Alain de Botton, Thomas Beller, and Rick Moody reflect on Twitter

Over at Guernica, Joel Whitney says that “Alain de Botton has humanized the mechanical beast that is Twitter.” As de Botton himself writes in PEN America 12: Correspondences, that is precisely the goal:
The moral, as always, is that we have to find ways of making technology work for us... the best inventions tend to have flexibility built into them, they should be able to accommodate a whole range of responses—not least, some idle philosophical maxims.
Joel has selected a few of his favorites maxims from de Botton’s Twitter feed, such as: “Modern romanticism: we go in search of one person who will spare us any need for other people.” You can read de Botton’s reflections on Twitter in our forum.

There you’ll also find Thomas Beller’s thoughts on the platform. Twitter, Beller says, has allowed him “inside a poetic process that was previously unknown to me.” Before, he explains, poetry “had a slightly medicinal quality to it... a faint aftertaste of self-improvement.” But the 140-character boxes of Twitter force you “into a realm of brevity,” and even “insist on a kind of cadence.” So he has found himself writing little numbered riffs (I call them postcards)... Sometimes,” he adds, “I’ll even go nuts and rhyme.”

The “postcard” Beller shared for our forum recounts the time his band opened for Blur in 1992. It ends with him signing a girl’s jeans, then seeing her father in a minivan waiting to her and her friends home. This gives Beller, in the present, pause:
9 Now I’m a dad, too, with a little girl who rushes to strange men to grab their leg, and smile. I think, Oh God. What are you going to do?

10 That is a memory from the Marquee, 1992.

Rick Moody also reflects in the new issue on the formal constraints of Twitter. As was widely discussed at the time, Moody published a short story on Twitter, and in a short essay (written in 140-character segments), he explains, first, his motivations:
there is something about the character-counting box that I find really thrilling, really exciting. So I got this idea that I should
attempt to write something, a narrative something, within the confines of the permitted 140 characters of Twitter. A postmodern haiku cycle..
He goes on to describe the publicity that was generated before the story began to appear, and the frustrations people expressed afterward.
Before the story was “published,” which is to say before it was “tweeted,” it got attention for its chutzpah. Still, no one had yet
read it. It existed in a publicity-oriented space, which I don’t think is a literary space, exactly. Forty thousand read it on Twitter,
more than have read most of my books. And I suppose that is good. But then there was a significant backlash, owing to “retweets.”
He concludes with a personal lesson he’s taken from the experience:
I love experiment. I love challenges. I love language as it mutates. But I also think that books are the most stable home for what we do.
And so fittingly, perhaps, the print copy of our new issue, perfect-bound like a paperback, is the only place where you can read the rest of his reflections. And if you’d like to read the story he tweeted, “Some Contemporary Characters,” on printed pages or otherwise, check out Electric Literature.

(By the way, we’ve re-booted our now annual subscription offer celebrating the publication of a new PEN/O. Henry Prize anthology, which this year features stories by Alice Munro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Annie Proulx, William Trevor, and many more. Get the collection free with a subscription to PEN America, while supplies last.)

No comments: