As a liberal arts major it is a bold and somewhat self-effacing statement to say our age is too philosophical, a) because in the sense of reading Kant, it really isn’t, and b) because on the surface it undermines my entire operation.
But when I say philosophical, I mean it in a way that signifies too much cephalation (a word I conjured up that means, “too much internalization or an apparent overabundance of things in your head.”)
Good art, whether it be music, painting or literature, certainly involves introspection, but I would argue that the internet and social media exacerbates this tendency, and actually inhibits the production of good art.
The internet exists as a major conflict within us. Nicolas Carr says, “the internet is so much our slave, that it would seem churlish to notice it is also our master.” We essentialize the internet into being solely a bank of knowledge, slave to our every beckon call, but how frightening it would be to recognize we are beholden to the internet, and without it our diminished resourcefulness would be exposed in all its glaring incompetency. An age of access allows us to imbibe endlessly, to read and listen and see a myriad of creations, but it precludes us from making our own precisely for this reason.
Whenever one tries to access the self in an unadulterated way, there are so many other selves in the way, staring and blinking with the annoying prescience of an ancestral ghost. We become too censorious of ourselves, too conscious of our own ineptitude in the face of the artistic pantheon. It is a serious problem, and it is created not only by the internet’s multitude of access points and constellations of search results, but by social media as well.
Social media, specifically the ability to generate spurious selves to be blurted into the public sphere, has made delving into the depths of creative thought anathema to our superficial projections.
Creating an Instagram picture is a diligent act: you need filters, brightness adjustment, a caption that has enough pith and relevancy to have catholic appeal. And although some may argue this is a form of art in itself, I would argue it’s a form of self-deception and ultimately self-alienation. Social media presence forges a new identity, it presents the world with quixotic experience, supposed snapshots of life’s phenomenality, but these snapshots are ephemera.
When life rushes in, we are left clinging, like addicts, to our cinematic facades, identities formed in the likeness of a movie set, where the front makes up only ten percent of the intricate banalities lying behind. We are opining against life’s factota, and to deny the reality of our lives is to shun what makes great art.
There is postmodern self-awareness, evidenced in authors like David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, and then there is the self-awareness of social media, which is a hyper-trophied version of the postmodern. We have so much reference to the self in our daily lives that it induces a sort of deleterious delirium when trying to create.
The constant modulation of the self via social media leads to the constant modulation of art. As W.B. Yeats once said, “The friends that I have it wrong/Whenever I remake a song/Should know what issue is at stake/It is myself that I remake.”
But Yeats I think is probing a different idea, or at least an idea of self-censorship as liberating more-refined yet genuine iterations of the self. When the modern writer tries to rewrite, it is an act of alienation from the self, a sort of artistic distance incited by our tendency to produce holograms.
The constant re-addressing of our writing is either to produce a likeness of another’s work, or augmenting the distance from the sort of genuineness that produces the “real” art we’re looking for. It is increasingly difficult to reach the sublime in art because our realities are so cluttered with the cacophony of social alarms.
I’m not saying great art is impossible in an age of instant panoramic access and constant identity fiddling, but it is harder to find our rooms of deepest feelings. To claim a lucid instance is a contravention.
Our social reality is made up of magazine-cover lives and glossy misadventures, whereas if we can find a way to return to our more immediate, authentic reality, and erase our simultaneous superimposition of other selves as well as our own concocted pseudo-self, it is then that we can create an upcycled art that may more closely resemble the paragons we idolize.