It’s in the Title: Polyvalent Exploits in the Business of the Titling Game

Note: This essay draws explicitly from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations & Simulacra (1984) & Symbolic Exchange & Death (1979).

If you’re reading this now, you know: you & I have entered into a contract whose expiration date is between now & four minutes from now.

In the next thirty seconds, the formal & organizational logic of this piece must turn into light source & pane of glass both. With thirty or so letters strewn into sequences that will compel you to continue on reading or, understandably, will fail to do so, & you’ll vanish without much thought or effort.

Titles are textual features that “contain multitudes” (Whitman), are marked by brevity, &—for bibliophiles then & now—retain a fundamental categorical & organizational utility with a twin mystical ethos.

Titles are the things inside of which impossible possibilities of the sign thrive in the surround of centuries’ husks. (O, how many “canonical texts” written or translated in English are title & title alone still.)

Contemporary digital readers regularly display a Federerian balance of virtuosic ability &, with impossible ease, infer & determine a text’s “outlook” & character in fractions of a second. A title draws one in, promises something, & can ring wrong enough to ruin a piece

The title contains an erotic secret while delivering a mandatory prophecy whose promise must be a proof for the more poetic introductory gesture. Its transactionality contains both an epistolary intimacy & general plurality, an erotics of the sign & a capitalist delivery of value to its discerning consumer.

Titles are deployments that merit further consideration because they are ubiquitous features in digital literacy, production, & consumption. Their importance & role affect what we see, read, think; they are the first notes of proliferation & are the opening notes of a telos defined &, in many ways, measured by virality.

The social—long dissolved & reconstituted in a speech-driven frankenstein of itself, social media—is a perpetual hallucinatorium whereby one’s participation demonstrates interstitial contradictions Baudrillard called “simulated differences” that simulate ecological complexity & “social value,” a perfect term for the movement from the production of materials to the production of the social by way of language, or synthetic systems of signs.

Titles are (1.) fetishistic objects; (2) seductive signological sequences that use data analytics & contagion analyses — artificially intelligent machinery — to diagnose the powers of the sign to infect quantifiable & known populations; & (3.) dialogic & epistolary.

Titles evidence a harmonious textual collaboration between writer, publisher. They are a fundamental part of a packaged text whose body is made of data dutifully gathered by machines & presented using the simplest graphical representations that exist (bar, line, pie graph).

Creative titles should invite readers to a show, should forecast but not over-explain, should paint but do so deliberately & with a defined concept, should seduce but make good on first gesture’s promise.

Should, in other words, bring the moral element to a capitalist logic of quantification, to the miracle of a newborn thing anointed with its own unique offering (price), exchanged using the currency of the sign for a value that is now discursive & social.

Titles are therefore part of a formal order marked by the violence efficiencies & extraordinary distributional possibilities throughout digital ecosystems that may never be understood by humans as well as well as machines.

In some cases they supplant human lover or erotic other. Posited as such, once can think about the “sex recession” as a co-constructionary phenomenon that operates in conjunction with mass data analytics toward their nonspatial virtual corpus, romancing readership into a tango that is no longer physical &, possibly, no longer sexual.

The romance is a virtualized discursive affair, the success of which, depressingly, is based upon multiplying our dissolution into virtual textual engagements (diametrically opposing every other thing or activity meaningful to you), on capturing your attention &, in part, on eliminating your physio-kinetic relationship to others.

It is based on a mythology of us. It is a narcissistic dreamscape that feeds us content that, brick by proverbial brick, constructs an elaborate palace that progressively grows into the evolving sense of who we think we are which, more & more, is defined by what we do in cybernetic contexts.

This is the triumph of the sign &, by extension, the title: It invites you to experience its trans-physicality, a body of coded body that works toward the elimination of your relations with your species.

This virtual process simulates a colonial carcerality of discovery, at least with respect to the technics & metaphysics. (Open internet, plurality, freedom of expression, the power of speech, etc.)

The technics, like capital, don’t care if content abolishes hierarchical racist institutions or opens up new discursive territories inside of which survivors & refugees are gifted microphone, sponsorship, platform; the very induction is the seduction preceding assimilation’s reward.

The modalities of delivery evidence a complexity like that of global supply chains: at once heterogenous & subject to a microwave-it-all liberalism nearing exhaustion, the title’s task begins in a dialogic dance that begins directionally from absent other to reader but progresses according to a pattern of consumption & contagion.

Titles are sculpted into shapes that, in their ideal form, bloom & proliferate like a vast floral network, the golden fleece of simulated prophetics, gold patina band rewarding us & informing us about myriad upon myriad thing & structure & banality, providing us content that, with increasing accuracy, seems predestined rather than chosen.

They are marked by a difference that is simulated & replaced with a form-fitting plasticity, one that reifies the projectional violence of reason, of individual subjectivity, as a benchmark for intrinsic value & metric for classification into a system imprisoned by its obsession with individual liberty & liberation.

This feigned phantom creation or emergence of text, out of the ether into our tender button hearts shimmers as an ars poetica, a linguistic rubik’s cube (stolen, translated, made new), animating the spiritual core of European metaphysics that weaves court politics, sexual drama, hunting expeditions & geopolitical gameplay, executions & moral virtues, choruses that bellow out to us, that bring us into a fold, that promise something & that must do so with given parameters that reinforce our conceptions that which is not us, alterity, by reinforcing our conceptions of ourselves.

(Consider how many partial texts or titles are directed to you each 24-hour cycle by a complex of invisible analyses conducted by machines in order to monitor your demographic details, web search behavior, track interactive patterns with apps & software, your ideological leanings, your physical interactions with computer & phone, microphonal & biometric data, facial recognition programs scanning every photo of you & every photo of every friend of you, etc.)

Before writing this essay, I asked myself why anyone could or should care about, or read about, titles. But as I usually do, contemporary titling for digital publications are precarious introductions to myriad discourse & discursive practices in part because they are sexualized tools of manipulation by anonymous networks & systems of artificially intelligent machine-learning technologies.

They change what we do, what we believe; they affect the groups of people with whom we gather or oppose. They crown the artificial networks of symbols & signs as apex to a kingdom that has, clothed in robes, as its ruler, us.

Leo Cy Wyatt is a painter, poet, essayist, & founder of THE STOUT INDUSTRIAL CO. They in Denver, Colorado.