This study analyses the novel Kentukis (2018) by Samanta Schweblin as a literary and moral reflexion on the construction of contemporary identities ambiguously embedded in digital technology, and how this identity construction can bring to the human solitude that Byung-Chul Han (In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, 2017) defines as the social form of the modern hyperconnected digital era.
Schweblin’s work pictures a global reality pervaded by a sort of diffuse, yet in some way hybrid “transparency” (Han, The Transparency Society, 2015) that reproduces a perpetual exchange between the secret space of the anonymity and a surreal voyeuristic overexposure of intimacy. The virtual hetero-topology (Foucault, Les Hétérotopies, 1966) created by the novel crosses a realistic simulation of the contemporary globalized world by continuously breaking through what Bauman (La vita tra reale e virtuale, 2005) calls “the glass wall”: the mutant boundaries between real and digital reality.
Mocking science fiction and reality television codes, and stretching to the limit the possible identities interplays offered by simulation video games, Schweblin’s narrator walks through the lives of a multitude of characters, who decide to symbolically escape from their bodies, catapulting themselves into the lives of others, randomly, in the form of anonymous puppets equipped with cameras: the Kentukis. The human immersion in the digital world goes beyond representation to become physical presence; consequently, the desperate search for a new personal space –a new secret and satisfying identity– that divides individuals into “owners” and living puppets, creates virtual/real lives that last as long as the Kentuki’s battery life.
The resulting social relationships appear surreal, obsessive, grotesque, often immoral and destined to fail. As a consequence, inside Kentukis, the possibility of imaging and creating new (virtual) human spaces unveils solitudes that cyclically turn into loneliness and that are presented now as consolatory, then as disturbing: in this sense the “swarm” of protagonists seem to be lost or trapped in a sort of technological, yet intrinsically human “fragmentación existencial”(Kentukis, 2018:190).
Therefore, this study explores how the interplay between “owners” and Kentukis, and the obsessive embodiment of virtuality inside the structures of reality could produce moral displacement and, moreover, moral disengagement (Bandura, Selective Moral Disengagement… 2002). Schweblin’s characters, as simulation of real contemporary human beings, seem “inebriated by the digital medium, but blind to its consequences” (Han, In the swarm… 2017) forgetting that they are the ultimate active responsible for their actions. In this sense, while implicitly warning about the impossibility of escaping from real life, Schweblin’s narrative voice does not offer any kind of moral justification to the potential threats derived by the use (and abuse) of technology: if the dark side of digital technology exists, its causes should be traced back to human agency (Bandura, 2002), its potential moral evil.