1. MORE PROOF… BUT OF WHAT?
I stumbled across this virtual review of Joshua Ferris’s new collection of stories, The Dinner Party, and couldn’t get past the first third of the review; I got stuck on the following part, which I kept re-reading with that growing (and comfortingly familiar) sense that I must be losing my mind. I kept having to re-read:
“Ferris’s new collection of short stories, The Dinner Party, continues to showcase this facility, in both the successes and failures of individual pieces. The best story in the book, “The Pilot,” offers a glimpse into the psyche of a young screenwriter, Leonard, who has been invited to a Hollywood party. There, he might pitch his new pilot to industry big-wigs, among them the hostess, with whom he has worked before, and who he is unsure meant to invite him in the first place. The story proceeds on the basis of Leonard’s tortured pre-party rationalizations, which may sound like thin gruel as described, but steadily builds a convincing, and excruciating, portrait of indecision:
He was debating inviting his roommate. On the one hand, he’d have someone to go with. On the other hand, his roommate was a musician, and he trembled before the mystical competition of a musician’s night life. What if he invited him and he said no? His roommate had something going on nearly every night, always more vibrant and exclusive-sounding than the pale thing he had going on, and so he felt it better to withhold the invitation than risk suffering the indignity of rejection, even if that rejection was due to a simple conflict of interest, like preexisting plans, for example. It was hard not to take even conflicts of interest personally. Because what if, for instance, his roommate secretly delighted in having a legitimate conflict of interest because of how little he cared to entertain Leonard’s lesser invitation, even when tonight that “lesser” invitation was to a party at Kate Lotvelt’s? If, that is, that invitation still stood.
Two things here — first, this a very funny piece of writing, and Joshua Ferris is a very funny writer. There is a great deal of comic mileage to be had from pursuing this kind of rhetorical strategy to its far limits. It is a satirical comic style that strikes me as essentially British in character — Waugh and Amis (both, but mainly Kingsley), and even Anthony Powell, were masters of setting up linguistic frameworks in which their characters’ foibles could be batteringly exposed, a comic mode perhaps traceable, like most things, back to Shakespeare, with his dissolutely preening Falstaff.”
The cited passage is not even a little bit funny, is it? Not remotely.
(I know: you’re still wiping your eyes, aren’t you? Stomach hurts from it, right? Funniest paragraph you’ve read all year. It’s me, of course: my problem. I’m the one. The nut with no taste or sense of humor… )
The thing about the Internet: it’s a New Thing. Like every New Thing before it (indoor plumbing, air travel, monogamy), we took it for granted almost immediately, a sure sign that it had changed how we live. Try to imagine how quiet, slow, interior, free-floating, unconnected, image-poor, factoid-lite, comment-free and dark at night… how primitive… Life was in 1990. The Internet is a New Thing that is still so new (while also ubiquitous and nearly invisible in its ho-hum ubiquity) that it’s spawning smaller New Things every minute. Sinister Right Wing Think Tanks must be having days and days of tingling shanks just collecting ripe, easily-harvested psychological meta-data on the many mass aberrancies The Internet spawns in its human host every week.
It was maybe 5 years ago that I discovered a strange cult on YouTube: people who enjoyed making and/or watching “Unboxing” videos (Capitalism elevated, or reduced, to the tragic poetry of the fleeting sensations of ritualized, small-scale acquisition). I thought that was quite something back then and pictured Mr. Marx scratching his chin over it. But Unboxing videos can’t come close to comparing to this (a genre with hundreds of thousands of devotees) for sheer… uh… for sheer… :
3. BACK WHEN HAVING NOTHING TO SAY CAME WITH NO OBLIGATION TO SAY IT…
I have an old virtual friend, an intellectual, a teacher, the survivor of what looked like a very weird marriage (and what’s probably shaping up to be a nasty divorce) and the writer of one of the richest/wittiest novels I’ve ever read. The same year I read this friend’s novel, I read a new one by Will Self and a new one by Martin Amis and I found neither of those big-name books to be un-shitty. But my friend’s book (except one iffy, self-indulgent passage… I told him this) was so good that I actually wished I’d written chunks of it and was thrilled to read and re-read it.
This friend is on Twitter now; like others who have Passed Over to the Other Side of the TL;DR divide, he no longer really blogs or answers his email. Does he even anymore own a large, fixed screen that isn’t a Television or worry about shaping paragraphs? To keep up with his Life these days I snoop his Twitter; not having a Twitter account makes snooping his Twitter harder than it should be, I’m sure, but every time I check in (here comes the issue of my sanity, again), it appears that he’s writing gibberish. I can’t make much sense of it! It’s all inside jokes in Twitterese. I gather that some of these unpunctuated sentences are parts of Twitter conversations but it looks like he’s talking to himself. And he keeps doing it, he keeps Tweeting; his production of these fragmented, undeveloped, vertically-scattered thoughts is tireless.
He’s forced to do it. He does things now in order to Tweet about doing them. He Tweets about Tweeting: a Tweet about a Tweet is called an Emoticon. He sometimes re-posts the Tweets of others and it’s often difficult to tell if he does so approvingly or ironically, adding to the confusion of trying to decipher the up-scrolling stream of his text-based stream of performed consciousness. He reacts to Tweets I can’t see and posts pictures I can’t decipher and I can’t tell if he’s angry, bemused or resigned to performing a service he can’t recall signing up for. My ex-Novelist friend has joined a weird new Work Force… 100% Employment… no days off, no quitting times, no lunch breaks or vacations… production figures are up and rising. Like the Santa’s Elves of throwaway remarkage, tirelessly crafting and stockpiling infinite product for a Christmas that will long outlive us… (smiley)…