The Enlightenment began in the sixteenth century, with Rene Descartes' bold declaration: "Cogito ergo sum." "I think therefore I am." Today we have regressed from Enlightenment to a highly relativistic and flexible set of frameworks for deciding what exists, what is true, and what is meaningful. The news cycle generates an infinite present in which lies are instantly and infinitely repeated, thus transforming themselves before our eyes into truth. From Swift Boats to global warming to the Wikipedia, Western society's lazy willingness to choose hearsay over evidence echoes the blind ecclesiastical authority that brought on the darkness of the Middle Ages. The motto of this age might be: "I say it, therefore it is."
The truths most susceptible to corruption are the stories we tell about ourselves. Some of our most august arbiters of truth have fallen victim to first-person hustlers like J.T. LeRoy, James Frey, Stephen Glass, and Jayson Blair. With Virus, I rewrote my own life story as a high capitalist epic. I invented a narrator, Harriet Bernard-Levy PhD., a French critical theorist. Bernard-Levy wrote using academic jargon. She has a tendency to complain about the most basic facts of working for a living, an inability to accept that socialism doesn't work an capitalism is an amazing system--not perfect, to be sure, but the closest thing to perfection that we imperfect beings could ever hope for.
The sophistication of Bernard-Levy's writing belies a deep naivete about the facts of life in the 21st century, the same naivete I have observed among numerous academics who believe their theoretical apparatus allows them to penetrate the surface of our commodity universe and reveal the true nature of advertising. These people are fools who make talk for a living. "Talk," is actually a rather generous way to denote their noisemaking, as it implies comprehensiblity. Really they just make noises with their mouths. When it comes to advertising, they have no idea what they are talking about.
I love Walt Whitman's phrasing of the West's original Homeric narrative authority: "I was the man. I was there." My story, as told through Bernard-Levy's voice, is presented is both a classic American bildungsroman in the Horatio Alger style, and the history of American capitalism itself. The first act is agrarian, in rural Pennsylvania. Then we have an industrial phase working in my father's print shop. Finally, after my Odyssey around the world and triumphant return to Philadelphia, we have the final act, where I build a fortune manipulating symbols in the global economy of ideas. I marketed the book through Gold Crown Books, the online illusion of an apparently reputable publisher thrown together in a few days by my assistants.
I promoted Virus through traditional media--press releases, author appearances, glossy double-page spreads in prominent magazines. I made every effort give the book's public surface the appearance of factual legitimacy. Like many works of outside art, I knew that Virus would not get the coverage it deserved. So I bought it. I bribed the traditional media to shout my own version of the truth, and they did so gladly. They money made them blind to the book's inherent argument: Many of Gyro's innovations, especially the invention of viral, online marketing, foretell the end of the easy, monopoly-profit days for the traditional media. Like my other viral work, I designed the campaign around Virus to convert readers into web-browsers. The print ads contained the address of the Virus website, where I posted a short semi-satirical film that compared by biography to other great Pennsylvania innovators like Warhol, Franklin and Carnegie.
At times, Bernard-Levy implies that my career is a kind of subcultural treason, that I buy DIY culture on the cheap like some raw material and then arbitrage it to my clients. By the end of history, she has come around to the idea that I add value. The arbitrageur merely moves a commodity from one place to another. I perform the ideological equivalent of turning sheet metal into a Chevy. I strip forms down. I give them new shapes. I repackage, recontextualize, reinterpet, and refine them into chimerical exotics, hothouse hybrids, unrecognizable transformations. Not only does Virus document this process; it, too, is a product of it.
Bernard-Levy is a ghost, but the facts of my story, as told through her, are consistent and verifiable with the set of credible facts that we know as "the record." Is this enough to make my story true? Is a book's existence in the marketplace as an advertised, salable commodity enough to justify our belief in the sentences between its covers? Or must my story be endless repeated, transmitted over and over again through glossy magazine ads, billboards, viral YouTube videos, and websites like this one? Can a man sell his story to the public, as though it were a widget? Is endless repetition in the marketplace of the mind sufficient for any set of half-baked lies to be accepted as unquestionable truths? Who owns "truth," and the right to label and market a story as "true?" These are a few of the questions that drove me to create Virus, the Arcadia Project's fifth and most recent installment.