Mark Doten’s debut novel, The Infernal, was published by Graywolf Press in 2015. One of our 2017 Best of Young American Novelists, Doten is the literary fiction editor at Soho Press and teaches at Columbia University in the graduate writing program. He shares five things he’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
1. What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
It’s really grotesque the way people talk about dead writers, particularly when it comes to their Internet usage. You know the sort of thing: who would have had more Instagram followers, Charles Darwin or Jane Bowles? Would Dickinson have done good tweets? (Bro, Dickinson would crush Twitter; Darwin
invented Instagram.) THAT SAID. I’m reading Garth Greenwell’s sad, sexy first novel and there’s a scene where the narrator, an American teacher, is watching a Bulgarian hustler Skype with a whole series of johns and other hustlers. This twenty-first century moment is delivered in a Proustian wash of prose, compelling and agonized, a voice perfectly suited to the material – which made me think: is there any doubt that Proust would have been obsessed with the Internet? Forget about Kafka or Borges or any of the usual suspects that get dragged into discussions of online culture; no one would have cyberstalked his exes more, or written more poignantly about the gratifications and silences of Grindr. I’d trade ten million think pieces about the Internet’s effect on the last year’s US election for a five-page Proust riff on phantom vibration syndrome.
2. Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization by Alexander R. Galloway
Protocol was published in 2004, and in the years since, tech giants like Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon have transformed the way we use the Internet. But in many ways the Internet has changed very little since then – at least in the parts we don’t see. In our new world of massive gatekeepers, it’s easy to look back with gauzy admiration at the 90s, when the Internet was so often spoken of as a zone of freedom, possibility and utopian politics. Protocol tells us that such utopian notions were always an illusion. The distributed nature of the Internet, our ability to send data between devices that connect to it (devices that now number in the billions) – is enabled by rigid protocological controls. Layers of protocol come into play to translate ‘granta.com’ into Granta’s IP address (which happens to be 188.8.131.52) and then to bring you the text you’re reading. It’s a world of control and power that is contested, valuable, ubiquitous and to most users, invisible.
3. John McCain
Speaking of protocol: ten days after surgery for a malignant brain tumor, John McCain flew out to DC and gave a speech chastising Republicans and Democrats for their partisanship. He said, ‘But as I stand here today – looking a little worse for wear I’m sure – I have a refreshed appreciation for the protocols and customs of this body, and for the other ninety-nine privileged souls who have been elected to this Senate.’ The speech came only moments after McCain voted to advance legislation that would strip millions of Americans of healthcare. Days later, in a dramatic 2 a.m. vote (‘watch the show,’ he told journalists on his way to the Senate floor), he voted against the very healthcare repeal that he had made possible, positioned as the deciding vote, the good old reliable maverick, a savior of all things decent. And there you have it: a dying old right-wing asshole speechifying about custom and protocol and ‘privileged souls’ after walking America to the brink of mass suffering and death, then jumping in at the last minute to save the country, gobbling up as much glory as possible in the process. At least there were some good tweets about it.
— Anthony Oliveira (@meakoopa) July 28, 2017
Everyone: you should run on single payer
Dems: sorry, too busy working on a bipartisan bill to build a memorial statue of John McCain
— maple cocaine (@historyinflicks) July 25, 2017
If Protocol has an elegant, timeless feel, this short, scrappy book, published in May, has its claws in the rage, sickness and stupidity of the current moment.
Is this the greatest comedy podcast ever? Or would it be more accurate to call it one of the all-time great works of human endeavor? ‘The boys’, Hayes Davenport (the nice one) and Sean Clements (the smug, trapped-in-his-own-head one), host an interview podcast that is billed as ‘an insider’s guide to kicking butt and dropping names in the red-carpet-lined back hallways of this industry we call showbiz.’ It was a loose concept even in the early days, and has fallen away since. But Sean’s seemingly bottomless reserves of resentment provide a superabundance of fuel as the hosts hunt for material to fill up an hour: thefts of other podcasts’ formats; confrontational and at times bullying interviews with people whose ability to play along varies; the arc of their own friendship in the face of Sean’s nonstop petty score-settling; and weird, tour-de-force anecdotes about encounters with celebrities like Magilla Gorilla, Elena Ferrante and Inky the Pac-Man ghost.
Artwork © John Lester