In “An Ontology of Everyday Distraction: The Freeway, Mall, and Television,” Margaret Morse places television within the socio-historical context of postmodern and late capitalist life. As a central framework, Morse draws connections between the cultural forms of the freeway, the contemporary mall, and television as exemplars for the postmodern experience of “distraction” and “nonspace.” These two conditions typify, according to Morse, how subjects in capitalist life worlds interface with the everyday. Distraction, put simply, is a state of being unmoored from the here and now—of being radically touched by “two planes of language represented simultaneously or alternately” (194). Such a state of multiplicity is not simply the effect of electronic media like television but is also made palpable by the architecture of screen environments. The built structure of freeways and malls, for instance, include glass screens that create multiple levels of space and can interiorize or distance different terrains of signification. Distraction, then, is the process of orienting to these multiple planes that will always be incomplete. This concept of distraction is a productive way to describe the psychological and perhaps social experience of “nonspace”—a decentering of a singular “place” and a disengagement from a “paramount orientation to reality” (200). Together, these concepts help Morse poetically describe how “dreams become habit” (209) and how the most quotidian of moments (of driving, of mall shopping, and of watching television) are made by and actively make postmodern and late capitalist life.
I read her piece with particular attention to the theoretical vocabulary that she uses to limn her central argument. I couldn’t help but notice how this language of “nonspace” that she uses to describe “an ontology of everyday distraction” resonates with the language within another of my fields of interest: the studies of diaspora, particularly queer diasporas. Diaspora scholars, particularly those doing work in literary or cultural studies, often depict the experience of fractured subjectivity and perception as one of disorientation. And further, central to the experience of diaspora is what Nadia Ellis (borrowing from Jose Esteban Munoz) would call “living within the territories of the soul—existing between “claims to land and imaginative flights unmoored from the earth” (Territories of the Soul, 1). Ellis here describes another type of diasporic “nonspace” that takes inspiration from queer utopic thinking. This nonspace is a result from the forced splitting from imperialism, colonialism, and coerced migration. I put these two theoretical genealogies alongside each other to begin to tease out the tensions between them. I wonder how much “distraction” and the “nonspace” of postmodernity is built on the forced “nonspace” of various diasporas that serve to build a Western nation like the United States as an apex of late capitalist life. These questions are stemming from my project on transpacific empire and electronic media, but nonetheless, I would love to pursue this line of thinking.