I´m reading these days, courtesy of Random House, an excellent thriller by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl. It´s got among other virtues a keen sense of the contemporary and its feel. Being, among other things, a novel of bankrupt America and of the many crises triggered off or spin-dried by the Internet. Watch this page spoken or thought or narrated by Nick, the protagonist with the killer smile, on a sensation unique to our post-contemporary and hyper-mediated world. The sensation that you are (indeed) a gadget, and that your whole experience has been designed and archived and tagged elsewhere, a claustrophobic glass box mapping out all possible perceptions and feelings as intertextual nodes in a net which imprisons the mind. A malaise of over-information in a hypermediated environment, the world experienced as a Google Image Search or channel surfing through MTV, Al-Jazeera and Discovery Channel. Been there - Done that... or at least that´s what we feel:
The bankruptcy matched my psyche perfectly. For several years, I had been bored. Not a whining, restless child´s boredom (although I was not above that) but a dense-blanketing malaise. It seemed to me there was nothing new to be discovered ever again. Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative (although the word derivative as a criticism is itself derivative). We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icerbergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can´t recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn´t immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A fucking commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blasé: Seeeen it. I´ve literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can´t anymore. I don´t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
It´s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.
And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don´t have genuine souls.
It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I´m not a real person and neither is anyone else.
I would have done anything to feel real again. (98-99)
Perhaps Nick might have vented his thirst for reality and authentic experience by writing fiction, or doing something creative, but although he´s a narrator he is no novelist, the narration takes place from one of those virtual no-nowhere literary limbos. Anyway this complaint rings a bell. Which bell? This one:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather´d now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.- Great God! I´d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.
Nick´s complaint about the damage to the soul from the revolution of electronic mass media echoes in a familiar way Wordsworth´s complaint, two hundred years earlier, against the disenchantment of the world as a result of the commercial spirit fostered by the Industrial revolution. This internalization of "getting and spending" was to set the scene for a long time to come. We´re still there. Indeed, perhaps we have always been there, alienated from an idea of ourselves, from the moment we grew up. But although the substance of our alienation may be much the same, the shape it takes is the shape of the container—always the present, always unforeseen the actual traps it sets for the soul, and never being what it was supposed to be. It´s not just financial bankruptcies that catch expectations unawares.