Sunday, July 1, 2007

Home Land, Sam Lipsyte

This is the kind of book you recommend to all worthwhile people you know, in the main because you think they deserve something this good. So I'm recommending it to you.

Sam Lipsyte's Home Land, among many other things, gives the theory that hysterical novels are given short critical shrift an enormous boost in terms of credibility; while I believe it won some serious fans among the blogerati, the New Yorker gave it a positively desultory (or desultorily positive), and the NY Review of Books seems to have forgotten completely to cover it.

Home Land is no less than (and perhaps a bit more than) the Lucky Jim of American society circa right now, as Gary Shteyngart would say (and did say in Absurdistan). And the Shteyngart reference is not meant as an idle one—although I adored Absurdistan, it frustrated me at times with its precociously self-conscious quasi-Gogolisms and its Rothian iddishness. Lipsyte manages to envelop all the energy of Portnoy but nevertheless to express it in discrete (not in the sense of polite or conscientious reticence, but in the other sense) bursts—Lipsyte came up with the perfect formal structure to which to yoke his runaway ebullience—dispatches to a high school newsletter.

The novel, of course, is not all dispatches, but they serve as more than intermittently appearing curios, interjected for comic intensification; they orient the novel toward a specific audience, a unified tone, and a clear idea of the narrator's imaginative canvas. Home Land therefore operates in a way very similar to one of my other favorite novels, Saul Bellow's Herzog.

But Lipsyte is doing something very new here with these "updates"—he has written the perfect novel to describe/parody/confront the culture of blogging (which is probably why so many bloggers liked it). This is not in the least explicit, and is likely not even intentional, but I could not help being completely arrested by the significance of the following passage for blogging:
Catamounts, once more I stuff my heart into the firing tube of language, loft it into the void.
See the wet meat soar?
I swore an oath off updates after the death of [redacted to prevent spoilers], but I've been checking the bulletin board on occasion, shocked anew each time at the dearth of soul-searching there. It's as though that night at the Moonbeam never occurred, our lives on unruptured procession of promotions and breeding success, summer cottages, marathons. Who called for the moratorium on feeling? Who pulled the plug on the true? Or was it always just me, feeble Tea, who believed in the power of updates, who thought that by sharing with my brethren of the valley the story of my days and nights, my fears and joys, or even just the febrile murmurings of my mind, our forts of ruinous solitude might be breached.
Okay, maybe it was just me.
Lipsyte addresses (obliquely/unconsciously) a host of net-related issues here, some of which can only be properly analyzed with reference to some plot events which I don't really want to divulge. But I think the sense of having been deluded about the efficacy of updating, or posting, in terms of opening a channel to real feeling or to truth is crucial to the blogging experience. One realizes, or should realize, after a very short time that the elastic layers of artifice that plague or communications "in real life" also ride along the same links and lines we are using to open ourselves up to the world—and to open the world up to us. Two words stick out from this passage: "sharing" and "breached." The inflections of these verbs is very important here and gives us an insight into the state of, and specific ideas behind, the delusion common to (new) bloggers: "sharing" is a gerund and a progressive participle—it therefore can be both an object—a goal—and a process. The point of blogging is to sustain the process of "sharing," a verb which in this case has lost the objects (both indirect and direct) which it grammatically calls for—"Sharing" has become intransitive. The effects of this intransitivity are enormous—it allows the blogger to disregard the things which would (grammatically) take the place of those objects—an audience (the indirect object) and content (the direct object). "Sharing" becomes synonymous with a gas leak, which is, if you really think about it, not sharing at all. To correct this misperception, it is necessary to reconjugate "to share" as the past participle (not the progressive): "shared." A post is "shared," not "sharing"—it is itself an object, not part of an on-going process.

"Breached" is similarly misconjugated. The past participle in this case falsely assumes completion where there can be none—the blogger can neither "breach" himself/herself nor the audience which s/he intends, for both are shifting in ways that defy pressure. Blogging is carried out on the slipperiest of surfaces, and any effort to generate the friction necessary to establish a head-on collision—with a reader or even an interlocutor—is a fool's errand. This is why bloggers are always talking past one another to a degree much greater even than in verbal exchanges or academic journals. The hope for a "breached" audience—one that has been pinned, effectively, in place to listen, is absurd, unrealizable. The blogger's hope for a degree of transparency which would allow the audience to breach oneself is similarly impossible—no one blogs at a rate wherein the gaps of non-blogged activity are smaller than the posts. The life that occurs in those gaps reorients the life that falls into the posts between the gaps—as you live, the constellation of the posts you've made shifts based on what you do outside of your posts—inevitably. To be "breached" would require a cessation of this shifting—and that cannot happen.

Well, that's enough—more than enough, I'm sure. I may have taken all the fun out of Home Land, but that's definitely not my intention. It is a fantastic book—read it soon.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

OK, I took your advice, I bought this at Powell's. Can't wait to read it!