The Listless and Liminal Holding: Chronicling Intimacy in Hell(belle)scapes of the Online
By Sukriti, UG'24
In Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, a flailing, affected and indecisive David says of the eponymous space, “I scarcely know how to describe that room. It became, in a way, every room I had ever been in and every room I find myself in hereafter will remind me of Giovanni’s room.” Would this be a place lost to time, declaring the room ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ the linear confines of time? Or a place wherein time is lost, making time a fickle thing to be found within the abyssal four walls? The interactions that occur here maintain its amorphous character: the room, to become every room David has ever inhabited, is being molded by every event it homes, such that it becomes a room where everything and nothing could have occurred. It is these tangles of paradoxes that provide us with a beginning.
‘Online’ seems to be a very clean and definitive word for that which is anything but. Its ways reaffirm existence; they don’t forget Contact when the fragility of its physicality is proven and defeated. Communication and its maintenance, then, acquire the nature of a creature trying to find (and maybe bite, we don’t quite know yet) its own tail: the comfort of company is pervasive but acutely absent. With the merging together–alternatively, synchrony; depends upon who you ask–of handles, stories, group names, anecdotes, etc., conversations become operant. Not negatively so, but it is interesting to look at what ends up constituting them. It is where the amorphous becomes a still-indeterminate, yet very visible image: instagram’s sharing of Art becomes a much more interactive placeholder for the mundane exchange of greetings. There is relief at perception that doesn’t require a primary articulator; this invisible-visibility allows us to trace something integral to any room: intimacy.
Touch is what we instinctively turn to when speaking of the intimate. Sara Ahmed, in her Collective Feelings, reminds us to remember the “press” in ‘impression’. In Ahmed’s articulation, our surfaces’ (bodies’) impressions are “an effect of such intensifications of feeling”, amplified by proximity. To press long enough to impress is also to maintain touch. It seems reductive to try to propose, or prove, an equivalent alternative to this. But it’s not about the equivalence of the alternative, it is about trying to trace the surface of an “intensification of feeling” that persists despite the inaccessibility of touch. (The latter, now that it affects bodies that are always heard unlike those footnoted or bracketed, is addressed by the pervasive infographic and written of more so.)
I don’t think we are human without experiencing some kind of intimacy, to paraphrase Prof. Shamini Kothari, whose class created and unveiled intimacy in echoes of desolate months. Since we continue to be human, it follows that even amidst a Crisis of Touch, intimacy, the shape-shifting ghoul, is conducting its affairs someplace (everyplace). The “intensification” that Ahmed spoke of translates itself onto our bodies and beings in ways of the 'oh' surprise. I found one version of it this past year, in a zoom classroom of all places, witnessing Professor read Toni Morisson’s Peril aloud, five minutes left in the Last class, unknowing of some thirteen enchanted faces staring back at her (not-so-subtly turning off their cameras the closer she got to the end).
Time, ends, and distances, seem too concrete of Concepts to have been left unscathed during this crisis. Temporality has already undergone several catalogued crises and transmutations (to be found in its queering, as in Giovanni’s un-room room) for this to be anywhere near ‘unprecedented’. And endings have been proven to be hetero-amato-normative scams far too often (but not quite enough) for us to trust in their permanence. However, the current etching of their shapes involves tales that are still in the process of being framed and told. There is, for example, a singular intimacy I experience with this one person on my Spotify Friend Activity— I don’t know who they are in that I don’t know their legal name and geographical existence, but they have a playlist titled “sleep” (mine is with a full stop, that’s a crucial distinction). And for every night I stay up, it begins playing sometime early after midnight and continues in an undisturbed manner that only something left on after having fallen asleep can, and I feel as warm as I would when someone I love dearly tells me they’ve slept well after a long time. I notice this, as the cliché goes when it doesn’t play one night (of course, there have been many days I wasn’t on my laptop, and I didn’t know whether they slept or not, but the visual proof of this awareness is Different).
The visual, after the hopefully-temporary exile of the tactile, has stepped up like a nice but perhaps unwilling younger sibling must when the elder has decimated all hopes. Screenshots, and pictures of pictures—pixelated gmeet/zoom beloveds—become urgent, almost necessary. There is the dithery nature of our memories: exponentiated when the Room is quantifiably just one room (and for most of us, not the one we’d prefer time to pause/hurricane at). There is also the melancholy of chronicling: it seems like a scramble to Remember but because that’s too miserable to voice, we shall assert that it’s just archives for birthday edits. Which, too, are chronicles. The tactile hasn’t vanished though (the elder sibling still rots in their bed): it coalesces into the visual and textual sometimes, in assertions of telepathy and curations of emoticons.
Personhood and distance have gained an almost-fantastical quality—a comprehension that appears unfamiliar yet feels archaic—an eerie nostalgia. Somehow, however, there are tethers: such as watching Lunchbox for class at 4 a.m. and wondering how many of my stranger-acquaintances are also crying about the Orient fan. Intimacy, I have found, is always susceptible to being called everything-nothing (and not just because that is a nonsensical phrase I love). It is often indescribable, but always imaginable. It is very much, and sometimes not at all, like telling someone that you are holding each other, that you met daisies today, that you were out for a walk and saw grass that looked just like them, that you miss them, a lot.