Tweetfiction and Thomas Bernhard

Rick Moody's tweetfiction "Some contemporary characters," currently running on Electric Literature's Twitter feed, fails because Moody makes no effort to shape his text in such a way as to take advantage of the discontinuous nature of a Twitter feed. Richard Nash made this point, after a fashion, in his critique of "Scc," which he compares unfavorably to other Twitter storytelling efforts, on the @otolythe, @enoch_soames, and @adelehugo feeds. By their nature - that is, the way they're both written and read - tweets stand alone, perhaps relating to one another, in an oblique way, but not needing to do so. A multi-tweet narrative, relying on continuity to make sense, be interesting, or both, is also problematic because Twitter clients present tweets in reverse chronological order - that is, latest first. Yes, Twitter is about immediacy, so ideally, everyone reads tweets as they come in, and thus earliest first. But this doesn't happen very often. "Catching up" is the usual means of reading tweets, which means reading the newest first - and, often, ignoring any that are "below the fold," whatever that means, on the client and device in question.

Which brings me to Thomas Bernhard. Much contemporary fiction delivers narratives in disjointed fashion, moving from perspective to perspective, or event to event, at breaks between paragraphs, or even between sentences. This has become a standard device in "scene-setting" chapters in longer fictions, for example - just today, I was reading the start of Nicholson Baker's new The Anthologist, and noted that he does this in his first chapter, with his first-person narration jumping, at the graf breaks, between descriptions of different events in the protagonist's past. But neither Baker nor any other writer does this with as much gusto, and as much success, as Bernhard. In those of his novels I've read, he doesn't use multiple perspectives, which makes them not quite post-modern, according to the received definition of same. Indeed they're narrations by intensely self-reflective protagonists, struggling and generally failing to find the single truth that will explain everything about their experiences, or at least make those experiences make some sort of sense that isn't despair-inducing. But his narrators, each driven into a thought-fever by this search, shift so rapidly, constantly, and jarringly between topics and events, with none treated for too long, and none in a way in which a whole narrative is presented complete, that the effect is quite post-modern. That is, his narrations aim always at problematizing, at every turn, standard notions of how life is lived, and knowledge, including self-knowledge, is gotten - indeed, problematizing them to the point that experiences comes to seem disjointed at its core, and thus living a useful or happy life seems impossible, and the aspiration to acquire meaningful knowledge, silly. Yes, in focusing on, indeed reveling in, this discontinuity, Bernhard was no doubt saying something about the disjointed character of contemporary life - a discontinuity all the more evident in the era of never-offline living, and the continuous Alt-Tab workflow of the continual multitasker. But he was also making a profound philosophical point, one that could apply, I think, to any era.

And why couldn't Moody have done something like this, with his Tweetfiction? Not that "Scc" had to be filled with despair and self-loathing, though in truth, these are as much his themes as Bernhard's. But a more enthusiastic Tweetfiction writer would have seized on the medium's suitability for discontinuous, and thus disjointed, fiction, and perhaps, in doing so, pointed the way toward a Bernhardian aesthetic for stories delivered in 140-character bursts. So too would our ideal writer have done something fun or inspiring or both - think Time's Arrow - with the Twitter feed's "forward yet backward" chronicity. One wonders - and wonders too who'll take up this challenge, and how long we'll wait to see the results.