His painting pretended not to be a painting, erasing the boundary between image and reality some twenty-five centuries before upstart poststructuralists like Baudrillard started to proclaim their undifferentiation. It’s notable that while Zeuxis painted an idealised image, something with the kind of natural Aristotelian beauty and unity that Greek society upheld as its model, Parrhasius appears as a proto-Modernist, painting the mundane and the incomplete (or, as Samuel Beckett observed of Tal Coat’s work, a ‘total object, complete with missing parts’).Later histories tell us that Parrhasius enjoyed creating erotic and obscene art; it’s not hard to see him today, tweeting an eternally unfinished list of inanimate objects he wants to fuck.
The common Twitter game of trolling internet atheists does much the same thing.
You can try it yourself; all you have to do is tweet something along the lines of “hey #atheist, if evolution is true how come rock’s dont turn into boulder’s” or “if athiest’s are so logical why do they worship the false lion-headed god athie,” and wait for the tidal wave of indignant responses.
Defenses of trolling such as the article linked above point out that it can be used to disturb the entrenched hegemonic mindsets of various internet communities, that it’s a survivor of the anarchic early days of the internet that resists the capitalist homogenisation of Facebook and Google: the visceral joy of pissing people off online has important radical potential.
This is all true to an extent, but there’s more to say.
Some time in the fifth century BCE, a contest was organised between the Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius.
Zeuxis created an image of alluringly arranged grapes so convincing that a flock of birds tried to eat from it.
Feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez received rape threats online after a successful campaign to get Jane Austen on the new £10 note, and has since given up on the medium altogether.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard has been subjected to a barrage of abuse, including bomb threats, for the crime of trying to promote the study of ancient history while being female.
A troll-free utopia is one in which you can be as reprehensible as you like, as long as you conform to the measured, ‘objective’ tone of the opinion pages.
The introduction of a single ‘report abuse’ button on Twitter could be the foundation of a new White Terror for the digital age, in which celebrity commentators can marshal their thousands of followers to shut down anyone who objects to their pronouncements in less than genteel tones.
These are the commentariat, after all: many in the British press are happy to put forward sane and reasonable justifications for imperial wars and the demonisation of immigrants and sexual minorities.