Friday, November 03, 2006

A Randomly Beautiful Sentence

File under random whimsy. From Gmail:

"All messages marked spam have been deleted forever."

There's something about the balance and weight of it, that just feels right. Not just techno-speak. It tells the truth.

On the other hand, it's unexpectedly funny. The purported finality is absurd. If your email account is anything like mine, you're going to have to delete all messages marked spam "forever" in about five minutes. (And indeed, I've got more spam in my box since I began typing.) You could take the "forever" not as literal truth (that deleted spam messages are unrecoverable -- is this true? Where do they go?) but as ironic commentary on our deepest desires - that is, our deepest email desires - that we be done, once and for all, with messages we will not read, that we no longer wish to receive. We want spam to be deleted forever -- like a theological salvation, we want to be delivered from spam -- yet spam, like sin, is constantly renewed, something from which we find only momentary relief, if any at all.

Like all good lapsed Catholics, I believe in sin but not salvation. Likewise, I believe in spam. You could say that I only believe in spam. The "spam" folder gives us the assurance - perhaps false - that our other messages are NOT spam, that they demand at least reading and sorting, if not a reply. We can believe that the message for which we've been waiting, the good news, is on its way, because we have a sure means of detecting false prophets. (If anyone calls you to the desert or the inner rooms with promises of blemish-free skin, low mortgage rates, and sexual enhancements, do not believe it, for even the elect can be deceived.) But deliverance remains, perhaps always, only an outstanding promise, a possibility. Spam, and falsehood, is the reality.

Electronic letters, waiting for deliverance, and upon deliverance, acceptance, deleted, forever. Irretrievable. What never existed, had only little reality if any reality at all, shall exist even less. The power of purgation, of liberation or nullification. And what is done, is done -- the foregoing of the possibility of retrieval, that what was lost can be found again, regardless of our decisions, wherever it might hide, is what we bind ourselves to -- that here, if nowhere else, is certainty, finality; that these messages, if no others, I will never see again. Yet of course you will -- in fact, only these messages will stay constant, as jobs change, as friends, as online retailers shift and sway and fold, as email addresses and online profiles become defunct. Spam endures.

It's a negative theology. Only spam, by having no positive characteristics that we can attribute to any genuine earthly message, is real. Only spam is always at the top of your inbox -- present in this absence. We believe in spam precisely because we delete it. We ride its wave, and the wave rides us in return.

Eh, maybe not.


bk said...

Tim, I love this post, and I'm so glad that Short Schrift has been resuscitated. Okay, okay...partly because it means I don't have to wander blindly in the template of my own blog to remove the link. But mostly because it's nice to 'hear' your 'voice'.

Anonymous said...

This is blogging raised to a form of art.