a couple of intimate documents, no.1.

1496 words

Alice Butler

Lucy Clout, From Our Own Correspondent, 2015 (still)
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A Letter to L, from your own correspondent 

Dear L

I’m watching your film that begins in New York, and I thought I’d write to you about it, in a way that’s like talking. The film is full of conversations – it’s called From Our Own Correspondent, after all – so let’s chat too, in language that is ephemeral but embodied. Also performed. I’m going to write this epistle quickly, figuring it out as I go, like I would in an email. So sorry if it’s not all that tidy, or clean. Typing before thinking, just as Dodie Bellamy said in Sexspace (which I think you would love by the way). In this story-cum-manifesto for writing, she writes: Sexspace is the site where all impulses originate and return, byte to byte, where fucking is reduced to its barest, most efficient form – two lovers at monitors upright in their office chairs, their fingers scuttling across keyboards, their desire evidenced through fantasy and adjectives. If the digital unleashes lexical looseness, as body coagulates with machine, I wonder where this letter will take me…

That loud rustle at the beginning of the film is sort of exciting. It is the dawn movement of sheets, suggestive of a body, suggestive of desire. The sun creeps up, orange and lilac, behind the city’s apartment blocks and hotel penthouses. It is the start of a new working day. No time for morning sex when the Internet is 24 hour, and people are confessing and corresponding ALL OF THE TIME over sexspace.

I’ve been thinking about the relationship of the correspondents in the film (and the title) to correspondence (like what we’re doing now). Red messages flash up on screen, scrolling behind the beige curtains: Awake? she asks, awake and desperate, in syntax punctuated by a yearning question mark. In this alternate hotel world, of leaky eggs and leaky hearts, time is no longer divided by the usual workaday units, as work and desire become messy and one. Educated professional (37) brunette. Away from home. Message? Cam? Even when she is sleeping, she is looking. The tabs remain open. The light stays on. The messages continue, shooting through the slime of the screen and the working emails, with body and blood and affect. Threatening the whiteness of the hotel-room sheets. Personal forms of correspondence tantalise and tease, the unruly tab a gateway to pleasure and perversity. I am left wanting more, just like your chat-room brunette.

Your film seems to me, L, to be about the flimsy walls between public (work/journalism/the interview) and private (sex/relationships/home/conversation). So many soft furnishing in the hotel rooms you shoot, but the materials feel hard when you’re alone. The locked door en-suite with only a kettle for a kitchen is a sign of constant networking, immaterial labour, as work invades intimacy in this space of digital liquid. Striving for personal relationships but the pop-up gets in the way. Constant distraction: with news and desire battling for your attention. (No time to eat.) I thought it was interesting when, later on in the film, one of your interviewees said that thing about not working within false constraints of time; with no print deadline for these digital journalists, the story can be uploaded and then the facts added later. The text is always moving, its script and structure as fluid as the clock. Multiple stories can be woven together at once. Someone has to be available, waiting, in the hotel room, to make that happen: this total news gush.

I’m wondering if this is a woman thing, too: if the online blogger, hopping from story to story, must be gendered female: an open, desiring, leaky cyborg, relentlessly artificial. There’s a thrill in going backstage and witnessing the preparation, as your ‘legs-wide-open’ blogging avatar shows us her white knickers, tries on wigs, practices her nods and smiles, totters about the square room in PVC heels, and gets ready for a day of interviews. I can hear the shuffling of her notes and pre-written questions. The new recording device has arrived, its foam packing strewn across the memory foam mattress.

In other words: she’s getting ready (programming) for the performance. The Feminization of Labour. It is she who is doing the uploading, and messing about with HTML. In secret. Before it goes public. With smooth skin and silicone gestures, animated to be anonymous, this creature seems to embody what Sadie Plant suggested in Zeros and Ones, when the internet was just getting going. This was Sadie, writing in 1997: Hardware, software, wetware – before their beginning and beyond their ends women have been the simulators, assemblers and programmers of the digital machines. And the digital news.

And this was Donna Haraway, sketching out the cyberfeminism that would see us from the 1980s to now. The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, post modern collective and personal self, she wrote, presaging the same kind of public intimacy that your anonymous blogger, of bits and parts, must play.

Then, from hotel-home to the interview itself. L, do you perform the same strategies as your avatar, interviewing her IRL employees, in order to expose the contrived relationship at play? That’s how it seems to me, as you edit your interviewees’ answers as guilty greenroom confessions, full of all the right pauses and emphases. And they’ve all got such silky hair and perfect skin. (Was that luck, coincidence or performance?) The redhead, especially, seems like a fierce ‘professional’. I wonder how much time she’s got for sexspace correspondence. She says people want to do jobs that come naturally to them but there’s nothing natural about those words, which are carried by the polemical weight of the hand gesture.

The Internet is supposed to be the arena of honesty, confession and exposure; of getting below the skin, just like the interview, but both seem to be as much about disguise or self-effacement, as telling the truth. I think that is what your film is showing, L, as your real life bloggers morph from case study to character. The interview is a performed and constructed encounter, whereby we play exaggerated or dissipated cover versions of our selves. That is what they will see of them: the stagey stuff of artifice. Questions as opposed to answers. Never pause to look at what I might be asking is the redhead’s manifesto, as she asserts absolute control in this verbal transaction of entrusted speech. Be playful and direct, she adds, with a confirmatory nod of authority, as she leans casually on this hotel’s mahogany desk.

It’s dusk now and I’m still writing this letter to you, L. The light outside is dulling, but also acquiring that pink which I only see in London, and that was so much easier to spot when I lived in a top floor flat. The avatar is lying on her penthouse bed, too. She’s done her interviews and is back in the hotel room. The light outside the floor to ceiling windows is a mixture of neon blues and greens. The sun is fading in New York. She’s changed her outfit into something a bit more ‘night-time’, to make her feel sexier, and less like she’s at work. The avatar’s closing monologue seems to encapsulate the film’s ideas about the slippery interface between public and private. It’s a speech that feels like a scrolling message feed in its drip like excess and frenetic distractions. Pressing ‘post’ before there’s time to regret it.

This closing speech just made me think about how much your film, L, is composed of the first person. The confessional booth or the hotel room interview, or the Internet chat-room, is a space of the intimate ‘I’, even if that ‘I’ is glossed, warped, performed. Back in her false space of privacy and comfort, working to meet the morning deadline, but detouring down erotic online routes, the avatar enters the sexspace field. She’s looking for contact online, but finds only immaterial windows and other people’s messages. Correspondence, but no touching. First she comes across a verbatim, but typo-ridden, transcript someone had posted, containing relayed messages that had become public following the political scandal of a politician tweeting a picture of his penis. What will they see of him? They will see his willy. And the comments about his willy. Because as long as there are screenshots, it will never disappear. The avatar then follows other leads, pop up correspondences and chat room messages: talk to me, they say. Or question, desiringly.

I’ve been asking you questions in this letter too, L (just like you). I don’t think it matters if I don’t get a reply, as friendships can be imaginary. They can help us figure things out in our heads.

Are the emails and chat room messages a distraction for the avatar, I wonder? Is this letter a distraction? Maybe so, but then who cares: it’s just me, you and all the other trillion avatars trying to make our way in the world.



A. (Your correspondent.)