working on my review of @cory_arcangel’s @WrknOnMyNovel while listening to #Vangelis (has anyone else made this joke yet?) @Digital_UR
@theikz (Norberto Gomez Jr.) – 4:32 PM – 21 Jan 2015
For the past few years Cory Arcangel has been collecting tweets (Twitter posts) featuring the phrase “working on my novel,” which the artist turned author then curated and organized from hundreds of others and finally printed the best as a novel called Working On My Novel (Penguin Books). The initial Twitter account, @WrknOnMyNovel aggregated the instances of the phrase thanks to a web crawler, programmed by Arcangel, whose job it was to gather the tweets. The final version exists in printed form and features a diverse set of experiences tweeted publicly for us, and each in 140 characters or less—fragments, aphorisms of the budding novelist. The tweets range from the positive and inspiring, to the mundane, banal, and still others, depressing:
Today is the day The Day I start working on my novel again The day I stop thinking I can’t do it wont get it right The day I believe I can
Maria A Wood – 9:33 AM – 31 May 12
THAT’S WHY I’M WORKING ON MY NOVEL SO I WON’T FEEL SO PATHETIC ANYMORE.
Lucila Morales 😉 – 12:46 AM – 30 Jul 12
In preparation for this review I did my research, as I assume most reviewers do. I read the reviews of other writers, from Mark O’Connell’s “Why Tweet About Your Novel,” in the New Yorker, to the take-down by Jesse Barron, writing for Bookforum, who critiques Arcangel’s curatorial practice. Barron writes, “Arcangel’s leisure, in the case of this book, has failed to produce something meaningful, even if selling it isn’t his problem. But then, anything sells. To make an object worthy of your uncommodified hours, someone, somewhere, has to do some fucking work.” I followed up these reviews with interviews of the author, from NPR to Interview Magazine.
In truth, as I read these reviews while listening to a mediocre record by Vangelis, toggling between browsers—procrastinating—I tweeted about writing this while I wrote this. In fact, I can’t help but feel inept compared to these authors, these reviewers. The review, after all, is itself an art form—like the novel—but perhaps less appreciated due to its inherently critical nature, thus subject to the criticism of being for snobs. It is certainly a less romantic genre—there is no Kerouac of reviews that I know of—but it too offers its own challenges, successes, and failures.
I’ve been working on my review on and off for days now, between other things. Barron’s review, though, made me completely disheartened after seeing the sheer number of characters and lack of hyperlinks conjured in reaction to such a relatively short book. In each review I read, there were all the right names, all the right tags dropped: death of the novel/of the author, Sherrie Levine, appropriation, theft, Whitmanesque, first-person-possessive determiners, Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett, and #fail(better), classism, print versus digital (is this novel, then, some sort of simulacrum of the dead-novel?—I now offer my #Baudrillard). As I currently charge the batteries to my keyboard and mouse, which temporarily locks me out of the procrastination machine, I instead stare out the window, in-real-life, and as I worry about how to innovate my review in comparison to these more seasoned masters of the craft, a tweet from Working On My Novel speaks for me:
In the span of a few hours at the coffee shop working on my novel. I managed to change the world “aloof” to “stuck up.”
James Yeh -1:06 PM – 26 Jun 12
The talk of the novel is tiring—what are we afraid of and what are we fighting for?—as is interaction, democracy, content-creation, hacktivism, and the hive. But Working On My Novel is no doubt a reminder of all these things. Beyond the technology, this novel is about creators and creation, creative-culture, and creativity. It is not so much about the bastardization and therefore romanticizing of the novel, but of the artist, through the lenses of modernism, post-modernism, hyper-modernism and other -isms. There is something comforting, and even familiar about the persistence of the French boho café now transmogrified into Panera Bread (who limits your usage of WiFi) and Barnes and Noble; the unkempt, tortured, primal artist lives on, imbibing and overindulging in that historical search for inspiration, immortality and communiqué from long gone heroes:
Well, I gave in to temptation and poured a big glass of wine while working on my novel. Now too tired and lazy to keep writing. Sigh
Jason Sanford – 10:42 PM – 15 Sept 12
James Dean shirt on, Arctic Monkeys playing, and working on my novel. According to Goldilocks, I am the picture of a hipster right now. FML
Tonianne Bellomo – 5:41 PM – 17 Aug 12
I want to be in Paris, at the café, working on my novel.
Angela N. Hunt – 4:41 PM – 7 Aug 12
Sat in bed working on my novel. I smell slightly but only allowing a shower once I’ve written another 5 pages. . . .
Sassy – 10:56 AM – 12 Jun 12
The hole left over from the emancipation and liberation of the artist from record labels, publishers, editors and the printed page, as well as galleries is refilled by the author’s own over-extension. The multi-tasking genius is the new romantic (even if it’s a lie). Creators are forever on-call, unpaid laborers and public relations agents. Even the successful poets, theorists, and critics, who made their name during different standards, now extol the virtues of appropriation and non-authorship via social media accounts. “In the digital age, everyone is a writer,” reads a Facebook post by Kenneth Goldsmith, who found himself plagiarized by Shia Labeouf in The New Inquiry with “#stopcreating.” The essay reads:
“From the looks of it, most writing proceeds as if the Internet had never happened. The literary world still gets regularly scandalized by age-old bouts of fraudulence, plagiarism, and hoaxes in ways that would make, say, the art, music, computing, or science worlds chuckle with disbelief.”
Today, there are even take downs of “post-internet artists” by newly fashioned post-internet art critic, Jerry Saltz (who likes to post intellectualized “dick pics” on his Facebook page). But, whose job is it to archive the feed of these authors? When Kenneth and Jerry die, who will collect and collate their digital oeuvre? More importantly, who shall manage their memorial pages? And, when Twitter dies, as this too shall one day pass, will it be required to research the social and political environment that bred their work and the work of others, as we are expected to do with Dickensian London—of which I only know because of HBO’s The Wire?
I have often thought, and tweeted, how much happier I might be if I unfriended/unfollowed all artists—or what if I disappeared completely from this grand network we find ourselves in? Are we trying to live up to what we see filtered constantly on our news feeds and trending lists? Is this not simply a more immersive form of what the CNN global news cycle already trained us for during the first Gulf War—perpetual beta/new/innovation? Would the offline help? Or, is this escape just another dream of Walden—another loop, only just a little different? Either way, I often put pen to paper when drafting my work—I intentionally get away from the screen, from too much context, too many hyperlinks, better artists and source material. I find that the space between each written draft, and then their final resting place on a software spreadsheet offers a time to think and edit.
#Offline, working on my novel! =) Be back later!
Barblieber – 3:55 PM – 16 Aug 12
Working On My Novel is not the next great American novel—an already outdated notion—and it suffers from being too platform specific to live beyond what will likely be a short-lived social space. But it would be a mistake to compare it only to the tradition of the novel or to hold it under the rubric of literary theory. Rather, Arcangel’s novel is yet another example of the artist’s own interest in social experimentation, aggregation, appropriation, social interaction and technology. One need only give a cursory glance at the projects “Sorry I Haven’t Posted” blog, and “Follow My Other Twitter,” in order to apply context to Working On My Novel, and see it from the view of a larger body of work. In this way, Arcangel’s novel can be read as biography –a continuing story of his own legacy. In the middle section of Working On My Novel, the pace picks up as we are presented with short tweets which repeat the all-important phrase. One is by the author:
Working on my novel
Cory Arcangel – 9:05 AM – 12 Sep 13
I think now of Barron’s insightful critique of Arcangel’s intention, calling Working On My Novel a classist joke—referencing those tweets which feature pop culture and consumerism, McDonalds, and RVs, as well as the author’s own previous statement. Barron writes, “The dissonance between the implied class position of the authors of the tweets and that of the consumers of the tweets, especially reviewers and critics, is stark. What was funny was always the spectacle of people who consume mass-market things like McDonald’s thinking that they could produce fancy-pants things like novels, which Modernism severed from their history as pop entertainment.”
But, now, as I listen to Bob Dylan, everything seems so different and so similar. Dylan, an artist who plays whatever role he wants or needs, is a master of PR, and his disappearance from his 1960s excess, and subsequent transition to some sage-like hermit, is part of what continues to entice us to consume. Dylan always reminds me of the mystery creators deny themselves and the public today. In response to Barron, I quote from the song I am hearing where Dylan namedrops Rome, Botticelli, the Coliseum, and Kings—all this ancient history, these heroes and villains—things to live up to; things to run away from. And much like the tweets of Working On My Novel, in one line of 55 characters he sings about anticipation for the day when he paints his masterpiece:
Sailin’ round the world in a dirty gondola / Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!
Bob Dylan – “When I Paint My Masterpiece” – 1971
i. It should be noted, that all the tweets used for Working On My Novel have been approved for print by their authors, who Arcangel and Penguin contacted. The list of users and their URLs can be found at the end of the novel.
ii. Feeding into Barron’s critique of intention, in Interview Magazine, Arcangel describes the “Working On My Novel” archive as a series of jokes. The interview took place before the print project materialized, in 2011. He explains: “Another phrase I like to search for is ‘Working on my novel.’ These people are broadcasting the fact that they’re working on their novels, which obviously they are not because if they were working on their novels they wouldn’t be spending their time telling people. So these archives are little jokes about the situations that people get themselves into when they enter these new worlds of communication on their computers. Because computers make people go a little crazy, you know?” http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/cory-arcangel
Norberto Gomez Jr. is a multi-media artist, curator and independent scholar based in Baltimore, Maryland. His research interests include popular and digital culture, and the intersection between technology and mysticism. He is currently writing and illustrating a short book on art and influence, producing a second collection of solo music under the moniker of CANNIBAL BOOM, researching issues of death in the digital age, and freelancing for Fangoria magazine. He holds a PhD in Media, Art & Text from Virginia Commonwealth University (2013), and an MFA in painting and drawing from University of Houston (2009). He continues to perform and exhibit nationally. www.norbertogomezjr.com & firstname.lastname@example.org & you can follow him @theIKZ.