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Jonathan Franzen Upsets the Internet. Again. This Time, It’s Twitter

Posted on the 08 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Jonathan Franzen upsets the internet. Again. This time, it’s Twitter

Jonathan Franzen. Photocredit: Pontificia Universidad Catalica de Chile

He’s at it again! Jonathan Franzen, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of The Corrections and Freedom, has come out in an attack on social networking site Twitter. He’s already come out against Facebook and ebooks. He cuts off the internet when he’s writing. Is any internet based medium safe from him? But his novel, Freedom, has its own Twitter account – and there is a satirical Twitter account called Emperor Franzen.

What happened? He did a reading in Tulane University, and a fan of his, writer Jami Attenberg, blogged about it. Twitter soon picked it up, as another writer, Ian Thomas Healy, created the hashtag JonathanFranzenHates, which he pointed at EvilWylie, a satirical account about the literary agent Andrew Wylie. Soon, Jonathan Franzen was hating everything from kittens to the moon.

So what did he say? The Telegraph quoted him: “Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters. It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter “P”. It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers… particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

Twitter upset? Oh yes. Even actress Minnie Driver joined in the fun: “#JonathanFranzenhates the moon. Its light is unspeakably dishonest and no more than a reflection.”

He’s a big silly. Vulture disagreed with him. “First, the idea that ‘serious readers and writers’ don’t engage in — hell, revel in — self-yakking is patently false.” And “of course Twitter is ill-suited to factual citations and elaborate discourse. That’s like complaining that Post-it notes are ill-suited to use for the first draft of a dissertation.” Yes, “Twitter arguments are unspeakably irritating, but that dubiously assumes that Twitter is supposed to be or even generally is used for that purpose.” It’s “not what Twitter’s for. It’s easy for Jonathan Franzen to find an audience for his ideas; it is less easy for almost everyone else. That doesn’t make their pursuit of it dumb.”

 He’s got a point, though. David Haglund on Slate said that “the whole little game, briefly diverting and ocasionally amusing as it is, essentially proved Franzen’s point.” He’d tried to make an argument about the “negative aspects of Twitter.” But those on Twitter just reduced it “to a meaningless punchline.” It is hard to cite facts and create arguments. He took EvilWylie’s response as an example: “jonathanfranzenhates Emoticons, because it takes 600 pages to accurately convey emotion.” Well, yes: emotions are “complex enough to merit 600-page novels, and cannot be fully conveyed in an emoticon.”


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