Reading the Internet Schizophrenically: A Manifesto

When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to take long walks on free days past the White Castle toward the big Hispanic strip in Sunset Park. To make walking more interesting, I would count the number of paint jobs on the sides of buildings had been weathered to the point of resembling Mark Rothko paintings. My high score was 13. It was then that I realized non-representational art did not exist; that its supposed non-representation was actually just the representation of things excised from conscious perception due to their perceived meaninglessness.

The above pictures are three screenshots I took of various mobile websites with my phone. The rich, unaware interplay of tiny blurry symbolic images, when laid out one after another, unaltered besides their having been cropped, show at what a rudimentary level society recreates itself by drawing images and types of text into familiar easily repeatable patterns, the little square photographs unfolding endless like pictures of some unseen person’s children cascading from a wallet. Disjointed sequences emerge, somewhere between pharmaceutical-induced visions and newspaper comics. It’s tempting to say that enough of them laid out could constitute an avant-garde graphic novel we could simply call “The Internet.” Perhaps I’ll make this.

There have been numerous analogies made between the space of advertising in a mass media society and the space of the subconscious. These analogies tend toward the infantilizing the subconscious. Advertising is our “cave art” etc. The means of discussion tend toward evasions of discussion; we know this is the internet’s subconscious due to these strategies of repression. The marginalia, like the subconscious, exists to be repressed. However, insofar as the advertisements on a webpage are the parts we skip over unconsciously, they are the internet’s subconscious-the thing we skip over while reading the supposed point, the articles. In their strange disjunctions at the margins and in the transitions between headings and content there exists a space that evokes much but sits outside the comfortable spaces of interpretation we use to read content.

William Burroughs introduced the “cut-up”, wherein sentences from various things were cut up into individual pieces to see where they lead. The time of the cut-up has passed. The influx of cultural production calls out for forceful disjunctive breaks into something beyond sense as much as it calls out for measured careful assessment. This influx is much larger than it was, and presents such an escalated fragmentation from the previous media that different methods must be used.

The time has come for the hyper-cutup. The major blogging platforms-Instagram, Tumblr, etc. present curated visions of the world, wild and scattered as the user can manage. In this form the individual pieces of content must either be (1) dissected and reconstituted by the viewer into individual stories or (2) seen in the schizophrenic form. The schizophrenic form of reading gives the sense of the underlying Geist of the period in which we find ourselves ensconced. The hyper-cutup is the product made from the schizophrenic mode of reading.

The schizophrenic form of reading regards the elements of the “page” in the arrangement they have found themselves. It seeks to discover what exists inside the “slips”. The page exists in the schizophrenic reading as a place with a plethora of coordinates as opposed to the standard reading of a centralized focus surrounded by ephemera. Schizophrenic reading does not allow for the category of ephemera. It focuses on the relations within the page and not the distinct objects as individual products. It strives to uncover the messages of the neglected spaces with reckless disregard for whether that revealed is the hidden “truth” or simply the thing itself left indecently naked for its own sake.

When the unseen part of the thing being seen is in its comic-strip succession of images, those will be the focus of the cropping. When the isolation of a single element will better imply what might surround it, that will be the focus of the cropping. The point is to break open the space of meaning into the negative space. The mind must jump this chasm-the space of the blink, the space between two disparate images-frequently with the almost dancerly movement people tend to be capable of when they barely miss running into each other, the little flourish done with the feet when the last or first step of a set of stairs are positioned unevenly. The goal of schizophrenic reading’s renderings is to make the viewer hop, skip, and jump in all sort of unnatural mental motions.

In the 1910s and 20s, Lev Kuleshov famously tested the mechanisms of film montage. In the most famous test, Kuleshov took a simple shot of an actor’s face making no expression and intercut it with pictures of random objects. Audiences claimed various relations between the man and the objects where none had been intended. The takeaway for the filmmaker and psychologist is that the relations between images in the mind are conjured arbitrarily. What the schizophrenic reader must focus on are: What were the patterns of the relations that were imagined? Where do they suggest new patterns that haven’t been thought of? What provides the greatest pivot point from which to jump into grander anemneses?

Insofar as our working environment on the computer is a desktop, the inspiration of trompe l’oeil should be acknowledged.  On the obvious level, insofar as they’re images produced to be confused for the real then ritually declared not to be so. But also in the way many of these paintings consist of an assortment of objects circling around an absent individual, a fragmented portrait evoking the absent party through the placement of their things on a desk or in a cabinet.

The question “How does this piece reflect its invisible subject?” just as frequently as the question “What or who is the subject?

Happy reading folks!



  1. The classic example of “schizophrenic reading” might be people who comment on articles posted on the Internet without reading them.

    1. Yes, that’s an example. A lot of comments sections consist of long discussions circling around wish lists of what the article could have been.

  2. I particularly liked: “It was then that I realized non-representational art did not exist; that its supposed non-representation was actually just the representation of things excised from conscious perception due to their perceived meaninglessness.”

    The whole idea of dis-interest or the neutral in Western thought is complete rubbish. Nothing esacpes the human stain, not science and not art.

  3. Yes. I agree with Mr. McHugh. I like that passage and wonder if you could, when you have more time, expand on that thought a little bit. Specifically “things excised from conscious perception due to their perceived meaninglessness.”

    1. It was mostly a residue from the stuff I’ve been reading on Lacanian psychoanalysis, particularly the first two chapters of Bruce Fink’s “Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners” which I read a couple hours before I wrote this piece.

      So to explain what I meant in the piece a bit better: what we perceive as our surroundings while conscious are in fact heavily filtered toward (understandably) making sense of them. We have distinct categories like “art”, “animal”, “person.” Certain things are perceived as art, certain things are perceived as animals, certain things are perceived as people. The mind functionally perceives things by predicting the next one. A good example that’s used a lot in cognitive neuroscience is what are called “garden path sentences” wherein the mind can’t comprehend a technically grammatically correct sentence because its not the sentence it wanted to predict the sentence being. So in the internet context, we’re looking for the parts of the website that “make sense”, a certain part of the net is repressed so that the other part can get through. Complete reading is impossible. However, expanded consciousness is.

      Some fun with garden path sentences:

  4. […] This project will be the realization of the schizophrenic reading principles and notion of the hyper cut-up I announced in my earlier manifesto. […]

  5. […] Daniel Levine has developed an interesting concept called “schizophrenic reading.” […]

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