Oct 06, 11
Read in October, 2011
Like Douglas Adams made speculative fiction absurd by brutally acknowledging that (in all *probability*) humans are not very important nor will be in the future, Thwaites (intentionally imitating Adams) has made science writing absurd in a similar way. I mean, he doesn't start his book with the casual death of all human beings save one, like Adams did. But he does begin by proposing a ridiculous project, proceeds to break all the rules he has set for himself, and finishes by acknowledging that he has accomplished little except generated a narrative and gathered enough documentation (photographs, interviews, etc.) with which he can write a book. Only by acknowledging the absurdity of his own project can he adequately express the contemporary world that his book embodies, our world of incomprehensibly complex modern supply chains, of intractable conundrums like that of environmental degradation versus consumer demand, and of the emergent (and, I think, disconcerting) literary interstices inhabited by self-bloggers. None of this is to say that Thwaites's book isn't outrageously informative and interesting, scientifically and culturally speaking. It is! But the entire thing is so tongue-in-cheek, so obnoxious about narrative and the process of book-making, so consciously un-serious and apolitical, that the overall message is not (for me) really about science or globalization or environmentalism, but rather the message is the absurdity of being a writer in a world made of chains, problems, and trends too large and complex for a single writer to understand, let alone express. All that's left to be explained is how absurd it is that nothing can be explained fully. Am I saying that narrative non-fiction is dead, and that The Toaster Project has killed it? I might be saying that.