Open-Source Self

Reza Negarestani has returned to the blogosphere. We’ll have to wait and see what results from that…

I did very much enjoy the sentiment of the opening of his first post:

If people can build on your ideas even when your ideas are still in their larval stage, then it does not matter whether they reference you or not. As long as ideas and concepts can be enhanced, refined and propagated, plagiarism is a virtue rather than a vice. The task of a philosopher is to highlight the hard fact that the concept is that over which no single human has a final grip. Therefore, the whole obsession with working in secret, keeping things in the closet until the book is published is absurd. To take the concept of open-source seriously, one must first take the idea of an open-source self seriously.

I have felt this way for a long, long time – and a CuriousCat anon caught me a joyous mood of wanting to express this earlier today – but it is not a very easy position to maintain.

Xenobuddhism, quote-tweeting the CuriousCat response, put it perfectly:

I couldn’t agree more.

Blogging is my favourite thing about the internet. However, and particularly with photography (that most bloggable of the visual arts where I first started), there is an expectation that when you move from being an “amateur” to a “professional” you privatise your practice, as if openly sharing what you do online cheapens it inherently.

(But it’s not just your work that becomes privatised, of course. A friend of mine used to refer to a prevailing sense of “neoliberal professionalism” which I always enjoyed – the sense that to be professional under neoliberalism is to be cold and atomised and don’t you dare show any affiliations or speak your mind online, it’ll only affect your job prospects.)

There was a moment not so long ago when this thought got under my skin. I shuttered my longest-running blog over Christmas in 2015, making it private, password-protecting a written and photographic diary of my life that ran from 2010 to the the first week of 2016.

I was sad to kill it but I had begun to feel like my blogging habits were holding me back and not being anally-retentive with my creative practices meant I was not to be taken seriously. I felt an overwhelming pressure to privatise and find a way to make money from what was immediately available to me.

I came back with a new blog a few months later (as I always do) but one that was far less forthcoming and, as a result, far less interesting.

Reza’s “open-source self” is the perfect phrase for what has been lost. Not just in the photography blogosphere or the philosophy blogosphere but everywhere.

Can we get back to this? Can we migrate back to long-form blogging and away from Twitter threads?

Make the Blogosphere Great Again!


I get tingles when I think back to the first years of blogging and Reza’s return has occasioned a moment of unrelenting and regrettable nostalgia.

I’ve regained access to all my old blogs, dating back to 2008 and I have (perhaps somewhat hypocritically) been making them private so that they don’t bring me untold embarrassment somewhere down the line.

They have some truly horrendous and pretentious names (no change there) but also express some endearing ideas.

2008: Aleatoric Television, named after a song by The Books (byline: “A culture is no better than its woods”), which documents depressive walks in the woods and darkroom experiments; Writing Games which collects narrative exquisite corpses made at school in boring science lessons:

There once was an Ox which lived by the docks. He enjoyed reading intellectual books on amphibious reptiles and in his foot he felt a twitch, his foot wished it had a brain and could read, but much to the foots dismay it wasn’t even capable of eating popcorn.

Meanwhile, back in England the Communists where still crying because Lord Voldemort came back to hunt all the people, so many people, and they all go hand in the celery down his trousers was a sign that he actually didn’t care whether or not anyone did want to find where Cornwall originated in 1993.

2009’s The Wahnbriefe was from when I read Nietzsche for the first time and got obsessed with photograms, some of which I still think are quite beautiful.

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2010: The big blog started and all I did was chain smoke in my student dorm, playing Hyperdub 5.0 on repeat – what a fucking magnificent compilation that was – and reading K-Punk.

Another old blog I’ve uncovered is more recent, christened in 2013. There the Deleuze references start and it explicitly echoes this principle of “open source self”.

I remember I killed that one off after I wrote a bloody-minded comparative essay about “visual albums”, throwing together Beyonce’s Lemonade and Terre Thaemlitz’ Lovebomb. That was a real bastard of a post. Then someone called me out on being a pretentious twat and I got depressed and stopped writing.

(Admittedly, I’d just read Kodwo’s More Brilliant Than The Sun for the first time so the style of quite a few posts was… vibrant… I kept trying to review photobooks and exhibitions like I was in a cyberpunk novel.)

The blog was called Art Flakey – a bad jazz pun – but the name is dedicated to that open source sentiment:

Photography is the one creative act that I do almost daily that is free of over-thought. It is my one and only creative respite. This was the case when I first picked up a camera and I worked very hard to relearn that approach after education almost forced it out of me.

This is a common affliction no doubt: to be a navel-gazing, self-criticising, confidence-lacking neurotic non-writer. Evidently I need a therapeutic outlet and Art Flakey is it, for better and for worse. I have realised that my neuroticism is a learned behaviour and the fear of contradicting myself comes from witnessing those who criticise public changes of heart, particularly those who experiment in other parts of their lives and creative practices. I need to discover a way of writing that I am comfortable with which compliments my practice and the way that I think.

Photographers: we allow our photographs to be relatively truthful records of ourselves and our experiences at any given moment. We also accept that since those photographs were taken we have continued to grow, change and have new experiences. And so have they. We accept that these images were true when we took them but that they may not be true any longer. Why is the same leniency not given to writing?

Not all of the articles on his blog will be navel-gazing. There will be opinion pieces, reviews, reports, anecdotes, theories, drafts and final texts for direct and indirect use in my photographic work. I reserve the right to stand by them until I die and I reserve the right to disregard them the next day, all without the over-bearing temptation to censor myself.

I reserve the right to be flakey.

What was missing then was a sense of community. All that was present then was a feedback loop. I reserved the right to be flakey in myself because the act of blogging in isolation felt like a masochistic openness to being publicly flayed for enjoying writing.

That is no longer the case but there is still not quite the same sense of community. You can’t force that, of course.

But I’ll be here, waiting patiently for it.

 

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