by tom moodyComments Off on Joe Milutis on dump.fm as failed writing
Am about halfway through Joe Milutis' book, Failure, a Writer's Life, which treats the subject of failed literature or non-literature. As in, the necessity and difficulties of adducing a theory for the vast amount of productive writing that falls outside the narrow spectrum of literature: cranks and obsessives such as CharlesFort, real-life versions of Borges' Funes the Memorious, database-compilers on and offline, etc.
I would add J.G. Ballard's favorite non-literature: office memoranda. Also books by authors who have lost and never regained publishers after being hyped as "towering talents for our age." (Several good science fiction authors fall in that category.)
Occasionally the analysis crosses over into failed art or non-art (visual as opposed to writing). Clement Greenberg once noted that we don't have a theory for failed art. Would rather read about someone like Francis Picabia, who was considered a great Dadaist who then produced decades of terrible paintings (until those terrible paintings were reassessed -- and the jury's still out) than Milutis' example of Ryan Trecartin, who, although a terrible artist, is considered a smashing success by every contemporary curator you could name.
Our interests intersect with Milutis' analysis of dump.fm [I made a pdf excerpt -- hope that's OK]. Dump is half-art, half-writing, all "failed" or "non-". The same curators who can talk you to death about Trecartin's carnivalesque inversion of blah-blah are deathly silent about Dump. Words simply fail them.
Milutis rolls up his sleeves and does the work and gets it about 85% right. An excerpt:
Dump.fm, a continuous stream of user-created or repurposed web junk, is based on the premise of “talking with images”: one can, for example, take the url of one participant‘s post, and immediately splice it with another url, with an eye to immediate commerce with images, the surprise combination, or the visual pun, rather than image-authorship strictly conceived. It is isomorphic with Flarf, in that the hastily recontextualized and modified gifs and jpgs, exchanged in a real-time semianonymous community, tend towards the cute, the cloying, the un-P.C., the “not O.K.” Yet because it is a free-floating environment, rather than a stand-alone net art “object,” it has developed in ways that complexify any notion of coherent approaches and specific ontological properties, accommodating methods and uses that do not fit under the rubric of a manifesto. [wikipedia flarf link added]
Nevertheless, in their embrace of real-time, spontaneous discourse with digital junk, Dump.fm users espouse an ambiguous relation to the enforced scarcities of the art world. On the one hand, because Dump.fm values spontaneous participation but also because, for better or for worse, it much of the time gets taken over as a teenage chat rumpus room, there is little patience with work that attempts to be too crafty, or that doesn‘t deal with bottom-barrel internet grotesques for freak-show gawking, or that seems to come from anyone over twenty with any art world cred. One racks up more “likes” in the dump rating system if the dump is a quick turn-over of another dump, rather than something painstakingly composed in Photoshop or AfterEffects: more cred for projectile than for project. There‘s a whole “genre” of dump participant who rarely, if ever, composes or recomposes images, but instead merely posts asignifying snaps from his or her webcam, exerting casual presence as a dump star, as if trying to win the slow bicycle race of artistic inactivity and unambition.
Like the chat function, the webcam functions as a territorializing machine within this more deterritorialized space. That is, the webcam has an indexical function—the presence of the person behind the camera cannot easily be faked; and because no one looks over twenty-one, the frequent use of webcam stills forces unstated rules about who can participate and how. Similarly, the use or overuse of the chat function—sometimes overriding the site's raison d'être of “talking with images” for long stretches of time—tends to create boundaries, subgroups, and rivalries that would not be as evident or easy to maintain if the commerce were merely with recycled web-junk.
Milutis over-rates dump's art world connections. Am flattered to be described as a "participating éminence gris" but at this point dump does more for me than vice versa. Ditto Ryder Ripps, who rarely participates anymore in his own creation. As noted above, the part of the art world that could valorize dump through writing and analysis has been busy with far easier subjects.
Amazon is the modern equivalent of the Manson Family: a rapacious organization whose goal is to dissolve human values using technology (guns, dune buggies, LSD, drones, “search,” ebooks) while self-selecting new hidden, hyperactive psychopaths for internal promotion who will thrive within its structure and relish its brutal culling practices, the organization growing more lean and fucked-up in order to do as much damage as possible for dubious, unprofitable goals: not to make money, but to "disrupt" all the piggies.
But that's not the most alarming facet of Amazon. The Manson Family at least had an "us versus them" mentality that let the rest of "us" off the hook if we didn't feel like murdering sad pregnant women to start a race war. Charles Manson was quite happy to be Chief Executive Ballbag at Consolidated Asshole. He liked being in charge. His downfall was rather how much he wanted everyone to know that he was the source and conduit of all the evil he was capable of channeling. He tried to start a business once…a nightclub…but the business failed because Manson was shit at business.
No, the most alarming facet of Amazon is that it makes all of us who actually have souls complicit. It is a great business: it is second order capitalism, a tight iron band around the free market that throttles all retail trade. It is a permanent challenge to morality, a challenge we fail every time we log in. Totalitarianism can be defined as a system where one cannot opt out, and since Amazon's model is not to be a store, but to be the marketplace itself, we often have no choice but to use some aspect of Amazon’s services. And Amazon only offers us ways to fail with respect to morality: it does not offer us the ability to choose to be ethical.
And offers a solution:
How difficult would it be for Amazon to enable us to tip their warehouse workers at every point of sale? Not difficult at all. They already have a program called AmazonSmile that allows you to channel gratuities to the charity of your choice. One would think that Amazon might even welcome the opportunity to make their warehouse jobs more desirable by letting customers tip the workers there for their hard work.
AmazonSmile’s motto is “You shop. Amazon gives.” This is the way it works: you assign a charity of your choice to your account and Amazon donates .5% of all your purchases to that particular charity. There are over a million charities from which it is possible to choose. It is not possible to choose “the workers of Amazon” or “small press authors you are beating in the head with a pipe.”
And maybe that is on us: maybe what we should all do, the customers of Amazon, is create a charity whose specific goal is to provide for the people who work shitty warehouse jobs at Amazon. We register them as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and we force Amazon to accept this charity as one of the eligible charities for Smilepoints.
Short of that, you *can* start to break the Amazon habit. There are other e-book makers out there. You can buy that futon at the online store of the company that makes the futon. You can spend a few minutes passing along a well-written essay that ridicules Amazon instead of shopping there for the equivalent amount of time.