The Internet – with its wires and illuminated screens, connecting us to virtually all of humanity – is hard to ignore. Contemporary fiction has begun to grapple with its effect on the individual, as it is the obvious next frontier of expression and the human experience. My 18-year-old self is hard-pressed to imagine a time before the world was connected by the Internet, cell-phones, et al., and the literature of our generation and the next is bound to register the impact these technologies have on our lives.
David Fiore’s Chimera Lucida: A Technodiegetic Romance attempts to unfurl the banner of Internet literature. At 72 pages, it follows the story of Roberta Flackjacket and her adrenaline-infused ups and downs, as told through flashbacks primarily voiced by members of an online message board. These sources demonstrate how rowdy and caustic Flackjacket is, going to pains to form a one-dimensional character, one who acts outrageously without applied purpose.
Flackjacket is a punk rock singer for a band called Schmeiss Queen, and at the beginning of the novella she “drops the tools of her tirade in favour of an automatic weapon.” So begins a multitude of masturbatory puns and rhymes – the reader is driven away from any content, directed to only appreciate form.
Fiore seems convinced he is doing something innovative by employing puns, shifting between poetry and prose, and by using the Internet as the platform for Chimera’s plot. This righteous self-consciousness is consistent throughout the novella. A conversation between Flackjacket and the administrator of the site:
“Good! We oughtta be on the same page – present a united front.”
“To whom it may concern.”
“Aw’d’I go n’ leave you out on an iamb?”
“Go ahead and leave me there. Let’s talk about you.”
Yes, for Christ’s sake, let’s talk about you. Flackjacket’s character is the type to push people away from the content of her life, perhaps as a defense mechanism to escape from general vacuity. However, Fiore’s tireless presentation of diversionary puns and over-charged hysterical realism that stems from the postmodern tradition (one is tipped off by the Pynchon-esque character names), does not operate on this further level of irony, which we can justly title as (god-forbid) seriousness. If the text was designed to be entirely void of meaningful content, entirely concerned with form, we may begin to accept this as an accurate parallel with the reality of Flackjacket’s character: no substance, only image. But, Fiore does legitimately attempt to define the roots of the protagonist’s behaviour using the voices of friends, family, and peers – still, they all end up with commonplace conclusions wrapped in hipster discontent or mundane sentimentality, like “there was such a thrill in being crazy there together.”
Chimera Lucida is yet another example of the pandemic of our day’s literature to misinterpret the contemporary consciousness as vapid, and as a result, content is unnecessarily subservient to form: an error seen in both the novella’s characters and its narrative style. Authors are not afraid of making exactly what they are doing, their thoughts and theories, obvious to the reader. But presented with works that consist of English lit inside jokes and watered-down versions of Ulysses or The Crying of Lot 49, contemporary readers have to step aside and murmur, “remember when there was feeling?”
If there is anything entirely absent from Chimera Lucida, it is feeling. One reads the entire text as a playful exercise in literary theory, with cute manipulations of the English language. In Fiore’s defense, he seems to have found a way to convey the contemporary consciousness, with the Internet looming around, in the modes of hysterical realism – even if his outlook evokes a Foucault piece.
Curiously enough, contemporary fiction often inspires comparison to the eighteenth century, which was obsessed with specific rules for writing: proper literary conventions like iambic pentameter. What emerged from such rigourous formal discipline was a general vapidity of feeling; The Rape of the Lock and Gulliver’s Travels, the two towering works of the age, were satirical and designed to make us think critically, not feel passionately. Ironically, contemporary fiction, in its determination to break down rules, has accomplished comparable results, consulting loftier theories that can ultimately issue only shallow critiques of society.
The Romantics responded to the neoclassicism of the eighteenth century, countering the dry culmination of neat little satires with gushing, overwhelming emotion. Today, we must enact a similar response; we cannot present ourselves solely as subjects of the impenetrable systems detailed in Cultural Studies courses. Forgetting what we cannot change is partially necessary if we are to maintain an accurate and seething depiction of emotion, direly needed with the introduction of the Internet. The Internet in its magnitude can easily make us feel meaningless and insignificant in comparison. Yet, we must not forget that our blood keeps flowing, that our heads will still laugh, that what we feel is foreign to theory.
At the end of Chimera Lucida, Fiore mimics an Internet hallmark: “Click HERE to begin again.” With force and replenished vigour, writers must begin again – not through refreshing this tired web page, but rather, by clicking on an entirely different link.