The case of overstimulation

I asked my friend A****** to help me write an article with a mask of intellectualism that no longer relies on maximalist vocabulary. Here is what he recommended.

"Certain European art film directors long abandoned any notion of a linear plot — to be critically acclaimed, try to overstimulate the audience. Cram in as many allusions as you can, you know, this montage is of course a reference to Godard, that pan-out is of course a homage to Parajanov, etc. One must also include a recurring theme, say of a necklace, that will forever divide film critics, even if Deleuze came back and wrote a third book on cinema to try resolve the dispute.

Why should the textual medium be bereft of the latest developments?

For instance, suppose there is an upcoming basketball game against the University of Connecticut which Duke fans are worried about because of the opponent's scarily good power forward. One must write two articles in advance and publish only one of them. Overstimulate the reader in each of them!

If Duke wins, publish the article which mentions how the game reminded you of that section in Book 16 of Polybius' Histories, where King Philip V's general Nicanor was considered a threat to the Roman-Aetolian alliance, but the heroics of Titus Quintius meant that the Battle of Cynoscephalae was ultimately won (see Book 18)!

If Duke loses, publish the article which regurgitates the done-to-death existentialist observation of the impermanence of glory. Surely Duke students have read Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War? In that context, refer to the Battle of Leuctra, on how the glory of the Spartans declined after Cleombrotus lost (see Xenophon's Hellenica, Book 6)."

See? Extra cheese makes the pizza more delicious — keep garnishing the text!

It was at this stage I argued with my friend. He said that classical references were at least seen as high-nosed and elite and were liked by some fashionable men and women. But to have any sort of social clout, one must sincerely banish from public discourse any vestiges of mathematics at the college level and beyond.

You see dear reader, like most analysts, I tend to like pathological geometric examples to make my point. Think of the disappointment I felt when I showed my friend my first draft of the op-ed which included an elaborate analogy using the Tychonoff Corkscrew and the Knaster-Kuratowski fan and he got furious.

"Are you kidding me? Don't you know that the only thing you are allowed to say publicly is, 'You see, a coffee cup is the same as a donut, and that is pretty cool!'? What are you going to do next — mention the Adams spectral sequence in a non-academic context? You have IQ, but where is your EQ? Let me guess, you want number theorists to start talking about topics beyond Galois theory publicly and not the same old ‘prime numbers are the building blocks of numbers’?"

Oh well, he knows better.

He also advised me to include classical references that are not part of the Greco-Roman canon to prevent accusations of political posturing using the Roman Empire. Fair enough. He also cautioned me to not exclusively rely on examples from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata either, to ensure that my reputation as a scholar isn’t boxed into my ethnicity as the “Indian scholar who knows a lot about India." Why do you think I was encouraged to learn Avestan?

I went to the library and pored over Rushdie’s "Grimus." I was truly inspired by the story of protagonist Flapping Eagle exploring different identities in this book, a wonderfully postmodern critique of modernist bildungsromans! Equipped with my knowledge of Sasanian history, I proceeded to compare progressive student movements to the Iranian prophet Mazdak and tied the tendencies of Duke fans to perennially feel the current-year freshman basketball player as the "next Zion Williamson" or the "next Grayson Allen," as similar to how Khosrow Anushirvan was proclaimed as the next Cyrus the Great.

But then I read how Rushdie's debut novel, "copiously encrusted with mythic and literary allusion, nosedived into oblivion amid almost universal critical derision." Sadly, I abandoned that literary attempt as a result, especially after Ferdowsi appeared in my dreams and blessed me with the knowledge that intellectual posturing is almost always an offense and is only legal and celebrated for existing intellectuals who are already famous.

At this point, I asked my friend, a PhD student in Literature, for advice. He told me, “Remember, Žižek might have written 'Opera’s Second Death' more than two decades before, but who apart from academics read his earlier work? There are probably hundreds of thinkers as well-read and as introspective as him, but they choose to stay within the confines of academia. The reason Žižek is famous in the public sphere is precisely because he chose to blend high and low culture idiosyncratically. Have you seen the video where he says, 'I already am eating from the trash can.'?”

So here is the description of a rough draft of the final article I wrote. That article is on the declining attention span of students due to the persistent popularity of TikTok videos, Instagram reels and YouTube shorts. Any Gen-Z student knows that there is a lot of internet lore about online subcommunities that can be only reconstructed through a close reading of social media comment sections.

To make an article relatable, one must write as if one is a historian of internet culture, writing in the 2050s. Cram every reference you can - BeamNG car crash simulations, Skibidi toilet videos, montages of fiendish levels of "Breakout"-like video games, Subway Surfer playthroughs and unrelated videos that have "Memory Reboot" by VØJ & Narvent or "Space Song" by Beach House or a sped-up "The Box" by Roddy Ricch or "Strangers" by Kenya Grace or "greedy" by Tate McRae playing in the background. You get the idea.

One must resist the urge to insert references to Heidegger (no one has read ‘Being and Time’). However, Mark Fisher is okay to include, as his ideas have sufficiently permeated the Reddit-Twitter internet discourse. Then one adds a link to an academic study on how human attention is the most valuable commodity in the techno-capitalist world. To finish up the essay, write about how video creators attempt to catch attention through overstimulation and playing two to three concurrent videos, for instance, one in the background, and one each in the upper and lower half of the screen. Long live overstimulation.

As attention spans have declined, that article has not been provided in The Chronicle. Interested readers are advised to use the last two paragraphs and ask ChatGPT to reproduce a hypothetical article based on them if you want. As Barthes would say, the author is dead, and hence, the article has been left as an exercise for the reader.

Angikar Ghosal is a Trinity senior. His column typically runs on alternating Mondays.


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