Alex Patriquin

Marginalia & found poetry. Short fiction and other projects. Musings  on startups. Photos from NYC and travels.

Frankenstein’s Monster with an MFA and a MacBook Air

I’d just escaped San Francisco, where I’d watched long-standing communities of people be destroyed, basically, by the people who own the Internet. The city gave me a nervous breakdown. An actual, genuine 20th-century nervous breakdown like a rummy drunkard from a shitty Scott Fitzgerald novel. Nothing separates compos from mentis like rumors of a Twitter IPO. Anyway, I Hate the Internet exploded in about two months of pure bile/recovery from the experience of living at the highwater mark of American hypergentrification. So, yeah, absolutely, I fucking hate the Internet.

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How does one navigate being a writer? I whine like a big fucking bald baby and pretend, like everyone else, that I’m not typing morality lectures into devices built by slaves in China. But of course I am.

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Showing versus telling, the downplaying of intellect for the sake of emotion, the hackneyed concept of audience identification as reflective mirror, the heavy investment in the lives and concerns of the upper middle class. We could break down these constituent parts and stitch them back together to create a Frankenstein’s Monster with an MFA and a MacBook Air. The Monster would produce very sensitive, well-wrought books (involving intricate water metaphors) about tea-time affairs taking place at artists’ colonies in upstate New York. (Did you know that marriage vows are oft broken by those who spoke them?)

Jarett Kobek in "The Novel Is Dead, Celebrity Is A Disease, And More!"

The Telos of Techne

I was, in short, infatuated with my new device. I’d been similarly infatuated with my old device, of course; but over the years the bloom had faded from our relationship. I’d developed trust issues with my Pearl, accountability issues, compatibility issues and even, toward the end, some doubts about my Pearl’s very sanity, until I’d finally had to admit to myself that I’d outgrown the relationship.
                  
Do I need to point out that — absent some wild, anthropomorphizing projection in which my old BlackBerry felt sad about the waning of my love for it — our relationship was entirely one-sided? Let me point it out anyway.
                  
Let me further point out how ubiquitously the word “sexy” is used to describe late-model gadgets; and how the extremely cool things that we can do now with these gadgets — like impelling them to action with voice commands, or doing that spreading-the-fingers iPhone thing that makes images get bigger — would have looked, to people a hundred years ago, like a magician’s incantations, a magician’s hand gestures; and how, when we want to describe an erotic relationship that’s working perfectly, we speak, indeed, of magic.
              
Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.
              
To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

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But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity- sacrificing lengths to be likable.
              
If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).
              
Consumer technology products would never do anything this unattractive, because they aren’t people. They are, however, great allies and enablers of narcissism. Alongside their built-in eagerness to be liked is a built-in eagerness to reflect well on us. Our lives look a lot more interesting when they’re filtered through the sexy Facebook interface. We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery.

"Liking Is For Cowards. Go For What Hurts." by Jonathan Franzen

pure ventriloquism

Crowing was his natural idiom. He was a master of hectoring overstatement. His first great essay, "Come Back to the Raft Ag'n, Huck Honey," published in Partisan Review in 1948, when Fiedler was 31, opened with a sentence that announced itself as a scandal: "It is perhaps to be expected that the Negro and the homosexual should become stock literary themes in a period when the exploration of responsibility and failure has become again a primary concern of our literature." The frank mention of race and sex was shocking in its day. But the real treat is the quasi-parodical prose. It ridicules its own high-mindedness. The first six words are pure ventriloquism—they echo the demurring perfected by older Jewish critics who feared they weren't mannerly enough to appropriate the "Anglo-American tradition." The drivel about "responsibility and failure" reeks of the ideological piety Fiedler was ready to explode.

from Remembering Leslie Fielder