The Right to Dissatisfaction

Being dissatisfied is an excellent way of being with the reader. Dissatisfaction with the current state of things–which is to say, dissatisfaction with inequalities, with surveillance, with competitiveness, with what Cassie Thornton calls ‘individually-flavoured capitalism’, with barriers to collectivity, with the pandemic and its implications and effects, to give a short list–is a revolutionary binding force. We discover a coming together precisely in the things wanting to keep us apart. That is very powerful.

My last piece for Outsider, titled The Death of this World, was a call into question of the prescriptions for connectivity and positivity. The two pillars so typical as pervasive mandates to creative work (and our lives at large). Taking great inspiration from Andrew Culp’s refashioning of Deleuze in a darker reading of the French philosopher’s work, us Outsiders could discuss the revolutionary power of destruction and harness the exciting sensation of “destroying what destroys you.”

Utilising this revolutionary negativity, in 1991 Deleuze and his comrade Guattari made a critical declaration as the Iron Curtain fell and the first commercial Internet providers came online: ‘We do not lack communication. On the contrary, we have too much of it… We lack resistance to the present

Excerpt: The Death of This World

I like this use of negativity. If despair and disdain is the flavour we taste, why not bond in our dissatisfactions? Who’s to say that the dissatisfactory will go away if we just think positively enough? Obviously, no one.

A defining factor of mediating the online blurring into our offline lives is to notice what feels dissatisfying and twist that around into a No Thank You.

Work destroyed the walls of my home,
the boundaries of my body,
the borders of my mind.

Pandemic Poetry #1 _ Jess Henderson

As Geert Lovink says in his commentary on Cancel Culture for Eurozine, it would be better to turn the cancellation policy towards the platforms, than the people using them. Say a sweet ‘No, thanks, I don’t like you anymore, get out of my life’ to the surveilling extracting platform terrors with all that dissatisfaction that lays on your tongue, and keep on propelling forward, with our disdaining comrades by our sides.

Tadej Štrok’s Existential Emoji project and its ‘wearable nihilism‘ makes me smile, as does his explanation of reappropriating those smilies:

Emoji can be seen as the epitome of the happiness imperative of the 21st Century. In a society, obsessed with visual representations of happiness, their cutesy and delightful imagery is persistently affirming and positivistic. Colors are bright, shapes are round and even sadness is expressed through a smiley face.

The convenience of having a pre-packaged emotional response at the tip of a finger, has taught us to simulate and curate our feelings. We have developed a personalized affinity to the symbols, regularly used in distinct, comedic and often in dishonest, hyperbolized or passive-aggressive manners. The unique codification of our new global language is easily understood by anyone, yet imbued with subjective meanings and masked with post-modern irony.

…While the addictive interfaces and cunning social media algorithms are built to attract our attention, the seemingly innocuous design of emoji is helping make connected spaces feel more hospitable and reassuring. The goofy smiling faces and vibrant representations of everyday objects are steering us deeper in the comfort zones of our carefully fabricated digital identities. By painting a gleeful facade over the numerous perils the rampant technological advance presents to our society, the emoji exemplify another way the online world is dismantling authenticity, making us more detached from reality and alienated from each other.

Existential Emoji works as a subverted interpretation of the symbolic codes and conventions behind the iconic pictograms. It is painting an uncanny contrast between colorful, playful imagery and the deeply existential issues and anxieties that permeate the zeitgeist of late capitalism.

By assigning the triviality of emoticons unconventional, yet strangely relatable meanings, it’s trying to remind us of the fragile nature of humanity in the digital age.

Tadej’s reading of emojis cracks our capitalised emotions and chips away helpfully at the illusion of ‘the happiness imperative of the 21st Century’, as he wonderfully describes it. If you’re interested in this line of thinking, I can recommend digging into pessimist philosophy (which I have written about here.) My personal favourite contemporary negative thinker is Eugene Thacker, whose fantastic book Infinite Resignation: On Pessimism is well worth a read. It’s full of aphorisms that alleviate the everyday by way of smart, funny lines (his definition of pessimism is ‘the introduction of humility to thought’). There is a great interview with him here, and to end this piece I wish to quote something smile-inducing from Infinite Resignation that counters the imperitive of positivity so central to our age:

“Happiness is the feeling you have just before something goes wrong.”

Eugene Thacker