'Dragging her dirt all over the net': Presence, Intimacy, Materiality V1.0

Esther Milne

Abstract

How is intimacy produced within digitally enabled communication platforms such as the mailing list? How do geographically dispersed subjects represent and ‘make present’ their identity? This paper addresses such questions through a case study of the email discussion group, Cybermind. Providing an evocative example of the power and affective relations across mailing list culture, the case study demonstrates that, contrary to the popular critical imagination, the linguistic and rhetorical behaviours of the online self function in a manner that is relatively predictable and therefore fairly stable. Thus the paper challenges the 1990s dream of the online, radically decentred subject. This does not overlook the fact that identity is always a performance and the product of highly mediated cultural, material and institutional forces. However, the complex interplay between technology, fantasy and materiality in the shaping of identity has not been fully explored. Crucial to the production of identity are the symbolic and technological relations of presence. Authors assume that the material signifiers of writing can be deployed to express, to make present, the particular version of subjectivity they wish to convey. Moreover, even the representations of multiple and playful selves are, in fact, quite carefully governed by their authors. The paper concludes with a discussion of the extent to which the socio-technical architecture of the mailing list is conditioned by fantasies of presence and economies of affect.

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