How can one bet on the future? Who can bet on the future? Someone who can afford the present, perhaps? Records of yesterdays, data-sets of our present sensibilities—time, therefore, is at a delay for those on the periphery. What is relayed to me throughout this short collection is that if you are now more unsure of yourself than ever before, maybe ever since the COVID-19 rupture, everything is about to get a lot worse for you. Electric Sarcasm is a distortion in the best way possible.
Bouncing off hashtag-littered irony and bemoaning at the current tech landscape, floating in the realm of the Manuell Castell-inspired conceptual framework of the “informational society,” (16) there is a clear agitation with surveillance capitalism, the data commodification, the ceaseless antagonisms that bends a society trapped in austerity while one’s personal life is being atomized. Dimitra Ioannou looks at the façade of this large enterprise and sneers—as her lived-in moments turn into invisible commodity. The author sees this as another obvious signal in which the next wave of capitalism has co-opted formlessness, incentivizing a financial architecture that functions in fragmentations, characterized—maybe even mobilized—by paradox. If language is out of joint with temporality, we are condemned to a metaphysical debtor’s prison:
“What they relay to me is a false account / of what I experience…It is their story, and it / sounds normal” Ioannou laments. “My private distress. Your private distress. Theirs” (18).
Ioannou asserts the citizen, who is not only a citizen but an indebted worker, is being deconstructed in ways that were previously unimaginable. Meaning, as it is tied to material reality, is dissolving.
In the ten or so years after economic collapse, Greece is now rebounding but only at the expense of one’s autonomy. The Greeks (as is most of the EU) are witnessing the rapid coalescence of academia, research, and business sectors to extend the State’s bandwidth of national innovation potential. These measures seek to—this is where the Ioannou’s sarcasm comes in—”enhance” the interactions between the private and public sector. This results in an entire state apparatus dedicated to intense, vertical knowledge production. What does this mean for the Greek citizen who occupies the horizontal condition, of those that are at ground-level? It means that there is a significant investment in the projection of domestic human capital. A human capital that is not directly tethered to international exchange-values, but a contributor to this larger cloud in which public research becomes codependent on private-sector funding.
The EU has enforced this system as a way for knowledge to become a presupposition to new innovations: the success of new technologies dictates the character, direction, and stability of higher education; a sad turn of events for a major cultural institution in which “education” was once deemed important for the sake of this romantic exchange between episteme and empiricism. The fundamental body of ideas, the principled systems of understanding, and the antagonisms to our experience that once was a priority to investigate has not only been captured by fin-tech and R&D efforts by the EU, but has now prioritized a very, very specific kind of understanding and knowledge. One that, obviously, awards new aristocrats with ambiguities and the speculatory trajection of capitalist innovation.
Rightfully, Electric Sarcasm becomes a collection of strategic pessimism in this life-after-collapse and mourning for the hope that once was (albeit, sometimes, fantastical):
“As if only a miracle could save the stock market. As if national elections can result in miracles, and voters can come out ahead of the system because miracles happen…Are we saving History for later because today we are being constantly rewarded? […] the now records and codifies every single move” (12).
Raw binary data and numeric code exist below the surface of our purchases, engagements, and online impressions that are hosted by isolated entities/businesses and then extracted and assessed. The base-structure provides context to a future projection of highlighted by an inter-connectedness in which the State can use this “knowledge” — allowing for secure investment for businesses. A peculiar case, indeed. This is different than older forms of capitalism in which reaping surplus-values are dependent on distribution methods and the range in which the working classes can sell their labor.
Now, in a marvelous display of dialectical materialism, the State now facilitates a new type of feudalism where the people are supplying a new “good” without being paid for it, in these subliminal spaces that don’t otherwise exist. What is the reason(s) for this lack of compensation? First and foremost: you’re in debt. (Plus, there really is no “market” for it. You cannot “buy” data in the traditional sense; you can only create the necessary conditions in which you are able to track, accumulate and store data of a specific consumer sector. Does this sound familiar?) One can assert that instead of dissolving this debt for working people, the State can leverage debt to facilitate austerity measures, cut budgets where knowledge-production is slowing, stagnate wages, freeze hiring, and so forth.
PARAG DESAI reviewer
Parag Desai is the son of immigrants, a first-year writing adjunct instructor for Coastal Carolina University, and he holds a CELTA in ESL/EFL instruction. His writing and research interests include revolutionary and subaltern politics; nationhood, ideology and language; the surrealities of violence and nonviolence; and the philosophy of education. His writing can be found in Terse. Journal, 9 to 5 Magazine, and as a previous editor for Waccamaw. You can follow him on Twitter: @prizmnotebooks or Instagram: @ph_desai.
Ioannou, Dimitra. Electric Sarcasm. Ugly Duckling Press, 2020.