May 6, 2022

The Mathematical Catastrophe of (Analog <-> Digital) Love


“Love’s curious arithmetic.”
Michel Serres, The Parasite

“It is not true that the more you love, the better you understand; all that the action of love obtains from me is merely this wisdom: that the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but, instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with. I am then seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever: a mystic impulse: I know what I do not know.”
Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse

“You’re even prettier in person.”
Pam & Tommy (2022)

Pam & Tommy (2022)

For an instant, the screen takes up nearly the entire frame. For an instant, the screen takes up nearly the entire frame. For an instant – Oh, fuck. – the screen nearly overflows the frame. For an instant.


Every messenger is ambiguous — noise and signal making and breaking the channel — and the risk of receipt (Rilke’s Every angel is terrible...) is also the risk of all reading. In reading as in loving: zero guarantees. As modes of transmission change, as access to chaotic clumps of information is granted and as we meet with our own images again and again, a mathematical catastrophe ensues. There is so much. Love’s curious arithmetic is always catastrophic, filled with strange messengers and ambiguous geometries. Under digital conditions, the math changes. Alters the structure of relations. A spectrum of numbers and hues get translated to zeros and ones → many becoming 2.


At the end of the world, there are no more secrets. At the end of the world, technology changes. Angels cease their bureaucratic functioning and continue singing glory. At the end of the world, all envelopes open. Apocalypse means uncover, unveil. And revelation: disclosure of information or knowledge to man by a divine or supernatural agency.


    Analog describes a continuous stream ---->

    “Love is continuous, it’s a stream, it doesn’t stop,”       insists Sarah Lawson in Cassavetes’s Love Streams,


    a video’s magnetic tape

- - - -

    Digital breaks up analog information into smaller pieces

    – 0101010 –

    resulting in quicker transmission.

Pam & Tommy, the partly-fictionalized Hulu miniseries based on the unauthorized release of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s infamous honeymoon sex and love tape, is not a show about consent, sex, or fame. It’s a show about the end of the (analog) world and the beginning of another (increasingly digital) one. Analog and digital are not opposites, nor do they exist in separate arenas.

Like the celestial and earthly cities that Saint Augustine outlines in his gigantic 5th century text City of God, analog and digital modes exist alongside one another: translating, transmitting, and overcoding. Augustine tells of the difference between angelic and demonic knowledge, which seems to come down to the question of how a channel holds information – (channel = computer, human, spiritual creature, air…) – writing: “The good angels hold cheap all the knowledge of material and temporal matters, which inflates the demons with pride.” The good angels which are more plentiful than humans in the godly/worshipful city – hold cheap that which they transmit and instead of clinging to it, deliver it straightaway. The demons are demons because of their knowledge, says Augustine. They get inflamed with what they carry. The angels cling to God and the demons cling to information. Eugene Thacker, in “Devil’s Switchboard,” claims that demonology is also the study of “noise’s assault on signal.” And as Michel Serres tells us in The Parasite, signal and noise are structurally hooked-up. When our messaging systems get overfull, we and what we transmit disappear by saturation, too much.

14th cen. Manuscript


Near the end of “The Dedication” entry in A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes tells us that the visitor in Pasolini’s Teorema is definitely an angel, as he does not speak but rather “inscribes something within each of those who desire him – he performs what the mathematicians call a catastrophe (the disturbance of one system by another): it is true that this mute figure is an angel.” The silence of the angel engraves, leaves a mark. The silence is what happens. An encounter, a puncture, rippled beginnings of texture. Barthes’s “We are our own demons” entry begins with the assertion that the lover is sometimes possessed by a demon of language. The lover is inhabited – an inflamed vessel who babbles hyperspeak. Love and writing are processes of possession and exorcism – stretching bodies to catastrophic limits (the projectile vomit and spinning head in The Exorcist; the catatonia caused by the angel in Teorema). Babble, convulsion, expulsion, inflammation. One system disturbs another. Love> – > l … o ///*& v← )))) e.

Angels reading. Source: The Morgan Library.

Pam and Tommy searching for their sex tape on the internet at the Malibu Library.


Pam and Tommy walk into a library and dial-up to the internet. Slowly, carefully, they type out a web address. Press enter. For an instant, the keyboard overflows the frame. Next, the computer screen. There, the mid-90s transition from analog to digital, video to web, flu to plague, unfolds before their horrified eyes. They see themselves. Their (intimate, sweet, stolen) sex tape is there – somehow – in front of them as the screen gleams their dark glasses. At a thresholded region between analog and digital registers. The breath changes. A stolen piece of data broken into bits and reconstituted as something that moves quicker. The breath changes.

In the “Dark Glasses” entry in A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes writes that weeping (“to weep is part of the normal activity of the amorous body”) swells the eyes and so the lover wears dark glasses “to darken the sight in order not to be seen.” Also: dark glasses are meant to preserve dignity, to dim the too-lit world. The dark glasses impel questions: what’s the matter? What’s going on? What are you hiding? Who/what are you hiding from? The dark glasses reinstitute opacity – shield the lover(s) from themselves. At this moment, Pam and Tommy are no longer two lovers falling frantically in love – they are two people on one side of a screen looking through dark glasses at their own images.


One can mistake revenge or punishment for justice. The first episode of the 8-part series opens with Rand, a broke carpenter whom Tommy Lee treats terribly and refuses to pay. (Eileen Jones wrote this interesting piece on the show’s class consciousness). Rand steals Tommy Lee’s safe, hoping to get the 20k he’s owed. When he finds the sex tape amongst the items, he believes himself to be performing a dutiful act of karmic justice by selling it: “The righteous, they get rewarded. The wicked, they get punished,” he says. Rand thinks of himself as an amateur theologian, his tone resembling self-appointed moral arbiters of social media. But justice is more than reward and punishment. It is also about complicating a situation with thorough reading and admitting we cannot know. Like love, it is without guarantees and according to Simone Weil, justice is about reading differently:

“Justice. To be ever ready to admit that another person is something quite different from what we read when he is there (or when we think about him). Or rather, to read in him that he is certainly something different, perhaps something completely different from what we read in him. Every being cries out silently to be read differently.”


That a person is never an easy read. That a text is not what it seems. That justice involves close reading and careful attention to what overflows calculation. Jean Baudrillard and Byung-Chul Han have argued that digital communications proliferate societal obsessions with positivity, pornography, transparency, and painlessness. In The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard writes:

Nothing (not even God) now disappears by coming to an end, by dying. Instead, things disappear through proliferation or contamination, by becoming saturated or transparent, because of extenuation or extermination, or as a result of the epidemic of simulation, as a result of their transfer into the secondary existence of simulation. Rather than a mortal mode of disappearance, then, a fractal mode of dispersal.

In Pam & Tommy, love, intimacy, and secrets buckle under torpedoes of web-based transmission – images of selves sent back to selves ad nauseam – everywhere they/we look, there they/we are. With this hall of mirrors – Oh, fuck. – comes a freaky deletion as the tape’s repetition unspools their togetherness. As the series rolls on, the couple goes from talking about many things to talking about one thing. The viral video won’t go away.

Pam and Tommy search for their sex tape at the library.

The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, 1536-41.

In The Marvelous Clouds, media theorist John Durham Peters writes: “Google revives the ancient dream and nightmare of a ‘book of life’ in which every human deed is recorded for the Day of Judgment and thus stands in a long line of sacral and bureaucratic bookkeeping.” Enter → …///// oh. … // fuck. If love, as Roland Barthes tells us, involves not more understanding but a lingering around the other’s infinite opacity – which is not “the screen around a secret” but another kind of ground – a zone in which exaltation is delivered to the atmosphere as what’s unknown. If love is mystical. If love wears dark glasses. Pam & Tommy shows what happens when a secret gets revealed over and over again in plays of repetitive dispersal. If love means (re)locating textural and textual uncertainty – impenetrable velvet of love’s unknowable transmissions. If love. Then what..////…^^^ now?

Pam and Tommy wait for their sex tape to load at the Malibu Library.


The video was a flu but its internet circulation is a plague, says their lawyer. From analog copying to digital dispersal. Love plagued by plague. The point is not whether we like the show or not, whether we are offended by it or not, whether there is a lesson or not.

If the network holds love. If the network alters the transmission. If the form changes. If what was continuous gets broken up then made continuous again, repeat. If the angel should switch, cease holding knowledge cheap. If the air should morph a particle. If the future should be perfume. If memory is prophecy. If the ecstasy of constant communication should seem unmediated, thresholdless.


Like love, transmission contains within it multiple modes, hues, moods. Not love or violence, consent or unfreedom, but the moods and perfumes that the words and the — can hold as they get altered. Love’s risky spectrum gets echoed in Georges Bataille’s famous statement A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism. Tenderness and brutality, care and cannibalism, analog and digital form complicated and contradictory geometries.

Angels and demons, like reading and misreading, signal and noise, are not opposites but ever-linked. In Transmitting Culture, Regis Debray writes: “A disconcerting reversibility of order into disorder. To synthesize, the devil is not necessarily God’s other; he can be God exercising his power. The noise is in the message itself.”

There is also the terror of too-swift transmission. Messages appearing one after the other in a glitchless zone. There is pain at the threshold and pain of not being able to feel the threshold. There is the demon of noise, a release from smooth communication into a thicker texture. What becomes of love under viral conditions? Baudrillard asks: “Is there still a form of the Other as destiny, and not merely as a psychological or social partner of convenience?” Destiny – often inconvenient, marks that which has befallen us.


How to read Pam & Tommy (and whatever…) beyond praise or scold, X or Y? Many people have boycotted and/or scolded the show because the creators didn’t get the explicit consent of Pamela Anderson, arguing that the show repeats the original harm of the stolen tape. (For one of many examples, see:Exploiting the Exploited: The Problem with Pam & Tommy.”)

Consent: agree, assent, accord, feeling together, giving permission. In her reading of the film Amour Fou in Life-Destroying Diagrams, film theorist Eugenie Brinkema writes:

“Any reading that would fixate on consent as the opposite of unfreedom misses the more radical stance that the opposite of consent is an opposite consent. The opposite of love is neither violence nor hatred, neither cruelty nor indifference, neither force nor violation.”

Likewise, readings of Pam & Tommy that focus on “consent as the opposite of unfreedom” fail to register the status of Pam/Pam as a more complicated person and character. Brinkema continues:

“The secret of love is neither kept to oneself nor shared between several–the secret is that the opposite of love is an opposite love, already contained within its bouquet of values–it extends in every direction at once, even toward the indecency of violation, even toward the realm of what would certainly wreck it from within.”

Are we to base what/how we read on what appears to have caused the least amount of harm? How do we define harm? Indeed, can anything promise to not cause harm? Is there also a harm of willfully rejecting the sight of evil, of offing the negative? Of not reading? Positivity, sedation, unveiling – a harm that masquerades as un-harm, safety, I read it so you didn’t have to. To attempt to abolish all potential harm/pain is also to expunge possibilities for reading love’s thrilling and scary “bouquet of values.”

Every angel is terrible.

A kiss is the beginning of cannibalism.

& & &

With the ambient violence of the viral comes a fear of contagion – as though reading or spending time with a particular idea, text, person, TV show, or politics might infect. But love and reading must remain open to contagion and unknowing. The logic of purity which separates and severs, where X is marked good/watchable and Y is scorned as bad/unwatchable, is closer to Rand’s misguided and vengeful crusade for justice than Simone Weil’s generous definition of justice as that which demands we read people more complicatedly. 

In The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard writes: “All this talk is of the minimizing of Evil, the prevention of violence: nothing but security. This is the condescending and depressive power of good intentions, a power that can dream of nothing except rectitude in the world, that refuses even to consider a bending of Evil, or an intelligence of Evil.” Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were violated – they had a private tape stolen from their home. Does the show violate again by virtue of the fact that it tells a story that is already in the public domain? Is there a chance that the show – with its fun and sad depictions of these events – chases out some of the evil with evil? Readings of the show that shun it for being misogynist or anti-feminist or re-harming Pamela Anderson not only refuse to read the show beyond the closed circuit of either morally righteous or harmful/violent, but seize the agency that they’re claiming to fight for. Their good intentions are condescending, as they won’t allow Pam/Pam to be anything other than either a victim or an empowered hero. For all its faults, I would argue that the show casts her as a sacred victim/hero...


Pam and Tommy’s marriage fails coextensively with the video’s circulation. Pam is the hero of the show because she doesn’t react as Tommy does. Instead, says: give them what they want. Says, stop. Stops. Stops the velocity of transmission. Stops feeding the machine. Surrenders the secrets that are already exposed. Pam halts the velocity of transmission by becoming-sacrifice. To sacrificeto destroy and to make sacred. In Medium, Messenger, and Transmission, Sybille Kramer describes René Girard’s theory of the sacrifice and violence, noting that Girard talks about the immunizing function of sacrifice as the mediator of a transmission event. The potential for violence is transmitted to the sacrifice – in an absolutely literal sense – and it can then be allayed and overcome in and through the sacrifice. The special status of the sacrificed thus becomes significant; like the neutrality of the messenger, it is caught between competing groups enmeshed in the reciprocal use of force.” The show positions Pam as caught between – between Tommy’s rage and her career – between her lawyer’s advice and her own intuition – on and on – until finally she gives the Internet Entertainment Group the rights to the tape for free. Her sacrifice halts the viral attack, immunizes, stops.


Erotic love is often described in geometrical or mathematical terms.


THE LOVER [hypercharged space in-between, sometimes called EROS] THE BELOVED

At Plato’s Symposium:

Love is connected to death. The tragedy of love. (Phaedrus)

We are halves walking around searching for wholeness.

Eros = pursuit of the whole that we were before we began and so  ½ + ½ = 1. (Aristophanes)

The parents of Eros =  Penia (Poverty) and Poros (Resource). Eros mediates between humans or god. Neither human nor god, Eros is a spirit – excess and lack – connected always to death, passion, and sacrifice. (Socrates with the help of Diotima, a wise woman)


“Love’s curious arithmetic.” – Michel Serres, The Parasite
Love’s curious arithmetic, digitized.


“Eros, however, represents an asymmetrical relationship to the Other. As such, it interrupts the exchange rate. Otherness admits no bookkeeping. It does not appear in the balance of debt and credit.” – Byung-Chul Han, The Agony of Eros

At the end of the world, there are no more secrets. Technology changes. All envelopes open. Pam & Tommy’s problem is our problem. An analog then digital tape’s maddening repetition forecloses the error that allows for encounter – the holy shit of love’s arrow – as networked air secretes secrets, as transmission quickens, apocalypse loops.

Love is mathematical catastrophe, mystical. Pam & Tommy reveals the catastrophic encounter with the Other, the shock of encountering a force that might alter the structure of a life:

Would you do me the insane honor of being my wife?

I would love to f*ck you in space.

What are you, the porn police?

I feel violated.

and the disruptive capacities of a new mode of transmission – secrets unveiled and gone viral – injects a catastrophe into the catastrophe, smoothing and stirring love’s deranged geometry. Saving the world means saving the Other – beholding the whole geometric spectrum of love, reading, messaging – what’s illegible, doesn’t add up, what’s crossed out, halts the drudgery of repetitive virality for the sake of silliness and tragedy. I don’t know. It is kind of supernatural.

I know what I do not know.


Augustine. City of God. New York: Penguin Classics, 2004.

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.

Baudrillard, Jean. The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena. New York: Verso, 2009.

Brinkema, Eugenie. Life-Destroying Diagrams. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022.

Debray, Regis. Transmitting Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Agony of Eros. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.

Kramer, Sybille. Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015.

Peters, John Durham. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Plato. The Symposium. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

Serres, Michel. The Parasite. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Weil, Simone. Gravity and Grace. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2002.

Emmalea Russo is a writer and artist living at the Jersey shore. Her books are G (Futurepoem, 2018) and Wave Archive (Book*hug, 2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and edits Asphalte Magazine.

For more of Emmalea’s work, go to and/or follow her on instagram at @emmalea.russo

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