Web

I connected with a Lyft driver to San Francisco International Airport. After we struggled to locate each other, the conversation started amicably with the mutual lament of technology. She switched gears, and asked me where I was going – home in March 2020. She turned down the radio and harped on an intricate conspiracy theory about how the coronavirus originated as a bioweapon at a PLA research facility in Wuhan. It is hard to convey her meaning without adopting some of her language. This was warfare, part of an ongoing scheme cooked up by the new bloods, a biological clique of corporations and politicians, tied together by intercontinental trade treaties, to promote emasculating vegan and synthetic foods such as soy and direct the mainstream media to brainwash people into submitting like sheep to their plans for world domination. I don’t know how much deeper the theory goes, but this is what she told me. She was safe from coronavirus, for she was a free-thinking old blood, fortified by meat and organic foods such as grains and pulses. She made her own way in the world, poring over unsung scholarship on Neanderthal genetics and the cultural dominance of a creatively evil sociobiological cult.

Late twentieth-century thinkers declared a crisis of the meta-narrative and helped make one. It’s such a banal point today that it doesn’t seem to bear repeating. Our ideas are consumed in a free market and a mass society, where the distortions of oligarchy produce a cultural dislocation and atomisation so profound, that it could reasonably be called anomie. Market culture is spun on an enormous, labyrinthine web of material semiotics. We know that we are subjects to an architecture lurking behind the representational veil of phenomenological immediacy. Yet, from the capture threads, we have no good view of the composite latticework of our embedding mesh. We look from within the lacy net, even when we want to look into it. Sometimes we find a dark cavern and cocoon ourselves. It can seem a more comforting fate than an endless traversal through cavernous cobwebs, knowing that, despite Kant’s best efforts, we really do remain stuck in Plato’s cave.

But occasionally, on a dewy morning, we are bespattered by refracting droplets. We hope to look through them, by scoping the silken strands, and positioning spores at vantages we believe will reflect the metaphysics of our interdependence. In moments of honesty, we give the lie to it, and in earnestness admit, that because we cannot hold our poise long enough to match pace with the quick spinnerets, nor measure its parameters for the best angle, we are doomed to see only through the convex, incandescent surface foam gathered on amorphous globules, beneath the surface of this embedding web.

Before we lost hope, we ordained ourselves not just to see, but to re-spin the web. We laid faith in conveying to each other the visual echos of order reflected on our beady driblets, into a systematic view of the orbicular whole. The politics of this communicative democracy required us to draw surveys and maps, without deigning to assume too much. Hermeneutics and critical theory could appeal to hubristic transcendence and thereby deny their own bounded vista of a fractal topography. But they at least hoped, by deconstructing in preparation for reconstruction, unveiling objects of apparent ontological coherence as sinister entanglements, to disentangle and re-entangle our embodied subjectivities together.

Things were simplified by the class structure of industrial capitalism, the certainties of a liberal constitution, and – since the second world war – faith in organised professions tasked to construct rational and positivist sciences for technocratic rule. The reified terms of the entanglements of today – like deindustrialisation, globalisation, neoliberalism, and poststructuralism – cannot convey the fineness of the new threads. But every traditional order arises and collapses amid a structural crisis in semiotic circumnavigation. Hence why eulogies to rationality canonise Luther and Montaigne, in charting the rise of protestantism and scepticism. The emergent latticework of symbolic culture is co-produced by efforts to disentangle and re-entangle it.

Our fractured condition is the efficient cause and final consequence of misrepresented space. That we are the spiders of our own web, unable to spin in concord, only registering our interconnections in second-order refractions, makes us desire an implausible paradigm shift in existential accommodation. But our arachnid counterparts clutch their paws for our legs, as we do theirs. We must find refuge long enough to form and peer through droplets, which appear only sometimes, and are distorted on the glimmering and trembling web, by fluid dynamics so profoundly vast and complex in their flows and surface tensions, that their culminations and dispersions can only clearly be traced in retrospect.

We depend daily on the financial, technological, and bureaucratic infrastructure which makes transactional relationships with strangers possible, despite the semiotic vortex of its constitutive context. The professional aeronaut succeeds in a stable environment. The subjective self trembles in its ignorance, but can lay faith in the easy phantasmagoria of cybernetics. The Lyft driver safely deposited me at the airport, where I didn’t spare a second thought putting my life in the hands of the anonymous pilots tasked to steer a Dreamliner safely to Heathrow. I peered out the pressurised cabin to see Nevada, Idaho, and Montana, where freeways and urban nodes intersect an endless landscape formed by crop cultivation and circle irrigation. At an altitude of seven miles, you get some sense of the magnitude of the arctic tundras of Manitoba, the vast glaciers and frozen volcanos of Greenland, and the immense expanse of the Atlantic ocean. Delirious after ten hours, I found myself descending into the rolling hills and hedgerows of England in a machine which stands in all ways for narrow vantage.