Written during the administration of “the dictator” and edited and released after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of No One is Talking About This already seems like a slightly yellowing snapshot. Who knows what another year or ten will mean to the book. Will it become a near-incomprehensible collage of dated references? Or a portal of another kind, into the zeitgeist of the late-teens? I’m thinking about Rabbit Redux, maybe because of the indelible image of “blood on the ceiling” that Patricia Lockwood promises at the start of her John Updike retrospective, but also because encountering Redux decades after its popularity and its late-60s obsessions and predictions makes the book seem like something beamed from a parallel world.
Could be recency bias talking, but Lockwood’s perspective seems more durable. It comes from several stories lower on the ivory tower, and Lockwood has her own skin in the game. The line between autobiography and fiction in No One is Talking About This is quite thin. The “Can a dog be twins?” tweet is a less robust resume than her own, but her emergence as a writer on twitter must have seemed similarly sudden. The world tour is based on her own experiences on the lecture circuit, and passages of this book were sometimes a part of those lectures. The difficult father is recognizable from her earlier memoir Priestdaddy, and the second part has roots in a similar difficult time in her family.
With its consistently surprising but satisfying choices, Lockwood’s writing is never less than tangible even when talking about airy things. This has been the key to the writhing life in everything from her tweets to longform critical essays. Her phrases can compliment just by taking interest, eviscerate without staining her blade. The writing is unafraid even when it describes fear. She places her own vulnerability, misgivings, and embarrassing moments in the mix, dangerous things in an Internet where writers (which includes everyone on the platform) lob missives from behind irony shields.
Lockwood knows what can happen if you post in earnest and this is the unique electricity in the second part. The baby is not a metaphor, the narrator insists, and it’s easy to see why she has to repeat this out loud. If we just consider a baby – incapable of perception and processing as we smart and smug online people value – only as a contrast to the all-seeing repository of human information, it flattens the experience of the baby herself and all the physical and emotional interactions that Lockwood describes so memorably. That flattening is the consequence of digitization, and worth considering as we upload more and more of ourselves.
If you’ve had an argument with nobody in the shower, if you’ve felt a sense of obligation to find the right side of history and declare for it immediately, if you’ve reveled in schadenfreude and sought more, more, more, the narrator’s visits to the portal will be familiar. But the This that No One is Talking About has no place in the portal as the narrator has experienced it, or wants to experience it, a place where each piece of information wants you “to feel either hilarity or outrage.” Where people build languages and rituals that can distract and soothe but rarely comfort.
It’s easy to use the Internet to feel a piece of something large, to ride the tremors of the day’s news and imagine surfing the collapse of the world. But feel the ground fall beneath your own feet and the vastness of the Internet can seem like part of the abyss. I don’t think the Internet necessarily excludes the possibility of experiencing and sharing grief, people do it online every day. The upside to the connection of all peoples is that even if your signal isn’t received by everyone, it will be recognized by someone. That’s been proved by scars and half-forgotten TV show theme songs, a fondness for Scrabble and sex acts unmentionable in previous generations.
It’s an information junk drawer, and emotion is the unraveled yarn. It’s all a mess, and we are the messy binches who live for it. Everybody’s talking, but what will the future hear?
Questions for the group!
- Did one half stand out to you over the other? Did you find the tour through the portal exhilarating or exhausting? Did the second part reflect or change your experience of the first?
- How about parts you found funny? There’s a couple bits that made me laugh out loud both times reading it, and for some reason both involve Christmas. There’s the generic Hallmark movie plot (“City Bitch Learns to Kiss a Truck… On Christmas”), and an earlier observation on the weaponization of the phrase “Merry Christmas” which now means “Do you accept Herr Santa as the all-powerful leader of the new white ethnostate?” Having had a “Merry Christmas” spat back at me after wishing a stranger Happy Holidays, I found this an understandable exaggeration.
- Did your own experiences and attitudes toward being online – everybody here is obviously at least a Little Online – affect your enjoyment of the book? And in what direction?
- Can a dog be twins?