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One of the most amazing things about the internet No one is talking about it, Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel and the Vox Book Club’s choice for January, is how physical it feels. Most internet novels treat the internet as a place of abstractions, somewhere without body and without flesh. But translated into the perverse, ridiculous prose of the poet Lockwood, this internet is embodied, warm, is blowing from the breath.
“She opened the portal and the mind met her more than half way.” No one is talking about it begins. “Inside, it was tropical and it was snowing, and the first flame of the storm of everything landed on its tongue and melted.”
The Internet here is a portal: a place that promises to take you from one place to another, but completely fails to do so, leaving you stuck only within its inner neighborhoods. It’s hot inside, and it sounds white, and everything in the world is there.
The Internet works in the body. Moving through her phone, the unidentified protagonist reveals that her fingertip is numb: “This in the way your ear became soft, pink and supple, and the hair spinning around it like wet patterns, from talking. on the phone.” Early on, the protagonist calls the portal “this place where we are on the verge of losing the body.” But when a tragedy in offline life pushes the protagonist off the portal, she looks back at the portal as if it were his body. “She put her hand up. its against the white wall, “Lockwood writes,” and the heart beats, strong and fast, even healthy. “But she was no longer in that body.”
Part of Lockwood’s portal physics comes from its focus on the idea of the internet as the mind and the mind as the physical object. She imagines the internet as her own mind, so entering the portal means getting involved in the collective thoughts of everyone else out there.
But she is also interested in the idea of a mind as something tangible and carnal, of thought being something applied by the body. Her protagonist withdraws from the idea of eating octopus after reading an online article about octopus intelligence, in part because she begins to think of the octopus body as his mind. “Every time she split up in a burning tentacle among innocent new potatoes,” Lockwood writes, “she thought to herself, ‘I’m eating a mind, I’re eating a mind, I’m eating a good understanding of the subject at hand.’ If the body of an octopus is a mind, then the mind of the web must be, for sure, a body.
The idea of any separation between mind and body collapses completely in front of the protagonist’s minor granddaughter. Born with Proteus syndrome, the baby is not expected to live long and live fully in its flesh as long as it is close by.
“She would live in her senses,” the doctors explain, as Lockwood’s prose runs transparently gently. “Her fingertips, her ears, her drowsiness and waking, a ripple along the skin wherever she touched. Along its edges, exactly where it turned into another state. Tides full of slow glitter and small bubbles and leaves waving. Myself, but more so, like a sponge. But eager. ”
The baby’s self is located in its senses. She can not see, but loves music and responds with pleasure when her family plays a game called Little Touch, where she is easily touched by everyone. And while a smaller book would make the baby’s condition take the protagonist away from her phone, realizing that it’s real life what matters and not the internet. No one is talking about it acknowledges that real life and the internet are not so easily separated. The protagonist stops a lot of posting on the portal, of course. But she plays the baby Andrews Sisters on her phone and reads them aloud from Marlon Brando’s entry on Wikipedia. She keeps pictures of the baby on her phone and considers them to create herself complete.
The baby, too, is unquestionably a complete self, a mind and body in complete union – and so, in this book, is the internet.
Share your thoughts on No one is talking about it in the comments section below, and be sure to respond to our upcoming live discussion event with Lauren Oyler and Patricia Lockwood. Meanwhile, subscribe to the Vox Book Club newsletter to make sure you are not missing anything.
- While someone was poisoned deep in the brain, I approached the first half of No one is talking about it with happy acquaintance: check out all those memes I forgot! If you’re less brain poisoned, or the brain poisoned by another part of the internet that does not acquaint you with Lockwood’s favorite memes, how does that section read you? Does it make sense?
- Every time I read this novel, I am amazed at how vulnerable the second part is. In the hands of a less accomplished writer, it would be very easy for a book about a sick baby to eventually feel perverted and manipulative, or for the protagonist to reflexively cover up the vulnerability of her emotions under strange cynicism. Lockwood does neither, and manages to make her account look real. Did it work for you? How did she do it?
- Like the narrator Lauren Oyler in Fake accounts, Lockwood’s protagonist worries that she writes in excerpts because “it was the way the portal wrote”. Oyler’s narrator first parodies and then rejects fragmented prose, while Lockwood’s protagonist embraces it. Do you think it is true that novels in fragments are on the rise due to social media? Which approach to the passages do you find most fruitful?
- If the internet is a portal, where did you intend to go when you first logged in? Are you planning to go somewhere now, or is the portal his destination?
- Is the internet a tune?