Spread from Paul Chan’s Wht is a n occupation?, 2011, unique paper book, e-book, PDF.

Spread from Paul Chan’s Wht is a n occupation?, 2011, unique paper book, e-book, PDF.

Paul Chan

Spread from Paul Chan’s Wht is a n occupation?, 2011, unique paper book, e-book, PDF.

MICHEL FOUCAULT was a comic genius. Take his theory of the rise of pornography in the West. No, he doesn’t pin it on the Greeks. Foucault suggested that the greatest pornographers—the ones who profited most by inciting and spreading sexual desire—were the Catholics. And they achieved this distinction by institutionalizing the most charged erotic form ever invented: the confession.

The church was, among other things, a social platform for expressing one’s innermost thoughts and desires. Because the church claimed the authority to absolve its members’ sins precisely through their acts of confession, it guaranteed the right to speak freely when performing this sacrament. Foucault speculated that this encouraged a social compulsion to confess. Members were urged to use the church as a medium for talking about transgressions that the church could then forgive. The clergy in turn used the confessions as material to sermonize against, which had the paradoxical effect of advertising the very ideas they supposedly wanted to eradicate. It was as if the more puritanical the church became about sex, the guiltier people felt, and the dirtier everyone’s thought and speech became.

The history of the church—as an apparatus that profits from people exposing themselves—mirrors the ways social media works today. The fervor for connections, the compulsion to disclose and express, and the desire to belong are all also varieties of religious experience. This may be why confessions and other testimonial forms play such a significant role online. They ground what is being shared in some semblance of naked and unadorned reality, even though there may be nothing real about them. They testify to the power of what is now more real than reality: the idea that essence is artifice as relations.