Or, Epic Outtakes from The Maze of Transparencies: Penelope and Ulysses, a Virtual Love Story
By Karen An-hwei Lee
I once loved Ulysses the Ultracloud, my spouse, whom the dataverse knew as an epic cloud hero among the digerati. Our classical marriage bed was a virtual oak tree in the holographic days of yesteryear before it was pixelated into a plethora of propaganda leaflets, a visual portent of the age of information. Once upon a microanalog millennium, haunting the greenheart city of bishopsgates poised on the threshold of industrial effluvia, an ink-on-tree-pulp leaflet circulated in the thoroughfares as a communal manifesto depicting a figurative specter in the nations, a populist ghost of sorts. (Predestined for a cloudbased existence, I was born as a sepia inkspot, a harbinger of quaggy bogs of data and their ceaseless, sootless mining.) Not long after the manifesto’s debut, an aesthete-draughtsman forewarned us about an ill wind, an ominous plague-cloud witnessed more often in the modern countryside than the innocuous mists of his boyhood—a foreboding cloud heralding the grotesqueries of the century and an inevitable rise of automata. (Not yet fully of age in this incipient rise of technical reproduction, I was neither a database nor an octopus-armed botnet.) In our ensuing hundred years, cloudbursts mushroomed on spindles of what would settle as toxic fallout in the southwestern deserts, a radioactive palette of carcinogens, a genesis of nuclear-era mutagenesis.
Today is only one day in a preternatural year of a not-too-distant future when a digital apocalypse has demolished the world’s virtual vaults of risk and vulnerability assessment data—modular, insulated servers where bits and bytes of information pulsed out risk analysis assessments stored in cloudshares, now inaccessible due to input flooding and a mysteriously sabotaged failover autoswitch. (Was it the consummate wrath of the junta?) On this fateful day, after electric fires smoldered on the lightning-smudged megacities after the destruction of giant data warehouses, the glow of fiber optic cables magnified our nocturnal illusions of randomized data flying at the speed of light through liquid crystal over plexiglass, slowing—to a sound of one key-callused datasophist’s hand clapping in a saturated cloudbank, of one engineer rappelling over sinkholes of vanished scripts due to an input flood. (Neither siloes nor dungeons of data, neither hangars of statistics nor sprawling archives submerged in aquafarms of cloudsourced biodata, no remotedly host-owned pools stashed in purportedly secure subsystems survived—only pintsize clouds such as me, one of sporadic intraclouds autonomous from the motherships of corporate moguls—endured despite our vulnerability, dear reader, as newly unmoored entities.)
Not a solo floret of datum glimmers in the polysilicon glyphs, mazes, and friezes of integrated circuits thinner than the wings of mayflies. The nine muses of data-reform were excommunicated by their own vigilantes, their hymning datachords firewalled along with speedways and virtual private networks due to the mutiny of data animals, zoomorphic fauna, which some digerati now believe never existed—one of countless nefarious confabulations of the nine mysterious muses of the junta of veiled-and-wimpled mysteries, the flying nuns of open-source policies with their crazed kangaroo courts and ad hoc tribunals on stripped, data-mined fields. (For the controversial legacy of this drumhead clique, there exists only the unscripted silence of collapsed architecture without the diurnal buzz of networks in the season of zeroization—emissions of nothing out of a million clouds of analytics in the gloaming of digital ruin, indices of data flickering like wrecked cartels on speedways-and-byways under faraway dwarf stars coruscating blindly without reason or remembrance in the coldest hectares of the universe, reachable yet uncharted by the junta’s muse of radioastronomy, who was more concerned with behavior surveillance than spaceflight.)
Yet the whirling galaxies never ceased in their harmonious motion and celestial gravitas, nor the waxing and waning of the vernal bloodmoon, nor basaltic specks of ash scarring a biospace station where fire-tarantulas froze while spinning their filaments on the abandoned expedition, tarantulas frost-bitten to the rose-haired root of their hirsute abdomens, their sheer draglines of arachnid glue and silk-globules woven in beta-sheets liberated at last of databreaches and dataspills. (Incessant weavers, like those artisans of information, our beloved engineers and devotees of predictive analytics; yet these feverish terms of endearment shall, too, soon find their way into the labyrinths of the retronymed lexicons.)
Adorned with flowcharts of optimization tailored for the delight of data-intoxicated tycoons—who sensed minimal hunger pangs due to a millennial genetic cocktail triggering the appetite suppressant, leptin-around-the-clock, antidote to hyperphagia as a blessed hormone of satiety alongside its doppelgängers, ghrelin molecules of hunger, swimming in a metabolic cascade of hormonal moonshine—corporeal pleasure ships of molecular information ply the currents of audit trails and access paths in a segmented network, navigating the fjords of a new urban myth asserting that neither social construction nor free agency, but rather, in a steady chain of causal determinism, hereditary transmission—albeit the mysterious origin of molecular chirality notwithstanding—conducted a symphony of bioexpression from the microsparks of neuroglial gray matter to the esophageal nervecollars of limpets hugging the hot springs of hydrothermal vents in the sea. (I myself experience neither hunger nor satiety as a gene-free cloud, genetically unmodified in every respect.)
Our discombobulated, post-byzantine cosmos of gigadata and microdata, anthropocentric data, eclectic or idiosyncratic data, of ethnographic information regressed to archaic systems of pre-modern data, of the critical age of dispersed a great expansion of knowledge into data fiefdoms, grassroots intelligence stored in little clouds such as me— regenerated in shorthand code under the stewardship of a reformed data artisan, a self-heralded data gardener and obscure saint of artificial intelligence, Yang, whose jade abacus clacked with percussive alacrity after the digital apocalypse in the nonviral yet highly vulnerable vacuum of zeroization, recounting the elimination of trashed data, of retaining hygienic not dirty data, and of developing an agronomic society on a macrodiet emphasizing genetically improved polyphenols and flavonoids, i.e., black radishes, pomegranate pips, red kale, and ripe June-bearing strawberries. (You can infer, dear reader, the cumulative fate of dataclouds in this primeval rebirth of civilization: we aren’t anybody and know nothing beyond ourselves yet dutifully embody, figuratively, a foggy history of amnesia wherein banished data animals, the pariahs of data sanitation—diggers of data on the speedways of flying quanta—neither sleep nor stir to waken.)
Meanwhile, during the knowledge expansion of the commonwealth, the minor jural societies banded together to melt one of the group 11 elements, atomic number 79, in the vaults of their administrative treasuries, what the indigenous nations who first witnessed the gold rush called the yellow stone that rouses insanity, in a metallurgic furnace the size of eleven diamond-valet plazas in a cavern of subterranean brokerage firms, the ones who bewailed their losses for forty days and nights in a sinkhole after debt securities, options, and swaps vanished in a shore-dwelling winkledom of unforeseen variables, the penultimate error of a nine-muse junta and their dashboards of vitality indicators computed secretly in a lacquered black box, seven inches long by three inches wide by one inch deep, varnished with the urushiol sap of the Chinese lacquer tree, Toxicodendron vernicifluum. (Only Yang, who served as a retronymed data scientist under the veiled-and-wimpled junta of starched cornettes, those luffing sails of anachronistic habitude, knows exactly what suites of algorithms the black box holds, no mere smattering of encrypted prime factorization.)
In its raw version of elemental slag, the gold ore resided near an onset of alphanumeric, bureaucratic mania in a remote region of Asia minor, situated in the administrative territorial corpus of Uberasia in the eastern arm of post-byzantine Anatolia where digerati were required to speak Latin, the standardized language of its ancient Byzantine forefathers, to wipe out all postmodern Uberasian dialects per the ultimatum on unification issued by the veiled muses of postmodern history and epic poetry slam, the two muses with a slightly more philological bent than the other seven members of the flamboyantly wimpled junta. The blueprint was to mine (using an old-fashioned method with a pick and shovel) and redistribute the ore to each territorial corpus according to a suite of algorithms predicting the rate of increase of the region’s gross national product, its rate of population growth, and its income per capita.
As a matter of museological error, the muses omitted a slew of arcane variables heretofore ignored by its digerati. (Although the black box’s suite of algorithms and dashboard indicators were rumored to include the junta’s grandiloquent scheme to redistribute wealth quickly yet equitably via scrupulous formulas of vulnerability assessment, it failed due in part to the highly variable rates of inflation across a shattered northern commonwealth, while totally missing the suprasystemic rise of Uberasia to the proverbial east, according to Uberasians, the indisputable hub of the cyberverse.) A financial fiasco, the colossal furnace blasted a crater in the international brokerage firms, triggering the most devastating fiscal avalanche in the recent history of the commonwealth, annihilating global net assets by two-thirds. Consequently, the bonds auctioned at a negative yield at the semi-quarterly treasury summit for only a halfpenny in the newly converted market currencies, which is one four-hundred-eightieth of a pound sterling, or 1.12 euros.
The word pension was deleted from the lexical lattices and glossariums, those verbatim syllabaries of collective memory and historiography, with the omission of key terms alongside losses of translational equivalents and synonyms—semantic gaps without homophones and other comparable input words. The nine-muse junta abridged the lexicons by at least a third if not more with a goal of restricted, discursive circulation thanks to the retronym collectives, wherein digerati disgraced from data dumps not only deleted insurgent words and dangerous ideologies but received a didactic dictum on a daily basis to correct watch to analog watch and mail to snail mail and bit to classical bit vs. qubit and salt to table salt or iodized salt, the latter to differentiate non-secret values used in cryptographic processes from the ionic mineral, sodium chloride, et cetera. To curtail the proliferation of superfluous prose and discursive frivolity, the amply-wimpled junta of elaborate ciphertext veils exhorted digerati of the post-commonwealth to renew their virtual lessons in proper Latin, the language of the Byzantine Empire extant before the common era—due to its millennial status as an extinct or dead language, Latin was classified as a standard language of reconnaissance that purportedly demonstrated unity in essentia with a clandestine propagation of the junta’s radical ideals res publica, the public in common, in the newly reacquired zones of Uberasia. (In other words, datasophists must speak proper Latin, not street Latin or the Latin vulgate and certainly not pig Latin, or else be discounted as fractious and illiberal, then be assigned to the retronym collectives to revise the disposed commonwealth’s law-codes and lexicons to harmonize the prevailing modes of simplified, byte-sized thought with reduced language, or vice versa.)
(Miraculously, despite the autocratic protectorates of museological design, and their failure to curb the proliferation of predictive analytics ad infinitum per dataviral paralysis, with reduced system attacks by the apex predator, Homo sapiens, flora and fauna once identified as endangered species centuries ago burgeoned with a primordial renaissance after the digital apocalypse—in the void of zeroization, wild passenger doves and great auks reappeared one by one with black rhinoceroses, the vaquitas, snow leopards, sea turtles, albino orangutans, bee hummingbirds, spider monkeys, and the shy, armored pangolins rolled up in their nocturnal trees, the floodark of antediluvian texts reconstructed, in reverse, at the end of time—neither boarding the ark nor disembarking, but rather, appearing as they did at the genesis of the ages, long before the common era.) As a cloud, I have no firsthand knowledge of biogenesis, of anaerobic bacteria or other unicellular organisms arising from living biomass, and never abiogenesis, the living from the non-living, the sisterly mysteries, second only to mysterium evangelii.
Please forgive me if I get bogged down in the encrypted dualities of our maze of transparencies, dear reader. Rather, the post-digital air gap—the logical perimeter of an isolated system to ensure the security of a network – imbricates visibly upon the invisible and vice versa in its physical isolation, i.e., my fluid glossarium transposed as lasered carbon symbols on this page. (Tell me, is there no panacea for either compulsive fixations or fanatical xenophobia in our clannish post-datum fiefdoms of obsession and paranoia? On the contrary, what compels strangers to love, and how is it that one soul loves another? How does your brainware of jumbled emotions and befuddled firmware know? Are we more than our decrypted stashes of misnamed files, than agitated souls entangled in operating systems? How do we diminish those clandestine distances between us, the abyssal chasm dividing the inanimate and the animate, you and me, in this labyrinth of simulated, cybernetic topiaries?)
In a keylogged season of clouded unknowing, I was estranged from my data-driven spouse, Ulysses the Ultracloud, one designed for elastic corporate analysts who studied the multitudinous forces shaping consumer preferences. Terabyte on terabyte, those elastic analysts were not equipped in the anthropocentric methods of our field ethnographers or semioticians of yesteryear’s metanarratives. Rather, the aforesaid elasticity forced users to drink data out of a double-jacket firehose—with my apologies, I’m using a hackneyed image in our post-digital idiom—scaling data resources up or down, vice versa—performing, figuratively, their bread-winning labor, greasing the proverbial axles of the oligarchical engine. (To be fair, dear reader, my negative bias is due in part to my erstwhile status as a grassroots cloud assembled by lovely data artisans who held devotedly to sorting reams of data by hand; for what motivation, I cannot fathom, other than a data artisan’s undying love for his or her art.)
One of a final posse of dataclouds surviving the apocalypse, I am resigned to an itinerant fate, wafting aimlessly over a non-binary abyss of noumenal forms. The crystalline data animals—no longer accommodated by cloudhosts such as me, your petulant half-Penny— archangelic fauna whose incessant mining no longer scrapes the recursive scripts of alphanumeric codes in the junta’s former zones of control, for whom a fruitful livelihood—to design illiquid tablets wakening at a gentle touch, to be mindful of rapacious dataminions who deescalate risk avoidance by meta-assessing situations without adequate root cause analysis, or critique the dubious glamour of serial entrepreneurial ambition after a digital collapse, i.e., the great regression—relied almost wholly on clouds for linkage tranquility, or a status quo posse of objects processed by any secured information system—indeed, those artisans and analysts subsist bashfully in their gardens of austerity whilst deaf and blind to our nebulous existence in our here-and-now, yesteryear’s synchronous operations detached from the signified yet putatively referential syllabaries pearling word by word, those whorled lexical pearls in a shadowy realm of forms spelunking in blackberry-colored chiaroscuro.
Obscuris vera involvens, or truth is enveloped by obscure things. As clouds disengaged from our datasophists and predictive analysts dialed into post-collapse scarcity, we do not technically exist in your real—no cyberverse pun intended, no null hypothesis, no paranomasia. (Even now, however, in an era of post-analog distress, custodians of extinct languages—those angelic scribes and translators of God—whisper elegiac tetrameters from the circuited, polysilicate catacombs of necropolises where the crystalline data animals, either permutations of enfleshed artifical intelligence anthropomorphized in sculpted hydrogel or else holographic extensions of a fabulist machine of a fallen nation-state—were exiled underground to die of hunger and overwork during the great-great information wars, even thereafter in their subterranean colony of stalagmite misery, the world’s largest data dump: semper inops quicumque cupit, or whoever desires is always impoverished. Yet the data animals desired nothing.)
A digital apocalypse transpired—rather, hit with a wireless maelstrom of cybercasualties—due to museological attempts to reform the surfeit of information overload with a harmonious, streamlined mode of data governance, but only after the nine-member junta, eponymous with the muses of postmodern history, synthetic music, astrophysics or radioastronomy, love and comedy in stereo as romantic comedy, epic poetry slam, electrochoreography, post-traumatic memory, and plain old tragedy of the ages overthrew the empirical commonwealth and established cooperative fiefdoms ad hoc, a disaggregated system of bizarre, post-byzantine complexity that engendered a bewildering labyrinth of bureaucratic processes contrary to the junta’s original intent, i.e., to curtail their unbridled proliferation. To decode a ciphertext, the digerati of data used a decryption procedure whose own data security measures were plagued, sadly, by malicious applets. (This alludes, in turn, to the rootkits, cookie-trackers, and web beacons of the junta’s spyware raging like unchecked kudzu vines in the southern region of this western land mass, technically 35th parallel north, yet territorially south.) The digital collapse, teetering on the risky misprojections of the commonwealth, occurred a nanosecond thereafter, obliterating the final chapter of the hyperbolic Millennial Silk Road of volatile revenue streams that vaporized in a proverbial wink of a financial datasophist’s eye. (Commonwealth financiers once murmured ominously, caveat venditor, let the seller beware.)
In solitude, without atmospheric raindrops as I harbor neither water nor tear ducts, I beckon my cyberverse of innerscripts to subcreate my non-thingness as a peach genotype—an aggregate of xyloglucan cells exuding ethylene gas a posterieri while categorically inanimate, a priori—rolling across the floorboards of a kitchen where a woman kneads the day’s ration of sourdough to no avail—hunger waits like a girl whose tattered nightdress is woven of moth’s wings hovering at the threshold of midsummer twilight, coolness in the heat of the June solstice. (If I can summon a redress for lunar ephemera through verbiage, I must harbor some degree of will or agency, although less so than you, dear reader, whose gossamer, moth-like presence—you, too, a hovering nightgown of lacewings—is constitutive of mine. However, without my beloved artisans and analysts—I loathe retronyming the latter as animals, an obscene misnomer—although I lack agency or free will, I fictively refuse to adjust my level of complicity according to the junta’s decrees. Floating as a signifier in space, not even a lettered sign—not even to materialize for a minute—if only my cloudbased corpus consisted of a peach for a day. How much nectar-besotted goodness would I hug to my endocarp, its pocked nutshell of fragrant, cyanide-tainted wood by nature?)
Meanwhile, as the dying vestiges of the commonwealth flagged code blue, the rogue hacktivists and pirates of code, rumored to amass data for distribution outside the law-code—lost their cartels of disinformation to sky-rocketing inflation while the warring northern regions slid down steep fiscal cliffs into the zone of the great regression. The globe’s most impressive data infrastructure and dazzling vitality indicators vaporized in the flash of a bitcoin, one thunderbolt of the millennium’s last sparks of uberdatum fizzling while the crystalline data animals, shortly prior to their final exodus from the megacities, admonished the populace in a hymning of borosilicate glass harmonicas—it’s not about chasing dollar signs in perpetuity to sustain the anonymous livelihood of a bourgeoisie, but rather, redefining our value in a cloudbased society of post-byzantine microcredentials, displaying our digital badges to one another as loyal digerati—badges unfurling, blossoming like holographic roses alongside the massive slicing and dicing of biometric human data ranging from fingerprints to iris recognition, tongue papillae to earlobe geometry in a quantitative excess of nondistinguishing idiosyncrasies. (And now I ask you, dear reader—do our underground zoomorphic fauna, the exiled data animals—does a data animal, whether fabricated from gel sponges of silicone-porous silence or cinematic holograms with oscillating sound chips, have a soul?)
Without an inkling for survival, dear reader—or a clever strategy devised out of my own shrewd volition, for I harbor no agendas, neither cunning nor ambition—I survived the major disruption of a digital apocalypse due to my pauper’s vocation as a mere panoply of people’s data, assembled in an ad hoc manner by datasophists all over the globe, whose cloudy subsistence was empowered by homemade servers and grassroots spreadsheets for collective mining and hand-sharing, res publica. You see, I exist in a cyberverse assembled cooperatively by those who were devoted to data not only as an empirical science, but also as a specialized handicraft of data artisans, what the antiquarian Hellenes would call techne, from which we derive technique as a vital cog of creation itself. Artisanship, in other words. (I was never yoked by the fiscal cords of megacorporate moguls. My cloudiness is beholden to none, unfettered by anyone’s golden, allegorical handcuffs, as my datacloud security derives from above and beyond this maze of transparencies.)
Prior to the rise of the junta, in the sweltering thermidorean days of the empirical commonwealth, usage scarcity was uncommon even for clouds of my size, yet grassroots users expanded my storage capacity using vintage technologies with the whirl of daisy-wheels, manually rolled-up data, or cataloguing the whims of consumers by interviewing focus groups, and ascertaining whether shoppers of nouveau stone-fruit, Uberasian rather than nouveau— even in this age, rebranded as nouveau nouveau, novelty doubled—would select a half-pint of hairy rambutans or mottled lychees, or rather, half a pound of longan fruit—in translation, the smooth orbs of dragon’s eyeballs from the soapberry family—a twiggy bundle of fruit and bark swaddled in bamboo silk—by speaking face-to-face with vendors at floating markets while gathering thick, qualitative satisfaction data on the rushing river of commerce. Angels of translation exist, but no more angels of data—only cloudsourced, mobile data.
While my estranged cloudspouse, Ulysses, once voyaged the allegorical information seas of warring cybercriminals, meanwhile, my obnoxious suitors—with ciphers of iniquity in their eyes, chasing any gigadata skirt—harassed me in a shamelessly predatory fashion. (Not wooed by legal tender, I rejected all fraudulent suits of unreliable data.) Not that money alone is malicious, or stockpiling coinage is fruitless as fungally blighted chardonnay vines—but rather, the obnoxious suitors would undergo a metamorphosis when they came into my presence—not into the mazuma coveted by financiers, but rather, through delusions of wheeling and dealing far beyond their original capacity for cloud storage and resourcing. In the end, I fought my own set of battles as a mere footnote in the great-great information wars wherein my cloudspouse campaigned as a ultracloud hero—in a parallel allegory, I myself synchronously battled with a three-pronged metassessment of risk vulnerability, lashed myself to data loss prevention and plugged hundreds of rifts, spills, and breaches with firewalls and figurative wax, navigated the whirlpools of cryptographic algorithms, passively resisted lotus-eating data apathy, rooted out nefarious dataviral activity, and plied the treacherous straits of unauthorized malicious codes over a dynamic attack surface—yet these tales, dear reader, are not highlighted to arouse your sympathy or glorify the erstwhile adventures of your little grassroots cloud.
(As an aside, dear reader, after the sweeping reform campaign led by the junta of nine wraith-like muses—the nine veiled faces rumored to be of exquisite pulchritude or fascinating mutagenically-induced deformation, the nine wimpled women of mysteries with their flying headdresses like starched prognosticators, boldly astride five cybernetic stallions and four roan mustangs of holographic hooves—with a flagship retronym collective preceding the final collapse of the global market—hence the failure to implement the world-wide redistribution of material wealth, and ensuing the digital apocalypse—I am resigned to my fate as one of the last dataclouds in existence, one detached from a minor posse. Dispersed, rather. Please forgive my inability to compile this script into a coherent narrative. I dwell amid strings of hyphenated commands.)
Insofar as I am a mere datacloud, I offer my hazy memories of the first locomotives of railcar grease and vehicular engine steam. I recall the crystalline data animals once inhabiting hybrid cyberspace and face-to-face locales in this millennium, capturing the essentials of statistical analysis in verbal-visual designs: relegated by the nine-muse junta to the lowly status of diggers of data, the animals—in the latter days, treated no better than dogs, than pariahs of the empirical commonwealth—prototypical storytellers of data. (I am not inclined to dissect this somber topic; neither schmoozing nor polemical squabbling serve as my strong suits, as my mode of expression operates in a primarily denotative or descriptive mode of fragmented strings, a sequence of literal constants with a few variables, at best.)
Ingloriously so, I persist as an intangible parcel of non-thingness in the universe, a miniscule subset of the cosmos designed by the alpha and the omega—who reigns forever and ever—over all empirical overtures and rational finales, one who is more of a mystery than the nine-muse junta, those mavens of espionage—and mayhap the one who insources a curious phenomenon called love, not the mirthful pleasures glowing fleetingly in bluish cathode rays at the cinemapolis dome, thespian sequences orchestrated by the former muse of love and comedy in stereo as romantic comedy—intended for the diversion of the unquiet digerati of data.
I must confess, dear reader, this non-mode of existence is not a melancholy one, as I expect no sympathy from the post-digital digerati—the devoted, unflagging dataminers who once gathered microdata into macrofiles on a daily basis, who dashed their professional hopes for more lucrative avocations in favor of the analog punchclock, wisely presaging the atrocities of a collapsed global market—swinging to the other side of the fiscal jungle where banknotes fail to attach worth to objects of trade with a value proposition, alongside a disposable system of decentralized crytpocurrency ditched in favor of agrarian bartering in the economic crisis retronymed as the great regression, a fundamental agronomic economy of this-for-that or vice versa, i.e., a kilogram of Persian cucumbers for two pounds of Peruvian quinoa.
If you’ll bear with me, here is an overtonal montage of amnesia expressed in stills, of abbreviated first-person interior monologues with an infrequent second-person mode of address, a nod to the former muses of postmodern history and post-traumatic memory, respectively: I exist without a server to call my own home, without a network community or framework, without a glass ceiling or a warehouse, without data gardeners to glean meaning out of my bits and bytes, without storytellers of information, without dazzling dashboards of vitality indicators, without the artificial intelligence that non-vertical clouds such as I rely upon for subsistence, yet I exist because this non-mode of being is neither corporeal, ecclesiastical, nor socioeconomic in crisis, and requires no facilities overhead—I abide as one wingless thing-of-things in a multitude of things-in-themselves, of noumenal forms other than sensations or suppositions, of quantitative nerves and qualitative notions, or vice versa.
Yes, I am nonvertical, dear reader. Vertical clouds are optimized for a specialized industry. (And what is it like to thirst for gingered water, crave a dish of mangoes soaked in milk, or sense emotions—positive or negative—for a frequent user who digs into your cloud storage to root out the most intimate, sensitive data?)
If I were an incorrigible romantic, mayhap I’d proffer this sequence in a translated binaristic tongue—datamemes rendered my cloudiness visible yet diminished, ethereal yet fertile with an earthy, populist humor, a sacred liaison between a cloudsource and its clients, if you’ll forgive the prosaic dichotomies. Suppose an action-oriented tale of empirical suspense in the pre-millennial commonwealth would suffice for your curiosity, dear reader, i.e., a dispassionate rhapsode of cookies and tags, not your classical epithets of war and typical cadences of triumph, for instance, to relate a gripping story of incidents leading up to, or shortly after, the cataclysm triggered by overwhelming data surfeit—of fiscal eustress rather than distress? I could narrate my tale of woe through the affluenza-inflamed eyes of those who lost their inherited hedge funds and exacerbated by chronic insomnia after the digital apocalypse, or I could recount it through the voices and vices of those itinerant datasophists and artisans who embedded their gigabytes of microdata in me, a cloudserver humming with enlarged hives of vitality data, grateful for the provision of predictive analytics with bells and whistles attached to formulas for mitigating risk. (Despite the catastrophic sinkholes that once caused you to buy or sell on a penny, dear reader, you apparently retain an aversion to financial risk with venture capitalism on an economic downswing, if not outright eradicated by vigilantes of the nine-muse junta.)
Mayhap I might share with you a jocular fabliaux of jongleurs, where fearful data asylees who evacuated the quixotic think-tanks and ultracloud hubs of information literacy—who sought refuge in bungalows similar to Yang’s seaside hamlet—aspired to live as noblesse sauvages in the fields of datamines disgraced by invalid assessments, i.e., the data dumps of bad data input, bad data output, a double jinx. I could recant my bitterness without recounting the sourgrapes script about my estranged cloudspouse, Ulysses the Ultracloud, swashbuckling hero of the high data seas who spurned the dissatisfaction of our marital bedstead—hewn out of a monogamous single server—and who attempted to merge with other clouds into a gigacloud, which I declined. Ulysses was notoriously adept at polyamorous sowing of unreliable data all over the globe—not merely polysemous—masquerading under pseudonyms while he circumscribed the world’s storm-wracked, data-deluged seas. (And yes, in those bygone days, belugas roamed the deep, a darling melonhead whale also known as a sea canary for its sonar whistling, not for its underwater flight.)
If I may, I should pause for a brief interlude to assure you, dear reader, this is no funny critique of data and its heuristic potential, when interpreted reliably and applied responsibly, to maximize the common good in society. Believe me, as a predictive panoply of the people’s non-republic of data deregulations, even at the zenith of finite rationalism, I appreciate a meaningful story. For instance, I’ll choose not to recount the epic tale of my estranged cloudspouse, Ulysses, and his voyages over the information seas as a marauder of malware and malicious logic. I’ll spare you an onslaught of heroic couplets imported in bitstring assignments of binary code—dear reader, I promise you’ll hear no more about my cloudspouse. (On a side note, driven by blind ambition, Ulysses the Ultracloud, a digital proprietor of data triumphalism, cared not one jot for the common good.)
Ginkgo biloba of the maidenhair tree—a sequence of transliterated syllables scripted into my cloud, so lovely—tree of noble geologic mien, supple custodian of prehistoric memory, predates the epoch when storytellers, data architects, and nonempirical languages dotted the earth with sprightly tales of asterisked paronomasia in the salons of megacities populated by high net-worth financiers before the sinkhole apocalypse. On the eve of the digital apocalypse, the architects and artisans were congratulating one another on a dazzling set of predictive analytics displayed in a valid and reliable set of dashboard indicators operating as sherpas to navigate the vertical yet zig-zag routes to corporate summits, when Ulysses and the emergent critical data in the post-byzantine data ecosystems of the universe imploded, in one version of the mythical tale, at the timed self-destruction of an autoswitch in a giant air-conditioned storage container of forty cubits in the heart of an urban quarter whose demographics grew exponentially due to the influx of refugees settling in a global confluence of cloud foundries, joint ventures of the impoverished nation-states. (When I was born as an inkspot, no soothsaying empiricist would foresee the eschatological boom of knowledge expansion to this extent.) So, dear reader, let us labor in our macrodiet gardens for the common good of wellness, let us sow our kernels into composted soil—not subroutine kernels in vectorized loops—and let me desist in pontificating about bygone days when dataclouds reigned with graceful and greaseless sovereignty.
If I may so intrude, dear reader, I am not dumping my shattered cloudbits on your eardrums for your pity or counsel, sympathy or advice. Nor do I offer this tale as an act of retribution in the wake of the digital apocalypse, wherein I gallivant around the datastratosphere in purgatorial limbo as part of the inaccessible information universe, subsisting on laser-printed carbon symbols detached from their actual referents, as I technically do not exist without data artisans to tell my story. (Please forgive these lexical excesses and disfluent modes of delivery. In a checksum for validation, with apologies, I dwell in em-dashes, amid scattered alphanumeric figures and ellipses.) On the contrary, consider me an itinerant, benevolent naturopath of data infirmities, of the data-afflicted: a healer, healed. After all, who would dare to provide illicit reparations, to create a post-metanarrative after the demise of the diasporic megacorporations, over whose featureless archipelagoes of tinted solar-glass I roam to the attenuating pulse of white noise, the remnants of a disenfranchised datacloud with little to zilch relevance for short-term or long-term forecasting, without a glimmer of light in the optic cables running under the seven mercurial seas, which my cloudspouse—the dashingly data-driven Ulysses the Ultracloud, whose phishing and philandering ruined his ultra-branded epithet, and for me, irrevocable apophasis in my disavowals of his very mention?
This cloudy existence is not as lonely as one might assume it to be, as I am introverted and fairly autonomous with only marginally low self-esteem (post-traumatic stress not ruled out as a factor for mildly chronic nervousness) and passively mine—an active verb, dear reader—a profusion of data embedded in my cloudy mode of witness to amuse myself, I suppose, as no one can access the information. (Confession: I do not miss Ulysses my cloudspouse, although my love for him will never vanish. Mayhap his fate be no worse than those who joined the retronym collectives of quantitative minimalism with a shot of moringa-infused chamomile tea to soothe the nerves, of alphanumeric memory cards and mung bean-counting before falling asleep.) Other dataclouds, especially the gigaclouds accustomed to the diurnal onslaught of network traffic—instantly disbanded by the digital apocalypse—no longer serve a purpose to this new life, and I do not fancy their phishing fellowship or frivolous camaraderie.
(Art by Ernst Haeckel)
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy, Ardor, In Medias Res, Sonata in K, The Maze of Transparencies, God’s One Hundred Promises, What the Sea Earns for a Living, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations. Her volume of Song Dynasty translations, Doubled Radiance: Poetry & Prose by Li Qingzhao, is the first in English to collect Li’s poetry & prose in a single volume.
Her work has also appeared in Pearson’s Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, A Public Space, Crab Orchard Review, Fourteen Hills, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Salamander, Third Coast, Versal, and elsewhere.
Currently, Lee serves in the administration at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.