The Laws of Lorecore
Curator-in-Residence Shumon Basar welcomes us to our new age of narrative collapse and private mythologies.
An era, belonging to digital capitalism, characterized by people’s existential need to storify themselves at the very moment global narratives collapse in an unprecedented manner.
A few days ago, somewhere in the feed, someone posted, in janky meme-type, that, “Inside is the Real Outside.” I spent 2.7 seconds on this thesis. It’s the same length of time that artist Jeff Koons says people spend looking at one of his artworks, a fact I gleaned in another feed, whose provenance remains murky to me. And so this feed continued. Or I continued. It’s like when you’re sitting in a train and the train next to you starts to move. You’re not sure if you’re moving, or if the world is moving. It’s a queasy, parallax feeling. It’s as ambiguous as situationships are: they don’t seem to ever begin, but certainly come to an end. This is how the feed feels to me, and how, I venture, I feel to the feed. Using my inner voice, I wonder:
Using my outer voice, I reply, “This is one of the Laws of Lorecore.”
“Lorecore” is the theme for my season as Curator-in-Residence at Zora Zine. Lorecore is the name I’m giving to this prevalent stage of reality in which we’re all characters. Characters who are also audiences. Audiences who are also potentially Siberian spam bots. In 1921, Luigi Pirandello wrote a play called Six Characters in Search of an Author. It was an early example of metafiction, where the story is acutely aware it’s a story, and keeps reminding you of the mechanics of storytelling. In the 2020s, I’d rename Pirandello’s play thus:
Now, clearly Lore-core is another portmanteau. Two words spliced together like an ancient mythical creature. Let’s take the first: “lore.” Lore refers to our ubiquitous, obsessive reliance on narrative, meta-narrative, and myth. Do you Story? Do you BeReal? Do you manifest on TikTok? You suffer from—or enjoy—“Main Character Syndrome” (MCS). Everything is about you. Revolves around you. Your innermost thoughts, your outermost actions, all of which must be documented, time-stamped, and uploaded for archival reasons. In the olde days, we would call this solipsism: that strange sense that you are the only thing that truly exists. Everything else, a deceptive holographic irritation. MCS is as if a solipsist could conjure a real-feeling world simply by manifesting it through their media channels. During MCS, it’s your stage, your film set, and everyone else is the crew. The literary genre that best reflects MCS is “autofiction.” It mainstreamed in the 2010s. Autofiction is metafiction of the self. Living life as though you’re acting life and describing it to yourself while acting—but, narrating it out loud, to make sure everyone can hear. Autofiction casts the “I” in an unending performance. Why? For the lore of it. You see, it’s not just dragon-infused fantasy TV that peddles myths these days. Your social media feeds are a factory of myth-making. Lore is the new myth you make about yourself. You live inside these myths mythically. I’d like to suggest that lore is to the self what Sigmund Freud’s death drive was to life: it’s the horizon that makes the here a thing that feels like it’s actually happening to you.
For the second half of Lore-core’s etymology, let me invoke Olive Pometsey’s article in The Face, “Namecore is the trend that unifies all trends.” Once upon a time in the 20th century, art movements used to last decades.
Against this punishing “Proceleration” (the acceleration of acceleration) is the desire to label every micro-sub-cultural moment on the internet. Everything is a “—core.” If it isn’t a —core, did it even happen? Cores are like screenshots as trends. And once the —core is indexed and archived, you move on. A decade ago, the trend forecasters K-Hole infamously birthed “Normcore,” only to witness it go virally stratospheric and make hundreds of millions of dollars for brands without K-Hole making a single (known) dime from any of it. K-Hole’s story with Normcore is their own Lorecore—albeit not one they set out entirely to achieve. Sometimes the —core is way bigger than its author. Of such myths are unicorns made.
At the start of The Coronacene, Ribbonfarm blogger Venkatesh Rao posted a piece called “Plot Economics.” He introduced the notion of “global narrative collapse,” and wrote:
"Right now, the perception of agency at all levels is falling. Individuals, corporations, governments, heads of state, stock traders, the UN, everybody feels they’re losing the plot, but they don’t see anybody else finding it."
Global narrative collapse was a vertiginous feeling—especially in the middle-class West—brought on by normalcy caving in like a sinkhole. Planes were grounded. Hard national borders went up. Places of work closed down, indefinitely. And French kissing was considered an act of homicide. I’d watch a channel on my TV box that collated every known COVID-19 infection statistic worldwide, turning the plague into a numeric competition: an Olympics for death. My marriage collapsed, I missed the horizon of the future (would it ever come back?) and next week became as unknowable as next year.
It’s been three years since the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in Wuhan, China, and new cases of COVID-19 were found there on this anniversary. In fact, the people of Wuhan went on an uncharacteristic protest through their city, exhausted and angered by the relentless “Zero COVID” policy that continued to keep their country isolated from the rest of the world, and even, from themselves. Foxconn factory workers—who produce the majority of the world’s iPhones—clashed with authorities in Zhengzhou.
Elsewhere, while COVID-19 may have abated from peak hellish weirdness, the narratives that collapsed then have not been put back together again. “Permacrisis” is the Collins Dictionary word of the year in 2022: just as one crisis erupts (drought, stampede, plague) there’s another one vying for attention. The thing is, every crisis is a collapsed narrative: weakened supply chains, irreversible climate change, the return of nuclear war, canceled futures. One of the greatest narratives to have collapsed is the West’s immunity from the horrors that have plagued much of the rest of the world. Sweltering heat waves, energy shortages, monetary failures. It’s what I call “The Third Worlding of the First World.” Everyone feels it. Just read the news headlines. What’s niche culture’s response to all of this? Deploy another micro-trend “—core.” Take that, Permacrisis!
For many of us, there’s PTSD (Present Traumatic Stress Disorder) and then the numbness of one’s impotence in relation to that low-level constant anxiety.
Lorecore is thus entwined with these macro-historic conditions. When we dementedly center ourselves as the Main Character while—or because?—received, collective narratives are collapsing around us, that’s Lorecore. During Lorecore, we overshare our innermost psychological and emotional details to a world that’s already drowning in too much intimacy. Lorecore is what happens when feelings legitimize lies and when markets— especially crypto markets—are maniacally moved by Memelord Technologians. (More on this shortly.) Perhaps Lorecore is just the latest survival mechanism in an open sea of meaning unmoored from itself.
So, if Lorecore were a scripted reality TV show, who are some of the scriptwriters, and who are some of the notable star characters?
On Christmas Day 2021, anyone subscribed to self-described “Web3 idiot” Cobie’s new Substack received his latest drop. Up till this point, Cobie was mostly known on Crypto Twitter as an anon shitposter. But this piece, “Trading the Metagame,” was the first of several philosophically deft essays which transformed his own lore. In this piece, Cobie outlined the dizzying deluge of narratives that populated 2021’s bull market: NFT boom, shitcoins, memecoins, alt L1s, Art Blocks, very old NFTs, L2s, DeFi 2.0, OHM Forks, etc. The Metagame was knowing when a narrative was peaking, and when to jump to the next nascent narrative:
"Participating in crypto markets during the thrill stages of a bull-run is isomorphically more similar to playing a modern video game than it is to investing. Most competitive modern video games have an ever-evolving metagame. The metagame can be described as a subset of the game’s basic strategy and rules which is required to play the game at a high level."
Cobie has also said elsewhere that most crypto projects never actually deliver. They keep promising and promising some revolutionary technological salvation that makes them irresistible to VC investors who are professionally bound to risky hype. Actual deliverables often end up being massively disappointing. As Slavoj Žižek once opined:
Two years prior to Cobie’s thesis, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert J. Shiller published Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. Here, Shiller wanted people to understand, as the back-cover blurb puts it, “how stories help propel economic events that have led to war, mass unemployment, and increased inequality.” He could have been commenting on the scam-rich 2010s, a decade profligate with pitch decks that led to Netflix-worthy sensations such as Fyre Festival, WeWork, and Anna Delvey. SoftBank—the Japanese holding company led by Masayoshi Son—produces its own gnomic investor forecast decks that read like a delirious sex dream between generic stock imagery and generic sloganeering. Son, along with the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, has been playing the VC metagame, lured by the lore of charismatic CEOs such as Adam Neumann and Elizabeth Holmes, the latter of whom was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for her part in the Theranos start-up scam.
They leverage the blind hope that swirls around tech and crypto like horny whirling dervishes. As former K-Hole co-founder-turned-trend-analyst-Substacker Sean Monahan wrote in his recent “Post-Cryptomania” piece:
"Most people want to make crypto a story about technology or a story about culture. But reminiscing, I think crypto is a story about power. They say politics is downstream of culture. But you know what is upstream of culture? Power."
Self-diagnosing oneself, based on mental health TikToks, is also a power that (young) people have discovered today. “I think I’m autistic,” confided someone I know in their early 20s. When I asked if this was based on a medical diagnosis, they said no, it was more of a feeling they had, deduced by observing their own behavioral pattern. I get ads in my feed about ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and friends tell me they are ADHD. It’s as if their brains have as many browser tabs open as I do on my laptop. They’re told they live in the Attention Economy, but they struggle to hold attention for very long. Blip. Gone. “It’s OK,” I assure them, “we actually live in the ‘Distraction Economy.’”
Neurodivergence feels like a word that had little mainstream traction until recently. Now, there seems to be the equivalent of a —core for every possible neurodivergence. In their piece “The Buzzfeedification of Mental Health,” writer P.E. Moskowitz wrote, “By insisting that everyone falls into a category—neurotypical vs. atypical, ADHD vs. whatever other diagnosis, ’real’ depression as opposed to intense sadness or grief—we are creating and enforcing structures to understand the world that has been made so incomprehensible to us.” Binaries of normal and pathological are mostly banished, in mental health as much as in sexual identification. For as long as I can remember, any deviation from the norm was considered an aberration, a weakness, a deficiency. But in Lorecore, pathologies are identity-forming powers; they’re divination tools to discover your atypical kin. We find community and definition through the process of (self) diagnosis. As such:
The subtext is: any neurotypical Nepo Baby can make it to the top. That’s vanilla af. But—look at me make it despite my self-diagnosis. That’s legendary. Have we reached Peak Self-diagnosis yet? Maddie Rose, a “disability liberationist,” suggests that perhaps we have. Elsewhere in Moskowitz’s Mental Hellth newsletter, they wrote, “Once a seventh diagnosis was suggested—ADHD—I hit diagnosis burnout [...] So I un-diagnosed myself.” Lore, too, has its limits.
As to Ye’s alleged bipolarity: it seems to play two simultaneous roles in his lore: on the one hand, I know people who stress that what we see when we see Ye spinning out of control is worsening mental health not being medically treated. But I also know people who refuse to define Ye by his pathology, as though to do so would be to denude him of his messianic iconoclasm. Ye’s 2022 finale as a Hitler-loving, anti-semitic, anti-Black, guest on Alex Jones’ InfoWars doubled down on his martyr status. Ye insists he knows exactly what he’s saying: contrition is not in his Lore. Lorecore’s leaders virulently refute victimhood. And yet, so many of them are open about their neurological and emotional struggles. Lorecore loves winners that in previous times may well have been tragically cast as losers.
Every era has its “Magic Individuals.” They’re endowed with special powers of sight or insight, channeling the culture, and often telling the culture truths about itself it doesn’t know or is too afraid to ask. In the past, Magic Individuals have arrived as poets, composers, scientists, novelists, or artists. There was always the next big thing out there waiting to hit us and change the way we understood the world. Magic Individuals pointed them to us. “Look! It’s over there!” Lately, it’s as if tech is already the next big thing. And then the next big thing. Plus the big thing that comes after. Tech is the ultimate modern magic. This makes Technologians the Magic Individuals of Lorecore. They’re figures of extraordinary persuasion, and therefore, of extraordinary power.
Some of them are also shitposters. Neuro-atypical shitposters, to be precise. In his intro as host of Saturday Night Live, back in May 2021, Elon Musk said, “I’m actually making history night as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL. Or at least the first to admit it.” In the BBC documentary The Elon Musk Show, Maye Musk—Elon’s mother—repeats how difficult it is for Elon to fulfill the tasks demanded of a normal human (being present in a romantic relationship, keeping eye contact during a conversation) because of his special powers of atypical genius.
Mat Dryhurst is one of Twitter’s most active and astute commentators about Web3 and AI culture. When I pressed him recently about Musk’s Twitter takeover, Dryhurst told me that the current world is increasingly being run by shitposters: agents of chaos cosplaying as billionaire CEOs. If Cobie were to do an autopsy of 2022’s metagame narratives, they’d mostly be a litany of brazen crypto collapses. Shitposter Do Kwan and Terra Luna. Socratic Su Zhu and Three Arrows Capital. But none of these breathtaking dumps compare to the death spiral decline of Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) and centralized exchange FTX. Lurid details are still spewing forth at the time of writing this (many of which also involve Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison: see Autism Capital’s real-time Twitter-shitposting-journalism for every new morsel). The Russo brothers are slated to dramatize the entire FTX saga for Amazon: ready-made Lorecore. SBF’s amphetamine-fuelled malfeasance hits at the heart of Good Crypto Lore, as he had styled himself as the senator whisperer, urging the American government to take crypto as seriously as he, apparently, did. FTX’s contagion is not only financial; it’s philosophical.
Lorecore builds Technologians up to Forbes front cover status at lightning speed. But Lorecore can also undo that glory at an even faster pace. That’s because one of the Laws of Lorecore is that it’s held together by precarity, not certainty.
The fallout of Musk’s Twitter is also unfolding at extreme chaos speed. By the time you’re reading this, there’s either no Twitter subscribers left, or, there’s a billion, and they’re all paying a nominal monthly fee to say they are who they’re not. Musk’s personal brand of Asperger’s-shitposter has quickly expanded to become the entire Twitter brand. Soon, there may be more parody accounts than bot accounts, and after that, bot parody accounts, until we’re flailing around in a seething swamp of deepfake inauthenticity. Or—this is all a carefully engineered illusion of chaos that will jolt Twitter out of its forever niche plateau and 16 years of unprofitability. Either way, there’s something about this livestream omnishambles that suggests the lore of Web2 media giants is finally fragile and fallible. We don’t know what exactly comes next. The fediverse (Hito Steyerl)? Community as media (New Models)? Another Law of Lorecore is that the dumbest plot line with maximum incredulity is what’s going to happen next. The only intelligent people left on earth will be highly paid prompt engineers, who know exactly how to phrase a string of words so that the AI spits out the perfect picture of a dolphin riding Timothee Chalamet against a wistful moonset on Mars. To borrow one of Musk’s threat terms used towards his soon-to-be-fired-Twitter employees:
Just as 2022 was nearing its end, The Oxford Dictionary let the public vote for its word of the year. They overwhelmingly chose “Goblin Mode.” Although the term goes back to 2009, it wasn’t until February 2022—when Twitter user @meowmeowmeuw tweeted a photoshopped headline about Julia Fox and Kanye West (now, Ye), suggesting that Fox said West didn’t like it when she went “goblin mode”—that the term virally exploded. Permacrisis gives way to Goblin Mode: forsaking how you look for sullied sweatpants, raw dogging salami straight from the packet, because Inside is the Real Outside anyway. Goblin Mode may as well be a —core, as it denotes a very online micro-trend. And what is the cumulative result of all these incessant —cores piling up, like junk debris, on the inside of our collective consciousness? It’s going to be Corecore: a Chris Nolan-directed recursion of —cores death spiraling into itself. Corecore is the terminus horizon when all the —cores have been exhausted. Blip. Gone.
Which is why, elsewhere, I’ve written about “The Dawn of Endcore,” a name I’m giving to this era after the end of eras. After the end of the end of History. Endcore is the feeling we’re in the endgame now: the endgame of climate grief, of technocapitalism, of consensus-based empirical truth, of decency, even. Endcore is the sense of an ending that many people on Earth currently feel, but also the sense that the end never actually arrives. We are Permaending. Cue more Lorecore.
When I’m in the feed—doomscrolling for one more tiny dopamine hit from one more increasingly niche meme—the feed itself doesn’t end, but it delivers content that envelops me in Endcore. Did you know there are microplastics in Antarctica’s snow now? This new fact won’t leave my head. It piles on top of every other fact, rumor, opinion, or disinformation I hoard. Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “The future is but the obsolete in reverse.” Of course, extinction is a natural cycle of continuity, when seen across the earth’s billions of years of past. But this time, we—augmented human protagonists—are less blameless than an asteroid or a sun flare. Lorecore is our desperate, deep yelp—like the one extracted from an Ancient Egyptian mummy 1000s of years old—against Endcore.
If Joan Didion once famously said, “We tell each other stories in order to live,” during Lorecore:
This essay is the first installment of a three-part curatorial residency from Shumon Basar.