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SEXTING, SEASON 2

by Max Wallenhorst

This is a text-turned-talk-turned-text about its frame, a series of text-based works called Sexting, Season 2. It’s an introduction, squeezed in two episodes late – which means I should be in a hurry and I’ll just fast-forward recap Season 1 for you. OK. Sexting is, first of all, digital communication with sexually explicit audiovisual and/or textual materials. It’s a new term, although it’s new for a long time now – since 2004, to be precise – and its newness seems, yep, ordinary. Ordinary to such an extent, that even if you don’t engage in sexting for whatever reason, perhaps you can still imagine what it feels like. Like a love letter, but faster. Like real life sex, but slower. Mid-tempo, but mid-tempo as something weird: A bit off, and then off-off and then again, there again, superlinear. As in any sex, there is a certain virtuosity wanted from me navigating these rhythms, their normativities and non-normativities. But perhaps sexting as a more sensibly mediated form makes this self-technology now more explicit. You have to get the pacing right, as Vogue columnist Karly Sciortino puts it. With pacing here she and I do not only refer to temporal distribution, yet to spatial distribution as well. When my sext message reaches your screen as a push, it’s not only about the appropriate time-zone, but also about the appropriate table you’ll find your phone on: your night stand or the coffeetable at your mother’s place and oh did you turn off preview mode in ur homescreen.

Whereas the myths of 90’s cybersex imagined infinite parallel universes in the depth of the Internet, discourses of sexting, much more mainstream, conjure an infinite stretching of IRL relationships in the flatness of social media. Optimistic approaches towards sexting – from Vogue to Vice to me sending to you that pic of my hip bone – those optimisms express the hope that distances within relationships can be overcome by mediation. Sexting, in this view, offers episodes of embodied synchronisation: for bridging long distance relationships, preparing with dating apps, or beginning anew in instants of sexual crisis. Pessimistic approaches towards sexting express the fear that something might get lost on the way – lost in a networked sense: shared beyond control. In the US the dominance of the latter in certain areas even leads to an atmosphere feminist scholars call Sexting Panic: Conservative and neoliberal opinion-making once again denies youth especially young girls, the right to their own body production, placing the responsibility for sexual violence on the internet on their part. At the same time revenge porn and unsolicited dick pics are still seen as accidental, the constitutive minimal risk of mediation in the realm of you knew that this could happen. Thus, online-sex even underlies a more restrictive legal situation than offline-sex: In some states of the US child pornography laws applies to „cases“ of sexting, so that young adults who would be legally allowed to sleep with each other can be prosecuted for producing or owning sexually explicit audiovisual material of their partners.

Fuck that, no spoiler alert: Sexting carries, like most sex, normative fantasies of sovereignty. The fantasy of expanding what I deem my best body parts to wherever you are. At work, in Miami or Mitte. And even within less normative lives than those compatible with Vogue, I have to get the pacing right to cater to this fantasy, otherwise I’ll freeze your hotness and end up as a super ridiculous screenshot. I think, the sex in, after or before sexting might be better sex or it might be worse sex – that’s not for me to say, as I think, to paraphrase the feminist Lauren Berlant, episodes of sex are always only related / unrelated to the series they are embedded / not embedded in. But this slogan is not as on the beat and boring as it might sound at the first hearing: Because maybe the ting in sexting in all its verbality and verb-form – moving with the iMessage ringtone it imitates, with the sweaty dancehall riddim it also evokes – hints to a new ensemble of media, bodies and writing. Plus maybe within the trickiness of pacing to new possibilities of the distribution of bodies. Maybe and really only maybe.

Thus, in Season 1 Sexting stands in for a contemporary infrastructure. Writing, to paraphrase media theorist John Durham Peters in his book The Marvelous Clouds, has never been a more paradigmatic mode of technology and communication. Writing for Peters is marked by its offbeats: the blank space between letters, spatial and temporal distance between writing, reading and writing, the ground on which they leak into each other. Offbeats that open up multiverses of variation – Peters compares writing to quantum computing. Think the split second in which I have the time to edit my texts and sexts before hitting the send arrow. The trouble of getting the pacing right is not the difficulty of adjusting to a new trend, it is informed by this syncopes of writing: On the one hand one gesture doesn’t follow as immediately, as in the improvisation of skin-to-skin-interactions – on the other hand sole texts in traditional long-form appear more isolated from their context than sext messages. So there’s these two hands and the third hand is what I’d call sexting. And sometimes this third hand feels like more of the same, but at certain other times it just *appears* with the special effects of horror.

Writing has always been embodied, but perhaps it is now inscribed into our movements, moved into our scriptures to such an extent that you could generally, just for a moment, view it as sexting. Look at how much smartphone cameras made it easier to literally and non-literally write with my body, how messaging apps let me feel the vibration of an incoming text message as excitement in my shorts, how affirmative data plans let me check on you (and you and you) in carefully paranoid frequency. Season 1 tries to establish these entanglements of bodies and media as a paradigmatic constellation to any contemporary writing. Keep in mind, that this is only art-orientied hobby essayism and I’ll continue to drive through the series via the ridiculous sportscar this genre unlocked for me oh wow that was so fast: Sexting here doesn’t only refer to sexually explicit scenes of communication, but offers an infrastructure for describing the episodes, in which the entanglement of bodies, media and writing becomes tangible. An entanglement that could queer the fantasies of sovereignty all these forms – bodies, media, writing – are operating with. Could!

What if, for example, all the women who were in their absence addressed by oh so deep love letters from Great Writers had the flat possibility to just text them back within the second? What if the explicitness feminists demand for sex with Yes Means Yes is not the end of seduction, but rather to not stop writing, within a realism that takes the trickiness of getting the pacing appropriately serious? Is sexting, as an extended practice or concept, productive for these instances in which bodies and concepts crash into each othe? Chris Kraus writes in I Love Dick: Every letter is a love-letter. Reviewing McKenzie Warks and Kathy Ackers online correspondence, Ruby Burton claims: E-mail is best for crushes. What is texting for? Let’s say: Texting is for sexting. Catchphrase, fireworks and Season 1 finale.

Everyone is hyped and exhausted at the same time. There is this strange holidays’ episode that tries to overcome the distance between seasons. I’m at work right now and your ear lobe is nowhere near my gums, but I like that thought of your gums not even close to my kidney. This is me in public, guess what I’m wearing, as your back turns away from knee. Your toenail distances itself from my lips, your gums leaves my forearm. My ear moves further from my neck. My eyelid not touching my face. Your teeth not touching my face. Where are you right now and what are you wearing?

And then there’s Season 2, which is here. The main story arc of Season 1 – to establish Sexting as a concept with a sportscar, as an idea for an infrastructure – is not as attractive anymore. Claiming the newness of a world sexting is a part of – this plot device in Season 2 transforms into the micropolitics of ordinary world-building in an ordinary world that is not only there, but lived as well. A series, I learned from reading Deleuze or watching HBO, only really begins to function as a series when it detaches from its beginning, like cinema, when it was interrupted by the innovation of the cut, or The Leftovers, when it entered its second season. In this sense, Sexting, Season 2 via mid-tempo reached its middle, par le milieu – the place where its rhythm is probably the most complex, the most physical because it doesn’t have to start and it cannot yet end. This why I keep bothering you with this series metaphor mannerism – because I do think it can really be a useful tool to locate openness in in-between-ness, I know it can be eyeroll emoji and I’m sorry. The problem is that this mid-world of Sexting, Season 2 isn’t a center and there’s not really an episode guide. Sexting, Season 2 in the end probably isn’t officially even confirmed yet.

So I turn to plots and plot holes, which are for now and for me ahead of schedule, which are already adding block for block to the world-building of what I’d call here Sexting, Season 2, what is here not more than a fan fiction framework trying to adopt a new perspective of the things it gathers around. Things that do not end at the entanglement of body and media and body-media, the back-and-forth of writing in-between – this atmosphere is rather what they synchronize with as their habitat from the start. The Pseudo-Science of this essay, as the series its part of, focuses on episodes tending towards artistic practice, because this is its environment, but there is obviously more to be described elsewhere.

All these episodes emerge from very different backgrounds, in the wormhole of their specific middle. There is for example the writing arc, in which theories and poems navigate the surroundings of this series. Starting from there, the contemporary writing I’m a fan of (perhaps rather than Literature) does neither speak on a panel of supposedly public discourse nor is it overidentified with its own form – it sounds out contemporary language in its use as a cultural practice, not with a semiotic logics of representation, but within embodied and mediated relationality. There is the body arc, in whose dance and performances embodied synchronisations are outlined beyond the contours of skin, as if it were nothing new. Movements, not so much going with the flow of bodily connection, but rather with the dub of its disconnections – with what is embodied, yetnot personal. There is the media arc, in which promises of the internet are traced within the repressive authentification processes of social media. In which, even if it doesn’t feel as spectacular, creative or original as I image online experience must have felt prior to its territorialization, there is still experimentation on the surface in tension. Even if and exactly because.

What may seem, with or without the silly fan-fictional shipping I’m trying to do here, like a couple genre-specifities randomly thrown together, for me are new approaches to practice the dynamics of contemporary coherence – as what Lauren Berlant and John Durham Peters both reluctantly call infrastructuralism. A performative restructuring of structure, but not only performative: As these practives cares about and for macro-, microlevels of affect, so hidden in plain sight within the infra of infrastructure, that it cannot be said to be performed. In addition to the gesture of making visible – that was so dominant for anti-normative artistic practices within and whose importance cannot be underestimated – these episodes rather try to audibly hum with the background noise of bodies, media and writing normativity puts on mute.

– Lauren Berlant: „Starved”, in: ​South Atlantic Quarterly​, Vol.106, No.3, Durham 2007, S.433-444.
– John Durham Peters: The Marvelous Cloud​s​, ​Chicago University Press: Chicago / London 2015.

Max Wallenhorst, *1993, currently enrolled at Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen. He’s working on auto-essays and weak performances. For warehouse he pieces together the series Sexting, Season 2, to which this text tries to function as an introduction or fan fiction.