Review by Jacob Wren
I am Facebook friends with Matias Viegener but have never met him. I have many Facebook friends I’ve never met (in fact, most of them.) I am told this is called being a ‘collector’ but I certainly don’t think of it in this way. I suppose what I think is that Facebook is a game best played with relative strangers, and that we should save friendship for real life. (I also have difficulty with real life friendships.) I am completely addicted to Facebook, to this game of identity with its many, always slightly shifting, rules. Like any addiction I know mine is not particularly healthy. But it is rather useful in my life, and therefore I don’t believe I will be able to break it any time soon.
2500 Random Things About Me Too is a book Viegener originally wrote on Facebook, in response to the meme ’25 Random Things About Me.’ When you were tagged, you were supposed to list 25 random things about yourself, and then tag 25 of your friends. Viegener wrote his first list and then kept going. This book consists of 100 of these lists. As each list is added, the struggle to remain ‘random’ becomes more futile, since anything one might say about oneself becomes, over time, more and more connected to everything one has already said.
In 2009, when I first read some of these lists on my Facebook feed, I cut and paste one sentence into a word file I use for quotations:
Narrative is overrated. An addiction to transparency. A simple-minded need for linearity to organize a set of data. It doesn’t have much to do with real life.
At the time, I didn’t note that the next point on the list was:
Of course I love a good story.
This book is full of such intuitive reversals. Every possibility appears in tandem with other options, including it’s opposite. The topic of narrative is picked up a few pages later:
I think many stories are stories by virtue of our wanting to make random details into narratives.
And then later still:
Narrative is something created by the reader’s need.
But the worst kind of narratives are those wrested into place by pushy or needy writers.
This book leads me to suspect that the best kinds of narratives are those that fully embrace the tension between the random and constructed nature of experience/thought. Reading it sparked so many of my ongoing reflections on art and life. For example, several times I thought about another quote I had recently stumbled across (and posted on Facebook) from the novel Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas:
In those days I had no idea that, as Gide said, the great secret of works with style – the great secret of Stendhal for example – consists of writing on the spot. Gide says of Stendhal that his style, what we might call the malice of his style, consists in his stirring thought being so alive, so freshly colored, like a newly hatched butterfly (the collector is surprised to see it emerge from the chrysalis). From this comes Stendhal’s vivid, spontaneous, unconventional touch, sudden and naked, that captivates us again and again.
2500 Random Things About Me Too has malice and style to burn, fulfilling an increased possibility the internet opens up for such writing on the spot, an immediacy that mirrors the experience of being online, of having one’s words instantly received. Other recent books also display the potency of this approach: Heroines by Kate Zambreno (which began on her blog Francis Farmer Is My Sister) and Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film by Masha Tupitsyn. It is certain we will be seeing much more of this literature, pages that first came to life on the web, and, with any luck, works by Viegener, Zambreno and Tupitsyn will form some of its seminal texts.
One of the most exciting things about 2500 Random Things is how it feels like it just happened. He started without knowing where he was going and then hurtled forward. I sense that you cannot decide to write a book like this, it is something that happens to you, like war or falling in love, but on a more personal (one might say literary) scale. Perhaps, like Facebook itself, you sign on and then it takes over. This is such a different energy from most of the overly-constructed works of memoir and literature that are currently considered good, a different impetus. But clearly it doesn’t just happen. You also have to be able to recognize it, have the skill to fully navigate the immediacy of the form. There is a quality of fulfilled potential, of Viegner having stored these things up for so long, a talent that always existed but had never met the right form, and now here he is practically ambushed by it – all his life, and ability for reflection, suddenly bursting through.
Motifs that struck me as I read: his mother, his good friend Kathy Acker, death (too many deaths), sofas, conceptual art, horrible people you have to work with (one in particular he refers to as ‘the existential terrorist’), Colombia, sex, bananas, world war two, toilets, his dog Peggy (perhaps the books real protagonist), the L.A. riots, teaching, prostitution, etc. These motifs are placed in constant juxtaposition, most likely inspired by the struggle to keep it all random (or ‘randomesque’ as he occasionally chides himself). Viegner is even self-deprecating about this tendency:
I am using the most obvious devices here: mixing genres or styles, for example pairing the sentimental with the obscene.
And a little further down the list:
Or by mixing the ordinary with extraordinary, irreverence with sincerity, or present and past with future.
Viegener compares his own work to Joe Brainard’s I Remember and John Cage’s Indeterminacy. In the introduction, Kevin Killian adds Wittgenstein and Jean Cocteau’s The White Paper. I also thought of Harry Matthew’s 20 Lines a Day (in which he begins each day by writing twenty lines) and David Markson’s Reader’s Block. Reader’s Block is fiction, with a seemingly autobiographical protagonist that appears only sparingly, and 2500 Random Things is non-fiction, but in compiling his daily lists it is also as if, little by little, Viegener turns his life into a self-reflective fiction, a process that occurs in all autobiographical writing yet here portrays itself so lucidly, with everything else cut away.
In an interview, Markson describes the impetus for Reader’s Block:
I read a lot of non-fiction. I have read a lot of poetry. But I don’t read fiction anymore because it bores me. It’s like that line in Paul Valery that’s quoted in Reader’s Block: “He couldn’t write a novel because he couldn’t put down ‘The Marquis went out at five.’” The minute I read “Joe went walked across the street to say hello to Charlie” I’m bored. Books that I loved, I can’t get into again.
2500 Random Things is autobiography with all the ‘Marquis went out at five’ cut out. The list-form forces this expulsion, while the struggle to remain random generates it’s own form of literary freedom.
There has been much written recently about the ontology of social media. While 2500 Random Things certainly reflects some of these questions – how we construct and reconstruct ourselves online – for me its concerns have far more to do with literature and autobiography, what both might look like today, apart and together, if we are genuinely working in the contemporary moment. Social media is good for starting things (friendships, professional contacts, events, becoming aware of information, ideas and music). It is violently terrible as an end in itself. Facebook is only where this book started. Once started, it goes everywhere.
Jacob Wren is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. These books have been published in French translation by Le Quartanier. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize (1998), Unrehearsed Beauty / Le génie des autres (2002), La famille se crée en copulant (2005) and the ongoing HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series which includes Individualism Was a Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011). He has also collaborated with Nadia Ross and her company STO Union. Together they co-wrote and co-directed Recent Experiences (2000) and Revolutions in Therapy (2004). International projects include: a stage adaptation of the 1954 Wolfgang Koeppen novel Der Tod in Rom (Sophiensaele, Berlin, 2007), An Anthology of Optimism (with Pieter De Buysser / Campo, Ghent, 2008) and No Double Life for the Wicked (with Tori Kudo / Tokyo, 2012.) He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.