MASS, MATTER, CROWDS, CONSCIENCE
Antonio Ramos Membrive
A NOTE OF CAUTION: THIS IS NO TWITTER
This magazine is no Twitter so its editor has given me free rein to write a long essay about some complex issues pertaining to our age. So – God and the Reader forgive me- I have obviously obliged and bowed to his anachronistic whim. I am also perfectly aware of how scarcely predisposing towards its reading this essay’s title is. ‘Mass’, ‘matter’, ‘crowds’ and ‘conscience’ are big and cumbersome words. They reek shamelessly of philosophy, sociology, or physics. At the same time their contours can somehow end up being blurry. It is difficult and slightly annoying to know what one really means when one panders to using any of those terms in an ordinary discourse or conversation. What is mass anyway? If you look it up in Google, a large definition will instantly appear on your screen, showing a whole array of related and nonetheless disparate meanings: mass is a large body of matter with no definite shape, a pile, a heap, a stack, a bundle. Mass can simply design a majority of things, the lion’s share of an inheritance, let us say. But mass can mean as well “the ordinary people”, the rank and file, the crowd, the public, or if we go back in time, the populace, the third estate, the plebeians. If we turn to physics, mass is technically the quantity of matter, which a body contains, as measured by its acceleration under a given force or by the force exerted on it by a gravitational field. In other contexts, more simply, mass can pass for a synonym of weight.
So, again, what is mass? On the one hand, it seems oddly similar to matter. And matter can be defined –God bless Google- as a physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit. Pointing in the same direction, science decrees that mass is in principle inimical to weightless energy. But then, mass is also connected to large numbers of people, who by definition –especially according to our present time standards- are entitled, despite their reunion, to having a mind and a spirit, also weightless. Some even say that a mass can be beset with collective feelings, or even with a collective –sorry for letting the ‘S’ word slip in here- soul. So, albeit reluctantly, one might be prone to thinking that mass refers to contradictory entities.
Matters get worse if we then turn our eye to the origins of the word matter –no pun seriously intended-. The Spanish physician David Jou, in his interesting work Materia y materialismo tells us that materia, matter, comes from the Latin mater, something that suggests a filiation relationship with regard to observable reality. Subsequently, he goes on to discuss three different types of matter: cosmological matter, technological matter, and unsurprisingly, alive matter. And yet, after 296 pages of dissecting the most modern theories about quantum vacuum, dark energy, entropy, or synthetic biology, seasoned with frequent (and sound) references to philosophy and religion, he concludes: ‘in spite of what was believed at the end of the XIX Century, matter is not the indisputable and clear-cut basis that explains reality, for it constitutes in itself a source of questions’. So… What is matter?
Some of the same comprehension problems will assail us if we try to define one of the most contested words nowadays (and probably ever), the last chamber of a fortress under permanent siege: conscience. No one really knows what conscience is, how it works, what it represents, why it is there.
Therefore, as I said from the outset, it seems wholly justified that the article’s title and probably its contents might be regarded with suspicion if not with a sense of fully-fledged alarm and disgust. This guy –so the reader could think- purports to dwell at length on vagaries, a faintly disguised phantasmagoria, a Kabuki of nonsense, a wilderness full of empty mirrors. And –worst of all- he wants that I accompany him to such inauspicious places.
It is true. The danger is always present that, if we decide to keep on discussing what these terms signify for us today, we could easily get off track and get astray, wondering what we do in the middle of nowhere. In order to dispel these fears, I can only resort to the one weapon at hand –honesty-, in order to convey to you, dear reader, what my intentions are. You see, I believe that we do not have the faintest idea of what mass, matter or conscience truly are. By aggregation, since a crowd is a mass of conscientious people, the true nature of the crowd is intensely enigmatic to us –beware of Canetti!-, and equally abstruse.
However, in spite of this ignorance, we know and feel that these words form an axis, an intricate group of correlated core elements, whose power relations are paramount for us, and whose respective meanings are conversely affected by one another.
In previous times, matter and mass were considered to be altogether secondary with regard to conscience. In religious terms, conscience made reference to the natural light of reason, which was a byproduct of the grace of God, and as such allowed the soul that received that grace to express itself. On the other hand, the feeling of God or the divine in general could be also irrationally embraced as something “utterly heterogeneous” and therefore completely alien to matter, yet attainable to man. In philosophy, idealism has been for most of our history one of the dominant systems espoused by great minds, from Plato onwards. Man and the conscience of man are central to all classical idealistic tenets. Especially, it comes as no surprise that Renaissance, in defense of humanism, produced a Neo-Platonist movement, which exalted the role played by man in the universe and drastically downgraded that of matter, called il mondo sotterraneo by Pico della Mirandola. In fact, the Realm of Matter was the last of all hierarchies in the Neo-Platonist universe.
However, things have dramatically changed. Nowadays, physical materialism is imposing itself as the dominant scientific and philosophical discourse. According to it, conscience is in itself a creation of the body’s brain. Mass, matter, conscience and crowds tend to coalesce today under the aegis of the first of these terms.
What is really interesting to me about these trends is not, however, that they happened, but the practical results in social terms that they give way to. I mean that, even though a valid and precise meaning is lacking for each of these words, studying the geometry of their interactions will lead us to precious insights about the kind of society that we live in. And that is the purpose of this essay.
MAN AND THE CROWD
Now, if you keep on reading, you know what we are up to. Let’s start with the relation between mass, crowd, and the individual. As we all know, the rise of modernity in the XIX Century in general and the Industrial Revolution in particular engendered massive population movements that especially amalgamated man in large cities. The resulting massification was viewed with awe and fascination, and in its wake social habits were profoundly changed. In the heart of many intellectuals and artists, massification meant increasing uniformization, which was in itself a threat against one’s singularity and a source of vulgarity and baseness.
No writer expressed this feeling better that Edgar Allan Poe in his celebrated tale the Man of the Crowd: the unnamed narrator, a refined man of letters that cites Leibnitz and Gorgias in the same sentence, is entranced by the contemplation of masses of people moving to and fro in one busy street of London. His eyes are particularly attracted by one character, shabbily dressed and vulgar, who seems to relish being amid the people, and who as a matter of fact seems to be only alive within the crowd. The narrator feels intrigued by this man, and decides to follow him, in order to get closer and unveil his mystery. After spending one whole day chasing him and watching his every move, the narrator feels as puzzled as ever. The only knowledge that can be drawn from the exhausting experience of having gone after him is that the man seems at all times to be singularized by the crowd, and yet he is quintessentially an integral part of it. The tale is then finished on a startling yet sour note: ‘This old man is the type and genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd. It will be in vain to follow; for I shall learn no more of him, or of his deeds”. Therefore, the quintessence of the crowd, in Poe’s eyes, is related to crime, but ultimately its significance remain in darkness, undecipherable. Only from within you can grasp it. Only the man of the crowd knows what it is and what it wants.
The identification between the man of the crowd and the genius of crime can be traced throughout art in the XX Century, especially in cinema, from Fritz Langs’ Doktor Mabuse, who wanted to found a new “society of misdeed”, to Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, who passes remarkably unnoticed among ordinary people, despite his expensive tastes and his sophisticated allure. We shall get back to this later, from a different angle. One need not push the parallelism further into the realm of politics, but it would be plausible to argue that some of the most infamous tyrants of the last century were in fact typical men of the crowd themselves.
Furthermore, Poe’s tale is highly illuminating in a way about the relations between mass and the individual. Mass fluctuates, it might even possess a devious conscience, but its heart is fabricated with darkness, to use Conrad’s expression. Strangely enough, Conrad’s novella refers to a different kind of dark mass: a mass of land, equally alive and treacherous, a blank space in the charts and therefore a region alien to reason. Modernity is represented in Poe and maybe in Conrad as the rising power of the mass. Against it, only the reactionary recourse to the aristocracy of spirit is valid. And the spirit –needless to say- recoils before the mounting menace and folds into itself.
The XIX Century and the first decades of the XX Century found, however, gentler or at least more ambiguous ways to deal with this closeness between anonymity and formlessness on the one hand, and singularity embodied in a self, on the other. For instance, let us ponder what Baudelaire, so akin and yet so different to Poe, wrote in this regard; and let us examine as well what Walter Benjamin extracted from Baudelaire a few years later.
The opening lines of one of the first prose poems of Baudelaire, Les foules (the masses), is very much revealing of the ambivalence inherent in the person who finds himself surrounded by the public in modern times: ‘Il n’est pas donné à chacun de prendre un bain de multitude- jouir de la foule est un art (…) Multitude, solitude: termes égaux et convertibles pour le poète actif et fécond. Qui ne sait pas peupler sa solitude, ne sait pas non plus être seul dans une foule affairé’. The change in attitude towards the man of the crowd is blatant. He is no longer considered a criminal, but an artist, able to feel alone amidst many, and likewise to feel the company of his own loneliness. Moreover, he derives his own energy, his own drive, his own passion, from the mass: ‘Ce que les hommes nomment amour est bien petit, bien restreint et bien faible, comparé à cette ineffable orgie, à cette sainte prostitution de l’âme qui se donne tout entière, poésie et charité, à l’imprévu qui se montre, à l’inconnu qui passe.’ Man can achieve a simultaneous double status: as member of the crowd, as part of the mass, and also as one particular person, conscious of the momentum that he experiences within the whirlwind created by the multitude of people around him. These feelings would be exacerbated throughout the XX century, giving rise to what Ortega y Gasset aptly called the rebellion of the masses.
At the same time, Baudelaire was tempted by a similar desire for entrenchment- the same we encounter in Poe-, and which is so characteristic of our time. The inner self must be kept pure, for it aspires to reconcile man with eternity. Matter, mass, and for that reason, crowds, are condemned to be ferocious enemies of the self. In another of his prose poems, the famous La chambre double, the double chamber, the Parisian genius compares our innermost existence with a room. We can only gain access to it under a special state of trance: ‘Les meubles ont des formes allongées, prostrées, alanguies. Les meubles ont l’air de rêver ; on les dirait doués d’une vie somnambulique, comme le végétal et le minéral.’ In this particular case, the trance seems to have been induced by the act of coitus, maybe aggravated by the use of a narcotic – ‘Sur ce lit est couchée l’Idole, la souveraine des rêves. Mais comment est-elle ici ? Qui l’a amenée ? quel pouvoir magique l’a installée sur ce trône de rêverie et de volupté?.’ These « external » stimulus have sharpened the extreme sensibility of the writer, who feels on the threshold of Paradise: ‘Ô béatitude ! ce que nous nommons généralement la vie, même dans son expansion la plus heureuse, n’a rien de commun avec cette vie suprême dont j’ai maintenant connaissance et que je savoure minute par minute, seconde par seconde. Non ! il n’est plus de minutes, il n’est plus de secondes ! Le temps a disparu ; c’est l’Éternité qui règne, une éternité de délices !’.
But being there comes at the price of not being here, and just a soft knock on the door makes the whole vision vanish into thin air. Matter, mass, crowd, have to stay outside, but they want so fiercely to come back in. In their desperation, they might even come back in the shape of a single person, who at that precise moment would be nonetheless extremely and radically different from the poet submerged into his own self, as if he came from another universe. And with matter comes time again, with a vengeance: ‘Oh ! oui ! Le Temps a reparu ; Le Temps règne en souverain maintenant ; et avec le hideux vieillard est revenu tout son démoniaque cortège de Souvenirs, de Regrets, de Spasmes, de Peurs, d’Angoisses, de Cauchemars, de Colères et de Névroses. Je vous assure que les secondes maintenant sont fortement et solennellement accentuées, et chacune, en jaillissant de la pendule, dit : — « Je suis la Vie, l’insupportable, l’implacable Vie ! » Baudelaire speaks elsewhere ofthe dictatorship of time. Immanence conquers and triumphs over all. Matter becomes the mistress of time, and conscience shrugs and shies away from the challenge posed by such formidable couple.
In his masterpieces The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire and On some motifs of Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin subjects these ideas and feelings to careful and unscrupulous scrutiny, especially by comparing them with the somehow pre-modern, romantic insights of a Victor Hugo. ‘In Hugo’, so says the German critic, ‘the crowd enters literature as an object of contemplation. The surging ocean is its model, and the thinker who reflects on this eternal spectacle is the true explorer of the crowd (…) The natural supernatural which affected Hugo in the form of the crowd shows itself in the forest, in the animal kingdom, and in the surging sea.’ This description of the crowd is not Baudelaire’s, as Benjamin also tells us: ‘The masses of the big city could not disconcert him. He recognized the urban crowds and wanted to be flesh of their flesh. Secularism, Progress, and Democracy were inscribed on the banner, which he waved in front of their heads. This banner transfigured mass existence. It was the canopy over the threshold which separated the individual from the crowd. Baudelaire guarded this threshold, and that differentiated him from Victor Hugo’.
So, whereas Hugo and Poe saw the crowd as an object of contemplation, for better or for worse, Baudelaire saw through the masses themselves. He realized –paraphrasing Nietzsche’s famous dictum- that man could stare at the mass only at the risk that the mass would decide to turn its eye and look back at him too. That is, man defines mass by looking at it, but man is also defined by this very act. And the modern mass is so very enigmatic. On the one hand, it hands over to us a reflection of our own progressive commodification. As Benjamin recalls, ‘it sounds obscure when Baudelaire writes: “The pleasure of being in a crowd is a mysterious expression of the enjoyment of the multiplication of number”. But this statement becomes clear if one imagines it spoken not only from the viewpoint of a person but also from that of a commodity’.’ On the other hand, a crowd, an amorphous or chaotic mass of people, is very often the origin of human love and beauty in our societies, a bizarre, rancorous and untidy sea that brings Aphrodite suddenly into life, and then engulfs her back into its unfathomable bosom. Benjamin intends to prove this point using as an exhibit Baudelaire’s well-known 1855 sonnet À une passante, To a passer-by:
La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;
Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.
Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,
Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l’ouragan,
La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.
Un éclair… puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté
Dont le regard m’a fait soudainement renaître,
Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l’éternité?
Ailleurs, bien loin d’ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!
Car j’ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,
Ô toi que j’eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais!
The deafening street roared on. Full,
slim, and grand
In mourning and majestic grief, passed down
A woman, lifting with a stately hand
And swaying the black borders of her gown;
Noble and swift, her leg with statues
I drank, convulsed, out of her pensive eye,
A livid sky where hurricanes were hatching,
Sweetness that charms, and joy that makes one die.
A lighting-flash — then darkness!
Whose look was my rebirth — a single glance!
Through endless time shall I not meet with you?
Far off! too late! or never! — I not
Who you may be, nor you where I am going —
You, whom I might have loved, who know it too!
— Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)
Now, in order to see how little our sensibility and perception have changed at their core since then, let me compare that sonnet, and Benjamin’s reception of it, with a contemporary piece by Chilean poet Oscar Hahn written 150 years later, in 1995. The poem is entitled En una estación de metro (In a tube station):
Desventurados los que divisaron
a una muchacha en el Metro
y se enamoraron de golpe
y la siguieron enloquecidos
y la perdieron para siempre entre la multitud
Porque ellos serán condenados
a vagar sin rumbo por las estaciones
y a llorar con las canciones de amor
que los músicos ambulantes entonan en los túneles
y quizás el amor no es más que eso:
una mujer o un hombre que desciende de un carro
en cualquier estación del Metro.
y resplandece unos segundos
y se pierde en la noche sin nombre.
In between, since we are referring to one of the most metaphoric spaces of modernity (the station, be it a tube station, a railway station or an airport, which represents agglomeration and movement, mass and time in constant interaction), one could easily cite the text published by Ezra Pound in 1913 under a similar title, In a Station of the Metro:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
At different intensities, these three poems share a similar leitmotif. Out of a moving chaos, distinct faces and bodies pop up. They are bound and framed by the crowd, in the exact same way that the Schiavi of Michelangelo are enslaved by the mass surrounding them, attracting them back to formlessness. The crowds are, therefore, to our conscience, Alpha and Omega, the springboard from which we jump all of a sudden and the pool that receives us a moment later.
Standing above the complex variegation of men, above their diversity, a new homogeneity is born, based on its endless movement. Eros and Logos are replaced by a dim and almost fainted Pathos, which lingers like an endless, mechanic rumour. Our senses change within this whirlwind, this Maelstrom. Technology, the acceleration of time, the omnipresence of advertising, the fleeting feeling of comfort and moral superiority in comparison with an always-backward past… All these elements are the voices of the abyss.
Processed by its darkness, we become atomized again, but with a fundamental change: we look more alike, and we are equally transformed by the experience of modern, agglomerated life. Benjamin summarizes this by stating that ‘comfort isolates; on the other hand, it brings those enjoying it closer to mechanization (…)’ and then adds that ‘technology has subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training’. This means simply that the experience of shock is therefore elevated to the highest rank: in the streets, in the news, in the Internet, in our intercourse with other people, shock establishes itself as the backbone of our societies; societies that live in the shape of crowds that resemble autonomous alive matter, radically separated from us. Shock is identified with joy as well as with awe. Against the background of planned obsolescence, each new product must come to the markets, too, as a shock. Commotion is the post-modern version of transcendence and events derive their nature directly from it, resulting in uncertainty, immediacy, and unpredictability. Today is ever always, said the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. And nothing seems truer if one watches the current fierce competition among broadcast agencies, or bloggers, or trendsetters, to bring us the newest of the new… Whatever that is inevitably fades before it can be consumed.
Shock is the great equalizer of our times and the creator of the Society of Risk, the Risikogesellchaft that the late Ulrich Beck described. And shock, again, is the bastard son engendered from the union of matter and time: in a way, the innermost meaning of mass lies in the immanent measuring of time. Being shocked is the contemporary means at our disposal in order to feel such measuring. Human being, tradition, death, and the sense of historical time, form a chain that separates us from a state of nature until now unbeknownst to man. Historical time is, however, hit and progressively broken by our ongoing and endless experience of successive, daily commotion. And as a result time, placed outside history, turns into a savage force that empties both tradition and personal experience. Benjamin brilliantly sums up the outcome of such an evolution by claiming that ‘the man who loses his capacity for experiencing feels as though he dropped from the calendar’. Now that so many doors are opened for us, now that we have become so interconnected and so wealthy, we lack the urge and the refinedness to feel, and there is vertigo instead, a coarse sensation of dizziness, which overflows us, blurring our vision.
Identity and discourse, that is, the ability of knowing who I am by stating who I am, which by definition need to be felt in essence as unitary flows, suffer the most from these processes that happen within the crowd, and are cast into doubt. The slicing of identity has become one of the tenets of our age, and is inextricably linked to the so-called end of history- that is, the end of historical time. The experience of man and the passing of history go hand in hand. As individuals, we have always been defined by a nationality, by a mother tongue, by a hometown, by a religion, by family relationships, by friendships and acquaintances, by a job, by our secrets, by our hobbies, by our passions, by our tastes; we belong to clubs, to schools, to more or less informal groups. Before, one basic trait of our common identity with others –religion or nationality- was usually considered paramount; it gave us a sense of whom we were, a direction. In our days, on the contrary, the different features that all combined used to give shape to one whole individual now vie for power in a scattered formation, and the former hierarchy crumbles. To put an extreme example, remember that a radicalized lone wolf that wants to commit a terrorist attack against the West might well be, in all but heart, completely Western.
In support of the downgrading of the importance of a strongly pillared identity, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen typically argues: ‘The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive that the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live (…). The illusion of destiny exacts a remarkably heavy price’. Instead, the Anglo-Indian thinker recommends an all-out embrace of the ‘newly developing ethics of globalization in the contemporary world’ . Such ethics, needless to say, are still half-cooked in the oven. They are simply not edible.
Likewise, within that giant mass in which we live, discourse is fragmented and increasingly atomized- producing what Benjamin called the ‘phantom crowd of words’. We write less, less richly, less coherently, less precisely. We believe less in what we write. As a result, from time to time, we feel embarrassed: we do not know what to say, we clip our own wings, we try to be realistic, colloquial, intimate, sober, in an effort not to overplay our chances. Particularly, when it comes to speaking about oneself, the era of information feels like the era of uniformized glib gab. Advertising, marketing, and modern, almost instantaneous communication have assisted in this process, which has decimated the power of speech. Most of our writers risk becoming farcical versions of Helmutz Watson, the emotional engineer in Huxley’s Brave New World, who could not properly appreciate Shakespeare. As a matter of fact, are not emotional engineers emerging among us? In Barcelona I have even seen, aghast, a takeaway poetry shop. Long gone are the times when some of our best artists struggled to cope with the challenge posed by the atomization of discourse and reacted to it. Witness The Waste Land, the monologue of Molly Bloom, As I lay dying…It should come as no surprise that, literarily speaking, we live off the crumbs that our forefathers left on the table- a table that we reluctantly inherited.
This digression brings us to the subject of resistance. Who is apt to resist this inertia within the crowd? What moves this or that person to even resist? Baudelaire comes up with a term, flâneur -a casual stroller- to depict someone who, out of idleness, feels at ease within the crowd, but takes no part in it. He is rather a man who creates a distance between him and the rest, between him and the crowd, and therefore survives within it. Benjamin studies this term at length throughout his essays on the French poet, in order to highlight the effects of his pose. Take this illuminating aphorism from Benjamin’s collection entitled Central Park: ’In the flâneur, one might say, is reborn the sort of idler that Socrates picked out from the Athenian marketplace to be his interlocutor. Only, there is no longer a Socrates, so there is no one to address the idler. And the slave labour that guaranteed him his leisure has likewise ceased to exist.’
Alongside the flâneur, Baudelaire idolized the dandy and the ragpicker as well, who in his eyes incarnated marginal tendencies unwilling to submit to the one-side flow of the crowds. In all three cases, the price to pay for rebellion seems to consist of some sort of internal exile, which has to be defended every day. It goes without saying that their position is always precarious.
Ernst Jünger would subsequently carry this approach to the extreme in his novel Eumeswill, published in 1977, and set in a technologically managed, post-apocalyptic world. Here we meet for the first time his figure of the Anarch, a hyper-evolution of the flâneur. The Anarch –whose real name is Manuel Venator, by training an historian- is an inwardly free and outwardly pragmatic individual, who serves as cupbearer to the Tyrant of the city-state of Eumeswill, a man called the Condor. The Anarch learns everything he can from the Condor, his henchmen and his acolytes, in order not to be like them. Every night he writes down his reflections in a notebook whose very existence, if it were to be made public, would entail the death penalty for him. His closeness to power, therefore, puts his existence in constant peril: his uncompromising critical stance cannot be tolerated.
What is really interesting about the character of the Anarch is that, from such position of simultaneous strength and vulnerability, he judges not just his immediate present but also our remote past, by means of the luminar, a holographic machine that can reproduce any figure or event in human history. Curiously enough, by means of using such a device he summons up especially events from the XIX and the XX Century. Altogether the diagnosis of the novel is terrible. For instance, one of the entries of the Anarch’s diary reads: ‘both rulers (the Condor and his acolyte Attila) coincide that tyranny is the only framework able to give shape to the atomized mass and delay the war of all against all.’ Another prophesies that ‘the mass is ahistorical, the elites are metahistorical, the majority is condemned to vegetate, some think…’. In Eumeswill, Jünger predicted the Internet and the smartphone 20 years well in advance of their invention. Honestly, one just hopes that he got the rest wrong…
But what about today? What do these insights offer us to gauge our present situation? For one thing, it seems that the masses’ exposure to the digital world seems to have accentuated exponentially their atomization, as well as their re-connection –like drunken synapses- through extremely ramified networks. Nowadays, we live simultaneously amid two superimposed crowds: the real crowd and the digital crowd. The latter is overwhelmingly larger and increasingly seeks to be differentiated from the former, upon which it was modelled in the first place. So it is difficult to venture but a few thoughts with regard to this emerging reality. Suffice it to say that all the trends examined so far tend to mix and accelerate their pace. For instance, the slicing of identity is combined with a sometimes complete replacement of identity– one member of a foreign diaspora can communicate more easily, via Internet, with his or her country of origin, reinvigorating his or her bounds with it; that same person, at the same time, can have various aliases in the net, various accounts in Facebook, Tinder or LinkedIn, even some of them being blatantly false.
In the same fashion, all traces of a coherent discourse have disappeared. In its place, noise reigns, sound and fury bereft of any discernible meaning. The digital crowd is like a public market, but one billion times bigger. The shouting of the sellers, shopkeepers and passers-by are unlike anything that we might have experienced before. They seem to be truly ubiquitous, silently deafening. Advertising and confession, the public realm and the private sphere, information and lies get confused the whole time.
It is worth noting, at any rate, that the digital crowd presents us with several paradoxes, whose complexity could increase over time. As argued before, the human speech within the digital crowd seems to be monstrous, but a programming language sustains the very existence of that crowd, a language that is exact and mathematical and bound only by remorseless logic. Conversely, even though the digital crowd is supposed to grant us a higher degree of freedom, even if it brings the promise of virtuality, it makes us more dependent than ever on the matter with which microchips and screens are made. If we were ever to achieve a total virtual simulation of our real life, the expression ghost in the shell would acquire an unexpected new twist.
Finally, in the digital crowd, we can all claim to be digital flâneurs of some sort, as idleness is one basic feature of it. We stroll constantly in it, many times without any preconceived direction or purpose, just for the sake of being connected. For that reason, being a flâneur at a digital crowd loses much of its initial subversive function. In fact, rather the opposite is true, because every stroller in the digital crowd is always on the brink of being identified and controlled: according to a recent piece of news, a group of researchers from MIT showed that four online purchases with an anonymous credit card suffice to identify that person with an accuracy of up to 90%. The only subversive character at play here is the hacker, part hero, and part anti-hero, more of an anarchist than of an Anarch. Maybe the true man of the digital crowd.
 Materia y materialismo, Pasado y Presente Editions, 2015.
 See the works of Rudolph Otto, especially The Idea of the Holy (1917).
 According to Neo-Platonists, our universe is divided into four interrelated hierarchies of gradually decreasing perfection: the Cosmic Mind, the Cosmic Soul, the Realm of Nature and the Realm of Matter. This whole universe is called a divinum animal in constant interflow, forming a circuitus spiritualis, in which every natural object of phenomenon was believed to be charged with celestial energy. Man’s body was a form inherent in matter; man’s soul, only a form adherent to it. Marisilo de Ficino defined man as “a rational soul participating in the divine mind, employing a body”, as well as the “connecting link between God and the world”. All these considerations are extracted from Erwin Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology (Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance), Icons Editions, 1972, pages 129-142.
 In the field of literature, there are few examples that show this identification more glaringly that the works of Thomas Bernhard. Take this passage of his novel Old Masters for instance: The Prater of today is not the Prater of my childhood, that unruly theme park; today, the Prater is a repulsive agglomeration of vulgar people, of criminal souls. (Maestros Antiguos, Alianza Editorial, 2015, page 161).
 As we know, this dichotomy will be accentuated during the XXth century, together with the rise of totalitarian political thought (and especially, on account of its resilience, communism). Note how John Le Carré summarizes it in his first novel Call for the dead: ‘Everything he (George Smiley, the British spy and main character of the plot) admired or loved was the product of intense individualism. That was why he hated Dieter (the East German spy and main antagonist) now, hated what he stood for more strongly than ever before: it was the fabulous impertinence of renouncing the individual in favour of the mass. When had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom? Dieter cared nothing for human life: dreamt only of armies of faceless men bound by their lowest common denominators; he wanted to shape the world as if it were a tree, cutting off what he did not fit the regular image (Call for the dead, Penguin books, modern classics, 2012, page 132).
 Charles Baudelaire, Ouvres complètes, Bouquins Robert Laffont, page 170.
 Charles Baudelaire, Ouvres complètes, Bouquins Robert Laffont, page 170.
 Charles Baudelaire, Ouvres complètes, Bouquins Robert Laffont, page 163.
 Charles Baudelaire, Ouvres complètes, Bouquins Robert Laffont, page 164.
 Walter Benjamin, The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. Selected Writings, Belknap Harvard, page 35.
 Walter Benjamin, The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. Selected Writings, Belknap Harvard, page 39.
 Walter Benjamin, The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. Selected Writings, Belknap Harvard, page 33.
 A Passer-by
 The finale of Sophia Coppola’s famous film Lost in translation (2003) inverts this situation between subject of desire and object of desire, by making the communion of apparently distant lovers inseparable of the crowd. As the reader surely remembers, the film portrays the relationship established between two Westerners, characterised by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who feel stranded in Tokyo. Their attraction is out in the open for everyone to see, and yet, scene after scene, they cannot really reach out to each other. Their seemingly last goodbye at the reception of the hotel where they both stay is intended to prove disappointing for the viewer. Then, on his way to the airport, he distinguishes her in the crowd. He stops, gets out of the car, and for the first time he really embraces and kisses her, before saying unutterable words to her ear that are duly corresponded. Intimacy appears among the flow of people, a necessary tertium genus to both, and one to which she returns. On the car again, the man observes keenly the highways and skyscrapers and neon lights, and the city suddenly becomes decipherable for him. Its openness equals the intimacy gained. Curiously enough, some of these last images, full of functional constructions, resemble those that Tarkovsky filmed in Tokyo as well, around 30 years before, in order to display the exact opposite -strangeness and alienation in a futuristic Soviet city- for his adaptation of Stanislav Lem’s Solaris.
 On some motifs of Baudelaire, Illuminations, Pilmico Editions, 1999. Pages 170-171.
 On some motifs of Baudelaire, Illuminations, Pilmico Editions, 1999. Page 181.
 Amartya Sen, Identity and violence, Norton and Company, 2006, page 17.
 Amartya Sen, Identity and violence, Norton and Company, 2006, page 148.
 On some motifs of Baudelaire, Illuminations, Pilmico Editions, 1999. Page 162.
 Walter Benjamin, The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. Selected Writings, Belknap Harvard, volume 4, page 186.
 Eumeswill, Ernst Jünger, RBA Editions (in Spanish), page 192.
 Cuatro compras con la tarjeta bastan para identificar a cualquier persona. El País, January 29, 2015.
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