The texture of experience: On the tech-related difficulties of writing fiction

This is one of the equally heartwarming and frustrating writing experiences in which the topic at hand is as imperative and dear to me, as it is difficult to fully discuss in a single, readable occasion.

Mark Fisher’s essay collection The Ghosts of My Life is essential to understanding why our culture regurgitates itself constantly: Why our futurism is a parody of our parents’, why scattered across our charts are 4-minute hybrids that belong to no age, for they appeal to the aesthetic sense of some past decade, but were crafted with contemporary technology, and are loaded with evidence of that contradiction.

In “Against the Slow Cancellation of the Future”, the aforementioned’s opening, Fisher proposes:

“ In the last ten to fifteen years, meanwhile, the internet and mobile telecommunications technology have altered the texture of everyday experience beyond all recognition. Yet, perhaps because of all this, there’s an increasing sense that culture has lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present. Or it could be that, in one very important sense, there is no present to grasp and articulate any more.”

In the 20th century, two dreams withered: That of great narratives, and that of the liberation from great narratives as the liberation of the human spirit.

The almost fatal weakening of great narratives was succeeded by the start of a process of loss of the physical. The physical is relegated, and most of our emotional narratives take place within a non-physical, abstract space.

I mentioned this the other day, on a text chat with my partner. We were present, we were talking, but without providing evidence of our physicality. If we didn’t know each other, we’d assume the other one had the physical means to interact with their device. But, we can have a conversation, sometimes, even an emotionally heavy conversation, from which the body disappears: No faces, no voices. In a sense, this is why it feels lonelier than the telephone.

The idea of telling stories without physicality seems of impossible praxis. A story devoid of physicality sounds like a bore. Even stories that have taken place fully in “the digital world” deal with it by turning it physical: Characters walk through interfaces and face real, physical danger within them.

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates is one of the most ambitious attempts at developing a narrative in which emotional development often occurs within the internet’s “liquid”, non-physical world.

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates

Doing the necessary homework to discuss these matters half-intelligently, I read the New York Times’ review of Richard Yates, for the first time. I can’t but agree with Charles Bock, regarding the emotional flatness of the novel, the sarcasm and cynicism that stiffen the narrative and serve as a way out, in case the story fails to meet the author’s ambitions.

Feelings, on the internet, tend to be downplayed. Even when some of us spend circa 12 hours on the internet per day (in my case, 8 working, 4 studying), the internet seems like the dumpster for the worst or faux best of us. Hatred on the internet is still seen, sometimes, as unreal and relatively silly to denounce, sadness on the internet is there for those who can’t do better, who can’t get real feelings.

Only losers fall in love online, only losers get catfished. Our daily lives neglect the physical, but our imaginary upholds it. This contradiction keeps us from telling stories about ourselves, who are 1/2 here, and 1/2 in some other abstract place, effectively.

Why is the phrase: “I’m going to cry on my keyboard” (Richard Yates, page 39) so laughable? Why does it seem to come from irony or hysteria? Why doesn’t it have the same emotional weight as “I’m going to cry on the phone”? The keyboard is the absence of the body, and bodyless things are unreal. We feel that any healthy adult should be emotionally coveted, almost emotionally absent from the digital: It hosts most of our social lives and sways our elections but it’s still less than real.


Quote extracted from The Quietus’ “reprinting” of Fisher’s essay. God bless them.

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