The Slew – Chloe Geoghegan
The book Thinking, Fast and Slow by psychologist Daniel Kahneman is a 2013 best seller that explores intuition and rationality in decision making. The book explains the two systems that drive the way we think and make choices: one system is fast, intuitive, and emotional; the other is slower, more deliberate, and more logical. It is difficult sometimes for the brain to order thoughts in relation to their future significance, especially now as we wade through a deluge of ordered and reordered thoughts on crisis and pandemic while we live through it.
A human being is a dark and veiled thing
This is what Kahneman says to help us rationalise the idea of dual thinking. To be human is to feel confused and uncertain, especially now. Through listening to, watching and reading global accounts of what it’s been like to live through the virus, this veil spreads across the deluge of online content that began with lock down. This short, disordered reflection explores how the cerebral ability to think both fast and slow has caused this deluge and is therefore the driving force behind this pandemic as a significant cultural moment in the history of global culture.
The world has always been broken
These words sit among the conclusion of Hon Lai Chu’s essay I Just Want To See The Sea (about the Hong Kong protests but nonetheless responding to a crisis), illustrating the wider context of a culture shift. It takes a monumentally collective threat to shift humanity as a whole because we all exist in this brokenness. Chu writes about drowning inside a human darkness, and how her city is a mirror that has everybody’s image mirrored on its shards.
Life began with Armageddon
In a short video essay Clean Hands, Dubai based artist Nabla Yahya reminds us, the undead, that this pandemic is no different to any other traumatic event in human history. The most displaced, vulnerable and desperate are still without homes and still face inhumane acts of violence every day. This so-called moment of change is yet another dystopian fetish for the privileged, being played out in the echo chamber we exist in and perpetuate with our concern.
Illness is not a metaphor
Something else to consider when it comes to health in relation to power is those who are actually sick. They too do not have the privilege of pondering cultural moments or feeling culture shift. Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor (1978) described these misgivings, campaigning for clarity and truthfulness when it comes to describing illness.
Language is a virus
Critics of Sontag argued that humans gain meaning from difficult experiences through metaphors like Burroughs’ concept above. When Burroughs proposed that language is a virus in his 1962 novel The Ticket That Exploded, he was in the early stages of exploring the idea of social revolution through technology. Thinking of the plague of language acknowledges a proliferation.
Are we now more than real?
Daniel Birnbaum asks this in 2018 when he discusses what it means to come together in the digital age. On the first moment of physical isolation, the virtual realm became our connector to the real world. Our desire for connectivity and shared experiences makes virtual reality more human. Beyond thinking fast and slow, beyond perpetuality, proliferation, extroversion, beyond the slew, beyond silence – culture has shifted [online].
When I close my eyes, they burn
The opening words of an overwhelmed online contributor attempting to be timely and reactive but at the same time thoughtful and critical, following the online slew. Rapidly trying to think about what to do online, her burning eyeballs acknowledge this is a problem. In his book, Kahneman suggests what we believe and what we want is difficult to reconcile at the best of times. He also says a lot of the most important mental work we do, goes on in the silence of our minds.
[the] dictates of hyperactive extroversion
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk published an article early on in the 2020 lock down, celebrating this moment of change whereby the ever-present loud voices of society can finally be silenced. Almost a month after her article, it seems those loud voices have re-manifested themselves onto our screens with calls to save arts and culture. They are re-infiltrating our minds through our eyes and the clutter remains, proliferating and perpetuating the status quo.
It’s time, then, to rethink the nature of that cultural experience itself.
Frieze contributor Pablo Larios connects Tokarczuk’s thoughts to Burroughs: proposing that words can be the vaccine to language. But what about silence as a cure? What would happen if the internet superhighway was as silent as the streets around us? Would we change then?
About Chloe Geoghegan
Chloe Geoghegan (Aotearoa) is currently Curator at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Titirangi, Auckland. Prior to this she has held curatorial positions at Hocken Collections, Blue Oyster Art Project Space. She is a trustee for international arts publishing platform Contemporary HUM and is interested in furthering curatorial discourse in Aotearoa through critical writing, exhibiting and publishing.