‘The Candy House’: Jennifer Egan talks about our need to be seen

[ad_1]

American writer Jennifer Egan’s fascination with human responses to technology is at the heart of her novel ‘The Candy House’.

Told in a dizzying array of narratives and styles, “The Candy House” is an exploration of our interdependence, but also our desire for true connection.

Why we wrote this

How is technology changing human behavior? This is a question that invites further discussion about the nature of connection and communication.

The book delves into the dangers of mass surveillance, the performative pressures of social media, and the consequences for the “rebellious” – those who go to great lengths to reject this brave new world.

But lest you think ‘The Candy House’ is in the same dystopian realm as Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic, Ms. Egan is here to clear you up. It’s not a dystopian novel and was never meant to be.

“Dystopia is kind of uninteresting to me,” she says in an interview. “I feel tired of a post-apocalyptic landscape in which everything has gone wrong… [This book] is such an environment of humor and even hilarity and absurdity, and in which he is rather optimistic.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t perplexed by our current relationship with technology. In fact, it was a driving force when she wrote this book. “I keep asking the question whether we’re internally changed by technology,” she says.

I first met author Jennifer Egan in late September at Festival America, a Paris book fair celebrating some 70 North American authors. Hundreds of literature lovers gathered around the mazelike configuration of tables, stacked books and writers at the Book Fairhoping to establish a brief but meaningful connection with their favorite authors.

Ms Egan sat calmly amidst the gust, a beacon in the storm, and asked if we could talk later, on Zoom, so she could ‘stay there’ for people who had shown up to see her .

It was fitting, given that his latest book, “The Candy House,” delves into our deep need for connection, but also for authenticity, as we become increasingly overwhelmed by the slow but steady takeover of technology.

Why we wrote this

How is technology changing human behavior? This is a question that invites further discussion about the nature of connection and communication.

It’s also normal that the first thing that happens when she and I talk again is that my Wi-Fi cuts out. As I ponder a few select phrases I’d like to say to my internet company, Ms. Egan doesn’t mince words about our relationship with technology: “We can’t go back.”

In “The Candy House” – a sister novel to his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – the reader follows the twists and turns of some 14 characters as they navigate a world dominated by Own Your Unknown , a technology created by Bix Button – a Mark Zuckerberg-style demigod – that uploads users’ memories to a cube, so they’re then available to others.

“The Candy House”, by Jennifer Egan, Scribner, 352 pp.

Told in a dizzying array of narratives and styles – from first-person plural to epistolary to an instruction manual for spies – each chapter of “The Candy House” is an exploration of our interconnectedness, but also of our desire for true connection.

The book delves into the dangers of mass surveillance, the performative pressures of social media, and the consequences for the “rebellious” – those who go to great lengths to reject this brave new world.

But lest you think ‘The Candy House’ is in the same dystopian realm as Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic, Ms. Egan is here to clear you up. It’s not a dystopian novel and was never meant to be.

“Dystopia is kind of uninteresting to me,” she says. “I feel tired of a post-apocalyptic landscape in which everything has gone wrong. … [This book] is such an environment of humor and even hilarity and absurdity, and in which he is rather optimistic.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t perplexed by our current relationship with technology. In fact, it was a driving force when she wrote this book. “I keep asking the question whether we’re internally changed by technology,” she says.

If “The Candy House” is any indication, the people developing the internet, cell phones and social media are probably not part of a master plan to destroy us. Using technology, she writes, “Tens of thousands of crimes solved; virtually eradicated child pornography; Alzheimer’s and dementia greatly reduced by reinfusions of salvaged healthy consciousness; dying languages ​​preserved and revived; a legion of missing persons found; and an overall increase in empathy that accompanied a steep decline in purist orthodoxies – which people now knew, after walking the strange twisting corridors of each other’s minds, had always been hypocritical.

Ms. Egan’s own relationship with technology appears to be love-hate. Despite her fascination with our interactions with her, she says she regularly hides her cell phone in another part of the house and is not at all tempted by social media. When it comes to misadventures down the Internet rabbit hole, she does it like everyone else, but, she says, “I rarely feel good about a lot of time spent chatting online, and I don’t know a lot of people feeling good about it.”

She cites “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” Daniel Boorstin’s 1962 book, as oddly prescient about the performative and organized nature of social media today. Mr Boorstin essentially coined the term ‘famous for being famous’ (a celebrity is ‘a person known for his notoriety’) and claimed that press conferences and presidential debates were fabricated events, for the sole purpose of get media coverage. .

Today, according to Ms Egan, “much of what we see on social media is people trying to get to know each other’s insides and trying to share content from their own insides because it is a human wish and need.”

Point out society’s almost painful desire to be “seen” on a massive scale and social media’s ability to deliver – from the “humble boasting” of the friend on Facebook who just doesn’t know where he should give his check stimulus, to the exhausted mother who posts a totally unflattering Instagram selfie showing her futile attempts to put the kids to bed.

“I am fascinated by the desire for authenticity… [but] I literally never say to myself, ‘How can I live an authentic life?’ “, she says. “As soon as you try to do something authentic, it’s a sign that you’re in territory that prevents you from doing it.”

The desire to cut the act is so strong that it pushes some characters in “The Candy House” to extremes, most spectacularly Alfred, whose “intolerance of fakery” led him to let out a primitive cry in public places, in search of authentic human reactions and authenticity.

But perhaps resisting the pull of technology is futile. As the character Chris Salazar – the head of an entertainment start-up fighting to preserve people’s privacy – says of the externalization of consciousness: “The collective is like gravity: hardly anyone can resist. In the end, they give their all. »

Ms. Egan’s own advice on how to get out of the “authenticity paradox” is obvious: get off the screen.

And so it is that when I say goodbye to him, I find myself trapped in a brilliantly ironic moment of life imitating art. There’s me, shamelessly searching for the connection by relaying an anecdote that would connect Mrs. Egan and me through one of my closest friends, and my Wi-Fi is down again.

“I’m losing you again,” she says, as the line cuts. “I think it’s a sign that we have to get it over with.”

[ad_2]
Source link

Raymond I. Langston