Superactually by Chuk Moran

Feb 18th, 2013 | By | Category: Articles

Section on Talking

When mammals live together, they purr and bark. Talking gets dinner ready, people to places on time, and merchandise out the door. There are many forces changing the world. Talk is one.

How Are You


When someone says, ‘words don’t mean, they function,’ isn’t it a performative contradiction? Doesn’t that sentence depend on words meaning? It could, or it could also not. Consider a case where words function rather than mean and, yet, also may still function by meaning.

How are you? ‘Fine’ means things aren’t quite right. ‘Good’ means we don’t have to talk about it. ‘Great’ means there’s some story or good news. ‘Not so good’ means we’re compelled to talk about it. Attacking the question is too mean, because everyone knows the question is not a literal one.greeting

Literalism has almost nothing to do with it. What does the question literally mean? In what manner are you? For what reason, with what meaning, to what effect, by what name or title, to what degree, in what condition, at what price are you (feeling today)? It would be dumb cynicism to accuse the question of lacking literalism. ‘How are you?’ really means, ‘this is your first chance to indicate to me that your disposition should be recognized to influence our interaction,’ and, ‘I’m transitioning politely from greeting to conversation.’ It is not an information request as to your present state, we are not really going to discuss your mood now. Instead, if you’re in no condition for what is about to happen, let me know now. Otherwise just say ‘good.’

We all understand how to work the system, though I doubt we’re all conscious of the situation as a language game, or of the words’ specialized meaning within the context. How do you resolve this? Do the words mean or function? Do the words mean something, which is so specialized it hardly resembles their definitions in any dictionaries? Or, do the words function in social situations, in a way we need not understand in terms of signification or meaning? And, if the words do signify in this case, their actual meanings still remain unsaid.


What is important? What is most important?

The underlying question that these queries demand we not ask has received very little attention: what makes things important? It seems that one must have an opinion on what is important, or be beholden to what others say is important. Either way, it is in the service of important things that we will be obliged to act and orient our thinking.

I understand what it means to say something is yellow or unpleasant; what does it mean to say something is important? What is importance? What is most of importance? A commitment that we should attend to a problematic. But this is too inexact because it is too neat. It uses other words rather too easily. That something is important is not the same as saying you should do something about it. Important dates in history. Things that are important do not have normative or ethical force. They are seductive, but not because they are seductive or irresistible.

If you think a problem (e.g. illiteracy) is important, it attracts your attention, justifies action, motivates your efforts, and trumps other concerns. You name it as the determinant of consequences and influence, as something with a high social standing, as something everyone ought to be concerned with.

If you say something is important, you encourage others to regard it as important. Importance functions as an imperative on others.


buzzThey are words that buzz, rattle, loose their meaning, inspire connections based only on the presence of this word, again and again: affect.

The buzzword infests utterances, texts, keyword lists: postcolonial. Why not? It sounds hip, it sounds right, I don’t want to get cut out because I’m not up to date: best practices.

The word inflects the formation of arguments, provides orientation towards as well as away from: postmodern. It’s not certain yet whether the word is or is not appropriate, when its buzz is still fresh, two texts can even apply the word in opposite ways to advantage: mobility.


There is, so far, nothing to lose in using it, no real claim it can be identified with that someone will come along and prove wrong: memory. The word would need a more certain meaning, it is not yet in a state to be opposed: the cloud.

It turns out to describe surprisingly well what has come before, because its uneven universalization is a journey and because it is what we find interesting in our interpretation of most anything: client-oriented. The word doesn’t name something altogether new, it just has a more clear vision of what the thing is that we are naming: deliverables.

By its connective tissue, everything appears related, tagged the same, commensurable, related to the particular concerns of each in a community: temporality. All scholars turned out to have been studying meaning, whether they knew it or not. Business was always about optimization, monetization, and the low hanging fruit.

Sometimes the word is more specific, it comes from somewhere and bears the mark of a tradition, a world of related concepts, a corridor of interpretation: rhizome. Sometimes that history disappears: win-win.

Yet the word means less and less. In its journeys, its character becomes diffuse, its mechanism uncertain, its reputation sullied: culture. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are no longer talking about anything, that the thing to which the word once referred has left, even though the word still buzzes: power.

And She’s Like


Young people these days, inarticulate and illiterate, a preverbal imprecision we should hope will not seriously be the future of our fair planet. ‘I’m like’, ‘he’s like’, ‘she’s like’. What’s become of the verb ‘to say’?

‘I’m like’ crosses the separation of what is said and felt, what is expressed and understood. ‘I’m like’ is usually not what’s said, but when he’s like, ‘fuck’, then that’s the meaning of his enunciative position in the context of the story. Subject positions registering how they are touched by affects, indicate what they want to say by stylized responses we can imagine the charming character of the story to have intoned. Even if no one actually said it.

Crackers Aren’t Your Niggaz

Not because you can’t reappropriate a word, not because you don’t understand its historical and contemporary usage, not because you won’t be true to the word’s complex meaning; white people can’t use the word nigga to refer to one another because the word has never threatened them.

That they can so easily reappropriate the words of others (especially African-Americans) is a habit establishing their privilege; that they understand the word’s history is a result of an educated racial privilege; that they can simulate the word‘s meaning and invent for themselves a social validity to its function evidences the freedom white people enjoy to imagine their social condition.

It is because they have this freedom that they can and should use other words.



Why use acronyms?

  • You can say more with fewer words: SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up).
  • You make a reference that only insiders will understand: FTW (Fuck The World, in biker culture).
  • You want to abbreviate a frank but quite dreary name: IBM (International Business Machines).
  • You want a name no one else has, but you don’t want to make it too weird: SDG&E (San Diego Gas & Electric).
  • You want a name that is both fanciful and serious: START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

Acronyms got old. Consumers retreat from a faceless collection of letters that, more often than not, stand only for a series of bland and misleading words. NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), RAND (Research ANd Development), GMC (General Motors Company). The acronym just abbreviates meaninglessness. The acronym has offered refuge for those with something to hide, and this has hurt its reputation: the barely edible substances packaged as MREs are officially Meals Ready to Eat, but also known as Meals Rejected by Ethiopians.


What the people want now is not capital letters but word smooshes. PowerPoint, Starbucks, Facebook, Flickr, BevMo, Aquafresh, DreamWorks, Qualcomm. Random words are fine if they feel right, though they certainly don’t have to mean anything: Tide, Target, Google, Apple, Cisco, Zappos, Pfizer. Deliberately misleading names are also in: Axe, Monster, LinkedIn, Microsoft Works.

Yet some acronyms remain: CVS, NBC, EPA, DOD, ATM, NYT.

Old things have good reasons to stay familiar.


superactuallySuperactually - Micro-Essays on Post-Ironic Life

A bunch of tiny essays on life after irony, this is a book to help smart people feel hip and hip people feel smart.

ISBN: 978-1-78099-465-9, $22.95 / £12.99, paperback, 251pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-466-6, $9.99 / £6.99, eBook

To speak ironically is to speak just for the effect. To speak superactually is to do something with words and take responsibility for that action. This is a book of short, provocative essays. Some are on fun topics in pop culture (hackers, dubstep, cat memes, thinking green, parkour, and the girl next door). Others are takes on technical topics in social theory (sensation, hype, discrimination, imagination, and the typical). This is a book to help smart people feel hip and hip people feel smart.


Chuk Moran fuses prose poetry, critical theory, blogging and essays into the dense core of a fusion weapon that will annihilate your understanding of all those genres and replace them with fresh moss and tiny octopi. Ian Bogost Author of Persuasive Games and Alien Phenomenology

Barthes' Mythologies for the new millennium. Alexander Galloway , Author of The Exploit, Protocol, and Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture.


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