήρα προτάγματος, η μειονεξία της ανασφάλειας δημιούργησε τον τύπο του καταφερτζή, εκείνου που ψάχνει να πιάσει «την εύκολη καλή», ενώ η κουλτούρα, που από τη φύση της αναζητάει ριζώματα στο παρελθόν και ανάσες στο μέλλον, στιγματίστηκε ως το πεδίο των «υπερφίαλων», των «αλαφροΐσκιωτων» ή των «σαλών». Ωστόσο η πεζογραφία και -ιδίως- το μυθιστόρημα, δεν δύνανται να καλλιεργηθούν σε τέτοιο σαθρό περιβάλλον διαρκούς εκκρεμότητας και βιοτικής δέσμευσης: έχουν ανάγκη από ανθρώπους και εκπαιδευτικά συστήματα που νιώθουν (ή έστω αυταπατώνται) ότι συνομιλούν με βαθύτερους χρονικούς ορίζοντες, κάτι που στη χώρα μας ήταν περίπου αδιανόητο. Εξ ου και το παραγόμενο έργο είχε πάντα στοιχεία «μικρού», «ταπεινού», «κατακερματισμένου» ή «θνησιγενούς». (Δεν είναι τυχαίο το πόσο γρήγορα «γερνούν» τα πεζογραφικά έργα στην Ελλάδα: τη στιγμή που στη Βρετανία διαβάζεται σήμερα ευχάριστα ακόμα και ο πιο ελάσσων βικτοριανός, στη χώρα μας, σχεδόν από γενιά σε γενιά, το παραγόμενο έργο δείχνει παλαιωμένο σε βαθμό οξείδωσης, αντικείμενο μελέτης κυρίως πανεπιστημιακών. Ελάχιστα ονόματα επιβιώνουν σε όριο τριακονταετίας, ενώ έργα που στην εποχή τους εξυμνούνται και βραβεύονται, μετά από δύο δεκαετίες μοιάζουν αφόρητα ξεπερασμένα. Ενδεικτικό επιπλέον ότι, με την εξαίρεση κάποιων λεπταίσθητων συγγραφέων όπως ο Κοσμάς Πολίτης ή ο Γιάννης Μπεράτης, το σύνολο περίπου της γενιάς του τριάντα, εκείνης που θεωρείται ότι «γέννησε» το μυθιστόρημα στη χώρα μας, διαβάζεται πλέον -αν διαβάζεται- σχεδόν αποκλειστικά από εφήβους).

Ένας δεύτερος λόγος, παρόμοιος ωστόσο με τον πρώτο, για την καχεξία της πεζογραφίας στη χώρα μας, είναι πιστεύω η συγκυρία της μακροχρόνιας εδαφικής και εθνικής ολοκλήρωσης. Η πεζογραφία -και δη το μυθιστόρημα- από την εποχή που γεννήθηκε, τον 17ο αιώνα στη Δυτική Ευρώπη, είχε έναν κύριο στόχο: να στρέψει έναν (παραμορφωτικό ή μη) καθρέφτη στην ίδια την κοινωνία, θέτοντας υπαρξιακά ερωτήματα για το ποια είναι η κοινωνία αυτή, και από ποια θεμελιώδη χαρακτηριστικά συντίθενται τα άτομα που την αποτελούν. Η αναρώτηση και η αμφισβήτηση είναι ο πυρήνας της ουσίας του μυθιστορήματος. (Είναι χαρακτηριστικό άλλωστε ότι από τα πρώτα είδη μυθιστορήματος που άνθισαν, υπήρξε το λεγόμενο φιλοσοφικό μυθιστόρημα, όπου στοχαστές όπως ο Βολταίρος έδιναν αφηγηματική μορφή στα ποικίλα ερωτήματά τους.) Αυτός ο «καθρέφτης της αυτοαμφισβήτησης» δεν μπορεί να νοηθεί σε χώρες που η ίδια η ύπαρξή τους είναι μονίμως υπό πολεμικό συναγερμό και που σχεδόν αντλούν την υπόστασή τους απ’ την διαρκή αναμέτρηση με έναν άλλο, υπέρτερο αριθμητικά αντίπαλο. Μόνο εκείνος που έχει εδραιωθεί γερά στα πόδια του, είναι σε θέση να αυτο-παρατηρείται. Εξάλλου, η παλιά υπόθεση του Βασίλη Βασιλικού για την απουσία ρωμαλέας αστικής τάξης μπορεί επίσης να προστεθεί εδώ: η Ελλάδα ήταν ανέκαθεν μια σχετικά ομοιογενής κοινωνία, μ’ έναν απέραντο αγροτικό τομέα και ισχνή αστική οργάνωση – η γνωστή αποστροφή ότι δεν υπάρχει Έλληνας που να μην έχει παππού «ψαρά, γεωργό ή βοσκό». Οι Έλληνες αστοί ανήκαν συνήθως στις παροικίες, ζώντας φιλοξενούμενοι σε ξένα γλωσσικά περιβάλλοντα, πολύ συχνά περιφρονώντας τις εγχώριες γλώσσες. Το μυθιστόρημα ωστόσο είναι κατ’ εξοχήν «αστική επινόηση» · ήταν ο τρόπος των αστών να διαλαλήσουν τη νεοαποκτηθείσα τους αυτοπεποίθηση, απεικονίζοντας την κοινωνία της εποχής τους μέσα από το δικό τους, σκωπτικό πολύ συχνά, πρίσμα. Ως αποτέλεσμα των παραπάνω, δεν είναι τυχαίο που καθ’ όλη τη διάρκεια του 19ου αιώνα στην Ελλάδα ανθεί μονάχα η ποίηση (και μάλιστα μια ποίηση υψιπετής, βροντόφωνη, σε μεγάλο βαθμό προσδεμένη στην εθνική ιδέα) ενώ, στην εποχή του Μπαλζάκ, του Φλωμπέρ και του Τολστόι, αντί για μυθιστορήματα, παράγονται με τη σέσουλα και καταναλώνονται ασμένως έμμετρα έργα, τραγωδίες σε δεκαπεντασύλλαβο, βουκολικά δράματα και κωμειδύλλια, είδη που στην Ευρώπη έχουν εγκαταλειφθεί από καιρό, ή τουλάχιστον δεν αποτελούν μέρος της πνευματικής εμπροσθοφυλακής – στη χώρα μας γράφονταν έως και τη δεκαετία του 1950! (Μέσα σε όλα αυτά, αλλά συνδεόμενο με το αίτημα της «εθνικής καθαρότητας», είναι συν τοις άλλοις και το γλωσσικό ζήτημα, που σκεπάζει και συσκοτίζει να πάντα.) Ούτε είναι επίσης τυχαίο ότι το μυθιστόρημα «κανονικοποιείται» ως είδος-μπροστάρης της πεζογραφικής (όχι της λογοτεχνικής) παραγωγής, μονάχα με τη γενιά του τριάντα, όταν, έπειτα από το 1922, έχει λυθεί πια αμετάκλητα το εθνικό πρόβλημα της χώρας. Το γεγονός, αυτό, της καθυστερημένης και υπό όρους επικράτησης του μυθιστορήματος, έχει εντούτοις ορισμένες σοβαρές συνέπειες: η πλέον σημαντική είναι ότι, στην ελληνική του μορφή, το μυθιστόρημα σπάνια αποτελεί αυτόν τον «ειρωνικό εξεταστικό καθρέφτη» που επικράτησε να είναι αλλού, αλλά ζει και υπάρχει εξαρτημένο βαριά από εξωλογοτεχνικές προτεραιότητες, είτε αναζητώντας το «νέο εθνικό μπούσουλα» (ιδ. Θεοτοκά) είτε αργότερα, μπλεγμένο άλυτα στις ιδεολογικές διαμάχες Αριστεράς-Δεξιάς, όπου και πάλι, αντί για μια όσο το δυνατό νηφάλια παρατήρηση, επικρατεί η στράτευση, ο διδακτισμός, η σοβαροφάνεια και η έλλειψη χιούμορ, κοινώς μια τέχνη η οποία δεν είναι αυτεξούσια και ανεξάρτητη, αλλά άθυρμα και καχεκτικό προσάρτημα του εκάστοτε υπέρτερου κοινωνικοπολιτικού προτάγματος. Με σοβαρές φυσικά συνέπειες για την ποιότητά της.

Ο τρίτος λόγος που θα προτείνω σε τούτη τη σύντομη αναρώτηση για τη διεθνή εικόνα της πεζογραφίας μας, δεν αφορά τόσο την ιστορική της συγκρότηση και την εξ αυτής ποιότητά της, αλλά κάτι παρεμφερές και ωστόσο κατά τι διαφορετικό: την θεματολογία της. Με αυτό δεν προτίθεμαι να μπω σε μια στατιστική περί των ειδών («τόσα τα κοινωνικά, τόσα τα ιστορικά, τόσα τα αστυνομικά μυθιστορήματα», κοκ) όσο να κάνω μια υπόθεση σχετιζόμενη περισσότερο με τη γεωγραφία και με τις σχέσεις των πολιτισμών. Η σύγχρονη Ελλάδα, πέρα από την γλωσσική της απομόνωση (που θεωρώ ότι είναι λιγότερο κρίσιμη σε σχέση με τους παρατιθέμενους λόγους) έχει συν τοις άλλοις και μία απομόνωση πολιτισμική, με την εξής έννοια: δεν αποτελεί μέρος κάποιας κυρίαρχης συσσωμάτωσης, που θα μπορούσε να εντάξει τη χώρα σε μια ομάδα συναφών ιστορικών και εξ αυτού κοινών αφηγηματικών παραστάσεων. Η σύγχρονη Ελλάδα δεν υπήρξε φυσικά ποτέ αυτοκρατορική ή ιμπεριαλιστική δύναμη, ώστε να επιβάλει την αυτοεικόνα της ως «σημαντική» σε πλήθος άλλων λαών, αλλά δεν υπήρξε ούτε μέρος αυτοκρατοριών ή άλλων πολιτισμικών υπο-ομάδων, στο βαθμό πχ που χώρες όπως η Σλοβακία ή η Κροατία ανήκουν στην πολιτισμική/αφηγηματική ομάδα της «πρώην Αυστροουγγαρίας» ή της «Κεντρικής Ευρώπης», η Πορτογαλία στην πολιτισμική ομάδα της «ξεπεσμένης αποικιακής μητρόπολης», η Βουλγαρία και η Ρουμανία στο στρατόπεδο της «μελαγχολικής πρώην αποικίας της ΕΣΣΔ», οι λατινοαμερικάνικες χώρες στον ισπανόφωνο κόσμο μιας «πολύχρωμης, τροπικής παρακμής», ενώ τέλος οι χώρες της Αφρικής και της ινδικής χερσονήσου συνδέονται μεταξύ τους και με τον υπόλοιπο κόσμο με διάφορες μετα-αποικιακές συνάφειες – η λίστα θα μπορούσε να εκτείνεται επ’ αόριστον. (Στη δική μας περίπτωση, η οθωμανική περίοδος, που ιστορικά θα ήταν δυνατό να αποτελέσει μια αντίστοιχη ομαδοποίηση, λογίζεται αναμενόμενα ως «ταμπού» και δεν προσφέρεται για τέτοιους σκοπούς, μιας και η ίδια η έννοια «Ελλάδα» δομείται κατ’ αντιπαράθεση και αντιδιαστολή προς αυτή, προσφέροντας αποκλειστικά εθνικοαπελευθερωτικά αφηγήματα.) Όλες αυτές οι συσχετίσεις/ομαδοποιήσεις, είναι φρονώ σημαντικές (ίσως σημαντικότερες ακόμα και της ίδιας της ποιότητας του παραγόμενου έργου) για το βαθμό ταύτισης/ενδιαφέροντος που προκαλούν στο διεθνές αναγνωστικό κοινό, σε σχέση με τα όσα μια χώρα φιλοδοξεί να αφηγηθεί. (Πλην του καθαρά πρακτικού γεγονότος ότι πολλές από τις ανωτέρω γλώσσες υπήρξαν παραδοσιακά προσκολλημένες στις ακαδημίες λογοτεχνικά πιο «ισχυρών» χωρών, αντλώντας απ’ αυτές κρίσιμη παιδεία, έμπνευση και -γιατί όχι;- διασυνδέσεις – ως μια μικρή έστω «αποζημίωση» για το άγος της υποταγής σε αυτοκρατορικά/αποικιακά κέντρα.) Ακόμα και το Ισραήλ, το οποίο βιώνει απόλυτα το καθεστώς του «έθνους ανάδελφου», έχει ως «κάβα» μια τεράστια θεματολογική παλέτα ιστορικών και γλωσσικών ταυτίσεων με έναν μεσευρωπαϊκό/αμερικανικό κοσμοπολιτισμό που συναρπάζει βαθιά, για να μην μιλήσουμε για το πανανθρώπινο τραύμα του Ολοκαυτώματος. Η χώρα μας ωστόσο, δεν διαθέτει έτοιμα αντίστοιχα στοιχεία και επιπλέον είναι έτσι διαμορφωμένη ταυτοτικά ώστε να προτιμά ενστικτωδώς μια ύπαρξη ως «νησί», πέρα από «νοθεύσεις», έξωθεν συσχετισμούς και ταυτίσεις (με τους βαλκάνιους γείτονές της, για παράδειγμα) σε απευθείας σύνδεση με το φαντασιακό μιας μοναχικής εθνικής συνέχειας, ως αποκλειστικός απόγονος τους αρχαίου και του βυζαντινού κλέους. Γινόμαστε δηλαδή, στα μάτια των τρίτων, κάτι σαν το σύγχρονο γλωσσικό μαυσωλείο ενός πανάρχαιου και μάλλον εξαφανισμένου πολιτισμού, απομεινάρι από ένα παρελθόν που ό,τι είχε να δείξει το έδειξε αμετάκλητα αιώνες πριν και του οποίου η σύγχρονη εκδοχή προκαλεί αμηχανία, έτσι όπως στέκει «ξεκάρφωτη». Κατ’ αυτό τον τρόπο οι ξένοι καταλήγουν να μας αντιμετωπίζουν περισσότερο ως τοποθεσία, εξόχως γοητευτική και εξωτική ενδεχομένως, και λιγότερο ως ζώσα πραγματικότητα, με λόγο, με φωνή και με αληθινές ιστορίες για να αφηγηθούμε. Το αποτέλεσμα όλων αυτών είναι η εσωστρέφεια να μετατρέπεται ασυναίσθητα σε πόζα και κατακτημένη στάση. Χαρακτηριστικό δείγμα περιορισμού στον εαυτό μας είναι θεωρώ ο αριθμός των γλωσσοκεντρικών έργων που παράγονται στη χώρα μας, άρτιων και ενίοτε συγκινητικών κατά τα άλλα, που εξερευνούν την έννοια της ελληνικότητας μέσα από αφηγήσεις σε διαλέκτους, ντοπιολαλιές, ιδιώματα ή ακόμα και προσωπικές ιδιολέκτους, κάποτε ακατάληπτες ακόμα και για τον επαρκή αναγνώστη, όπως και το πλήθος των πεζογραφημάτων που επιμένουν σε μια ποιητική/κρυπτική πρόζα ή και στον μοντερνιστικό φορμαλισμό, πριμοδοτώντας απόλυτα το ύφος και το στυλ σε βάρος της οποιασδήποτε αφηγηματικότητας. Στον αντίποδα αυτών, βρίσκεται η υπερπληθώρα άτεχνων, μελό, ψευδοϊστορικών συνήθως μυθιστορημάτων, που επιβεβαιώνουν τους εθνικούς μύθους περί «μαρτυρικού έθνους», σε μια γλώσσα τεχνητά δραματική, παραπέμποντας υφολογικά στον Λουντέμη. Κοινό σημείο και των δύο αυτών άκρων είναι η επί της ουσίας κατάφαση προς τον δεδομένο εαυτό μας -ακόμα και με τη μορφή μιας κουρασμένης αβάν γκαρντ- και η άρνηση αναρώτησης για τη θέση μας στον παγκόσμιο αφηγηματικό καταμερισμό.

Ελπίζω η ανωτέρω παράγραφος να μην φαντάζει εντελώς νεφελώδης. Εύχομαι ωστόσο να αφουγκράζεται ίσως την -κατ’ εμέ- σημαντικότερη αιτία της παρ’ ημίν απομόνωσης: Πέρα από την ποιότητα του παραγόμενου έργου (που δεν είναι ιδιαίτερα υψηλή, για τους λόγους που πρόταξα στην αρχή) θεωρώ ότι επιπλέον «δεν ενδιαφέρουμε» και θεματολογικά/πολιτισμικά. Όταν γράφει κάποιος/α στη σημερινή Πράγα, η τσέχικη γλώσσα του/της μπορεί να είναι μικρή, αλλά στα μάτια του διεθνούς κοινού συνοδεύεται από την προστατευτική σκιά του (γερμανόφωνου) Κάφκα και του (γαλλόφωνου) Κούντερα. Στην Ελλάδα ο/η γράφων/ουσα είναι «μόνος του/της». (Τουλάχιστον για τις σύγχρονες σταθμίσεις · εμείς μπορεί να βαυκαλιζόμαστε ότι μιλάμε τη γλώσσα του Ομήρου, λίγοι όμως μας βλέπουν ακριβώς έτσι.) Επιπλέον, βασικοί θεματικοί «κορμοί» της σύγχρονης λογοτεχνίας μας, όπως ας πούμε η Μικρασιατική Καταστροφή ή ο Εμφύλιος, είναι (δυστυχώς) ιστορικά γεγονότα που αξιολογούνται ως «ασήμαντα» ή «άγνωστα» από το ξένο μάτι, ακριβώς επειδή αδυνατούν να συνδεθούν άμεσα με κάποιο ευρύτερο πολιτισμικό/ιστορικό πλάνο. Έτσι η απομόνωση διαιωνίζεται.

Δεν ξέρω τι μπορεί να γίνει για να αναστραφεί αυτή η κατάσταση. Προγραμματική επιλογή θεματολογίας με βάση τους «διεθνείς αναγνώστες» είναι αδύνατο να υπάρξει και δεν θα ήταν καν ευκταία. Το εκπαιδευτικό σύστημα της χώρας νοσεί βαριά, και σ’ αυτές τις περιπτώσεις την πληρώνουν ακόμα περισσότερο τα θεωρούμενα ως «δευτερεύοντα αντικείμενα», όπως έχει φτάσει να θεωρείται το μάθημα της νεοελληνικής λογοτεχνίας. (Το οποίο, παρ’ όλες τις παραινέσεις ειδικών και μη, διδάσκεται ακόμα με «ανθολόγια» και όχι με τη μορφή αυτούσιων βιβλίων – ο «κατακερματισμός» που λέγαμε, μαζί με τη λογική του «άρπα κόλλα».) Από την άλλη, υπάρχουν και αισιόδοξες εξελίξεις: το ίντερνετ έχει προσφέρει απεριόριστες αναγνωστικές επιλογές τα τελευταία χρόνια, παρέχοντας δωρεάν κείμενα και ευρεία ενημέρωση, εκεί όπου οι επίσημοι φορείς υστερούν. Και ίσως αυτή τη στιγμή κάποια διαβαστερή δεκαεξάχρονη να γεμίζει τον «προσωπικό της σκληρό» με τέτοιες λογοτεχνικές παραστάσεις, συνδυάζοντας το Βιζυηνό με τον Φόστερ Γουάλας, ή τη Ν.Κ. Τζέμισιν με την Μέλπω Αξιώτη, που κάποτε να της επιτρέψουν να σπάσει τα δεσμά της εθνικής μας περιχαράκωσης, επινοώντας έναν δικό της, ανεπανάληπτο αφηγηματικό κόσμο, περίπου όπως το κατάφερε ο Λάνθιμος στην κινηματογραφική οθόνη. (Σε τέτοιες περιπτώσεις, σημαντική αποδεικνύεται ενίοτε η παρέμβαση της τύχης: μια ιδιοφυία δίχως προηγούμενο γίνεται κάποτε ικανή να αλλάξει δραματικά το τοπίο – ή και όχι. Ο Καζαντζάκης, μολονότι υποτιμημένος στη χώρα μας -κυρίως λόγω του υπερβολικού γλωσσικού του ιδιώματος- αποτελεί ίσως τον μοναδικό πεζογράφο στη σύγχρονη ιστορία μας που διεκδίκησε αυτό το ρόλο.)

Μερικές σκόρπιες σκέψεις: Ίσως όταν αρνούνται να σ’ ακούσουν, να πρέπει κι εσύ να φωνάξεις πιο δυνατά. Ίσως να χρειαστεί να μεταβούμε από τη λογική του ‘Less is More’ σ’ εκείνη του ‘Make it Big’. (Κι αυτό, όχι απαραιτήτως ποσοτικά, αλλά σε σχέση με το μέγεθος των διακινούμενων ιδεών και της απαιτούμενης φαντασίας.) Ίσως ο παλιός, δοκιμασμένος, «φτωχός πλην τίμιος» ρεαλισμός να μην αποτελεί πια πεζογραφική πανάκεια, το ίδιο όπως και η μονοθεματικότητα, η αποφυγή πολλαπλών επιπέδων αφήγησης στο όνομα μιας κακώς εννοούμενης απλότητας. Και ίσως πολυφορεμένες, πολυκαιρισμένες ιδέες που εγκαταβιούν για δεκαετίες στις σελίδες μας (η μικροαστική παρακμή και η ασφυξία του αθηναϊκού διαμερίσματος, η υποκρισία των οικογενειακών σχέσεων και το αδιέξοδο της -σχεδόν πάντα γυναικείας- μεσήλικης μοναξιάς, ο ξεπεσμός των αριστερών ιδανικών στο κυνήγι της ευμάρειας και η κρίση που ήρθε ως νέμεση, η νεο-ηθογραφία μέσα απ’ την εξιδανίκευση/ελεεινολόγηση της επαρχίας και ιδίως του «ελληνικού χωριού», η φτώχεια του ’50 και του ’60 -τότε που είχαμε «βρώμικα γόνατα αλλά καθαρό βλέμμα»-, το Βυζάντιο και η Επανάσταση του ’21 ως ιστορικές καλλιγραφίες, ο Εμφύλιος και το Πολυτεχνείο -έστω και με νέα, «όχι-αποκλειστικά-στρατευμένη-αλλά-μάλλον-ακόμα-στρατευμένη» ματιά-, οι χιλιοτραγουδισμένες Χαμένες Πατρίδες, δίχως ίχνος αναστοχασμού ή ενσυναίσθησης για το «αντίπαλο βλέμμα της Ιστορίας», και τέλος οι διάφορες «Νέκυιες» αποθανόντων γονέων και άλλων προσφιλών προσώπων) να πρέπει πια να περάσουν από το κόσκινο μιας εκφραστικής αναθεώρησης. (Αντίθετα, μοιάζουν να περιμένουν από καιρό στη γωνία: η εναλλακτική/αθέατη Ιστορία, το queer/non binary πρίσμα και τα καινούργια οικογενειακά σχήματα, οι μετανάστες και οι ρομά, οι μαύροι/μιγάδες Έλληνες, το brain drain και η νέα φτώχεια, η «επικίνδυνη Αθήνα και η ακόμα πιο επικίνδυνη επαρχία», οι μαφίες και οι φυλακές, τα σύνορα, τα παράλληλα σύμπαντα, οι λίστες, οι γρίφοι και τα σταυρόλεξα ως αφηγηματικά «οδόσημα», η παράνοια, το ιστορικό και το μελλοντολογικό fantasy, το ‘what if’, οι σούπερ ήρωες, το διεθνοποιημένο, παρδαλό ελληνικό καλοκαίρι, ο τουρισμός ως νέο πεδίο ηθογραφίας και τα social media ως καινοφανής πεζογραφική γλώσσα. Η ζωή μας είναι ήδη πιο πολύχρωμη απ’ όσο καταφέρνουμε εμείς να την φανταστούμε…)

Εκείνο που σίγουρα θα πρέπει να κάνουμε ωστόσο, είναι να αναρωτηθούμε κάποια στιγμή  συστηματικά για τους λόγους που «στο εξωτερικό δεν μας διαβάζουν». Άλλωστε, η ειλικρίνεια είναι η αρχή των πάντων στην τέχνη: ίσως αν αναλογιστούμε την ουσία της μοναξιάς μας και το παράδοξο μιας ύπαρξης που ομφαλοσκοπεί δίχως δυνατότητα πραγματικής σύνδεσης με τους γύρω της, κάτι καλό να προκύψει. Είναι ένας εσωτερικός διχασμός που θα μπορούσε να αποτελέσει ακόμα και ο ίδιος πεζογραφικό θέμα, εμπνέοντας νέα μυθιστορήματα, δημιουργώντας μια ολόκληρη «σχολή» ενδεχομένως. Ή και όχι.


Read the whole story
90 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story

Mechanical Watch

1 Share
In the world of modern portable devices, it may be hard to believe that merely a few decades ago the most convenient way to keep track of time was a mechanical watch. Unlike their quartz and smart siblings, mechanical watches can run without using any batteries or other electronic components. Over the course of this article I’ll explain the workings of the mechanism seen in the demonstration below. You can drag the device around to change your viewing angle, and you can use the slider to peek at what’s going on inside:

This article has many interactive demonstrations which are best seen on the website.
Read the whole story
148 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story

How I Got from Mastodon’t to Mastodon


I finally wrapped my head around Mastodon, a social media platform, this past week. On Monday, April 25, I was beyond annoyed by how confusing I found Mastodon to be — and a similar exasperation was expressed by numerous friends of mine. For a while, I embraced this camaraderie of disinclination. But the more I worked to understand Mastodon, the more my perception changed, and my attitude along with it.

Tuesday was still more of the same. By Wednesday afternoon, however, I was quite active on Mastodon, and I began to run into some of those same friends, as well as familiar avatars from other social media platforms. I also met, in internet terms, new folks — and new-ish folks (one introduced themselves as the person who wrote a bot I interact with on another social media platform). That bot-to-human incident is just one anecdote, but anecdotes can be orienting, even if only as stories. The story here was that I’d traversed from a highly public social network to a relatively more circumspect one, and upon arrival I met not a bot but the person behind the bot.

By Friday, April 28, I had emerged as something resembling a Mastodonian. I’d moved through the three common stages of digital adoption: from annoyed through engaged to engrossed. That evening, when a friend casually asked, via a group email thread, if Mastodon was worth paying attention to, I began to reply — and I only finished after unexpectedly writing a roughly 2,000-word explanation to help my friend, along with the other participants in the thread, understand how Mastodon functions. Or more to the point, how I understand Mastodon to function, and why I think Mastodon might matter.

Grains of Salt
To begin with, I can’t say with assuredness that I’ll be sticking around on Mastodon. My general rule of thumb with online tools is to simply sign up and see if it sticks. I’ve tried so many social media tools, and very few have stuck. I quickly ditched Mastodon twice in the past, but it certainly makes more sense to me now than it did then. And since I found Mastodon difficult to make sense of, I wanted to share here my sense of what Mastodon is, why it can be hard to initially comprehend, and how one might go about both comprehending and engaging with it.

Yes, I know the complaint: if a social media platform requires a 2,000-word explanation (more like 4,500 words, as of this essay, which expands upon my original email), it is doomed to fail. I’m not here to say Mastodon is the future. I’m just here to say Mastodon is very interesting — and that while a lot of the perceived bugs may be bugs, and a lot of the conundrums are just subpar design and inefficient communication, some of those seeming bugs are features (or the residue of features), and much of that subpar communication is because of just how different Mastodon is from the current dominant forms of social media. In other words: Don’t miss the paradigm forest due to the bug trees.

If Mastodon succeeds (define success as you wish), it won’t simply be because the service became popular. It won’t even be because a significant number of people got over the same conceptual hump I did in order to understand Mastodon. It will be because an even more significant number of people won’t ever recognize the conceptual hump, because what right now, at the start of May 2022, seems downright odd about Mastodon actually will have become the new normal. That potential outcome is quite interesting.

And if you want to experience Mastodon before reading my attempt at an explanation, check it out at

Reminiscing About the Early Pliocene Era of Computer Communication
Some personal context might help. And you can skip this section entirely. It’s just background on who wrote this thing you’re reading.

I’ve been on enough social media platforms that it feels as if their combined logos could fill a yearbook. My first experience online, broadly defined, was a nascent form of social media: a dial-up BBS, or bulletin board system. This would have been roughly around the time The Empire Strikes Back was released. Back then, I didn’t think much about the “self-enclosed-ness” of the BBS. The notion of dialing into a system and then communicating directly with people on the other end, and only those who had likewise dialed in, mapped easily to the idea of a phone call, even if we were communicating by typing rather than speaking.

The mental mapping from BBS to phone call was all the more easy to comprehend because an actual phone line was required to hook the computer — a RadioShack TRS-80, in my case — up to the world outside one’s home. (This wasn’t my home. This was a friend’s. An extra phone line cost real money, as did the phone call itself. Such expenses were beyond my childhood home’s norms for decision-making. My parents were not entirely clear on this BBS concept at first, but they did tell me about the emergence of phones in their own youth. The idea of a “party line” — or “party wire,” vis-à-vis the Normal Rockwell illustration of that name — helped all of us understand the BBS more than we might have otherwise.)

Then high school and college happened, and I didn’t log on again until the early 1990s (not counting the limited school network, which was just for programming, when I was an undergraduate flirting with being — and then being flummoxed by the demands of — a computer science major). If I had to put a date on it, I imagine I logged on for the first time in April or May of 1993 — so almost exactly 29 years ago. This would have been the direct result of the debut issue of Wired magazine. If archaic phone systems helped me understand social media, then it was paper that helped me go digital.

Two Steps to Understanding Mastodon
As I said at the opening, I had already tried Mastodon previously, since it launched in 2016. Back then, though, I wasn’t frustrated by it. I was simply unenthusiastic. Mastodon’s interface felt as if a long-running food co-op tried to recreate Twitter or Facebook: it all sorta worked, but was utilitarian at best, and mired in complex systems at worst. You could almost smell the carob brownies. The benefits of Mastodon were unclear to me. At that early phase of my adoption, Mastodon reminded me of so many wannabe SoundCloud replacements whose sole apparent purpose was to replace SoundCloud. “SoundCloud done right” is a self-denuding rallying cry. They brought nothing new to the party, and few if any of them gained steam.

I was also reminded of a certain geek ethos, the one in which a computer-minded individual expresses interest in, say, having a blog, but actually takes far more active interest in creating, from scratch, their own blogging software. They never end up blogging. Mastodon felt, initially, to me like it might have been made by people with more interest in making a micro-blog network platform than in actually micro-blogging themselves.

This past week, however, was quite different. This past week I wasn’t unenthusiastic; this time, actual frustration kicked in. And while frustration is, well, frustrating, it can also be an engine of intrigue. I had not been that confused online for some time. It was sort of intoxicating. I’d like to say I simply put concerted effort into “getting” Mastodon, but that wasn’t quite how it played out. At first, all I did was complain, and the variety of responses to my complaints informed my experience. I’m fortunate to have a lot of patient and informed online friends.

Also helping in the process of getting acclimated: user error on my part. I ended up somehow with two different Mastodon accounts. In part this was a hassle, because their URLs were just similar enough that I took one to be an abbreviation for the other. But having two Mastodon accounts, each with its own unique URL, helped me understand something that had not, to me, been obvious previously: there are numerous Mastodon URLs. There is no or for Mastodon. The concept of Mastodon doesn’t merely contain — as Walt Whitman taught us to verbalize — multitudes, but is founded on them.

The interface can be maddening as you come up to speed. If privacy is a concern, you might find yourself wondering why you can change a public account’s individual posts private or but not a private accounts individual posts public. You might change an account from private to public, and then wonder why your earlier posts remain private. When you try to figure out how your posts show up on some other instances, you may end up looking at a chart, one that a friend has rightly likened to something out of the brain-frying time-travel film Primer (note: I love the movie, and it fried my brain). All these things eventually make sense, but the difference from the widely experienced, carefully designed chutes and ladders of Twitter and Facebook is palpable. I’ll get more into this in the next section, but suffice to say: people would maybe less often confuse Mastodon’s posts with Twitter’s tweets if Mastodon didn’t refer to its posts as “toots.”

Indeed, Mastodon’s current communications really don’t help matters. As of this writing, when you sign up for a new account on the main Mastodon URL, you are immediately asked to choose one of myriad “servers,” which are broken into “categories.” What is not clear is that all those servers are in effect communities and that they are each separate “instances” of Mastodon. (This is stated on the page, but “stated” is different from “clear,” and clear is different from “apparent,” let alone “self-evident.”) Much of the rest of this article will involve unpacking that single word: “instance.” Once I got that word, that concept, everything about Mastodon that had previously been frustrating began, instead, to make sense. I then deleted my two conflicting Mastodon accounts and I started a new one.

As whenever you make it through a thick conceptual window, this experience of finally “getting” Mastodon was fulfilling. For the first two days, my attitude was: this is the stupidest interface I’ve ever used. And then it made sense. To explain how it came to make sense, I retraced my steps. What felt at the time like an extended process of trial and error could, in fact, be reduced considerably. Partially that is because numerous of my steps were missteps, such as those recounted up above. In the end, I think there are two steps to understanding why Mastodon is special.

Step 1 of 2: Mastodon Looks like Twitter but It’s More Like WordPress
It’s very important to not think of Mastodon as simply a replacement for Twitter. Why? Because Twitter is a single globe-spanning instance of software that every user is inside together. Mastodon, however, is software more along the lines of the way provides software. When you install WordPress’s open-source software at your own URL, it’s its own self-contained instance of WordPress. WordPress is software in a practical sense, whereas Twitter is software only in the sense that it’s a digital service. My own website,, is on WordPress (I am vaguely familiar with the geek ethos mentioned earlier: from 1996, when I founded, until 2007, when I commissioned someone to port the site to WordPress, I published the entire site with hand-coded static files, every single .html page, even the RSS feed). If someone posts a comment on, that’s happening in my specific instance of WordPress, not on “WordPress as a single globe-spanning platform.”

So, let’s break this down: Make sure you get the difference between WordPress and Twitter. Now, imagine Twitter not as a company with a single platform, but as an installable-on-the-internet piece of software like WordPress. That’s a step toward understanding Mastodon. Mastodon lets you set up your own self-contained instance of the software, just like WordPress does, and you can run it on your own (server use costs money, and the more users you have, the more it costs; it’s more expensive than WordPress). No one can join your Mastodon instance whom you don’t want as a member. You can set the rules as you like. You can make it open to anyone who wants to read it or wall it off entirely — and even if you make it open to anyone who wants to read, you can allow each of your instance’s individual users to choose to hide their own posts from anyone but the people they choose to see it. (If you’re handy with code, you can even fork Mastodon and make your own version — so long as you post the source code online, per the open-source licensing agreement.) Also, you don’t need to set up Mastodon yourself. You can just join a pre-existing server/community.

This took days to comprehend, and then even when I got it, it took a while to grok it. My head hurt. I got angry. Then suddenly it clicked. A big reason I got angry is there are a lot of know-it-all Mastodon-heads out there who condescendingly ask regularly, “Why aren’t you just on Mastodon?” when people complain about Twitter and Facebook. The answer to that question, as it turns out, isn’t just “Mastodon isn’t easy to understand.” It isn’t even “Mastodon isn’t as clean and efficient as those heavily funded websites that are literally designed to algorithmically reflect parts of our consciousness we’re not even aware of.” No, the more full answer is, “To really use Mastodon, you have to step through a conceptual window that’s akin, perhaps, to, long ago, someone who’s only ever used AOL then trying to use the Internet. Except even harder to comprehend, unless someone is patient and takes the time to explain it.” I’m trying to explain it, first to myself, and then to anyone who wants to read this.

Step 2 of 2: Mastodon Communities Can Easily (if Currently Clumsily) Connect with Each Other
This is where Mastodon gets interesting — like, really interesting. It’d be enough if Mastodon were just “WordPress for self-contained social media groups.” But before talking about Mastodon’s built-in interconnectedness, let’s return to the concept of blog comments above.

Do you remember a piece of once ubiquitous online software called Disqus? (I’m not sure how broadly utilized it is anymore.) Disqus provided connective commenting between separate blogs and websites. For example, if I went to some experimental-music blog, and someone said something interesting in the comments, I could click on their avatar, and I’d see other stuff they’d commented on all around the internet. So if they had commented on another blog, I could then click through and see what they had commented on. Maybe I’d discover another experimental-music blog, or maybe I’d find out they also like recipes for Estonian cuisine, or maybe I’d come upon the music made by the very person who possesses that avatar.

The phenomenon of Disqus was more than blogs cross-linking through so-called “blogrolls.” Disqus was also more than a portfolio of blogs owned by one company and using a shared platform. This was seemingly truly (but not actually, as I’ll explain in a moment) ad hoc — and it was exciting. Disqus just happened: you show up on one blog, and there’s your avatar — you show up on another, same. (Now, it wasn’t quite as easy as I describe, which is part of the reason it didn’t take off as much as it might have. Which is part of why what I’m getting around to describing about Mastodon is so interesting.)

I once saw one of Disqus’ two founders, Daniel Ha, give a talk, early on in the company’s existence, and he made a comment I think about a lot to this day. He said something along the lines of how comments people made online were just as valid a form of publishing, of self-expression, as was the writing of a post or article. That’s not quite how he put it, but I feel like much of the subsequent explosive growth of social media shows just how accurate his observation was. (If this seems self-evident to you, I will note this was not a widespread perception at the time.)

You may be thinking, “Well, that’s cool, but how is that blog commenting scenario different from Mastodon?” The thing with Disqus was it was centralized. You had all these different blogs, but the only way they connected was through Disqus. You had little to no control as a Disqus commenter. If someone started saying crappy stuff to you or just crappy or inconsequential stuff in general, you couldn’t unfollow them or hide them on blogs where you might stumble on them (at least when I used the service — it may have gained such functionality). There were issues for blog owners, too, but let’s just pause there and move on. The key thing was it was centralized: if Disqus went down, all of Disqus went down. If Disqus made a big change, it immediately impacted the entire network. Had Disqus ever gone under (which it hasn’t), it might well have disappeared.

A cool thing about Mastodon is the software is created so that anyone on any single Mastodon instance (like, say,, which appears to be the biggest one, or, where I eventually signed up, despite me not totally liking the somewhat creepy tone of the word “lurk”) can still communicate with people on other Mastodon instances. Even as I type this, I can’t quite understand how it works, but it does. (A friend explained to me helpfully that the underlying protocol, ActivityPub, which Mastodon and other online services, can be thought of as “kind of like two-way RSS,” which is to say the protocol most of us know as a way to track a bunch of blogs through one tool, such as Feedly, Inoreader, or the sadly defunct Google Reader. I don’t know much about ActivityPub, but I’ve been reading up. And I put this section in parentheses to emphasize that when you start seeing terms like “RSS” and “ActivityPub,” it’s a bit beyond the technical literacy — even the technical curiosity — I’ve assumed for a reader of his essay.) If I log onto in the morning, I might see replies from other Mastodon accounts at places like or or or or or or or, all real unique Mastodon instances, and I can communicate individuals who call such places home. I can even, in a subtly signaled way, see who in my feed is part of “my” home instance (i.e., and who isn’t: accounts that share my instance appear by their avatar names, whereas accounts from other instances appear with their avatar name appended by the name of their alternate instance (e.g., I appear as on the feed of someone at any Mastodon instance other than; for anyone on, I appear simply as @disquiet).

If these other accounts turn out to be bots or merely inconsequential to what I’m interested in focusing on, I can mute them. If I find that a particular instance of Mastodon (like ihate.ambient — not a real instance) is filled with bots or hateful humans, I can save myself the Whack-a-Mole effort and just mute the whole instance — and, this is another clincher, I can do so as a user. Read the previous clause again: as a user. I don’t need to depend on the Mastodon instance in which I am located to filter whom I communicate with.

Think about it this way: each Mastodon instance can become its own little community without necessarily being cut off from the broader world. (The term for this sort of arrangement is “federated.” The word, which predates Mastodon, is one that the service features repeatedly on its home page, even though the same page offers no definition for curious newcomers.) The managers of a given instance can certainly say, “You can only chat here, and the rest of the internet can’t see in unless they have an account.” However, the real power of Mastodon is how you can have your own little instance for a distributed community of individuals to discuss folk dancing, or living at sea, or modular synthesizers, or vintage sports equipment — likewise, you could have one for your family, or your college class, or your neighborhood volunteer clean-up group — and the participants can connect with each other as well as with users beyond your instance, as each user sees fit.

Witnessing these varied instances of Mastodon communicate with each other is kind of amazing. I do a lot of stuff online, and I love being online. I still think of IMAP, an internet standard protocol that powers a lot of email, as magical. Mastodon is cool on that order of magnitude. It’s science-fiction cool.

The Next Steps
That was really helpful for me to type out, because doing so helped me understand Mastodon more clearly through explaining it to myself. This documents my experience and perception. Like I said, I passed through a conceptual window this week, as far as Mastodon is concerned. And a funny thing happens after you pass through a conceptual window: you can’t always see clearly back through it. It took almost as much effort to retrace my steps as it did to take those steps in the first place, albeit minus any of the frustration. (Fortunately, I have my sequence of tweets from that week, and the trajectory is pretty clearly delineated if you read them in order.)

So, will Mastodon take off? It’s done well during the current Twitter-evacuation, or at least current “Twitter trial separation,” but Mastodon still needs to do a lot of hard work. It needs to work on that interface. It needs to infuse its “federated” underpinning with deeper meaning and purpose so that the term is unifying and clarifying rather than merely vaguely differentiating. And Mastodon needs to do a much better job of explaining to new users how it works. It needs to help newcomers start off. As mentioned earlier, when you show up you have to blindly choose a community — and it doesn’t explain clearly that it’s an arbitrary choice, to some degree, because you can communicate across instances. The whole concept of inherently interconnected instances is not self-evident, or easy to immediately comprehend. To understand the solution, users must first appreciate the problem. “Getting off Twitter and Facebook” is a problem for many, but it’s not really the problem that Mastodon is trying to solve. Per my comment about SoundCloud earlier, it doesn’t do justice to what Mastodon (along with other experiments in federated and decentralized social networks) is pushing toward.

The issues aren’t merely about language. If you’re on and I’m on post.lurk,org, and I “follow” you, this is how it plays out: first, I jump through a few somewhat opaque hoops to follow you, and then on it shows that I’m following you. However, anytime I happen to find myself back on your page, I’ll still see a big “follow” button, which naturally makes me wonder whether or not I’m following you. This is not a big problem at first, but I don’t know how sustainable it can be in the long run when I and a growing number of people are following a lot of accounts. This sort of disconnect may just become an accepted online norm, or it may provide just the sort of cognitive dissonance that keeps a service from reaching a broader audience.

And that about covers it. As is clear, after these nearly 4,500-ish words, those being a revision of a nearly 2,000-word email, the qualities of Mastodon hold a lot of promise and appeal to me. I spend a lot of time online, and I don’t do so alone. I joke regularly that Facebook is where I realize how little I have in common with my friends, while Twitter is where I realize how much I have in common with people I don’t know. I’m not sure where Mastodon fits in that formulation, and I’m slowly sorting out that a whole new formulation may be required.

A lot of my online imagination is tied up in the Disquiet Junto, an online community I’ve moderated since 2012, and it was preceded by a half decade spent organizing online collaborations between musicians. The Junto isn’t a “place,” not even a virtual one in the sense we think of virtual places currently. It exists on numerous platforms, key among them: SoundCloud, Slack, Twitter, and, the latter an instance of Discourse, another online discussion platform. (This platform diaspora, so to speak, largely occurred following the suddenness with which SoundCloud, many years ago, removed its “groups” functionality.) Using Mastodon has helped me understand how that current constellation of online Junto locales may not be truly “federated.” Part of me wonders if a Disquiet Junto instance of Mastodon might be worth pursuing, but right now the onboarding process (both practical and conceptual) is too arduous. I want the Junto to be welcoming, and Mastodon isn’t welcoming — at least not enough, and at least not yet.

Both through speculative interest and practical application, online networks are where I spend a lot of time. Six years into its existence, Mastodon registers as a potentially important step forward. Perhaps some service other than Mastodon will have eventual widespread, ubiquity-equivalent success with this “federated” model. Perhaps some even more autonomous identity — closer to an email address or phone number — will arise in the process. (This lengthy post is not in any way comprehensive, but if a lingering question is “Would it help to have more than one Mastodon account?” then the answer may relate to the question “Do you need more than one phone number?” Not everyone does, but there are work and life circumstances when it may be useful, and even necessary.) Perhaps the internet will achieve something even more “decentralized” than a “merely” “federated” model — which is to say, a situation in which no one need “join” a server, and can simply participate (one hedge would be a groundswell, I imagine, of usage such that everyone has their own individual Mastodon instance, but that feels more like a hack than an intentional system).

No matter what comes in this regard, it will have been Mastodon that helped rewire my brain for such things. Rewiring can be a painful procedure, but it was worth the effort.

In any case, if you do join Mastodon, you can find me, at least for the time being, at:

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Todd Elliott, Kamen Nedev, Matt Nish-Lapidus, C. Reider, and Jason Wehmhoener, among others, who helped me get on Mastodon, helped me sort out Mastodon, and/or read this at some stage of draft form, and to Bart Beaty for having asked the initial question via email. Any broken metaphors or just plain incorrect information is my fault alone.

Read the whole story
149 days ago
Athens, Greece
Share this story
Next Page of Stories