New Forms A New Form of Writing for the Internet Age; “Permanent Exhbit"

Oct 3, 2018

The Internet is changing the way we communicate.  These days it’s all about tweets and status updates, short sentences and quick comments that show up in our ‘in-boxes.’  But what does it all add up to? Virginia Tech English Professor Matthew Vollmer is exploring what this modern medium can do for literature and what literature can do for it.   

"Permanent Exhibit" is a new book by Virginia Tech Assistant Professor of English Matthew Vollmer.
Credit BOA Editions Limited

Matthew Vollmer began working on this book in 2016.“I was at a place with social media where, having been on it for 8 or 9 years, I was very conditioned to check it frequently and it seemed like it reached a threshold of diminishing returns. I would go on and look at Facebook and everyone was outraged.  They were outraged at Hilary. They were outraged at Trump," Vollmer remembered. "And I sort of, missed what I had come to Facebook for, which was an escape, just to see some sort of idiosyncrasies of a friend or acquaintance.” 

But, status updates had become the new ‘go to’ medium.  Move over email, forget about handwritten notes or letters in the mail, without an ‘e’ before the word.  So, one evening, Vollmer being a writer, well, he needed to write something.

This is what he typed on his computer: “Status Update: It’s 2016 and homes are still being raided for Marijuana. Tropical Smoothie Café opened in Blacksburg today. Another black man was shot by police.  I can’t believe I’m running the dish washer again. My bike can’t ride itself. I miss the ocean. My closest family members are in Wyoming, which is possibly the most beautiful state ever created. I saw a baby deer nursing from its mother today in the middle of the road. I ate a slice of pizza big enough to wrap around my face. Ernst Becker’s “Denial of Death” is a good book. My best friends don’t live next door. My neighbor brought me a piece of junk mail and laughed at the look on my face because I was sure she would be a proselytizer….”

The next morning, he opened Facebook he saw that his anecdotal musings had actually gotten a lot of attention. People were posting that they liked the way he strung together a series of juxtapositions,  ideas, associations, and new ideas that grew out of them. So, he thought, OK I’ll do another one.  And it got the same reaction.

“There was a sort of liberation to start at one place and not know where I was going to go and follow the association within and be able to subvert that adding something totally unrelated as a juxtaposition, because that felt real to me in terms of how consciousness works," Vollmer said.

Vollmer jokes that this writing project not only allowed him to legitimize his Internet addiction, it also gave him a sort of research project.  Each entry led him, of course, back to the Internet to confirm the facts and flesh out the details in his written meanderings.

“Each essay presented itself as a fascinating opportunity to learn a little bit more about whatever subject I had chosen to sort of mediate on or think about.” 

Vollmer says this may be why he gravitated to this form of writing. “It is getting harder and for me to sit down and or work or read for hours at a time. I have to punctuate my day with little escapes into the netherworld of the Internet.”

And, these days, who doesn’t?

“I was really trying to create an analog of consciousness, which is impossible to do, but to come as close as I could to representing my mind at work on the day’s problems, the day’s joys the day’s sorrows, the day’s anger; the whole emotional pallet that is available to me as a person who exists in a world that seems to be growing more and more chaotic.”

Matthew Vollmer is the author of Gateway to Paradise, Future Missionaries of America, and Inscriptions for Headstones. With David Shields, he co-edited FAKES: An Anthology of Pseudo- Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, and he served as editor for The Book of Uncommon Prayer, an anthology of everyday invocations featuring the work of over 60 writers. The winner of a 2010 NEA grant for literature, Vollmer is an Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech. He lives in Blacksburg, VA, with his wife and son.

The new book is called, 'Permanent Exhibit'

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