Thursday, November 3, 2011

Technology, Time and Nostalgia and Punks in Literature

This morning, I listened to an interview with Jennifer Egan--fascinating!

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I waxed rapturous after reading her 2010 book, A Visit from the Goon Squad.  I wasn't the only one; the book won several awards.

In that book, Egan does interesting experiments with narrative, approaching it from a linear aspect and fiddling with the linear aspect of narrative.  This book will likely be remembered as the first book to successfully use a PowerPoint presentation as short story. 

In her interview, Egan talks about time and the illusions that surround time.  She also offers intriguing insights into technology.  She says that she taught a college-level class last year precisely to find out how college students approach technology.  She was surprised to find out that today's college students feel they're different not from older people, but from younger people when it comes to technology.  After all, today's 14 year old never really knew a world without Facebook.

Egan also pointed out that when she was in her early 20's, the greatest technological invention of her time was the answering machine.  At first, the answering machine doesn't seem like such a leap.  But remember what it was like when you couldn't leave a message or know who had called when you were away from the phone.

She quoted Steve Jobs, who said the greatest technological innovations were ones that allowed us to control time, like VCRs, which free us from relying on others for narrative.  We can go back and forth in time.We can pause to do something else.  We're that much closer to understanding late-20th-century Physics!

 This past week-end, I got lost in a different book about punk kids:  Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints.  What a great book, although it's very different from Egan's.  It's densely textured, and while like Egan's book, it does show people from different time periods interacting, in Henderson's book, it's grown up (though not always mature) hippies and their punk offspring.

The book is like a time capsule, taking us back to the late 80's, in New York City and Vermont.  It's a time when AIDS was a death sentence.  It's a time before New York City got cleaned up and safe.  It's a time when an artisan could still make a living selling blown glass bongs.  It seems like a million years ago.

It's also an interesting window into a subsection of punk culture, the straight edge punks who give up alcohol, drugs, and sometimes even sex.  I can't think of any other work of fiction that has taken us so deeply into that world.  In fact, I can think of very few works of any kind who have done what Henderson does with this book.

Long-time readers of this blog know that one of my Alternate Life Kristin fantasies involves a band of some kind, so it makes sense that I would love this book.  Again, it seems to depict a world that no longer exists, when a band needed $500 to press a record so they'd have something to sell at concerts.  Technology has obliterated that requirement, although the selling of merchandise will probably never vanish.  We have any number of ways to get our creative work out there now.

So, if you're looking for a great interview that will enrich your intellect, head to the Egan interview.  If you want to get lost in a great novel about punk, pick up Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints.  Then you can read Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad to see what happens when punks grow up.


Kathleen said...

As someone who frequently gets lost in nonlinear time, I very much appreciate this blog entry!!

Kristin said...

Thanks, Kathleen!