Binaries

© JStadnicki 2014

With the Doomsday Clock adjusted to one hundred seconds to midnight, it seems that the scientific community points a finger to the inevitable end which could engulf the world any day now. It is a narrative we are used to from history manuals and our recent past. Textbooks are full of numbers and data.

Unifications and destructions, wars and peace treaties, revolutions and resolutions. The collective conscious, mapped by dichotomies, makes better sense of realities when they are placed in opposition. It is a cultural binary thinking, focused on good-better-best and bad-worse-worst. It is easier to make meaning of things in conflict, as it is easier to understand war better than peace.

History always takes a closer look at how cultures come into being and how they are destroyed, and takes less time to look at what happened in between. The complexities of development entail, besides time, a higher level of engagement and perception. The consistent preoccupation with the specifics of our apocalypse is not just the measure of our own selfishness, but a fundamental thinking flaw, characterised by fear and apathy.

Looking at how communities got to meet their ends, without taking time to reflect on solutions, is bound to bring the finale even closer. Fear and adrenaline rush end up in apathy. They have done so for thousands of years, and brought us where we are today.

© Maria Stadnicka 2020

Particulars

I went out to town and took pictures
of people in queue at the shopping mall.
A third of them had been there since Friday;
pilgrims waiting for new prayer beads.

They sat on the pavement holding
their thoughts in tightly zipped handbags.
The sun kept quiet in one corner watching
the autumn busking outdoors
when a beggar stopped, asking everyone
for directions to the nearest abattoir.

Nobody knew precisely where the roads led
but smiled back at him
through the surveillance cameras.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in Litter magazine, 22/02/2019.

Hollow Wean

 

Dear Sir,

a beauty company sent me an email,

‘We win, you win’ it said, invited me

to purchase youth serum at half price.

There is something I hate about emails

sitting black on white on screen:

comma after verb easily mistaken for

philosophical pause or breath taken

when reading poems aloud.

‘Please, do not reply’

it carried on ‘we hope to see you again.’

I have a hundred things to do but

rush to the bathroom to see how deep

the line cutting my glabellar region

has grown since I last checked.

A fair amount I notice. Others joined

the frontal network, showing people

how much I’ve won in forty years

of living too small, dreaming too big.

 

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

 

The Burden of an Exit Strategy

image

The confusing scandal around Cambridge Analytica and the misuse of personal data have stirred a wide search for a coping strategy post Facebook, once the campaign #Delete started to gather momentum. Over fifty million people have become victims of an algorithm and the finger points in both directions. It points at the corporation and the guilty pact between the rich and the political class to maintain ‘the distribution of wealth’ (Chomsky). And it points at the victims too, as they gave into temptation and filled in the vilified personality test, the intelligence test, the ‘what Disney character are you’ test or ‘is the dress white or gold’ test. And the list could include other hundreds of tests and surveys which were strategically used to collect data and profile the population.

But why did people take the online tests in the first place? Was it out of curiosity, boredom, self-absorption, confusion, insecurity? Possibly, but not exhaustively, being constantly overfed information, the individual, the person behind the computer screen, started to lose the sense of identity and the fear of rejection kept on creeping in. A sign of an increasing collective anxiety.

The need for constant external validation could be a symptom of what de Botton calls ‘status anxiety’. But this is not, by far, a new philosophical discovery. In 1929, Bernays used collective anxiety in his campaign ‘Torches of Freedom’ and successfully convinced women to start smoking cigarettes. One can only see that psychological profiling started a long time ago, when Sigmund Freud clarified the notion of a dark, unconscious self. It comes as no surprise now that among my friends without online social presence there is a sense of ‘told you so’ vindication, whilst the rest is struggling to find a way out.

On a tweet published yesterday by a friend I read a stark and final confession: ‘took a while to decide, but happy I finally cleansed myself. After 11 years I am off…forever.’ But have they actually managed to escape with such ease? Is ‘deleting’ as simple as ‘liking’ or ‘accepting’ the terms and conditions of a virtual contract? There are two immediate identifiable issues here.

The first is that the Facebook license does not end upon the deactivation of your account. The content will only be released from license when all the other users (family, friends, acquaintances, nobodies) have also broken their ties with it. Online freedom will come only after successful negotiations with thousands of friends one gathered during a decade of social media use. The second issue is that Twitter, the online space the online user migrated towards, has a more insidious ‘rights’ clauses. In accepting the terms and conditions, they granted the platform editing rights. Which means the right to edit, modify, translate and format any content posted on the platform. And this can be highly problematic when the content is translated to other languages.

The society’s architecture has dramatically changed to redefine the concept of freedom within the limits of an acceptable platform. It is now symptomatic that ‘deleting’ is a form of virtual social rejection, which leads to real constrains in terms of access to information. But, a while ago, this free access used to be a fundamental attribute of a healthy democracy.

‘The concept of liberty and individual choice are nothing but a mirage’ notes an online user on Twitter who admits that ‘today, Facebook deleted my account because I did use the title DeleteFacebook in one of my paintings’ (TArt). The elite culture is openly biting back displaying the fangs of bigotry ‘as it pretends there is no other alternative’ (Berger).
What facets do we need to explore now in order to redesign our ‘spectre of hope’?

Maria Stadnicka, 1st April 2018

Takeaway

Photography: ©International Times, 2018

(to Aidan Semmens)

Hello. I am a feature
on a CCTV camera, with
private resonance. At
the top floor, I
can barely sleep for the sound of gunfire.
I hear the poetry when I order a pizza.

Still there, are you?
…‘yeah, […published in ‘International Times’ to read click] here

Uranium Bullets

I always arrive late for everything.

Stuck in a traffic jam by the docks,

missed Noah’s boat but

survived under water

accidentally trapped between stolen books,

trapped by a word heavier than a stone,

lighter than a feather.

 

Hidden in the overcrowded wooden train carriage,

radicalised by the anonymity of my blue name-tag,

with a heart growing outside my body.

Each beat painfully visible to the guards

around the Monopoly table.

 

On the waiting list for ballet lessons,

radicalised by the price of uranium bullets on Mother’s Day

handwriting an apologetic note.

My deep eye silenced.

The familiar solemnity of a world without a face.

Photograph: @John Stadnicki, Bristol MMXVI