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79. Modesty

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



I watch a video by one of those new online intellectuals created by the YouTube era. The sort of man who schooled himself in Nevada or some other desert state and came to know, in the academic shade, about Derrida and Deleuze and all that stuff. He did LSD in a desert canyon, his friends clustered round a fire, and then watched all the satellites and stars overhead blur. He would speak, mangling half-remembered Nietzsche, and they would all agree he was such a deep man. “You’re so fucking deep,” a girl would say. Then they would drive home and wake up in suburbia, amazed the guy who did the driving, high as any of them, made it back through astral streets.


Now he is in his forties and divorced and living in his mother’s house. It is somewhere in an exurb, beyond a retirement belt; his neighbours read about erotic vampires and sadistic billionaires, not the refined sophistry of the French academy. His mother died a year ago.


He dreamed youth away in second-hand bookshops long abolished by app-happy disrupters. He produced a book with a small press and nobody read it. It was a meditation on God in the age of the microchip, but nobody talks about microchips anymore—or God, for that matter. He is the type of man who goes looking for a guru but never quite finds one. He attended salons in towns in the Midwest, a sincere man in a world where the intellect is a game and ideas peacock feathers for collection.


So he becomes that contemporary man, the philosophical live-streamer. Across the world’s bedrooms and studio apartments young men in black clothes listen to his lectures and feel just a little sophisticated. This man does not fit; he is not like the career lecturers at university, and, despite never finding his guru, he has become a guru. He carries an element of motorcycles and drugs into the paper-white world of books.


It is sex and drink that undo him. A sincere man of grizzled intellect, he is, nonetheless, a naïve and romantic schoolboy in his dealings with women. In a world of electric geishas, an unprepared man can go mad. It is not just that women can make their living from nude photos; it is worse than that: they can make their money dispensing long-distance companionship. Being a minor celebrity, he does not pay for it—quite the contrary. An electric courtesan approaches him; she is drawn to his Difference and Repetition vid (68k views; his biggest hit, life-saver for lazy art school undergrads writing that last-minute essay) and the power of explicating what is known, in the vernacular, as “theory”. He has twenty-five young men with post-graduate degrees in Critical Modernity ready to die for him. It is enough to turn an e-girl’s head.


She continues to masturbate before the cam to make her money, since he is but a humble e-docent. As a sophisticate—a would-be bohemian in the post-bohemian age—he acquiesces to her job. There is no such thing as sex work, that is a political euphemism. People who sell their flesh exist in the realm of jobs—blowjobs, handjobs. Get the jobs done. He stays at her apartment, walks past as she masturbates live on cam. What would Sartre do? Have a cigarette. It’s cool. It’s cool. Two months and some considerable drama later, she kills herself: it was a private stream just for him. He is not clever enough for this: he sobs on his livestream, he discovers her infidelities (yes, I know), and he posts her nudes on his social media. Now I have seen the girl’s bum so much it is completely sexless to me, just some flesh. For him, it is an entire universe and his salvation. “She was a fucking whore,” he says, by which he means he loves her. “It sucks, but move on, man. You’re better than this,’ says @Richardwanger88, his avatar a little Wagner in shades.

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