hi emilye--here is my long promised, long deferred post. first, i'm going to post the section in mark mcgurl's book everything and less: the novel in the age of amazon that talks about megan boyle's liveblog:
The convergence of contemporary fiction and social media is also visible in some works of the small-press avant-garde. As what David Wells aptly calls “a fiction of the Internet—a representation of an infinitely extending and seemingly available world,” Megan Boyle’s Liveblog: A Novel (2018) presents a less pulpy but no less symptomatic instance.24 In the tradition of Andy Warhol’s a: a Novel (1968) and Goldsmith’s Soliloquy (2001), Boyle’s project began as an experiment in exhaustive self-surveillance, this time conceived as auto-therapy. Keeping more or less continuous track of her actions by blogging about them in real time on her own Tumblr site, Boyle would correct a chronic “failure to follow through with tasks I said I’d do,” taking ownership of her life and prospects for happiness. Warding off misunderstanding in assertive all caps, she warns her readers at the outset that
- *THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE INTERESTING** **I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO MAKE THIS SOUND INTERESTING OR TRY TO MAKE YOU LIKE ME OR THINK ABOUT IF YOU ARE READING THIS OR ENJOYING READING THIS, IT’S JUST GOING TO BE WHAT IT IS: A FUNCTIONAL THING THAT WILL HOPEFULLY HELP ME FEEL MORE LIKE IMPROVING MYSELF.**25
It was self-publication as self-discipline as self-improvement, and on one level it sits squarely within the conception of fiction-as-therapy we have been tracking throughout this book. But in this case it is a therapy of writing—the original modality of “narrative therapy” in fact—not reading.26 The irony was her assumption—as she later concluded was a mistake —that drug use (or abuse) was crucial to sustaining that writing. The flaw in this thinking is visible even in her disavowal, as shared above, of her desire to be interesting, where the writing is not an act of self-improvement in itself but something she does in hopes of feeling like working toward that end in the future. It makes sense, then, when 640-some closely printed pages later, we find the author recording how she has been “hearing voice of [omitted] in my head saying, ‘is the liveblog getting in the way of other ways you could be being productive?’”27 Here, then, is the specter of writing as wasting time, as expense rather than virtuous production.
What’s interesting about this particular waste of time is how it registers, as on a photographic negative, the “real job” this writer does not have. Entries in the blog are rigorously time-stamped and littered with to-do lists and super-egoic expectations for productivity such as we might hear them from any young professional knocking out some emails before heading to the gym. Productivity, for Boyle, is difficult to manage in ways more ordinary to her demographic cohort—she does a lot of hanging around, surfing the internet, doing drugs, driving her car to the mini-mart, drinking smoothies and diet Red Bull, and does not even do much reading—but its shadow is visible in the form of a prodigious accumulation of words, in the work of art or proto-art that is her blog. Far from a litany of pleasures taken, as the more defiantly countercultural version of the project might have been, the novel’s catalog of casual acts of transgression and wasteful slackerdom are tinged with a kind of pre-professional masochism. My favorite instance comes near the beginning, when, finding herself listening to a very bad song, Boyle decides that “I kind of like how awful listening to it feels.”28
The question is: am I really wasting time if I am writing in real time about the time I am wasting? Liveblog makes the question intriguingly difficult to answer, layering function and dysfunction one upon the other in a palimpsest. And how about someone reading about someone wasting time? Is that expense of time in any sense productive? Boyle declares her independence from the reader’s needs at the outset, but something obviously changes when, three years later, a long series of blog posts are gathered up and published with the subtitle “a novel” by the small press Tyrant Books. That form of publication would appear to be an affirmation of the novel’s potential interest to readers even absent anything in it we could confidently call a plot or other completed narrative form. Rather, it is the serial presentation of the thoughts and actions of a depressed person, a young woman, an individual. Sometimes it is crazily witty and charming, though often enough (and by design!) it is dead on the page, a despair-inducing slog. It is not a “good novel.” It isn’t trying to be. The principle of its unity as an artwork is not internal but external, not organic but conceptual. One could similarly pronounce that the entire internet, in all its infinite ongoing blab, shall henceforth be considered her artwork.
And yet, despite its all but utter lack of properly “political” content beyond the sexual politics latent everywhere in it, Boyle’s waste of time manages to articulate, or at least to perform, and maybe even to monumentalize, a desire for fundamental change. The state of being it calls forth would not be the life of yuppie efficiency its author never does achieve, but a breakthrough to some new, wholly other state of being on the far side of a bonfire of our vanities.
ok and then here's kristin ross, in the politics and poetics of everyday life, on roland barthes's mythologies, a small part of a longer chapter that i might add more from later:
Reading Mythologies today, we encounter words on every page that are as unfamiliar to us as the contours of the Citroen Deesse: "bourgeois art," "proletarianization," "expropriation," "our bourgeois readers," "the proletariat and the poor," "petit bourgeois ideology." Of course, fifty years ago, when Barthes published his attempt to reflect on some of the myths of French daily life, these words were part of common parlance. Why should the intellectual landscape made up of words from the recent past, words that we are no longer accustomed to reading, matter to us today? What importance could a text like Mythologies--little journalistic pieces, written mostly as responses to current events and faits divers--have for our present? ... What French theorists and social critics as different from each other as Henri Lefebvre, Edgar Morin, and Roland Barthes provided in a set of magisterial analyses written in the late 1950s and early 1960s was the vision of their own time as turning point--the moment when even the most remote rural villages in France had been touched by the arrival of large-scale consumer durables. What these works registered with a startling clarity was that de Gaulle comes to power and the Fifth Republic is founded precisely at the moment when "the consumer era" begins in France in earnest. This was the moment--after electricity but before electronics--when the groundwork was laid for a full-scale disruption of older popular culture and its replacement with the rhythms and habits of an American-style capitalist or "mass" culture. Even more significant than the automobiles and laundry detergent was the discourse surrounding them: the endless background noise of advertising insinuating their advantages.