The animal cry signals the moment of contact between those two ontic worlds: the cry is, as Derrida explains, a signal burdened with the antidiscursive force of animality and madness. Burke's 1757 reflection on the sublime includes a section on "The Cries of Animals." For Burke, the experience of the sublime aroused by the animal's cry imposes a moment wholly outside time—an extemporaneous moment—in which the dynamics of reason are temporarily halted. (43)
|Paul Klee, Twittering Machine, 1922|
So there is something coy about the way that Twitter names itself after animal sounds,
as if to suggest that there is something fundamentally antilinguistic about social media text. "Don't mind us," it seems to say; "we're just twittering, like animals. No language to see here."
I think that in some cases this makes people feel as though they have to live up to a kind of antilinguistic standard on Twitter, to introduce noise gratuitously as if in homage to the medium—as if to make it really tweeting. That's the only explanation I can think of for tweets like this one from Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa; @ChuckGrassley), whom I imagine writes like this only on Twitter:
In contrast with common abbreviations and slang, which are underwritten by identifiable (if diverse) logics, here the abbreviations and nonstandardisms seem random, even perverse. For example, "evr." does not save any characters; a period would seem better spent at the end of the first, unstopped sentence. As for the wasted space before the question mark or the capitalized "Learn"—what can these be but antilinguistic performances? (I was interested to learn, incidentally, that Sen. Grassley shares my hatred of the "History" Channel.)
|T. S. Eliot, from The Waste Land, 1922|
It's no wonder Twitter is seen as a site of gossip and rumor, intellectual triviality and linguistic disaster. It intentionally casts itself as mere animal noises, or, what evidently amounts to the same thing, female speech. And as I've suggested elsewhere, the radical multiplicity of voices on Twitter likewise suggests a flock indiscriminately cheeping.
This is undoubtedly the source of the fears that are occasionally raised that social media are making us lose our grip on language, as if that were a thing that could be so easily lost. (Try writing like Gertrude Stein. It's not easy.) To lose language might just be to lose our humanity, and then where would we be?
Well, the posthuman turn is so five years ago that it's difficult to get exercised about such a question. The interesting implications do not lie in fears of loss, for we are all already cyborgs or animals.
But good old Twitter—it makes us both at once.
Lippit, Akira Mizuta. Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Print.
When the birds attack Bodega Bay in Hitchcock's film (1963), a terrified mother lashes out at the film's avatar of liberated (and threateningly undomesticated) femininity, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren): "I think you're the cause of all this. I think you're evil!" One reading of The Birds would take the birds as a furious feminine multiplicity, attacking domesticity and the family as if in revenge.