Facial Recognition by Rana Dasgupta is a collection of vignettes from a world where widespread facial recognition, surveillance and the accompanying replacement of humanity is explored. Clay implants into the face are used to avoid detection by facial recognition machines — the idea being that you could mould your face to avoid the cameras and detection. Later this is used for daily fashion tweaks, as you would expect. Sex robots cause a population crisis, and tools of the state impose harsh punishments for anyone having relations with a machine. Here police are unable to recognise whether people are people, or machines — maiming some people in the process. It implies that either both parties are unfortunately human or that one is a robot — but the law cannot comprehend the difference, and the only proof requires violence.
Not only does this expression explore how power interacts with identity in an overexposed civilisation, but also the idea that people are no longer able to identify the difference between the desire between two people, and the desire between a person and an object/robot/machine. Initially this seems a problem for the police officers involved, but it may also be examining the idea that once the reality fades out there is little to moor yourself to in terms of normal behaviours.
Such as the work explores in the fourth part — when truth is known to everyone, at once, everywhere, the lie disappeared from society. Here I think the author is following the idea of the concept of lying disappearing — because it would no longer be a functional action. With the lie’s disappearance, society disappears too. Here we highlight the idea that binds society isn’t necessarily the lie, but the unknown, unsurety of the world is what provides some stability. There is risk when there are things that are unknown — every time you pull a societal lever there are some unknown weights on the other end, you are unsure of your effects on others, or on the system, or even yourself in the context of the society. We never know how much we are moving anything. Knowing all truth means there is nothing to move.
It is this pointlessness that gives way in the last part, where celebrity disappears along with sport. There are no human beings left in either, so there is nothing grand or enticing about them. Society here is expressed as a pyramid held together with the privacy of lies and unknown truths, and it has been destroyed by some great sharing of truths between everyone, all at once. It is hard to know if that is literal, or an expression of the way the general population experiences it — having to exist in an exposed world would feel the same and have the same effect.
At the end, we are left with the profound hanging of what the purpose was that was discovered so naturally at the end of distraction. It feels evident that when you lose the desire to climb a ladder of society that you might find some simpler, fundamental, true purpose — but we don’t quite know what it is we’re meant to be doing here.
Follow Rana on Twitter and read the piece as intended on the Paris Review website (subscription required).
I have also had the pleasure of reading a flash fiction anthology produced by Ellipsis Magazine this week. The anthology, Two, is a collection of 40 writers producing works of under 300 words each. The collection is excellent, and was a pleasure to skip through its well curated pages. Naturally there’s nothing longer than a page, so the experience of dancing between exciting realised ideas and locations is a thrill. It’s always funny with collections how you can blast through them a first time, and make judgements about a single story or idea, and end up returning to them after they take time to mature in the back rooms of your head. I’ve returned to the collection a couple of times to pick at it, and there’s always a little bit more. You can pick up a copy here.
Two Minutes by Luke Richardson is a great example of one I read and then returned to. Amusingly I am pretty sure that I stopped reading a couple of times to reply to tweets and messages, or write down a completely unrelated fact, line or thought. Here’s all of it:
It links nicely with the Rana Dasgupta above, the idea of a moving feast of information pulling away at structures of the world — or possibly the other way round. It is because of automation here that there is a lack of concentration, and there appears to be a power at work somewhere trying to improve the length anyone can concentrate for. The refrain of the rain and the window is cleverly utilised — it’s not a repetition of the same thought, it is the same thought being approached anew each time — the goldfish life of this person.
Here the lack of concentration and context doesn’t just show a kind of mutilation of identity as the Dasgupta piece, but instead it shows the kicking out of the legs of basic survival systems. Not being able to concentrate long enough to secure your own habitat disables the entire hierarchy of human desires.
That Anne Carson interview in The Paris Review which I wrote about here is now out, exposed and startled from behind the paywall, read it before it dresses itself in a subscription. There is a twitter discussion with Kaveh about Anne Carson to check out too.
Today’s song is: I Wanna Be Adored by The Stone Roses
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, everyone makes a mark somewhere. Whisper this url to your secret boyfriend, whisper this other one to your boyfriend’s secret. As always this was messily compiled and curated by the slack and lazy fingers, thumbs and retinas of @CJEggett. I very much like the look of these split and custom keyboards, aren’t they lovely? Hot log pics. Record one of your poems, have it read somewhere that might be very far away. I have had some nice rejections recently, which is better than my creative output being wrong for someone at this time. If you have had work accepted somewhere, please let me know and we’ll make some room for you 🙂