This year, I have a different experiment I’d like to try on Twitter. What I’ve noticed is that some of the most interesting attempts to write creatively on the medium have come not ambiently (as ‘J’ was intended to do), but in sudden bursts – I’m thinking of Teju Cole‘s older and more recent excursions, and George Szirtes’ various entries in the form and Paraic O’Donnell, who occasionally goes into a riff on a Friday evening.
So I wanted to pick a time every week when I would tweet a story, or a something, and I settled on Wednesday afternoons, from 3-5pm, when – starting next week and for 10 weeks after – I will be always in the same place: sitting on a train from Norwich to London. It’s a train journey I love, for various reasons that may or may not become apparent during the course of the exercise, which will be over by April.
So, if you want to be in on the experiment, please follow @Wednesday3til5 – it is a new Twitter account I have set up, on which I will tweet only during those hours. What it will be exactly is still brewing, and will almost certainly be semi-improvised, at any rate.
Follow it, and something will unfold – I’m not going to guarantee how many tweets during those two hours each week, but clearly I don’t want it to be so many that you’ll want to unfollow.
I was inspired by a tweet from Niven Govinden (who’s reading his The Gate) to put down The Magic Mountain (it will wait for me) and pick up Natsume Sōseki’s Kokoro, as recommended to me by David Hayden, when I mentioned how much I loved Kusamakura, probably the best known of this Meiji-era Japanese novelist’s books.
I am enjoying Kokoro, which is the story of the friendship between a young and an old man, but one thing is confusing, or annoying, me. The novel (234pp in its elegant Penguin Classics edition, not counting introduction etc) is divided up into 110 chapters, the vast majority of which – do the maths – are two pages long.
Despite their brevity, the chapters are often not self-contained, but some four or five of them may cover the same scene, and run directly on from one to the next. As an extreme example, here is the end of Chapter 26 and the beginning of Chapter 27, during which the narrator and ‘Sensei’, as he calls his friend, are sitting in a garden, talking. Continue reading
There have been a couple of high profile attempts to make use of Twitter for fiction purposes – I’m thinking of Rick Moody’s Some Contemporary Characters, and Jennifer Egan’s more recent Black Box – but neither of them seem fully to embrace the medium.
If Moody’s story, sent out via Electric Literature in 153 tweets over three days in 2009, taught us one thing, it was that you mustn’t get other people to systematically retweet every single entry of the story, as anybody following all those feeds is going to get pretty annoyed at having the thing clogging up their timeline like pondweed. Also, as a short story essentially chopped up into tweet-sized pieces, it didn’t really explore the formal possibilities offered by the social media site.
In this, Egan’s story was a step forward. Black Box, sent out via the New Yorker fiction account (@NYerFiction) for an hour a day over ten days last May, seemed to grasp the poetic potential of the form: that each tweet had to work on its own, rather than as part of a linear narrative. Accordingly Black Box was written in the second person, as a series of (internalised, self-directed) instructions or comments for the protagonist, a female spy sent to infiltrate the baddy’s tropical island HQ.
Determine whether your Designated mate seeks physical intimacy; if not, feign the wish for a nap.
Your pretense of sleep will allow him to feel that he is alone.
Curling up under bedclothes, even those belonging to any enemy subject, may be soothing.
This detached, knowing narrative style works well on Twitter, I think. The form calls for authority. It tends towards the aphoristic: think of George Szirtes’ wonderful New Proverbs of Hell. It doesn’t like holding multiple characters in mind, but it does like exchanges between a pair of established characters: eg, again, Szirtes’ occasional odd couple Doctor and Langoustine, or Lars Iyers’ Lars and W.
The worst kind of Twitter fiction, for me, is the single-tweet standalone narrative, which is really only an extension of that other low-value form, the six word story, made famous by Hemingway’s awful “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. Continue reading
Going out to sit in a doctor’s waiting room I picked up Lars Iyer’s Dogma to keep me company and, in the few minutes the sadly super-efficient NHS kept me waiting, I was reminded quite how enjoyable it is. Just pitched in to the middle and came up with stuff like this:
What is it that keeps him from cutting his own throat?, W. wonders. What is it that keeps me from cutting mine?
We want to see how it all ends, he says. We want to see how it will all turn out. But this is how it ends. This is how it will all turn out.
Wonderful, beautiful stuff, that sticks its neck out, then pans back to see what the rest of the body is doing – it’s twitching convulsively, of course – and to show how much further out the rest of the body is than the poor old neck and head.
When I covered Dogma briefly in my January reading round-up, I said I thought it worked better as tweets or blog posts than a novel. Now I’m not sure. I think it benefits from being on paper – the veneer of respectability it gives – but I still don’t rate it as a novel particularly (though I doubt Iyer is aiming for it to be that kind of novel). It works best as a book picked up and “dipped into” (in that godawful phrase) and put down again. The tantalising thought that all these bits and pieces might coalesce into some kind of fulfilling, developing narrative is present on every page, and is rewarding as such even when you know that no such thing occurs. Continue reading