Sandy Baldwin

From Issue 1

“In all cases the physical occurrence of an index word is bodily annexed to what the word indicates. Hence ‘you’ is not a queer name that I and others sometimes give you; it is an index word which, in its particular conversational setting, indicates to you just who it is to whom I am addressing my remarks. ‘I’ is not an extra name for an extra being; it indicates, when I say or write it, the same individual who can also be addressed by the proper name…” Gilbert Ryle, *The Concept of Mind*

 “My name is Mrs. Mellisa Lewis,” reads the email. “I am 59 years old and I was diagnosed for cancer for about 2 years ago. I will be going in for an operation later today.” Bad for her, but good for me because she is going to will me “Fourteen Millions Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand United States Dollars” for “the good work of the lord.” She provides instructions on how to claim the money. She ends the email asking me to pray for her recovery and signs it with regards.

Mrs. Kim Paul emails me later on the same day.  The subject of her letter is “PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED.” She too is willing me her estate. Luda Johnson emails the next day. Puzzling to me, she came across my email address through “an email surfing Affiliated with the US chamber of Commerce.” What does that mean? She offers a female puppy for adoption. Will I care for and show an interest in the puppy? Someone calling himself Patrick Dooley emails: “Hi, I hate to be the one to mention this, but people continue to talk about your weight issue and it just disgusts me.” This is also puzzling, since I did not realize I had a weight issue. He continues: “Whether you know it by now, people are always chattering about each other at work but you come up more than enough.” The news is a complete surprise, but it turns out he has some “stuff” to help me, available on his “anonymous email website.” He instructs me that “When it helps/works just send a memo out with the name ‘Angel’ in it.  Then you can take me out to lunch to thank you.” Amazing! But why a memo with the name Angel? Later, Vivian Dabah, a 23 year old girl from the Sudan emails. She wants to get to know me. She wants my understanding and interest. “Take care as I wait for your response through my private email address above,” and she signs it “Yours, Vivian.”

It is easy to laugh at the simplicity of these emails. They are ploys. Such laughter is about distance and control. I am not touched by the email’s call. It addresses me but I know what is at work there. I know the type: the spammer, the con artist, the criminal. I possess and employ knowledge of the otherness at work within and behind the address of these emails. The lure or call of spam is purely a “trick,” as social media theorist Clay Shirky explains. He intends to be reassuring, to contain the trick within a repertoire of social relations, yet such contextualizing highlights and doesn’t explain the lure. I am still left with the address itself: how is it that the spam calls to me, in all its inauthenticity?

This question is not dealt with so easily. In a *New York Times* interview, Sherry Turkle identified the fantasy of escaping the burden of email. Declaring “email bankruptcy” is the public declaration of inability to respond to your email. You are addressed and you cannot respond. Your email account is clogged with garbage. You are so far behind you give up on the account and start a new one. The problem may be spam and may also be a surfeit of legitimate messages – too many to answer! – but surely the burden is at least in part that each email addresses us, calls us, beckons us, and the fantasy Turkle diagnoses is of blocking our ears and not hearing the call, not hearing the other through the net.

If you knew how to listen, you would understand that I am talking about a problem of knowledge, of the status and production of knowledge, and the topography that situates and is situated by this production.

It is easy to be cynical. Of course, we hear about people taken in by these letters, newbies and rubes who give their retirement to Mrs. Kim Paul or Vivian Dabah. The knowledge I am talking about here is double-sided: on the one hand, the structure of address and its pure convention in email, where PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED becomes a citation of one possible affectionate formal closing of a letter; on the other hand, the successful performance of this convention that draws in the reader and seduces in its call. The address swarms over me in an instant. It is the highest of high-speed net writing. The confidence trickster plays on my compassion – my desire to help, my desire to respond to MY BELOVED – a trickster playing my greed to get my hands on the Fourteen Millions Two Hundred Fifty Eight Thousand United States Dollars that Mrs. Mellisa Lewis is willing to me (and which she surely doesn’t need, now that she’s diagnosed with cancer).

All in a day’s spam.

You know the arguments. Spam is offensive. Spam wastes time. Systems administrators call it “unsolicited bulk email.” It clogs the inbox. Estimates claim spam comprises 80 to 85% of the entire world’s email. This is why we need filters, buffers, programs that protect us. The admins approach spam as a problem of resources. If this is true, it is because the system is intended for messages, intended for delivery, intended for addressing. The problem of *address* is folded into the resources of the system. It is not simply a problem of bulk. It is not simply a matter of spam clogging our inbox or of annoyance and distraction. No, it is tied to who we are on the net as receivers and readers, senders and writers.

All net writing is spam of one sort or another. The writing we receive and is meant for us is simply spam that we accept. Who is it that distinguishes spam from “authentic text”? Literary critics of course. Surely you recognize that this is a distinction based on an aesthetic taste for the authentic text of a subject? Are we not all trained from early on for these distinctions? The sysadmins and programmers and app developers and hackers as well: all care for the problem of authentic text. To unburden and unblock yourself of this vision is to exit into the wild zone of spam theory and digital poetics where every net writing is spam of some sort, and all such writing poses the problem of an emergent murmuring ghostly voice of the poet. I propose: I know there is digital poetics - know as in understand, perceive, and read - because of the problem of digital literature. This proposal is philosophical. Poetics affirms and creates. “There is” poetics.

I might invoke the longer history of junk mail. Matthew Sweet’s fascinating _Inventing the Victorians_ suggests that the Victorians invented spam junk mail. The manipulation of address and the forcing of delivery is not a function of electronic mail but of the postal system as such. I might link to the scam, the grift, the con, the bunko, the flim flam. Think of the “Spanish Prisoner,” that good old confidence trick of luring a mark into giving money to save a prisoner in Spain. It requires developing the mark’s trust and sympathy for the prisoner, as well as the hopes of a great reward. Or think back even farther in history to the “Letter from Jerusalem” fraud described by Vidocq in the 18th century, where the scammer shows the mark a letter from a rich man in Jerusalem offering to share wealth if the mark sends funds to enable the man’s release from imprisonment. The formula is clear.

The primary law covering spam is the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing), signed into law by George Bush. CAN-SPAM was the first law regulating internet spam. It legalizes most email spam. It focuses on intent. It focuses on spam as email that functions as advertisement or attempts to sell a service. Spam is defined as a “solicitation.” If the subject line or the content of the message is informational the email is considered transactional and not a solicitation. Compare the Spamhaus definition. The Spamhaus project is a major source on the web for spam information. The project’s technical definition of spam: “An electronic message is ‘spam’ if (A) the recipient's personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients; AND (B) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent.” Also: “Unsolicited means that the Recipient has not granted verifiable permission for the message to be sent. Bulk means that the message is sent as part of a larger collection of messages, all having substantively identical content.” Finally: “Spam is an issue about consent, not content.”

In all this, we’re dealing with senders and addressees as positions of information circulation in a communicational circuit. It is easy enough to treat email as packaged information, as part of a discursive field where sign production is economically regulated. What of consent (and not content)? Consent is the permission given by bodies entering into such systematic communicational relations. Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores, following on Humberto Maturana’s work on autopoeitic systems, showed that the computer as technical object can only be understood within a consensual domain of human practices and encounters.

I think of such consensus when they email and call me “Dear One” or “Beloved” and beg my reply. Their cancer, their agony is displayed in writing. Is not the phrase “I was diagnosed with cancer” as piercing as “Beloved” or “dear one”? Is it not as moving as “donate to Haitian relief”? Does it not tug at me the same? How can I address this pull? I insist: this is a *problem of address itself*, a problem of the structure of being addressed and the convention of address in a letter. No doubt there is the history of this convention. The address is a sign that signifies various formal attitudes. PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED is a convention between lovers and those in close affection. I know this, which is to say that there is an epistemological attitude towards spam. I know that it invokes these conventions and this knowledge armors me against the spam.I mean armor in a very literal sense: my body is firm, unyielding to this writing. I don Wilhelm Reich’s “character armor.” I know who I am; I wall myself against the other. Are we not dealing with a political economy of sentiment? So much invested here, so much conserved here. We are armored against the call through the molar arrangement of the subject that we are. Molar subjectivity tied to a sentence: I will not respond, I am not your beloved, you are not an object of my desire, you are not an object of my sympathies. The armor serves an economic function of controlling our investments.

Think of an email address such as vivian1985dh@yahoo.com or charles.baldwin@mail.wvu.edu. The address is a code that email programs take and use to direct the message across the net. The address is composed of a user name and a domain name. The user name is set by the sysadmins on a particular network, perhaps following a decision by the user, and the domain name is set by the name of the network. The domain name is assigned to particular IP addresses, sets of number corresponding to the internet protocol address of a site, assigned by ICANN, the international agency regulating internet addresses and names. The email address is attached to a message. The address accompanies the message. In what way? Is it part of the message or is it something separate and other from the message?

This poetic problem of ending and beginning is evident in Crocker, Vittal, Pogran, and Henderson’s RFC 733 “Standard for the Format of ARPA Network Text Messages” of November 1977, the core internet protocol defining email messages. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Request for Comments (RFC) are basic documents outlining and regulating the function of the net. The important distinction made in this RFC is the separation of the email message from the header fields. While the rigidly-formatted and syntactically-determined header fields are crucial for transmission, the content is irrelevant and is simply transmitted. Yet the entire message, in its transmittable form, is nothing more than a string of ASCII characters punctuated into fields by special escape characters such as nulls or CRs. The message is structured and formatted only at the point of reception, where a reader encounters the problems of the space of the text and the address involved therein.

Giorgio Agamben’s important essay “The End of the Poem” argues that poems are “grounded in the perception of the limits and endings,” limits and endings which they “define – without ever fully coinciding with”; and secondly, that this problem of endings and limits is an “intermittent dispute with sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units.” Such a dispute returns again to the problematic of the undecidable addressing of poetic form: the poem speaks but to whom is it addressed? (Think also of Edward Said’s early work on textual *Beginnings*.) Agamben concludes that the end of the poem as “the ultimate formal structure perceptible in a poetic text” is a site of linguistic “intensity.” Such intensity is felt and in question in the emails I receive from spammers.

The closure and extent of the text is a fundamental poetic problem. The persistence of this problem situates net writing in the indeterminate space of the impossible closure of the book. Digital writing project such as Alan Sondheim’s “The Internet Text” or Kenji Siratori’s diverse work pose the problem of formal closure against serial production. These are works entering the space set out in Pierre Guyotat’s work, or differently in Robert Duncan’s “Passages” where “phrases have both their own meaning and yet belong to the unfolding revelation of a Sentence beyond the work.”

The impossible closure of the book is a confused, paradoxical formula that can be restated as: internet or literature. Meaning what? What is meant by “internet or literature”? Is it an opposition? One or the other? Or is the “or” meant to say that one is the name of the other, that literature is the alternative name, the other name for internet? Or what?

Well, why digital writing?

Because the “source” or substructures of the digital are like writing. The codes and flip-flops are differential graphematic systems.

No that’s not adequate. The code is unreadable and unread, the flip-flop is beyond human sense, its differences so small and fast and distant that it is at best a figure of writing.

That’s the point. The persistence of the figure of writing. The persistence of an ambiguity between data and instruction, a basic undecidability in the digital. The persistence of these codes and sources as what is read but remains unreadable. This persistence is writing.

You mean a literary writing. The contents of the net are writing. The tags of Web 2.0, of the great promises of the social media net, are writing. Word, words, words, as Peter Morville puts it.

The status of writing on the net cannot be separated from the net itself. More precisely: can not be separated from the net as a thing and as an event. As a thing that is present and that arrives. The net is composed of messages – it is a composition – and composed for the distribution of messages. Does the net arrive? Does this question mean: what is the net? Where is it? How do we read this question and what do we read to understand it? That is, what is the message of the net? Does the message arrive? And as an event: the net takes place. It is here. Where? And where is it going?

This is a question of poetics – of the production of writing – and of literature, that is, of the becoming-literary of positivities within discursive and material domains, or better: a question of *emergent language practices*. Maurice Blanchot asked: “Is man *capable* of a radical interrogation, that is to say, finally, is man *capable* of literature, if literature turns aside and toward the absence of the book?” I ask in turn: is net writing just this capability?

When “Mrs. Elizabeth Etters, a devoted Christian” writes me, she begins: “I have a foundation/Estate uncompleted {what millions of dollars} and need somebody to help me finish it because of my health, everything is available.” Such an odd sentence, like every other spam sentence, an oddness that rings with the poetic, with the ambiguity of language play and the undecidability of fuzzy communication zones. What does it mean that the estate is “uncompleted”? What does the phrase “what million dollars” mean and why is it in curly braces? How about that final “everything is available”? Does not this conclusion suggest the relativization of any reading and reception of this text? There is an asemantic filature across the message. Is this a refusal to speak the truth? Or an insistence of the true state of the text behind the purported truth? It is as if the surface of the message were distorted by the fraudulent intention. We know some of these textual distortions are inserted to bypass Bayesian filters and the like – as I have discussed elsewhere – but one way or another, the result is a decay of language to expose writing as nothing but address. On the one hand, this means an emptying of the form of address; on the other hand, it means the continued functioning of address as a form only, as nothing but formalization. As Galloway and Thacker put it in *The Exploit*: “Spam signifies nothing *and yet is pure signification*.”

We can pick at the twisting of the English language that breaks the surface of the spam message. Mrs. Mellissa Lewis was diagnosed “for” cancer: no one says “for” cancer. This is clearly a fabulation, a fake, written by someone in Nigeria or one of those places where these emails originate. I am sure, I know that Mrs. Mellissa Lewis isn’t even her name! We all access this “common knowledge.” What is this certainty, this knowledge? How am I sure of the untruth of this text? Is it enough to point to and repeat the epistemic knowledge of spam practices? How can such knowledge be permanent and stable? This knowledge floats ambiently over all net writing, a finely grained epistemic filter that renders every sign both utterly persuasive and utterly fictional. To speak of modes of address as *conventions* assumes that we decode their history, operations, and formalisms. We are ever so comfortable operating in discursive fields. Discourse means touching the other through the mark, through the fixation of the word. The limit of this decoding is the sheer fact that “address” remains. I am left with address as the trace of the other. Address transcends decoding. Or rather, in the decoding of address we experience and handle *the experience of this transcendence* through the act of decoding.

Jacques Derrida wrote of the postcard:  “its lack or excess of address prepares it to fall into all hands,” adding that “the secret appears, but indecipherably.” The secret is traced in every net writing. Arrival and reception means occurrence, something taking place in the email that lets us talk of opening or checking our email. A taking place that “reading” only covers over and does not explain.

Is the answer an analysis of the “media technical” features of addressing? Is the concept of an address something internal to an information system, and not to be confused with human addressees? Can information theory – which deals rationally with the positions and flows involved sender and addressee – contain and account for addressing in net writing? An information source “produces a message or series of messages to be communicated to the receiving terminal,” writes Claude Shannon. As we know, the message is encoded by a transmitter for a channel, where it is received and decoded for the “destination,” that is, the “person (or thing) for whom the message is intended.” Shannon deals with the statistical structure of each of these positions given variably noisy conditions. The positions are firm and whole, ready for inhabitation.

The IETF RFC 644 of July 1974, asks the question “How can the recipient of a network mail message be ‘certain’ that the signature (e.g., the name in the ‘FROM’ field) is authentic; that is, that the message is really from whom it claims to be?” The answer offered in this RFC is built on the end-to-end principle that underlies the net. Though the content of email may be dealt with at “higher” levels of the internet, sending messages is the basic operation of the net.  All features of the net are dedicated to ensuring that messages move from point to point. The content and even integrity of the message is secondary to end-to-end transmission. The physical location of the end points are sockets that define a communication path. RFC 644 proposes tying certainty of signature to the hardware sockets. “We propose that the receiving process consider the sending process to be a properly authorized (by the sending host) sender of mail only if the sending end of the communication path is (one of) the socket(s) reserved for transmission of authenticated mail.” Of course, this means that any message transmitted from a given socket is marked as an “authentic” message from that socket. The mathematical specification of sender and receiver, of information source and destination, does not resolve the alterity that I encounter in an email message. IETF RFC 2635 addresses spam, arguing that a “culture” of research and education communities dominated the internet before it was opened to commercialization determines netiquette and net communication, and that this culture is “deeply embedded in the protocols the network used.” It was a culture of exchange and display, of openness to and of messages. This consensual, cultural domain frames all addressing in net writing.

The more general concept of a *computer address* is no help either. An address is a specific binary number that identifies a location in memory from which and into which a computer can store and retrieve information. Often an address is a single byte of available memory. In this definition, a computer address at first appears quite material. In this sense, “address space” is a range of discrete numbers as unambiguous and unique identifiers of information. On the CPU, “addressing” deals with various modes for correlating machine language instructions to particular registers. Registers are specific locations on a hardware device storing differentials set by voltage or other material levels according to a digital logic. A compiler must know the correct addressing mode for the compiled code it produces. Writing directly in assembly language requires knowing the correct addressing mode. Addressing deals with the basic instruction set of the processor. Here we are in solid hardware-based media analysis a la Friedrich Kittler, one that promises to ground theoretical questions in the materiality of bytes and flip-flops.

Yet the site of the address is already double and ghostly. Addresses may be data or instructions, may be a number or a command. The mode of addressing is undetermined. As a result, the displacement of “indirect addressing” is basic to computer architecture. The content of the address specified is always potentially a pointer to another address rather than data. Even more complicated is the virtual addressing common to contemporary computers, where virtual memory uses series of page tables to map physical memory to different addresses. Specific addresses can be swapped and fragmented, split and displaced. Address space is doubled, multiplied, so that virtual memory enables a large range of references and locations, providing the computer a vast space of representation and computation.

There are no limits to these models, no breaks in the symbolic orders that contain us, but this also means no limits to the flows and emissions of dealings with absence of bodies. All email is mine, is for me, and is addressed to me. I am still that “useless passion” described by Sartre. The last word on this is Alan Sondheim, as always for me writing here, who himself writes in regard to the message and its attendant protocols: “Subjectivity appears precisely in the absence of its call.” I pour myself into writing the absence of the net.

To understand this, read with me the email I received telling me to text “Haiti” to 90999 and contribute $10 to earthquake relief. The money goes straight to the Red Cross. Another email tells me to donate $5 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by texting GIVE& to 2HELP. It is easy to say yes to Haiti with their 7.0 earthquake. There is certainty in the directness of connection between 2HELP and money for relief. These texts – “Haiti” and “GIVE&” – are somehow rigidly connected with righteous goodwill. I listen to the radio and learn that I can text in my donation to Haiti, and in turn the radio station will even add to my donation. I can help Haiti and support public radio! I feel good. I feel exactly able to measure my goodness. Suddenly I care about Haiti, where I did not care before. Who cares about them? Now their bodies are broken, bloodied, buried. Now I care and want to help. They are made abject, pulverized, turned to nothing but tissue and pain and no longer body at all. What sort of affirmation and response is this to the Haitians? Yes, now that the disaster is here. Yes because the disaster fell on you Haiti. It takes this force to bring out my humanity. The force redistributes the field of bodies and discourses.

Is this not a narrative? Is this not a figural relation prior to the requirement and positing of a communication network of senders, receivers, channels? The feel-good story of “Haiti,” both the event and the element of discourse – or rather the undecidability of a chain of discursive elements – is a story of encountering the other in the net’s writing, a story of being addressed. Again, what is address? To even being to answer, to start on that journey, one finds address cannot be separated from a narrative, from an autobiographical story of the subject. Every address involves a momentary displacement towards the other. Not a spacing or Heideggerian *ereignis* but a tempo of announcement nonetheless.

The existence of the net is inseparable from the third party. There are two stories of this third party: as a protocological institution and also as the absolutely other in the great beyond the net never touches. Every address already comes to and goes from the third party. Not you and I, who already speak and have voices, but that other who listens and to whom our voices drift and carry. It may sound like surveillance, like the fact that the NSA and Homeland Security are always watching, that Echelon – that mysterious monitory network that reads all our emails and exchanges – is at work. Yet surveillance of this sort is a code that can be cracked. To say that I am on the net only if I am viewed by the administrative other of Homeland Security is in fact to know quite certainly where I am. No matter how difficult it may be to determine who is reading and archiving my emails, it is in principle possible. There is a reader and an archive out there.

The problem of the third person is not of this sort. Nor is this the problem of a masquerade where each of us becomes anonymous, third person on the net. It is true that the “I” I assume on the net is very much a fictional “I,” that no one knows I am a dog, and I can be anything. I take an avatar and re-make myself. In this instance, as well, it is clear that I remain outside the net, while my masquerade is enabled by the modulation and play of various codes of identities. The other on the net, in this sense, always remains a façade. In the case of surveillance, the administrative other is always watching. In the case of masquerade, only a fictional other is watching.

All this is true – surveillance, masquerade – only in terms of the fictional capabilities of address. To know that I am watched or to know that the other is a façade is to posit an epistemology and to produce a discourse on the fictionality of net addressing. These positions – surveillance, masquerade – preserve the reality of the other beyond the net. Address locates. It opens. It closes at the same time. Address presents and withdraws. It is radically indifferent.

The indifference of the message can be explained as a flat technical surface, but every surface and every opacity is a psychic field, a folding of the self’s interiority. All this affirms the operation and space of the book as the absence of the book, the book beyond the book, in Jabes’ sense. Is this not the point of Ted Nelson when he invents the notion of the link on the model of literature (“literature is debugged” he writes)? Is it not the indifference of literature, or its exterior positivity, that makes it the disruptive paradigm of net writing (and casts it against all Nelson’s subsequent efforts)? Literature is an institutional space that creates both an affect of address and a disappearance of address. Literature must be a problem or else it is not worth creating and studying. There is a study of genres of net literature, histories, and practices, which I leave to its scholars. It is not possible to study the works of literature as a canon of belles-lettres and to understand literature’s emergence.

Just as much as it is easy to by cynical about spam email, it is easy to be good and righteous as well. Today Judith Alexander writes: “Help me carry out my last wish. With your help; I want to donate to the needy, the poor and motherless baby’s homes. Reply if you can help.” I want to give. Is this Haiti? Do I read the authenticity of Haiti in this email message? Does its call speak to me? If it is Haiti I can surely help! Is “Haiti” now a codeword for acceptable suffering? How did this become the case? How did “Haiti” enable a shift in the discursive field around email, a shift that re-distributes our reading and believing in the text? How is “Haiti” now a codeword for reading in the medium of writing an expression of the other’s suffering and in this a trace of the body? How is “Haiti” a reading that collapses into the immediate sensation of the other’s pain?

Is not my righteous goodwill also a cynical position? Is this not the cynicism and calculation of reason? Not simply that I calculated the amount to give and made my giving a matter of calculation, but because I responded to the highly codified summons of the text message, the email solicitation, the public radio call. My Haitian goodwill effort is mediated by email and text messaging on my cell phone, but with mediation that is utterly transparent and pure. The donation is spontaneous, we are told, from me and my cell phone to the suffering in Haiti. There is a direct contact with the suffering body of the other. A presence brought about through social media. The knowledge produced is direct as well: I know that my actions correspond to a good cause. If I were to learn that my contributions were somehow diverted, taken over by some unscrupulous swindler, this would be a failure in the distribution of my funds but not in the pure communicative act where I give money which then goes to help some poor crushed Haitian. It is events like this pure act of donation and solicitation that CNN declares the “Social Web’s true impact.” In such events, in every such email, in the word “Haiti,” I feel the web, feel its impact.

PLEASE REPLY MY BELOVED. The phrase is emptied and voided. I can discard it. In fact, it is no different than 2HELP texted on my phone. The latter does send help in response to a call from Haiti but only because of the felt reality of the disaster.

It is easy to be righteous and good, just as easy as it is to be cynical. I am good and feel the immediacy of donating to Haiti. I am cynical and distanced in refusing to give to Mrs. Mellisa Lewis. Who would deny that both give me a control of relations, a position from and in which to place myself? I am comfortable and able to control the distances between myself and the spammer and myself and the Haitians. There is a purity and immediacy with the spammer as well: I know with certainty how to read their message. I know how to decode the salutation and the heartbreak. I do not care about this fake cancer and death, certainly not in the face of the real disaster of Haiti. There is a pleasure in the Haitian disaster: its magnitude is felt through the medium of email, television, etc., felt as a disaster, as an event that registers as real.  Thank you Haiti for your destruction. Thank you for your 7.0 earthquake that allows us to feel and to give.

Were they not starving and suffering before? But now they are safely depoliticized. They are drained of any resistance, any talking back that might mention globalization and American policy in Haiti. The blood washes this away. Now, only now, we recognize them.

The recent quake in Chile proves this: it was less catastrophic, we are told, because of building codes; that is, the bodies were contained not displayed. As a result, we do not need to offer as much aid, as much sympathy; that is, we do not need to consume the other. The Chileans resist and hide in their buildings, escaping our consuming vision.

Michael Berry’s “Greetings in the Name of Jesus: The Scambaiter Letters” is a horrific book and a classic of internet literature. In its complex play of identities negotiated and exchanged on the web, it is a pure example of literature that the net makes possible. It chronicles Berry’s turning the tables on the spammers. The reversals are firmly situated within the symbolic positions of the communication circuits. The senders become receivers. They assume the position. Berry’s villain’s gallery of spammer photos emphasize humiliation and abjection. Bodies are splayed for our laughter and scorn. We know, with certainty, that these are criminals. We know more than they do.. Like the pulped bodies of Haitians, these bodies are ours to control and punish.

The condition of the text – the condition of all texts – cannot be separated from the condition of bodies. Learn this if nothing else. I deploy terminology of psyche and body because of the recognition of interior processing that occurs in every address – which is to say, in every mark – a recognition keyed to interior churning and working over the other’s body.

The other in the Haitian earthquake is flesh, undifferentiated pulp. Pulp is without agency. It is nothing but material to be incorporated. The quaked other is without agency. We can name this other and control it. We hear the appeal to aid because only we can act in relation to this pulp. The other is subject of our aid and help.

I get off on their injuries, their death, and their crushed bodies. The sight of it in the news puts me in my place. Soon, the very thought of their disaster confirms me in my goodness and caring. Look, don’t put this on me: you get off on it too. We take our pleasure in being constituted, positioned, and sited in relation to the other.

To do so – to take this pleasure, as you and I both do – is to deal with a bloody, pulped text. The pulped text is one we take in and incorporate. We work through and understand, but more than this: we consume the body of the other. In consuming we build and armor our own bodies. We site ourselves in the communication circuitry.

Technical definitions and RFC protocols and the like are codifications of the consensual encounter with the other. Call this alterity the *neutral* of the net. If I were not so serious, perhaps I would write: the ne(u)t(ral). The neutral is an uncertain openness to the stranger, to the other as stranger. The fact of the net and my knowledge of it is an impossible neutral persistence of the other, affirmed despite and beyond the codifications of protocols and interfaces.

To send, to address, and to transmit, to receive: all this palpitation of the other’s body. To caress and fold and follow the lines of the surfaces of that other body. The line is the figure of my imagining your body. I am always following this line towards you in the pure unmediation of the flesh.

Works Cited

Agemben, Giorgio. “The End of the Poem.” Stanford, 1999. Print. Pages 114 and 115.

Berry, Michael. *Greetings in the Name of Jesus: The Scambaiter Letters*. Harbour, 2006.

Blanchot, Maurice. *The Infinite Conversation*. Minnesota, 1993. Print. Page 350.

Derrida, Jacques. *The Post Card*. Chicago, 1987. Print. Back cover.

Duncan, Robert. *Ground Work: Before the War*. New Directions, 1984. Print. Unnumbered.

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Author Biography

Sandy Baldwin is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University. He publishes on the poetics and philosophy of digital writing. His solo and collaborative creative work is widely published and performed. He reads all his spam.