Telegraphing Coherence: Selected Tweets by Mira Gonzalez and Tao Lin

by Andrea Longini

Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez have introduced a new genre to the literary canon in Selected Tweets, their collection of Twitter output published in a tête-bêche volume for paperback consumption. The curious binding practice — where a book features two separate covers and must be flipped over halfway through — dates back to at least 19th century, yet it is not the only characteristic of the double-billed volume that hearkens back decades. In using Twitter, a contemporary medium for expression limited to 140 characters at a time, Lin and Gonzalez leverage technology to transmit modern-day proverbs on the lasting subjects of precision versus coherence, meaning, and despair.

Selected Tweets announces it will not be a collection of tweets in the conventional sense by purposefully being devoid of @-headed shout-outs and retweets; likewise, nearly every trace of an ongoing conversation has been scraped away. The result is a stripped-down chronological window into thought-making and recording that takes place over a combined ten years under nine different Twitter handles owned by the authors. Although Twitter in name implies a kind of chatter or “twittering,” Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez have elevated the medium into an art form with the power to transmit authentic observations. Which is not to say the collection doesn’t have its thorns.

Tao Lin grapples with a lack of meaning so pronounced it visits him in the form of depression and violent urges: “Feel insanely, almost completely nonhumorously depressed I think”; “imagined myself strangling someone i’ve never met while loudly asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ really wanting to know.”For her part, Gonzalez struggles with profound rolls and pitches throughout the timespan covered by the book, which is recorded chronologically: “you’re only as depressed as you feel” and “’Living’ is just the longest and most painful form of suicide.” It is also important to note that at the inception of her Twitter usage, dated in 2010, Gonzalez was 17 years old. Gonzalez emerges as a distinct voice that touches without restraint on subjects such as menstruation, children, motherhood, and self-loathing (with those topics occasionally interspersed in the same tweet, as in: “tonights the night (for a semi-unwanted pregnancy).” Her dark humor, killer honesty, and refusal to censor herself result in brazen aphorisms that are to be taken with a grain of salt: “What I lack in skill I make up for in denial.”

The abbreviated format and sentiment have antecedents in 20th century art; most strikingly, they bring to mind an artist who also telegraphed his own search for coherence through brief and irregular spurts in the passage of time. From 1970 to2000, the artist On Kawara sent telegrams to his curator, art collectors, and other recipients. They read: I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE DON’T WORRY, I AM NOT GOING TO COMMIT SUICIDE WORRY, and I AM STILL ALIVE. Jeffrey Weiss, in On Kawara — Silence, the 2015 Guggenheim exhibition catalog, notes, “Upon the receipt of art-world requests and inquiries, Kawara responded with only a telegram reading I AM STILL ALIVE, a terse statement that conveyed nothing more than the persistent fact of his existence.” Kawara’s proto-Twitter usage of the telegram as a simplistic expression of existence and existentialism was novel and innovative, as is Lin’s and Gonzalez’s use of Twitter in their work.

Lin’s and Gonzalez’s real world narratives on Twitter intersect with each other on the matter of bleakness, a field in which they both frolic — Lin: “If I teach again I’m renaming my class ‘bleak literature.’” Gonzalez: “The unbearable bleakness of being.” Other than brief incidents in which Lin loses his computer causing Gonzales to expresses sympathy towards him and in which Lin questions whether or not to extort Gonzalez “in her time of need,” the only place the two narratives converge is in a back and forth (and probably what was a large conversation, in fact) of absurdly false, invented “factoids” about the Dalai Lama.

Lin’s willingness to experiment with Twitter as a medium for deeper reflection allows him to chronicle over time, in short bursts, his hunger: for occasional carbs, for organic food, for a highly curated selection of media, and, mostly importantly, to parse out and make sense of his life: “feel like i’m vaguely on some kind of mission to spread a messageless form of information that i feel disinterested in editing to coherence,” he intones. He questions: “distracted from doing anything because i keep thinking ‘why…am i here…’ in reference to both [the universe] and [specific location].”

Gonzalez and Lin are absorbed in an ongoing process of reflection and recording, a format which Twitter excels at displaying in the right hands. The medium’s brevity would seemingly call for spontaneity, but this is not the case in Selected Tweets. Both writers reference their drafting and editing processes, revealing a deep-seated loyalty to the maniacal precision of recordkeeping. This pursuit is in danger of swinging like a pendulum away from coherence, however. Lin notes in a kind of epilogue, “I just want to record my life as it happens as closely as it’s happening right now, but not so close that it becomes incoherent, or too incoherent, for readers.” What does the microscope focus on? The organic, ongoing process of life, for better or worse, as Lin and Gonzalez transmit. Life marches inexorably onwards, only onwards, much like a Twitter feed only goes in one direction. Perhaps the briefest summary of this ethos is best encapsulated in a tweet:

“Reminder to self: view life like it’s an already-written book that I’m allowed to read once without stopping from beginning to end.” –Tao Lin

To preorder this book, click here to be redirected to the publisher’s website.

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