Twitter: One Writer’s Beginnings
Twitter is of great political consequence in Iran and Gaza, but in the U.S. it is about as consequent as Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton.
Narcissists and exhibitionists abound! What this has to do with literature, therefore, is up for grabs. Why bother? Why even get involved?
And yet there is something about the character-counting box that I find really thrilling, really exciting. So I got this idea that I should
attempt to write something, a narrative something, within the confines of the permitted 140 characters of Twitter. A postmodern haiku cycle.
First I tried to count characters on MSWord. But soon I learned to type the morsels of text into the character-counter on the Twitter site.
The most satisfying passages were the ones that were exactly 140 characters long. I wrenched events around in order to get myself to zero.
My story concerned a digital May-December romance. Boy meets girl on Internet dating site. True: It was harder to write deep into the box.
Upon completion I revised heavily, trying to restore the layers, bifurcations, which are certainly nothing like Twitter in its native state.
A certain magazine arranged to “tweet” the story over three days, every ten minutes, one section at a time. Serial style. Only more so.
It seemed that not too many people had actually tried to write fiction on Twitter itself, and with very good reason, I expect, though some
attempted to take already extant stories and cut them up into Twitter-sized hunks (which is cheating, I think). I wanted the limitations.
Before the story was “published,” which is to say before it was “tweeted,” it got attention for its chutzpah. Still, no one had yet
read it. It existed in a publicity-oriented space, which I don’t think is a literary space, exactly. Forty thousand read it on Twitter,
more than have read most of my books. And I suppose that is good. But then there was a significant backlash, owing to “retweets.” I barely
even know what a “retweet” is. But apparently there were too many of them for certain blogger types. I barely know what a blogger type is.
The blogger types didn’t like the multiple feeds of my story, and they felt it loaded upside down (newest section at the top), and that the
multiple points of view were confusing. But this is what postmodernism is, right? Paradoxical, resistant, strange, exhausting, exhausted.
People worry that Twitter, or Facebook, or other examples of the so-called Web 2.0 slay literary language, and I’m here to say yes: it
takes great perseverance there to maintain complexity, fidelity to language, a reverence for figures—metaphors—recursive thinking, and
so on; these are not indigenous, and, I think, they are harder to read in the digital future. Just as television controls some of the
cultural debate now, in the not-distant future, I think the onrushing of social media really will rely on diminishing fields of language.
I love experiment. I love challenges. I love language as it mutates. But I also think that books are the most stable home for what we do.