VisCults by Johanna Drucker

Pollution style

Suburban mind recoils from its first taste of migrant organisms. Morphing the real is the defiant response of a higher order mechanism to its data server. Deregulated the disks spin around in her head, flat plates loose in the large sockets from which the drive disengages. No reading possible. Status knowledge sinks from view, sucked under a brief horizon of opportunity, and then dissolves into private reserves, mutually exclusive stocks of overripe options. The residue of material goods thrives in the unecological order of the new universe. Breath-savers installed against the charge of over-pollution are maintained without regret -- or passion -- their unfeeling light replayed continuously along the dotted lines of the median strip guiding the freeways through their communicative exchange. So many headlines used and reused. So many observations tossed, out-dated, into the heap of recyclables. The stench of rotting syntax rises from the grey slag pile, making history.


An appetite surge in the electrosphere consumes the black box commitment to a civil society. School yards go blank and the face in the mirror speaks through a hazard filter drained dry. Batteries, once fluid assets, are now solid matter waiting and wasting in the arid reaches of the social storehouse. Obsolete utilities run the search engine ragged in a desperate drive to locate plug-ins capable of retraining their unkempt circuits. A cowlick in the silicon, rising off the board, sparks with all the cosmetic wisdom of a haircut lawn. Bites too numerous to mention ate away at the lining of the board contaminating the insulation with a capacity for self-reflexive thought. Attempts at consolation faltered, strung up on the lines of interactive video and out across years of sunsets, one after another, each sinking alone into the same horizontal band of eclipsed time, a small blinking band at the bottom of the monitor.

Sanction Status

Back-lash bad data stinks as it hovers, so much thick fog in the algorithmic universe. Take the servomechanism home, wash its tiny analog windows and restore its faith in moral artifice and patient acquisition of knowledge. Sense data, it was once called, slowly seeping into the neural net, now amplified according to a penetration web capable of manufacturing an image just in time. For what? The ever anticipating next level of the self-organizing system, turning its own errors into judgments made for the best. Tucked into a buttonhole here, a file folder there, the trail of tears restores the ancient right to dignity with a fine gesture of its simulacral arm. No need to doubt the value of a good upgrade, the shiny metal of the old hardware still reflects its own light. The future will never be more real than it was before, shrink-wrapped and safety sealed against any act of real intervention. It aches to be released. Sighing in its transplant donor box, hoping against all hope to be revisited by an original mechanism. An affectionate grasp of interfacing systems emotes, just briefly, letting the wave action break on the screen in a subtle oh so subtle disturbance of display.

Toxic Democracy

The hype world seeps into everything as a form of pollution. The electronic scream is mute in the moment of its generated utterance. Open-mouthed, it seems a mere function of systems maintenance, but the support implications are non-trivial and the grounding connection breathes a sigh of great relief, restoring the personality of the program without anyone actually having to be there. At all. Culture's body writhes in rhythms supplied by a sado-technology. Mauled identity. Cannibal photos eat the soul right out from under your heart port. Flesh migrates according to the availability of sector space. Waiting in line, the body mutates through a bit-mapped digression, reformulating itself according to the exigencies of archival systems. Regulation speaks to the old optimisms of humanity, the liberal memory of speech, the now completely ruined light of day. Memory rents us our experience and the operating costs are greater than the system can support. Contemplate mercy. Generate speed. Perpetrate efficiency. Prayer is not an integrated extension in the data rich layers of the algorithmic atmosphere.

Dead Center

Cash dies and the city spasms out, bitstreamed to excess on a frayed fiber nerve. Optics create illusions of wealth which flicker in the chaos twlight -- images of another order, fireflies of sentience, tracked and put out. The network senses its exhaustion and replenishment, rising and falling on tides of current, surging the hormanal codeways with synaptic fluid. Charge is a word for all seasons, capable of storage and release, hibernation and return on all investments. Interest is another star of the moment, able to be wrest from the least transaction. Do you interest me? He asked, assessing the debit load and then passing on. Apocryphal tales are still told on the streets -- of hot metal and heavy lead, silver as a quick accounting tool and methods of accrual so deadly they have all been banked like so many leftover coals (hot rods) and left to die slowly of their own consumption. Is there an image left to seek in the mass of communicative exchange? Any single gestalt to be made on the totalizing wonder of it all? Or only readouts, one after another, mapping the patterns of storage and retrieval, negative data loss and reconstructive recovery?

Mutant Optics

There is a metaphysics of light which cannot be uncoupled from deception. Thought itself, dark and radiant, represents illusion in the very split between the thinking and that thought. The adaptation of culture to the norm breaks light along the knife-edge of critical inquiry, wanting to know, wanting to know, the eager beaver adults are sucked into the machine. No longer one-dimensional, the image flatters even farther, costing itself very little in the process of suspending disbelief. Cultural downsizing cuts deep into the flesh of imagination which is not thought, but its generative sibling rival, mind, breaking its waves of conscious recognition in that slim margin of difference between sleeping and waking where all antiquated productivy resides. A bitter harvest, mildewed before milking. Romantic? No, realistic is the term for an analysis which poses the possibility of description within the premise of there being something still to apprehend. The belief in magic is not a christian leap to faith, but a source of balance against the ever dropping rates of return on the simple investment of being. And being in the world. That world. So fraught and replete with infinite specifics and varying particulars.

Immersant Investments

Neon is now an old-fashioned word and concept. Quaint. Its harsh material light too real to fashion into a screen language. The act of framing now based on an already extant dimension of containment. Monitor -- verb and noun -- acting in the same instance to a predetermined limit which becomes instantly habitual. The windshield. The television. The ATM machine. The camera. A circuit of exchange in which a measure of sought relief is always elusive. What is watching but witnessing? What is perception but the shared pain of being? What is knowledge but escape from mute horror or the deep fall into it? What is speech but the protest against impotence. What is image but the continual displacement of the real from the scene? Who sinks lowest? Striving toward an image resolution. Conflict raises its familiar head. The newsroom flunkies spit hot ions outward in a desperate attempt to generate commitment. Seduction is the mere edge of the price to be paid for putting down hard money in a blind search for the possibility of return. It cannot always increase and still feed the capillary structure meant to keep the beast alive. Or can it? The depth of the field is nothing to the weak beam of light which aches to cross the space with conviction. All our propertied dreams come down to this, a moment of experience, ephemeral and incomplete, insubstantial and not even ours for the making. Taking the bitter with the street, life resounds into an echo chamber reverb of sensurround noise.

Negative Politics

The screaming status flame-wars of the edu-junkies map one edge after another in the useless sand. Hyped assessment, its hyena face snapping at the heels of justice, pursues its enemies with a dogged purpose. A data-poor environment sinks into the morass of sludge and neighborhood, while the simulacral skyline draws and redraws itself with a mapped program of relief, etched as if dimensionally, against the blunt instrument of resource management. Generating a culture from the meagre zone ignites a new velocity industry in the shadow of an edutainment complex, distributing intelligence packets to nibble on before the games. High performance, low anxiety. Consumer confidence and confidentiality interlock with the politesse of genetic rivals reconciling their high-speed call-up devices to a harmoniously integrated network of exchange. No payoff. Just web securities. And exchange.

Delete Culture

Bit screens self-destruct in an orgy of surplus value, making their way upstream to breed in the dark crevice of a used environment. Hard metal slides against cold flesh in a primordial ritual of renewal. Blood on the back of the mousepad, sputum racing up the spine of the program code. In a few moments it was over, and the limp digitalia swung in the virtual breeze, hopelessly hoping for a breath of damp air to renew their viral mechanisms. The will of industry a total vision of expansion and containment, the flow-chart model of use and development, as poignant as a primitive schematic for approximating the location of the organs in the body cavity. No one goes there anymore.

Terminal Data

Terror is its own cheap thrill, hitting the cable up for cash on the way in. Screen memory draws a blank, trying to refuse the signal. Her job on the street had been replaced by a chip too small to fit in her purse, too potent to be worn next to the skin. Now the programming functions had returned to the logical smear campaign hard-wired into what they termed the mother-board. No experiment in maternal instinct had ever put up with more machinery. The biology of family was hung out in the new wind of an insignificant market ploy. Commercial efficiency was checked at every point by the organic debris eliminated in the rhetoric of new politics. A dialogue capable of freezing on the menu in the seamless face of time tears the pixels out by their roots. A slow erasure of difference, information, struggling against impossible odds. A change takes place between modes as well as dimensions, with our sticky fingers trying to rearrange those figures on the screen and the airborne irritants remembering their job. Nothing breeding, nothing gained. Grope for the dials. The touch of artifice on the skin reminds us of libidinal drives, now all satisfactorily hooked into the equipment, supplying excitement through a short cord and a long delay of blind media sucking virtual flesh.


A prophalactic algorithm laps at the base of my brain, a new phallic tongue installed for the dim pleasure center to relax with. News breaks on my skin and reminds me there is no reason for knowledge to have form. The process of thought seeps according to an ancient organic metaphor through the synaptic mirror of my soul. Nothing in this equation matters more than getting through, letting the electrons have their day in the small sun of present tense before becoming the lapsed trace of what is now known as memory. The lips on the glass speak volumes as a microfiber thread spools outward from the gateway in explicit violation of protocol. Following its irreverent route the mind relaxes. The light that used to shine from her eyes is now tightly rolled up in optic storage, which I access now and again as one might sample aged liquors in another era and with another apparatus. Pleasure becomes the living lie of the machine, ready to manipulate its way into whatever space is available. There, for instance, between eye and mind, is an opportunity for mediation, intervention. Processing is taxed according to desire, and meted out in excess proportion to need. Run your hand along the cold spine of the bastard mechanism and remember what that hand was to the beloved keyboard and the well-respected trigger in our own time. Burnt connections offer their fickle version of events and the late breaking tune is more or less one of mild euphoria in spite of the diminished capacity down below. Spatial orientation depends upon your digitalia, mark my words and keep the circuit clean. The old viral networks are still around, lurking in the unswept reaches of the web, found by an occasional vacuum search, when the clumsy technicians forget to wipe their sensors or retract their errant probes before they leave the known surface of the bitter earth. We who traffic in soft goods are better equipped than those old electron hogs to monitor the progress of the program overall. Beeps and blips and a disturbance on the screen. Passing is always out of phase and into the limnal reaches of remote transmission. I want -- but cannot make myself heard -- in the mute vibratory center. Noise makes itself important again, bidding like a juvenile for a moment of attention. Maintenance is a routine job, taken lightly, like the dawn's early life, and scattered out over the spreadsheet in order to be harvested a little later in the game. Programmatic? Wait and see.

© Johanna Drucker, May 1998