Because likability is now so visible, so prevalent as the preferred emotional response to brands and ideas, users have predictably called for the expansion of the emotional repertoire. They call for a Dislike button. At first glance, we might think this binary-emotional expansion would be welcome to marketers: it would add to their collected data on our desires. However, marketing’s sub-field of Liking Studies has already revealed that disliked ads poison everything they touch. Negative sentiment – disliking – is asymmetrical in its power to shape consumer’s opinions of a brand: for every 10 likes, 1 dislike could tear a brand apart. Such negative emotion requires much brand damage control. One thing Facebook will never do, then, is install a Dislike button.
This is not to say that Facebook won’t introduce other binary-emotional switches. Facebook’s flirtation with a Want button indicates their potential willingness to expand our binary-emotional repertoire. One could imagine users getting a Love button. But we are not allowed to dislike.And herein lies a way out of the Like Economy. Dissent, dissensus, refusal are not easily afforded in Facebook. Dissenters have to work for it: they have to write out comments, start up a blog, seek out other dislikers. They are not lulled into slackivism or “clickivism,” replacing the work of activism with clicking “like” on a cause as if the sheer aggregate of sentiment will make someone somewhere change something.
From our friends at Electric Literature
Vol. 12, No. 1
If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve heard this before: “Oh, you’re a writer? I’d love to write a novel, if only I had the time.” It’s a frustrating and all-too-common misunderstanding that reduces the craft of writing to a simple exercise in typing—anyone can produce sound from a piano, but being a true musician takes talent, practice, and a certain kind of madness. It’s the difference between simplicity and elegance, laziness and grace. And it is the masters of the craft, writers who make the impossibility of fiction seem effortless, writers like Etgar Keret, who are to blame for this misconception.
Do not let Etgar Keret deceive you. The Israeli writer who’s worked in film, illustration, animation, and radio, is a storyteller in all senses of the word. Like a conman, he’ll promise you a simple story and then the next thing you know your emotional reserves have been completely emptied. It’s a literary bait and switch, and he’ll get you every time.
Here, in “Todd,” a story that also challenges the boundaries between literature and reality, Etgar directly engages with the wonderful deception of fiction itself. The titular friend asks the narrator, who resembles Etgar—an Israeli short story writer who frequently appears on NPR—to write a story that’ll help him get girls into bed. The narrator must then explain that writing doesn’t work that way: “A story isn’t a magic spell or hypnotherapy,” the narrator claims, and yet that is exactly what happens here. Etgar knows that fiction has the power to captivate you, to entrance you, to alter your perception of reality. Todd, the lonesome character in this story, isn’t asking for “metaphors and insights and all that” but wants a simple little story that’ll change his life. Just a bit of practical magic.
To convince a reader that a fictional world has bearing on the real world is both a miracle and a marvelous swindle. Like many of his stories, “Todd” offers us a simple concept and, as if by sorcery (or a postmodern sleight of hand), reveals an entire world of complexity. The story of course isn’t just about helping a friend get laid. It’s about the meaning of things—stories, relationships, and whatever “masculinity” is these days. Read it and find out for yourself, but just keep an eye on your wallet. And if anyone has spoken to Todd, please tell him to call me.
Benjamin Samuel, Co-Editor, Electric Literature
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Single Sentence Animation
by Etgar Keret
Recommended by Electric Literature
MY FRIEND TODD wants me to write him a story that will help him get girls into bed.
“You’ve already written stories that make girls cry,” he says. “And ones that make them laugh. So now write one that’ll make them jump into bed with me.”
I try to explain to him that it doesn’t work that way. True, there are some girls who cry when they read my stories, and there are some guys who—
“Forget guys,” Todd interrupts. “Guys don’t do it for me. I’m telling you this up front, so you won’t write a story that’ll get anyone who reads it into my bed, just girls. I’m telling you this up front to avoid unpleasantness.”
So I explain to him again, in my patient tone, that it doesn’t work that way. A story isn’t a magic spell or hypnotherapy; a story is just a way to share something you feel with other people, something intimate, sometimes even embarrassing, that—
“Great,” Todd interrupts again, “so let’s share something embarrassing with your readers that’ll make the girls jump into bed with me.” He doesn’t listen, that Todd. He never listens, at least not to me.
I met Todd at a reading he organized in Denver. When he talked about the stories he loved that evening, he became so excited that he began to stammer. He has a lot of passion, that Todd, and a lot of energy, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t really know where to channel it all. We didn’t get to talk a lot, but I saw right away that he was a smart person and a mentsch. Someone you could depend on. Todd is the kind of person you want beside you in a burning house or on a sinking ship. The kind of guy you know won’t jump into a lifeboat and leave you behind.
But at the moment, we’re not in a burning house or on a sinking ship, we’re just drinking organic, soymilk lattés in a funky, natural café in Williamsburg. And that makes me a little sad. Because if there were something burning or sinking in the area, I could remind myself why I like him, but when Todd starts hammering away at me to write him a story, he’s hard to stomach.
“Title the story, ‘Todd the Man’,” he tells me. “Or even just, ‘Todd.’ You know what? Just ‘Todd’ is better. That way, girls who read it are less likely to figure out where it’s heading, and then, at the end, when it comes—bam! They won’t know what hit them. All of a sudden, they’ll look at me differently. All of a sudden, they’ll feel their pulse start to pound in their temples, and they’ll swallow their saliva and say, ‘Tell me, Todd, do you happen to live close by?’ or, ‘Stop, don’t look at me like that,’ but in a tone that actually says the opposite: ‘Please, please keep looking at me like that,’ and I’ll look at them and then it’ll happen, as if spontaneously, as if it has nothing to do with the story you wrote. That’s it. That’s the kind of story I want you to write for me. Understand?”
And I say, “Todd, I haven’t seen you in a year. Tell me what’s happening with you, what’s new. Ask me how I’m doing, ask how my kid is.”
“Nothing’s happening with me,” he says impatiently, “and I don’t need to ask about the kid, I already know everything about him. I heard your interview on NPR a few days ago. All you did in that crappy interview was talk about him. How he said this and how he said that. The interviewer asks you about writing, about life in Israel, about the Iranian threat, and like a Rottweiler’s jaw, you’re locked onto quotes from your kid, as if he’s some kind of Zen genius.”
“He really is very smart,” I say defensively. “He has a unique angle on life. Different from us adults.”
“Good for him,” Todd hisses. “So, what do you say? Are you writing me the story or not?”
So I’m sitting at the faux-wood, plastic desk in the faux five-star, three-star hotel the Israeli Consulate has rented for me for two days, trying to write Todd his story. I struggle to find something in my life that’s full of the kind of emotion that will make girls jump into Todd’s bed. I don’t understand, by the way, what Todd’s problem is with finding girls himself. He’s a nice looking guy and pretty charming, the kind that knocks up a pretty waitress from a small town diner and then takes off. Maybe that’s his problem: he doesn’t project loyalty. To women, I mean. Romantically speaking. Because when it comes to burning houses or sinking ships, as I’ve already said, you can count on him all the way. So maybe that’s what I should write: a story that will make girls think that Todd will be loyal. That they’ll be able to rely on him. Or the opposite: a story that will make it clear to all the girls who read it that loyalty and dependability are overrated. That you have to go with your heart and not worry about the future. Go with your heart and find yourself pregnant after Todd is long gone, organizing a poetry reading on Mars, sponsored by NASA. And on a live broadcast, five years later, when he dedicates the event to you and Sylvia Plath, you can point to the screen in your living room and say, “You see that man in the space suit, Todd Junior? He’s your Dad.”
Maybe I should write a story about that. About a woman who meets someone like Todd, and he’s charming and in favor of eternal, free love and all the other bullshit that men who want to fuck the whole world believe. And he gives her a passionate explanation of evolution, of how women are monogamous because they want a male to protect their offspring, and how men are polygamous because they want to impregnate as many women as possible, and how there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s nature, and it’s stronger than any conservative presidential candidate or Cosmopolitan article called, “How to hold on to your husband.”
“You have to live in the moment,” the guy in the story will say, then he’ll sleep with her and break her heart. He’ll never act like some shit she can easily drop. He’ll act like Todd. Which means that even while he fucks up her life, he’ll still be kind and nice and exhaustingly intense, and—yes—poignant too. And that’ll make the whole business of breaking it off with him even harder. But in the end, when it happens, she’ll realize that it was still worth it. And that’s the tricky part: the “it-was-still-worth-it” part. Because I can connect to the rest of the scenario like a smartphone to wireless internet at Starbucks, but the “it was still worth it” is more complicated. What could the girl in the story get out of that whole hit-and-run accident with Todd but another sad dent on the bumper of her soul?
Some are born to sing, others to dance, others are born merely to be someone else. I was born to keep quiet. My only vocation is silence. It was my father who explained this to me: I have an inclination to remain speechless, a talent for perfecting silences. I’ve written that deliberately, silences in the plural. Yes, because there isn’t one sole silence. Every silence contains music in a state of gestation.
Couto has maintained a singular narrative voice throughout his career, and the best writer to compare him to is probably himself. Which is, I guess, my real beef with the idea of magical realism: While adjectives like “Kafkaesque” remind us that Kafka is a Major Author — and insinuate that if you haven’t read him, you can’t take part in the conversation — the category of “magical realism” becomes a way to enfold an entire world of texts into a single category, as if Okri, Rushdie, and García Márquez are all part of a single genre. But they really aren’t, are they? Blending them together doesn’t only simplify the profound heterogeneity within the class, but also obscures the very parochial nature of Anglo-American literature itself: Western “realism” forms the exception, not the rule.
Just as Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is what made Just Kids so moving, Hell’s relationship with Tom Verlaine gives I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp its emotional anchor, only Patti Smith had lived long enough away from these events that they no longer felt current. There’s no such closure or distancing to Hell’s prose, and the result is exhilarating in exactly the same way his music and the music it spawned is exhilarating. Hell is still angry at Verlaine, still doesn’t want to talk about Marquee Moon, still anxious to proclaim his own genius and still possessive of the importance of “Blank Generation.” He’s angry about slights that took place forty years ago. He still wants to fuck the girls he was fucking when he was 19, and still is racked with injustice over girls he didn’t get to fuck. He’s still jealous of the Sex Pistols, and he still misses heroin. It’s childish, bratty, and fantastic.
But while Achebe was canny enough to realize that white people were quick to extend him the benefit of the doubt with regards to his subject (being African, he must surely know Africans), he was also aware that he hardly deserved that credit, and made something powerful out of that realization. What, after all, did a Christian-educated Nigerian of the mid-twentieth century really know about the inner life of a late nineteenth century Igbo warrior, a man who never lived to hear the word Nigeria? And so, instead of eliding that knowledge, he built a magnificent literary edifice on top of it. Instead of donning the victory wreath he was awarded for a game he was too good to play, he proclaimed that the center was hollow, and would not hold.
(originally posted on zunguzungu, 2008)
Chinua Achebe, November 16 1930-March 22 2013, RIP.
David Shields clearly set out less to write a book than to be a book, and to point out the work’s hypocrisy, self-indulgence, or irritating tics might only serve to endow it with the totally transparent humanity he longs for. There’s finally little defense against the pleasantly lulling roll call of favorite films and books, never mind that few them are given anything more than a surface appraisal (if that) and a pull-quote. The entirety of his gloss on Schopenhauer’s “The world is my idea” goes, “We don’t see the world. We make it up.” Well, thanks anyway. But here’s where the pride Shields takes in his solipsism gets a little creepy. After all, you can try making up the world, but the world is under no obligation to extend you the same courtesy. Perhaps the reason so many writers stick to fiction, despite being “less immediate and raw” than blogs, is that they are less willing to take their inner weather report to mean that it’s snowing everywhere.
Life as Live-Stream:
Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Rosenfelt
Thursday, March 21, 7:00 pm
McNally Jackson (New York, NY)
On Thursday the 21st, join The New Inquiry at McNally Jackson to celebrate the launch of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now and TNI Magazine, Vol. 14: Time. TNI’s editor-in-chief Rachel Rosenfelt will interview TNI blogger and renowned media theorist Douglas Rushkoff on his latest book and discuss how the shifts in our contemporary perception of time impact our lives and society.
The event will be followed by an after party at Puck Fair.
And so we must ask: what does it mean for a novel of advertent failure to fail inadvertently? As Lars Iyer put it recently: “Literary writing can allow you to capitalise on failure – how strange!” The thing is, though, Walsh’s particular disguise fails to cover up his unacknowledged or accidental failures. Those do not belong to the narrator, they are his own. The curtain slips, and behind it we find no masterful wizard but a rather pedestrian young author, who has been using a lot of elaborate tricks and props to make himself seem great and powerful and good.
For artists using social media like Tumblr, the question is not whether their involvement constitutes an act of curation or artistic production, but whether the specificity of those aims (curating, art making) are tenable according to their present definitions when placed in front of audiences who hold such wide ranging motivations for their own spectatorship. At what point do artists using social media stop making art for the idealized art world audience they want and start embracing the new audience they have?
To a certain extent, Jogging has attempted to do this by downplaying authorship, maintaining a post rate for original content that’s as fast as other Tumblrs’ image-reblogging, and producing works that draw inspiration from general Web content. Jogging is not the first to do this, and surely more efforts to artistically capitalize on the unbalkanized attention economy of the Internet will follow.
It’s not unusual that a drug has a bizarre and extremely damaging side effect, like stabbing a kind person in his sleep. Drugs have side effects. Some of them are super weird. The drug to cure Restless Leg Syndrome, for example, can contribute to a gambling addiction.
What baffles is that no one I’ve spoken to — as a professor in a college where experimental drug use runs rampant, as I travel the country speaking to young women, their teachers, and rape-crisis counseling staff members, as I consult other journalists who write on sexual assault — no one I have spoken to has heard of a link between flunitrazepam and the commission of violence.
This is where the dangers of the myth become clear. It is possible that we do not know what flunitrazepam does because we think we already know what it does. And while there might be folks who are better informed on the subject than we are, we tend not to value their knowledge base. Flunitrazepam’s criminalization in the U.S. means its distribution is largely limited to the black market. In effect, this relegates its use to the population who may have the most interest in incurring violence, and the least interest in acknowledging any means by which it does so. Under what conditions, besides an already bad roofie-ing scenario gone even worse, would the rest of us have opportunity to question what flunitrazepam really does?
The accidental audience knew there was something odd going on in this image, but the anonymized trail of Tumblr left behind few, if any, clues to what its original purpose was. The search for context on Tumblr is often a catch-22: In order to look for the original, you must first make a copy by reblogging and asking for help. In the case of Mac Bath, the enormous number of perplexed copies came to supplant the intention behind the production of the original.
That Lea will never see Chéri’s beauty decay means that if she is going to witness anything, it must be Chéri’s destruction. This is something she can effect alone, and because of this limited option (ruin), the relation between a young man and an older woman has an implicit heightened violence. Constrained by time, Lea’s only choice is to do her own damage to Chéri so that they may keep apace.
Conversely, some say that when a young man loves an older woman it is because he likes to surrender to her power — to be dominated, to be spoiled. I would suggest another reason. When a young man loves an older woman it may also be to exercise the specific, brutal power of youth over age — the power of the youthful gaze. For as the older woman is compelled to gaze at the young man’s beauty, which only increases by the day, and is fed by her love through the night, the young man can, at every slight or dark mood, every moment of insufficient affection, witness the process of the lover’s fast diminishment, count the wrinkles near her eyes.
So it makes sense to reconsider Benatar’s Asymmetry, rephrased with eternity in mind:
(1) Those who exist experience suffering and may end up forever thrashing about in a forsaken pit of violence, agony and despair, which is bad.
(2) Those who exist experience pleasure and may enjoy everlasting bliss, which is good.
(3) Those who do not exist do not suffer, which is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.
(4) Those who do not exist do not experience pleasure, which is not bad, because there is nobody for whom this absence is a deprivation.
Eternalizing the Asymmetry like this wouldn’t affect Benatar’s ranking of the claims. He would still say that 3 beats 1 and that 2 and 4 tie, affirming nonexistence as the reigning champion. But for me, the prospect of extreme everlasting suffering in claim 1 sure magnifies the potential perils of being.
No matter the odds of eternal punishment, if Hell is real, the souls of this world are born into a casino with incredibly high stakes. We are all forced to gamble with a series of action- and belief-based “bets,” and if we choose poorly, we could face unremitting torture with no escape – a destiny that is undoubtedly worse than never being born. And if Benatar is right, the best possible outcome of this existence game is no better than nonexistence, since the nonexistent cannot lament their lack of eternal joyous bliss.
No, 2012 didn’t augur the end of times, but the end of time. We went from a future focused society to a present-based one. The leaning forward that had characterized our civilization since the invention of farming and text became more of a standing-up. The myths that had been pulling us forward spiritually and economically just stopped making sense. Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” may have been an appropriate structure for George Lucas’s Star Wars or Steve Case’s AOL business plan, but it was no longer an appropriate map for a culture that can no longer keep its gaze on the distant horizon.
By 56 Up, Apted’s filmmaking has retained its lucid, personal quality, but lost its critical edge. Instead of making a political point, 56 is an emotional, existential film about family, aging, and fulfillment. Bruce, the series’ only self-professed socialist, tones down his rhetoric as he gets older. John, the token Tory, talks mostly about his charity work in Bulgaria, where his mother’s family were once part of the ruling class. This doesn’t diminish the quality of the films or make them any less enjoyable, but it does alter their intended message somewhat.
This is the editorial note to TNI Vol. 14: Time. View the complete table of contents here.
You can’t turn back time. Instead, you have death, philosophical pessimism, the burden of history, and the lamentations of Cher. Still, in this issue of the New Inquiry, our writers pin down time long enough to explore speed, aging, counting, decay, and those conjunctions where the clock’s measured, inexorable pace meets the latest efforts to efface it. Everything from Snapchat and Instagram to the Internet itself contrives to scramble our sense of old and new, permanent and transient. The preponderance of “real time” is so intense right now, we’re nostalgic for the previous sentence.
For all the attention to freedom of expression, That Smell actually runs on a fairly conservative concept of time. The concatenation of independent events never adds up to a narrative, either of how they got here or how to get out. This means that the situation of political closure and failed revolution — which both Creswell and Ibrahim take pains to explain is the real content of the novel — appears eternal, and attempts at challenging it doomed. At the very least, the real revolution is always far enough away that enduring the kinds of torture Ibrahim and his comrades did seems an obscene waste. Well aware of the Soviet experience, Ibrahim took developments in Soviet poetics and politics to be instructive. In his notes regarding the show trials, Ibrahim writes of the accused who refused to comprehend what was happening to their revolution. “Some of them traced the words ‘Long Live Stalin’ in their own blood on the walls of their prison.” In a footnote: “Was I aware, when I copied those words, of how they described our situation at al-Wahat?”
To find out more about Brazenhead and Michael Seidenberg, go here.