Tuesday, February 28, 2017

North Melbourne Books March Newsletter - featuring Jarett Kobek

In the March edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to Turkish-American novelist Jarett Kobek about his novel, I Hate the Internet. It's a savage satire on technology, media, celebrity, big business, politics and just about everything.

Don't miss this incendiary bomb of a book, a genuine rarity today. You may not agree with everything in it, but it's a book that will challenge your every assumption. (You can read our staff review here.)

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North Melbourne Books talks to Jarett Kobek

North Melbourne Books: I Hate the Internet centres around Adeline, a forty-five-year-old comic book creator. Her main claim to fame is a comic called Trill, published in the 1990s, which made her somewhat famous. Fast forward twenty years and things go awry when she gives a talk and in a sudden flight of fancy goes off on a rant. Someone in the audience records the outburst, uploads it onto the Internet and before Adeline knows it, she's involved in Twitter wars with the fans of Beyonce and Rhianna. The story is told in a rather fragmented, almost cubist or dadaist fashion, interspersed with a lot of freewheeling commentary on just about everything - politics, poverty, economics, the social status of minorities, technology. The style is the very opposite of your regular literary novel. How did you come up with the book's design?

Jarett Kobek: I wish that I could say that this was an entirely conscious approach, but it wasn’t. My time in San Francisco gave me a little bit of a nervous breakdown—both in terms of what seemed to be my inability to make good as a writer and in terms of having to deal with the endless bullshit of that one industry town—and so when I started writing I Hate the Internet, it came out in the hyperfragmented style that you mention.

Very shortly thereafter, I realized that this approach worked really well in addressing the Internet, as it mirrors the way that the Internet presents itself. So I ran with it and commodified my temporary mental illness into a reasonably lucrative cultural artifact. If you must go nuts, you should probably try and make it pay.

NMB: I Hate the Internet has a lot to say about the patriarchy and how women are treated as second class citizens. At one stage in the book there are calls for women to turn their back on the Internet and create their own version of it. In some parts the novel reads like a feminist treatise. How did you come to have such strong views on the status of women in society?

JK: I personally don’t apply the term feminist for two reasons: (1) every time I hear a man call himself a feminist, it’s the sound of someone trying to get laid, and (2) feminism at its heart is an argument about establishing the total equality of the two sexes, which is something that I reject because I believe that women are better than men.

I don’t know how anyone could get past a certain age—say 25, 30 tops—and not be just achingly aware of how incredibly unfair and full of shit the world is when it comes to its treatment of women, both on a macro economic and micro interpersonal scale. Heterosexuality is a millennia-long con job. The alternates are a bit better, but only just.

The irony here is that the positive reception of I Hate the Internet has been inherently predicated on the sexism it purports to critique. There’s no way that a woman who wrote the same book, word for word, would have been taken as seriously. She would have opened herself up to a world of unfathomable abuse and summarily dismissed.

NMB: There are a few digs taken at science fiction novels and writers in your novel, yet clearly you know your stuff on the subject. The influence of Kurt Vonnegut seems to be strongest on I Hate the Internet. How much of an influence has science fiction been on your work?

JK: Like every American teenaged boy of a certain age and specific levels of sexual frustration and intelligence, I had a Science Fiction phase. Mine was a little weird because I read, primarily, the authors of the so-called New Wave, which was a brief bloom of drug use and weird sex in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. People like Thomas M. Disch and Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison. This convinced me that Science Fiction was a radical literature—which is the exact opposite of the truth. There is no more conservative literature than Science Fiction. There came a long period of disabusement when I branched out into the putative Masters of the Genre.

These days, I think the only real influence other than Vonnegut (though he would have rejected the label as a writer of Science Fiction) is Philip K. Dick. There’s a chapter in IHTI which is so indebted to him that it’s crazy.

NMB: There's a wonderful scene at the end of I Hate the Internet where the character J. Karacehennem gives an extraordinary speech to a group of tourists. Amongst other things he declares, “Book people are the only people who have a half-way interesting argument to make against the Internet!” and “...no technology can overwhelm Charlotte Bronte!” For many years we were told that the information age would make libraries and books redundant, but (thankfully) that hasn't happened. Why do you think books survived the Internet?

JK: The arguments you mention tend to originate either from the people who have a vested economic interest in destroying books or an economic worry that publishing will be destroyed. So propaganda or fear.

All the arguments rest on the assumption that there’s a difference between new tech and the book. But the book itself is just technology, a piece of hardware that’s been developed over 1500 years by countless numbers of individuals. It’s not going to be erased by something developed over five months in a Palo Alto garage.

The real threat to the book is not smartphones or the Internet—the real threat is bad governance by malefactors who hate the idea of a literate poor.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

JK: The Kardashian Dynasty by Ian Halpern.

I Hate the Internet is published by Serpent's Tail. RRP $27.99