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Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  530 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals the logic and aesthetics behind the Internet.

Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great ma
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Simon Schuster (first published August 4th 2015)
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Sara Watson
May 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
From my Columbia Journalism Review article:

VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN’S TWITTER BIO once described her as “something like a critic.” Her reluctance to fully embrace the title is understandable, given that most of what passes as technology criticism today tends either towards gadget reviews or curmudgeons bemoaning the loss of what makes us human.

Somewhere along the line, critical writing about technology became equated with a reactionary disapproval of progress.
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
The Internet is entrenched. It's time to understand it – and not as a curiosity or an entry in the annals of technology or business but as an integral part of our humanity, as the latest and most powerful extension and expression of the project of being human.

When I was in my early twenties, I met a man who was a recent recipient of a degree in Philosophy. In my ignorance, I found this puzzling, and I asked him in all seriousness what the value was in a Philosophy degree; what did he intend
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

So for what it's worth, I tried very earnestly to be a fan of Virginia Heffernan's Magic and Loss, a new collection of academic essays concerning "what the internet really means." I was attracted to it when first coming across it because her main conceit is that the internet is the largest act of performan
Andrea Stoeckel
Apr 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
[I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising]

"That is this book’s central contention : that the Internet is a massive and collaborative work of realist art."

This is a
Oct 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
It's rare that someone's writing immediately repels me, but Heffernan has beat the odds.

A lot of the reviews claim this is beautifully written. If I had to choose one word to describe the writing, it would be: bad. This is incredibly messy non-fiction and as far as I could tell, there's no real point she's trying to make. She does however know an impressive number of SAT words.

Plus, the internet she talks about is very suburban. I'm not interested in anyone's hot take on how white Americans use
Mindy McAdams
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, by-women
I have a love-hate relationship with this kind of nonfiction book, in which someone with education and writing ability but no special expertise attempts to spin an artful commentary about a broad phenomenon or condition of society. I talk myself out of ever reading (or even starting) many such books because I know the process of reading will be filled with many frustrations and few rewards. Perhaps I've created a self-fulfilling prophecy, because that describes my experience with this fairly acc ...more
David Sasaki
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I number of people I respect recommended this book, and I was immediately enchanted by the premise of the Internet as performance art space where we creatively act out our neuroses and insecurities, but there was something about Hefferman's pretentious, rambling style of writing that prevented me from sticking with it. I gave up after the third chapter.
C. Hollis Crossman
Apr 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
In the preface to Magic and Loss, Virginia Heffernan drops the tantalizing metaphor of the Internet as one vast MMORPG. She doesn't spend a lot of time dissecting it, but she uses the comparison more than once, suggesting that she's setting the stage for at least part of the discussion in the chapters to come.

Then she resolutely fails to make good on that promise. Instead, she shifts to speaking of the Internet as the world's most ambitious work of collective realist art. This is meant to be the
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I prefer this take on the internet over the doom and gloom of books like the shallows and addicted. I believe in the magic and the loss. But the book fell short of real analysis. It's just a lot of wonderfully good writing and less thinking about what this means for the culture. I enjoyed it though.
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebooks, non-fiction
I have received a copy of this book in an exchange for an honest review.

Since I spend an unspeakable amount of my life on the internet, I was really excited, because it sort of combined my favourite things to do. Internet, art...and it was a book! The only thing that was missing was food. Maybe next time, Virginia Heffernan!

The aspect of the book that I probably liked the most was the language that flowed nicely and gave the text an artistic quality that I really enjoyed. Even though I’ve had a
Brianna Snyder
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been a forever-fan of Virginia Heffernan and so when I heard her book was coming out, I was so so excited.

"Magic and Loss" is part memoir, part tech analysis and big-part Web-culture crit. Heffernan studies the Internet as though it were a novel or a poem. Reading "Magic and Loss" is like seeing all the familiar elements of the Web with a new brain or from a higher plane. Or like with a better soul. All the things I'm so used to about the Internet -- YouTube, comment sections, MP3s -- are
Adam Mann
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
A disorganized book that doesn't live up to what it promises. In the preface, Heffernan states that the book's thesis is that "the Internet is a massive and collaborative work of realist art". But then it's almost as if she forgets this, as the book rarely addresses this contention. And upon reaching the last chapter (which meanders bafflingly away from the themes of the rest of the book and into the writer's personal life, to the point where I was writing "who cares?" in the margins), I didn't ...more
Well this was... a bemusing read.

It begins with the stated intent of engaging with, and critiquing, the internet as a vast, collaborative work of realist art -- so far, so good. It sets off along that path with reasonable confidence, and some interesting things to say (including the main thesis, that "[The internet's] transformation of everyday life includes moments of magic and an inevitable experience of profound loss.").

This is quite the undertaking, and careens all over the map: forums, Twit
Melanie Richards
Jan 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2018
I’m so disappointed by this book. Forgive me for taking the title at its word but I thought it would be the internet. Curious corners of the web. Instead it was that insufferable high-brow artspeak applying some BS meaning to social media. Surely there’s a way to look at all this subject matter and make meaning observations but the crap she makes up didn’t even seem accurate? Then there’s a rambling, weirdly problematic personal story for the last 60 pages about God which I GUES ...more
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book. While I find some of the individual facts interesting about the early foundations of different formats on the web, the narrative jumps around abruptly and frequently. The momentum of the book also gets cut off with an unexpected, unsatisfying memoirist ending.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-harder-2017
Awful. Pedantic and at the same time, lightweight.
Tori Heroux
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I liked this book a lot. It's made for someone like me, [over]educated, with an appreciation for pop culture and struggling with questions (especially as a thinker/reader/writer) about how the internet has had a foundational impact on who I am, at 27.
I felt a little smug reading it, as a millennial with strong opinions who is tired of the catastrophizing tone of her elders as they recount all the ways our generation IN PARTICULAR is RUINED.
...but I also keenly felt the 'loss' part of the text,
Rick Harrington
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I entered this book self-consciously wearing that habitual anger I now continuously try to transcend, mostly failing. The author herself did this to me by that point in her preface where she supplies jacket-copy which would be faithfully paraphrased by the Amazon come-on which reeled me in. As though it were some critic's take: "Just as Susan Sontag did for photography and Marshall McLuhan did for television, Virginia Heffernan (called one of the “best living writers of English prose”) reveals t ...more
KJ Grow
I love listening to Virginia Heffernan on Slate's Trumpcast. Her commentary is always incisive and elegantly poetic - she clearly has a sharp mind and is a lover of words. This rapturous review of all things digital was somewhat less convincing to me, someone who is still part-Luddite and lover of all things analog, but she writes with such intellectual rigor and a genuine sense of awe that I couldn't help but enjoy it. She's at her best when writing about Twitter, Instagram, and virtual reality ...more
“Over the past two decades screens have proliferated, filling our purses, pockets, and bedside tables. The living room is no longer configured around a single blazing digital fireplace, the television; instead it flashes with decentralized brushfires: ereaders, tablets, laptops, desktops, smartphones, televisions, refrigerator screens. As for the radios and bookshelves that were supposed to vanish with the digitalization of the American home, they’ve stubbornly remained.”

“We shouldn't confuse g
Dan Weiskopf
Jun 16, 2017 added it
Shelves: criticism
[Crossposted here from]

A Halo of Pixels

Art and the Internet are hardly strangers. In the last decade-plus we’ve already cycled through net art, new media art, post-Internet art, and frantically onward, with each new movement and manifesto trying to formulate aesthetic principles and create works that respond to the dominance of networked computing over modern life.

Even when released onto the web, though, these have mostly been creations of the artworld. I
Bernard O'Leary
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Virginia Heffernan became a regular visitor to the online world in the mid-80s, using primitive dial-up to access bulletin boards and RPG-themed chatrooms. To her, the internet was a text-based channel for communication with people in remote places.

My first visit to the online world was in the summer of 1995, in an internet cafe in London. I visited because it was the only website I knew, and for the next year that's what I thought the internet was: a way of reading magazines on your com
Aug 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
This has the makings of a great book. It asks the question of whether the internet can be seen as a vast work of art. Internet space has the shape and feel of Walt Whitman’s poetry, start to finish, energetic except for the dark spaces it tends to avoid (I can’t imagine there are many who go to it for snuff films or beheadings from extremists). Emerson’s voice is still in our heads, through technology as history, through aphorism. You can hear him saying, we aren’t surfers of the web; we are poe ...more
Paperback Paris
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is going to sound dramatic, but reading Virginia Heffernan’s Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art was like having a religious experience. A razor-sharp, stunningly written examination of the Internet and its many iterations and implications, this book would be enthralling for any reader—but as someone who grew up watching technology evolve at an increasingly rapid pace, and by extension evolved with it, it held an additional electric charge.

Heffernan sees the Internet as art—something t
Jun 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read

This is a non-fiction book that attempts to understand the internet and associated technological changes not through the language of science but through the language of arts and humanities. I thought it was great. For one, she can write a beautiful sentence like a mother-fucker. For a second, she's bringing an interesting (and for me) new perspective to technologies that tend to get written about in the same way all the time. I think most technological advancements throughout history have been m
John Gillespie
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Heffernan makes a compelling case for viewing the internet as a work of art and reminds us how easy, predictable, and unfounded some of its critics can be. It's taken a long time for me to reach the place where I can agree that the sky is falling alarmism of the internet's critics is founded on the same kind of self-congratulatory values that inspired derision of novels, radio, motion pictures, and more. Heffernan reminds us that, "all this hierarchizing of reading makes a person mak ...more
Olivia Ambrose
Jan 26, 2018 rated it did not like it
I did not like this book. Which is a shame. Based on the summary and the concept, this book sounded fascinating to me, as someone who spends a great deal of time on the internet. But this was not the book I was looking for.

I didn't like Heffernan's writing style. First, it seemed to be condescending in parts, which nobody likes being talked down to. Also, the "idea" of this book was the 'internet as art.' A framework that was briefly explored in the very beginning and then abandoned until the ve
Jul 06, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed many of the allusions & anecdotes throughout the book, and generally enjoyed Heffernan's prose stylings.

The author sets her sights high from the start -- "it's time to understand [the internet...] as the latest and most powerful extension of the project of being human" (21) -- and I found myself continually expecting her to say something more grand or profound than she does. She finally wades into those deeper waters in the last chapter. To borrow from "The Hedgehog and the Fox": in t
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Virginia Heffernan's mind has always dazzled me. And in this beautiful, intelligent, oceanic (and often funny) manifesto, she wrestles with the biggest "masterpiece" of civilization ever created, the internet, and she is in top form. Ms. Heffernan elegantly avoids both sounding like a caffeinated tech booster as well as a Debbie Downer doomsayer of the future. Someone who isn't shilling for product or just making us all feel bad and panicky? That's a rare writer. Heffernan has an optimistic, ind ...more
Jan 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
I couldn't even make it through the preface. It was entirely too lacking in gravitas for something that was overtly asserting itself as having gravitas. It claims to "build a complete aesthetics -- and poetics -- of the Internet" and compares itself to Susan Sontag on photography or McLuhan on media.

I wasn't willing to put in any more time with such a high risk of disappointment. Instead, I'll employ the appropriately post-Internet magic of cutting my losses and just reading the reviews on Good
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