What makes us what we are in the end is the ability to sit for hours and hours on end in front of a monitor screen. In this we have much in common with gamers, porn addicts, tv-aholics,
We might, as individuals, fail in real life but on the innernet we know how to BE FERREAL, which has about as much in common with reality as your fave reality tv show. We become versions of ourselves. I don’t care if you are being as honest as you can on yr posts there is always some made up shit in there. You are always posing in yr self portraits, they become an endless variation on a theme that u post over and over and over.
Why? What is it that is so addicting? What makes you spend hours browsing thru videos on youtube, riding swells of popular links with the rest of the online hordes, and then breaking off to sites unseen…places u stumble upon by following link upon link off of technorati…what makes u spend all yr time writing and chatting and emailing…is this a new era of typing?
It’s like a performance without the stage. I think that’s what I like so much about it. Of course, I took it to the next level, but hey, that’s my stylo. Andy Warhol is one of my predecessors, and he championed the notion of BIGNESS. Why make something eight and a half by eleven when you can make it 12 feet tall? Why paint one soup can when you can paint the entire stacked up display? Why post on your blog as one made-up character when you can post as three?
If I could overcome sleep, I’d post as an entire neighborhood of people…I’d paper my walls with butcher paper and draw out the lines, the interconnections…the high ways and by ways of their communications…as well as the sideways glances, the unintended meanings in jokes that bomb at social functions…the unexpected hard-ons, the fantasies that slip, uninvited, into their heads… I’d have all of that down, in notebooks and on spread sheets and visio flowcharts…taking digi pix of the butcher paper and creating appendices of psychological motivations.
I'd have that shit wrapped up TIGHT.
The Novel, 2.0
Will MySpace and e-mail produce great fiction?
By Walter Kirn and Gary Shteyngart
Updated Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, at 12:26 PM ET
Click here to read more from Slate's Fall Fiction Week.
From: Walter Kirn
To: Gary Shteyngart
Subject: The Odyssey in 2006Posted Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006, at 6:57 PM ET
For this year's Fall Fiction Week, Slate has invited novelists Walter Kirn and Gary Shteyngart to discuss a question that's been on our minds: What is the role of fiction in the age of the Internet? By "Internet" we mean not just the web itself but also the notion of constant connectivity. Today, in this age of the virtual network, the concept of being "out of reach" has begun to seem quaint, and our experience of the world has become more fluid—with, perhaps, less room for solitude and concentration. So, we've asked our critics to address the following questions: Does the new age of connectivity have any ramifications for the novel? Has human experience been altered? Have the conventions of storytelling begun to change—and if not, should they?
Walter Kirn is the author, most recently, of The Unbinding, a serial novel published online in Slate that tried to make use of the inherent properties of the medium. Gary Shteyngart is the author, most recently, of Absurdistan, a comically surreal journey through a post-national world of fluid identities and disorienting cultural collisions. He is currently at work on a novel set in a future where language ceases to matter, except to an elite group of people.
In the age of networked everything, life moves sideways and covers lots of ground—covers it while barely touching the earth. The events of the other morning spanned several continents, brought me into contact with dozens of people, touched on themes that ranged from sex to war, and nearly cost me my identity. It was an odyssey through time and space, and it should be the stuff of a novel, but I can't write it yet. I wouldn't know how to set the scenes because they have no scenery. I wouldn't know how to describe the characters because most of them never fully showed themselves (and the features they did reveal were posed and unreliable). Worse, when I go back over the morning's dramas, I realize that most of them occurred offstage, which leads me to question whether I, or anyone, is the protagonist of his own story.
I need to be specific.
A few minutes after I woke up, I sent a text message to a girl I love who lives most of the time in Colorado (I'm in Montana, 600 miles away, and we've romanced each other, I've come to realize, primarily in the ether, over the wires), and while I was awaiting her reply, I read and answered several e-mails (most of them from New York publishing types whom I've never met in person), called up my mother's machine in Minnesota (which informed me she was in Boston), listened on my XM satellite radio to a live report from Baghdad (where I think a friend of mine is fighting but won't know for certain until he gets in touch with me, assuming that he's still alive), refreshed my computer screen, read something that scared me, dialed a toll-free phone number (in India?) to report a PayPal phishing scam (originating in Brazil, I learned), and then drove to a coffee shop in town, where I had to wait to get a muffin while the counter girl chatted on her cell phone. Afterward, I headed to the gym, ran on the treadmill, watched more news from Baghdad, and wondered why my girlfriend still hadn't called me. An hour later, writing this to you (someone I've never passed a living word with but whose last novel I reviewed—positively—in the New York Times), I still have no idea where I stand with her. She's out there somewhere, to be sure (and I'm out here somewhere, too, I have a sense), but there's been no connection for several days. The reason for this may be that when I saw her last she snooped in my Motorola and read a message from a woman in Portland I hardly knew but who, because of the tenor of her text "voice" and the late hour that she wrote me—2 a.m.—came off as an intimate. (Damn.)
My point being this: I'm thrown by this new world, both as a novelist and as a person. These two confusions are one confusion. They come down to the fact that I still think (and can't help but read and write) in linear terms, but I find myself living in infinity loops. Too much happens each day, it happens all at once, and yet, in some ways, nothing happens at all. A day that's spent processing electronic signals like a sort of lonely arctic radar station (my day, your day, a lot of ours) is hard to dramatize.
I read somewhere once that in the 1960s fiction writers were troubled by the notion that life was becoming stranger and more sensational than made-up stories could ever hope to be. Our new problem—more profound, I think—is that life no longer resembles a story. Events intersect but don't progress. People interact but don't make contact. Settings shift but don't necessarily change.
Can written narratives represent this world? Can they convey what it feels like to inhabit it? The movies, of course, have given up trying. The best they can do in order to travel the hidden channels through which fate conducts itself these days is cut back and forth between shots of people on phones or show someone typing on a keyboard and then display what's appearing on the monitor. Novelists, with their access to the invisible, ought to be positioned to do better. How, though? I have a suspicion—that's all it is now—that the answer lies in the form's origins. I'm thinking of epistolary novels such as Richardson's Clarissa. That was the revolutionary mode once, when novels broke out of being mere prose "romances" and started to grapple with subjectivity. It's also when they discovered the modern fact that we communicate in stylized bursts and through specific technologies. That's truer than ever now. E-mails, phone calls, Web sites, videos. They're still all letters, basically, and they've come to outnumber old-fashioned conversations. They are the conversation now.
Of course, one way to cope with Net America is to strip it clean of clutter in the way that Cormac McCarthy has done in his new post-apocalyptic novel, The Road: destroying all antennas, fiber-optic cables, Wi-Fi routers, and LCD screens and denuding the land of everything but dusty paths across the desert trod by laconic barefoot Nietzscheans seeking some phantom last gallon of potable water. The trouble is, this can only be done once.
From: Gary Shteyngart
To: Walter Kirn
Subject: Welcome to the Age of the MySpace NovelPosted Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006, at 12:26 PM ET
I'm praying for you and your special lady. Two of my best friends ended their relationships after discovering incriminating text and e-mail messages. It turned out that one friend's mate was getting it on with his yoga teacher (OMG! as the young people say). Another's life partner was doing it with someone in publishing (natch). What one learns from this is that a great deal of breakups are happening electronically. But then so are a lot of romances, yours included. And a great deal of friendships. And probably the vast majority of orgasms in the lower 48 states.
We are approaching a time when the Internet and ancillary services will assume the totality of human communications in the developed world. Even such time-honored practices as getting a love interest trashed at a bar and then coaxing him or her across the parking lot to a warm Volvo have been replaced by a barrage of keystrokes, misspelled two-sentence entreaties, and, by the end of the night, a parade of bent, swollen thumbs. Our imaginations are not immune, either. I've had vivid dreams that consist solely of the words, "We are sorry there has been a temporary error accessing your Yahoo account," floating in black, lifeless space before me. I shouldn't even use the personal pronoun "me," because in those dreams I am not a corporeal creature. There is nothing Gary-like about me. There is only the Yahoo! commandment, apologetic yet all-powerful, and the strange background feeling that even my dream-life has somehow been wasted.
In this fragmented, distracted, levitating new world, no wonder you and I are unsure of our place as writers of fiction. According to a recent poll, 81 percent of Americans think they have a book in them. (Of course, few of these citizens actually feel compelled to read someone else's novel.) And if you put together the daydreams, misrepresentations, regrets, jeremiads, nostalgic reminisces, and so on that an average educated American now types into her computer's Outlook program during the course of a year, you will most certainly get a 250-page volume. And that volume just might be deemed publishable. So many works of fiction I read these days are composed of bits and pieces, of various forays into this and that, of cleverly crafted narratives that function not as descriptive set pieces but as collectors and accumulators of information and desire, potent combinations of Madame Bovary and Wikipedia.
One of the first novels I read that clued me in to the world to come was Bruce Wagner's brilliant I'm Losing You. The year was 1997 and I did not even have an e-mail account. But the parts of Wagner's novel that most intrigued me were the hilariously shallow e-mail exchanges among a bunch of marauding, oversexed Hollywood types. The rest of the book was likewise a mesmerizing torrent of data on everything from overpriced wristwatches to animal exterminators to painfully comic riffs on psychiatry and syphilis, and everything in between. I remember thinking then: Is this how we live now? A half-decade later, that's exactly how we are living.
Wagner's works remain consistently prescient and thoughtfully written. The questions may well be: Who has the patience and inclination to read these (often lengthy) works, when so many Americans are already involved in their own electronic, Wikipedian journeys? And in a society driven by selfishness and the need to stand out on the false bright stage of reality television or on the pulsating Nintendo or MySpace screen, who has the empathy to travel into another person's mind? Who wants to engage in another's misery without the cloying redemption of a talk-show host's conclusive two-minute "It's all gonna get better, child"? Who wants to learn about some distant society's pain when there's no possibility of moving the cursor onto the dancing penguin in the corner and clicking onto a brighter, newer, safer reality? Perhaps the many enthusiastic readers of the new Cormac McCarthy book you mentioned—The Road—found themselves oddly pleased that our entire world gets swept away in his apocalyptic vision, Yahoo failure messages, double-crossing yoga instructors, syphilitic reality shows, and all.
So where do we go from here? I'm not "Rapture-ready," as the kids in Texas say. I want to live, and I want our art form to continue. If this whole thing doesn't close up in the next 15 years as Phillip Roth and others have predicted, what innovations, adaptations, last-minute stabs at relevancy do you think are in store for the American novelist? You've written an entire novel on the Web, so you're in a different league entirely. If you can't make me feel better about things, no one can. And if you do, I'll buy you a drink. And text you afterward.
GaryRelated in Slate
Click here to read Walter Kirn's online novel, The Unbinding. In 2003, Gary Shteyngart sent a series of dispatches from wintertime Montreal; and, in 1996, Walter Kirn kept a weeklong diary for Slate. Click here to read more from Slate's Fall Book Blitz.
Walter Kirn's most recent novels are The Unbinding, Mission to America and Up in the Air. He lives in Montana and can be reached at email@example.com.
Gary Shteyngart is the author of the novels Absurdistan and The Russian Debutante's Handbook. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Travel & Leisure, Granta, and many other publications.
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