March 7, 2012

"Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose."

"It's hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It's like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it's like writing a novel without the letter 'P'… It's the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers… particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves."

Said big-shot writer Jonathan Franzen, which led to the Twitter fad #JonathanFranzenhates:
According to tweeters' yakking, the novelist hates everything from "Emoticons, because it takes 600 pages to accurately convey emotion", to puppies, people who hate Jar Jar Binks, and cameras, because "real pictures should be painted".
Hey, wait. Those tweeters are not yakking about themselves. Franzen threw in that extra concept: narcissism, self-obsesssion, inwardness. It wasn't just about how long or short writing good writing ought to be. It was also a moralistic judgment about what should absorb a decent person's attention. Ah! But Mr. Novelist, what about you? Could you yak about yourself long enough to tell the truth about whether your lengthy scribblings are about yourself?

I've only read one Jonathan Franzen book, "The Discomfort Zone," and it was all about him, him yakking about himself. That's why I read it. It's a memoir. He's more famous for novels, and I tend to read nonfiction, so I've read his memoir. But those novels... I'm guessing they involve all sorts of fictional characters who are more or less processed versions of himself. And they yak... for 600 pages.

Meanwhile, many tweeters look outward and are not self-absorbed at all.

40 comments:

Chip S. said...

He must not subscribe to iowahawk's twitter feed.

Have you considered imposing a character limit on comments?

edutcher said...

I can agree with the rant about the char limit and the narcissism.

Most of the twits I see are about advancing someone's agenda, so I guess that qualifies.

Robert Cook said...

I personally am not on Twitter and couldn't care less about it, but--and I admit I haven't read Franzen's screed--Twitter is not meant to be a medium for presenting arguments or citing facts. His gripe is as silly as complaining that one cannot write a novel on a postcard. If Franzen is interested in using Twitter at all, he should approach as a writer--that's what he is, right?--and use it to write haikus, zen koans, enigmatic bits of prose or poesy that can be contained in 140 characters but that aspire to beauty or mystery, or to charm, puzzle, or illuminate.

He should see the 140-character limit as a challenge to his creativity, and not confuse Twitter with other mediums better suited to other aims.

traditionalguy said...

Being self absorbed is not the same thing as narcissim. At least a narcissist hurts the people that he targets for his purpose. The self absorbed ignores others.

Crimso said...

"and use it to write haikus"

I would assume that, given his hatred of Twitter because of the 140 character limit (or his sarcastic example of writing a novel without the letter "P"), he would similarly despise haiku.

TosaGuy said...

""It's hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters"

Yet liberals (moreseo than non-liberals) think they are doing it those very things when they put a pithy bumper sticker on their car.

Ann Althouse said...

"Being self absorbed is not the same thing as narcissim. At least a narcissist hurts the people that he targets for his purpose. The self absorbed ignores others."

And how would you characterize a man who writes 600-page novels that are inward-looking and contemplative, if that man dearly cares about having a readership?

MadisonMan said...

I rarely agree so completely with Robert Cook, but I do here.

t-man said...

Franzen is probably a big fan of McLuhan's quote: "The Medium is the Message", which fits in a tweet with dozens of characters to spare.

Carol_Herman said...

A long time ago, when we had land line telephones. And, people who loved to talk on them, bought extra long cords ... You still paid by the minute.

I think Twitter is "free." In that once you own the equipment, they're not monitoring your "tweets" ... or contacts. No "dime a minute" ... Except that the equipment is expensive. And, you pay a monthly bill.

Kids even use these things as status symbols. They're the new pair of sneakers. Or what was once "something" every kid "had to have."

Did this bring something else "new" along? YES! You can do a composition in a few words. And, symbols have replaced some of the letters of the alphabet.

Will this just be a passing fad?

Or are kids learning English away from any textbooks? I dunno.

Scott M said...

And we do not like to yak about ourselves

HYSTERICAL!

I don't particularly like twitter, but a shitload of literary agents and publishers do, so I follow them. It's a good way to zero in on agents/publishers in your genre and figure out what they're looking for, where they're going to be, what conferences they are going to attend, etc.

However, the really hysterical part is that a great many of them yak about themselves and each other incessantly. This includes a few Really Big authors I'm following as well. Neil Gaiman comes to mind immediately with his "It's raining so I'll wait to jog before sitting down to write today" tweets. I love the guy, but he does indeed yak about himself as do a lot of others in the literary profession.

LOL, indeed.

edutcher said...

Carol_Herman said...

Did this bring something else "new" along? YES! You can do a composition in a few words. And, symbols have replaced some of the letters of the alphabet.

Will this just be a passing fad?

Or are kids learning English away from any textbooks? I dunno.


I think a lot of the symboling came in with smileys and email, but the point is valid. Twitter intensifies the need to say a lot in a small space.

As for learning English, I don't think so.

tim maguire said...

I rarely use twitter to do anything other than direct people to things I think are interesting.

140 character headlines--usually enough.

Tank said...

Mr. Franzen

"Use the right tool for the job."

Mr. Natural

traditionalguy said...

Professor... What would I call his 600 pages about his every thought and burp?

Well, he ignores his readers. But he still attracts them by being like them which affirms the existence of the self absorbed readers. It's a niche market, like crossword puzzles.

But thanks for the warning.

deborah said...

If you want a chuckle, look at one of your younger relative's twitter feeds. My 20 yo nephew's is cute in that it's a steady stream of him trying to be cool. Which he is, in his cohort.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Alternative headline: "Alleged Writer Declares Aphorisms Nonexistent".

I've never seen the point of Twitter any more than I've ever seen the point of Rick Santorum, but they both seem to be making all the right enemies.

Rose said...

Both Twitter and Facebook are great places to get the breaking stories, if you follow the right people.

And, Twitter offers a rare opportunity to talk directly to the newsmakers themselves.

It's a pretty lively 'community' - different from blogs in the same way that an oriental restaurant is different from a Mexican food place.

I do find it disconcerting that government officials now "Tweet" messages that should be more formally delivered. In that sense it brings down the stature of the office(s).

Carol said...

What about the famous novelists, like Hemingway or Cheever, who ruthlessly exploited their friends' and family's lives for their stories? Great for us readers, I guess, but truly sociopathic on a personal level.

Anyway, I've grown to like Twitter better than Facebook or slow moving blogs. I like anything makes me laugh, and it's great for following bright, funny and alert people. Lately I've used it to keep track of election results or debates when I can't watch them myself. And, you can talk back to people. What's not to like?

Tyrone Slothrop said...

As the Bard himself tweeted, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

John Stodder said...

See, I think some of the great novelists of the past would have hated Twitter, but some would have loved it.

A modern Becky Sharp would have been a great consumer of others' tweets, so I'm sure Thackeray would have had her reading them if not writing them, and he would have been tweeting himself. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein would have had fantastic flame wars. And Faulkner would have been an epic drunk-tweeter.

Franzen reminds me of me in 1973, except if I had failed to grow up and face the world as it is.

Chip Ahoy said...

I got stuck on semaphorizing. That's the flags, right? I gotta go back and start over. I wish they wouldn't be clever like that at the start, throws me off.

Tibore said...

Well, he's got a glimmer of a point about Twitter. I use it, but I'll be damned if some people don't use it for the dippiest crap they can imagine. If I see one more "Eatin' hot dog!" or "Can I get a retween for my birthday?" Tweet in my feeds, I may have to be restrained from beating the computer to a dusty pulp. Too many Twidiots on Twitter look at it as a platform to share immensely boring minutiae about their lives. The unfortunate thing about the platform is that it has allowed narcissists to feel as though they've got a worldwide audience for even their most trivial activities, and they not only dump it on you, they do so without regard to grammar or spelling.

So sure, Twitter gets annoying.

That said, it's not like the platform doesn't have its redeeming attributes. The ability to connect to others of shared interests is unparalleled; you just need to figure out the proper hashtag and say something interesting about it, and you can get connections faster than any blog will give you. I've been connecting with some fans of certain sports I follow, and it's definitely been an enjoyable experience.

On top of that, Tweets don't *need* to be narcissistic. Conversations with many of those afore mentioned fans has shown me that. You can totally carry on an Instant Message like conversation and have friends, peers, and total strangers drop into it and participate (and if you don't like those strangers, they're easy to ignore). It's better at getting a virtual, online party-conversation going than blog comments and chat rooms have ever been, and with far less computing overhead too. The 140 character limit is trivial; you can just send more Tweets. And it works great.

Yes, Franzen's got some points about Twitter, barely. That's fine. He just approaches human interactions differently. But I'd chide him to take care and distinguish between critiques that would be universally valid, and ones that are merely personally so. So sure, he doesn't like it. But that doesn't mean the things he doesn't like are inherently contemptible. They're just not his thing. And I wish he'd just acknowledge that.

Tibore said...

"John Stodder said...
See, I think some of the great novelists of the past would have hated Twitter, but some would have loved it.

A modern Becky Sharp would have been a great consumer of others' tweets, so I'm sure Thackeray would have had her reading them if not writing them, and he would have been tweeting himself. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein would have had fantastic flame wars. And Faulkner would have been an epic drunk-tweeter."


Then there's Dorothy Parker.

I'm torn between whether she'd have loved or hated it. But I've got little doubt that she would've used it for many of her skewerings.

cassandra lite said...

Had Chaucer lived a few more years, would he have complained about Gutenberg's movable type?

Peter said...

"Twitter is unspeakably irritating"

So? I thought that was the point?

At least (unlike stentorian cellphone yakkers) it's easy enough to ignore.

Has anything degraded the quality of public spaces quite as much as cellphones?

Tibore said...

Well, I guess you can go here and ask "him" (*wink*) yourself:

Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog

;)

dbp said...

Nietzsche would have loved Twitter. Some of his aphorisms are longer than 140 characters, but I'm pretty sure he could have slimmed them down.

Chip Ahoy said...

The thing is I did a little anim a long time ago about a sailor with flags saying he just flew in and boy are his arms tired and his pants fall down as he's flipping his flags but he stands there faithfully flipping the flags as the letters type what he's saying in flag-talk until he pulls up his pants. And now I can't find the file.

Oh, here it is. It's very bad, don't look at it, it's embarrassing.

See, I couldn't get off semaphor until that was resolved.

Sigivald said...

I tend to agree, in that I find Twitter content to be almost entirely useless.

Great for repeating the Meme Of The Day, be it political or otherwise, and for encouraging mindless groupthink.

On the other hand, people seem to want to do that regardless of medium, so it's not really Twitter's fault, other than making it so damned easy - and so difficult to do anything better.

Sigivald said...

T-man said: Franzen is probably a big fan of McLuhan's quote: "The Medium is the Message", which fits in a tweet with dozens of characters to spare.

Ironic, if it's so, because McLuhan's quote is baseless assertion and purest garbage.

Hack.

(McLuhan, that is)

Smilin' Jack said...

"Twitter is unspeakably irritating"

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."--Wittgenstein

People who speak about the unspeakable are ineffably irritating.

Blue@9 said...

Well yeah, twitter is annoying-- if you don't exercise any type of control over what you're reading.

You could say the same thing about speech in a train station, "OMG, these idiots are talking about what they ate for breakfast!"

The point is, you filter out the dumb shit and read people and tweets that actually communicate something you want to read.

I wonder if Franzen has any clue about Twitter... he thinks it's like passively overhearing a bunch of dumb conversations in a train station, when really it's about connecting to interesting people who have interesting things to say.

And really, can we get over the cranky luddite attitudes by now? No one is impressed that you like old typewriters, that you don't own a TV, or that you would never demean yourself by using twitter. Enjoy your life as a museum piece.

roesch/voltaire said...

When I was younger I liked to communicate in morse code, but today find I do not like to twitter a way my time. But if you read Connections, a great novel I think, you will find that Gary Lambert knew how to use social media, among other things.

The Crack Emcee said...

I don't know. I was just on Twitter the other night and it looked like a juvenile pat-yourself-on-the-back party to me (And yes, Chip S., I do get iowahawk). It's hard to understand how such people are taken seriously as the conservative leadership.

Considering that, who gives a shit what they like, or think about what Franzen doesn't? He thinks more (and better) than they do, so my thought is they hate being on his list of dislikes. I say lump it, assholes.

Ann, you should check out Franzen's The Corrections. It's dark, but very, very funny,...

The Crack Emcee said...

Damn - roesch/voltaire beat me to it - that's three in a row today.

Alright, I'm re-grouping,...

Trashhauler said...

Does anything important happen on Twitter that I won't quickly see in other media?

Blue@9 said...

Does anything important happen on Twitter that I won't quickly see in other media?

Well, you're more likely to see first-hand reports that aren't filtered by the MSM. It was rather interesting to watch the feeds when Egypt was going down.

What makes Twitter interesting is not necessarily what any one person is saying or that it's limited by 140 characters, but rather that it's the HAM radio of the modern age... except that nearly everyone has a transmitter and receiver. And you can randomly seek out the broadcasts on topics you choose, as opposed to scanning a dial. Think about that for a second. It's a really interesting communication method, and the more you think about it the more fascinating are its implications.

Barry Dauphin said...

And how would you characterize a man who writes 600-page novels that are inward-looking and contemplative, if that man dearly cares about having a readership?

Perhaps as wealthy

Holmes said...

RT Brevity is the soul of #wit