Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Snow Crash and Post-National Fervor

A major theme in Ben Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’ is the role that standardization of language played in the rise of nationalism, and the part that print capitalism played in this standardization of language. Stephenson in his book ‘Snow Crash’ conceives of a post-national world brought about by totalizing globalism. His analogue of nationalism takes the form of a cult-like following of L Bob Rife’s ‘church’. This following also uses a standardized language inherent in humans to control his populous, in effect reconfiguring the puzzle-pieces of a shattered world. Though the viral aspects of the imagined glossolalia plant this story delineate this story firmly as science fiction, there are still many parallels between Stephenson’s imagining and Anderson’s analysis of the rise of nationalism. Though Snow Crash’s unifying language is mainly spoken rather than written,  this is necessary to create a new echelon of intelligentsia in a world already which has already developed nationalism through written language and moved past the unified nation. The spoken word as a total unifying factor acts as an inverse to Anderson’s view of a spreading literacy which unite people under a flag but divides them along arbitrary national borders.
                Anderson speaks of a “Machiavellian instilling of nationalist ideology through mass media, the educational system, administrative regulations and so forth” but to reach this end he concedes that “the colonial states, and somewhat later corporate capital needed armies of clerks , who to be useful had to be bilingual, capable of mediating linguistically between the metropolitan nation and the colonized peoples” (Anderson, 114, 115).  L Bob Rife’s use of ideology is obviously executed by religious indoctrination which reawakens the dormant glossolalia through which he can tap directly into his follower’s more basic cognitive function. Though there isn’t any mention of a unified educational system, or administrative regulation because all government has splintered into small nation-states, Rife uses media, in the form of both the metaverse and for the less digitally inclined recreational drugs. His army of clerks takes the form of his antenna-grafted gargoyles who act as nodes to unsure his messages can be spread.
If literacy of some form is already widespread, but mainly in disuse because of newer media such as television and the street, then who is the new ‘literate intelligentsia’.  This echelon is reserved for the hackers: the strata now able to both to understand the cryptic code of computers and create in this language. For this reason Rife targets them with his coup de grace – the digital bomb he sends Raven to detonate. Thus he targeted those who were in a position to act out against his me, attempting to enslave them into an administrative mass.
The other side to this is the religious converts (colonized peoples) who generally lived in a disheveled state where kept dormant through a combination of factors, chiefly the me acted as a harness, but the way glossolalia infectiously spreads acts as a kind of security blanket (like Anderson’s newspaper) it assured the devotees that they were part of a community, even if people couldn’t actually understand the bable they spouted, and shared no other common language it was clear that they shared something – albeit misguided devotion- in common. Snow Crash depicts an imagined nationalism that exists in a hyper-stimulated culture, with many of Anderson’s principles intensified and condensed to match. The Glossolalia, much like the regional newspaper, exists in a special and temporal dimension, however rather than a day it is purified into a momentary explosion and instead of a nation it is confined to the earshot of the devotees. However through a global communications network these messages can be distributed wholesale, across nation-states/corporate territories.  The spatial limits in communication which Anderson saw as catalyst national-pride the saturation of information was the inverse mechanism which allowed Rife’s cult to transcend racial, spatial and linguistic boundaries.

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