"Why did the portal feel so private, when you only entered it when you needed to be everywhere?" the main character in Patricia Lockwood's "No One is Talking About This" (2021) asks upon getting sucked into the internet on the very first page of part one.
We, as readers, never find out her name, even though the woman in Lockwood's novel seems to be chronically online, constantly sharing her life with the world, pouring her heart out on a platform akin to Twitter the way the Dutch rain pours non-stop from October until mid-March.
"Can A Dog be Twins?" Is all it takes for the main character to blow up online, to travel the world attending conferences to talk about how the internet has changed, transformed, yes, revolutionised communication! ...to slowly losing sight of real life, to longing for fulfillment in the portal of endless opportunities. Yet this task remains fruitless. All we get is memes. So many random memes.
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Part One is pure fiction. Kind of.
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The first half of the novel is a disjointed, jumbled up mess of internet impressions. Nothing feels real. Everything is absurd. Polarising.
Lockwood illustrates how "she" experiences the online world in "the portal", dealing with all of the knowledge of every event ever available at any moment in time. Like crying about a bee dying, a deformed bee. Someone had it taken up as a pet and nourished it until its very last breath. Something to be deeply upset about (page 37).
But also videos that made people laugh in that new funnier way, exclaiming "Ahahaha!" while watching bodies aimlessly flying off of a malfunctioning carnival at the Ohio State Fair in 2017, seriously injuring multiple people and leading to one death (page 14). A real event the internet tore into a digestible 1-minute clip without much context, turning tragedy into entertainment for thousands to watch and forget about. Desensitising a nation. Ahahaha.
It gets even more political than this: A war criminal drinking poison at court in The Hague, suddenly becoming a meme claimed by the internet. "His suicide, which should have been an act of privacy as complete as folding his hands above a kneeler, now belonged to the people", she comments on page 60. A reflection and analysis of semi-current online scapes and their agency in changing language and framing discourses.
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Did someone say "trigger warning"? Nope, nobody did, although part two sure could have used one.
The next one hundred pages concern themselves with a tragedy. One that deeply effects the main character's life and family. One no one is talking about. Here, Lockwood explores themes of auto-fiction, implementing the story of her sister's struggles with birthing and loosing a child with Proteus Syndrome in an US state which does not allow prematurely induced labour or abortions. The novel stays in snippets which start becoming more coherent, forming the plot that eventually leads to the main character's disconnect with her identity created in, through and with the portal. Time gets a new and very different meaning as the baby is born, with everyone around it knowing how little of it they will have with her. Time suddenly becomes valuable above all else, with the portal less and less appealing every paragraph.
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"Keep reading a little longer, not totally against your will." (page 169)
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Released in 2021, the novel functions as a time capsule with references to far-gone memes such as "Harambe" (page 134) demonstrating Lockwood's media literacy and make her text an ephemeral read. This creates a relatability like no other. Internet fanatics (such as myself) find comfort in the recognition of past online events that only seemed to be relevant to a small circle of fellow nerds, now tied together by paper, string and glue rather than a good WiFi connection. "The portal" as an alternate-reality Twitter balances on the thin line between fiction and faction that keeps readers engaged yet reflective of what they are reading. Suddenly the damaging potential of an endless online world become a lot more apparent as the narrator notes: "We took the things we found in the portal as much for granted as if they had grown there, gathered them as God’s own flowers. When we learned that they had been planted there on purpose by people who understood them to be poisonous, who were pointing their poison at us, well." (page 80)
This is further represented by one of the book covers which shows the structure of a Möbius strip, a half twisted circular structure with seemingly endless surface level (as seen on the cover page, next to the narrators cat "Dr. Butthole" - her words not mine).
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This is quite annoying to read isn't it? But so enticing!
To be fair, Patricia Lockwood does an arguably better job at keeping a coherent narration style than I am. We see the world through the main character's eyes, feeling as if we were there in first person, experiencing everything through and beyond the portal. Yet, surprise, the entire novel is written from a third-person point of view and made to feel intimate through familiar internet referencing and personal anecdotes. As a poet, Lockwood's writing style is influenced by illustrative rhetoric devices that rely on an active reader to come to life.
"That the shorthand we developed to describe something could slowly, brightly, wiggle into an example of what it described: brain worms, until the whole phenomenon contracted to a single gray inch. Galaxy brain, until something starry exploded."
This quote from page 94 beautifully showcases this talent. Her ways of both including the fascinating endlessness of the internet combined with its addictive feel, just like a wiggling parasite, need to have been experienced by the readers in order to be understood. And so they are understood. As a tragedy. A never-ending conflict between online and offline spheres that always clash but never quiet come together.
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No there is not going to be any headings in this text. Lockwood does not do it either. It adds to the incoherence that soon will be internet nostalgia. Maybe it already is.
Anyways it's time to talk about remediation
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Does This Feel Like Scrolling to You?
Because It Is.
But You Are Still Reading.
(this could be a book)
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"Remediation" describes the way new media answers challenges old media was not able to overcome, while simultaneously pushing old media to refashion itself to keep up with the new times. This may sound reminiscent of certain aunts and uncles trying to stay "hip" and "on trend" with the teens but it is a lot cooler than that.
Lockwood writes her book the way we scroll Twitter. Even though technically a novel, it follows many elements of social media logic: short, strung together paragraphs, never longer than half a page, never quite coherent and never too serious form a reading flow that feels a lot more familiar to the average internet addict than any book nerd. This makes it an appealing read, keeping up with short form content designed to cater to the receding attention span promoted through mainstream media. It is what works in our current media economic society that, because everything is so readily available, demands that we always keep up with what is going on online through massive FOMO (fear of missing out).
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So why still make it a physical book? Would it not be more cost efficient and faster to keep it online?
But holding a book just feels different. We, as readers, get the chance to hold, touch and smell a part of Lockwood's own legacy through the pages in our own hands. In the acknowledgements at the of the story, the author writes: "To my sister and my brother-in-law, who let me share in her life. And most of all to my little love Lena. You were not here to teach us, but we did learn.", illustrating how personal major parts of the story are. Having a physical book out in the world that almost functions as a memoir of her own experiences puts emphasis on Lockwood's intention to spread awareness about serious and real life changing topics such as Proteus Syndrome that disrupt a colourful and fleeting online life. Because let's face it: an endless flood of new and engaging content on platforms like Twitter, where many texts and formats are designed to be picked up, taken apart, reshaped and re-circulated by internet users, make even the most tragic life stories forgettable within a short time span. Something more analog with heavy online references which takes up designated spaces in bookshops and libraries such as Lockwood's novel on the other hand is indexical, silently screaming "I am here" and "I am what I am, unchangeable".
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Did I mention that holding a book just feels different? Because I'm gonna do it again. Just in a different context.
🥁 🥁 🥁 Here comes nostalgia 🥁 🥁 🥁
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Part One. Nostalgia for media.
Nostalgia, as a longing for a time scape that feels like home (Van de Ven, 2023), reaches a meta-level through Lockwood's novel and story telling. The up-to-date format of scrolling-like reading make the book as digestible as ever, while also simulating an experience many connect with an earlier time in their lives, devouring page after page of their favourite childhood and teenage classics. This pre-internet nostalgia for media is already invoked by the embodied experience of the book in one's hands and only gets elevated by the main characters thoughts and feelings within the story...leading us to:
Part Two. Restorative and Reflective Nostalgia.
During the final few breaths of the baby, the narrator and her sister rely on the restorative nostalgia to pick out music. "She" describes a sudden memory, an experience that momentarily stops the pain of the present and lets her mind wander off to a past of spotting an old cassette laying in their mom's van (page 158). Yet this moment is quickly turned back around into a reflective, and thus self-aware and almost ironic, nostalgia (Van de Ven, 2023), as the main character realises her "flashback" is evoked by an influence of more recent pop-culture drama rather than a serious longing for the past. This leaves a bitter taste in the readers mouth, a sort of "wake up call" that removes the comfort of imaginary homecoming with the bitter reality of a dying daughter.
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“My battery is low and it is getting dark,” the Mars Rover said in the portal. (page 169)
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Lockwood's novel ends with the narrators phone stolen out of her pocket at an event. The key to the portal that she was previously so codependent on, writing: "When she was away from it, it was not just like being away from a body, but a warm body that wanted her. The way, when she was gone from it, she thought so longingly of My information. Oh, my answers. Oh, my everything I never knew I needed to know." (page 82). With it now gone, devastation meets relief as if the dread of being able to access all knowledge in the world was finally coming to an end, baby pictures included:
"Someone would try to unlock it later, and see the picture of the baby opening her mouth, about to speak, about to say anything.", not knowing her story, or anything about Proteus Syndrome, because "No One Is Talking About This".
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here are some last minute references
(I don't want to get sued for plagiarism)
Lockwood, P. (2021). No one is talking about this: A Novel. Penguin.
Van de Ven, I. (2023) Lecture 1: Digital Media Aesthetics pt1.pptx [Powerpoint Slides] https://tilburguniversity.instructure.com/courses/15270/files/2598809?mo...
Van de Ven, I. (2023) Lecture 2: Digital Media Aesthetics wk2.pptx [Powerpoint Slides] https://tilburguniversity.instructure.com/courses/15270/files/2612911?mo...