PAUL LAFARGE, AUTHOR. ACADEMIC (RESPONSIBLE FOR INCORPORATING A HYPERLINK IN HIS NOVEL LUMINOUS AIRPLANES, WHICH TAKES THE READING EXPERIENCE TO A MULTIMEDIA EXPERIENCE) DISCUSSES HIS WORK, HIS GENERATION, AND THE FUTURE OF MILLENNIALS…
For your novel Luminous Airplanes, the immersive text or hyperlink was ingenious as a literary device. How did it initially occur? I think in the age of the Millennials, a more multimedia experience could definitely benefit us. In term of expanding the readership. How do you feel about this?
The idea to make an immersive text for Luminous Airplanes was always part of the project, beginning in the early 2000s. It came out of the work I was doing back then, as a web designer and a teacher of web design, and out of the widespread enthusiasm for Whatever 2.0, which I shared, though with reservations. Was the Web really going to transform our lives? Probably. Was it going to make them better? Perhaps… You can see that doubt in Luminous Airplanes, if you poke around. I’m not sure the project ever found its ideal form, but I’m glad to have made the experiment, and it taught me some things about what works and what doesn’t in non-linear storytelling. I hope it will be useful for other makers of online/multimedia stories also, as an example of what to do, or of what not to do.
I think that expanding the readership for fiction would be a wonderful thing. But perhaps “readership” will turn out to be the wrong word? Reading is a (mostly) solitary, silent experience, in which the page makes a demand on the reader’s imagination, but not (again, mostly) on their decision-making faculties. There’s no reason that digital narrative should replicate that experience exactly. There are a huge number of things one CAN do with digital media, and in terms of narrative, I think these are still the early days. What if it were possible to play a novel, the way one plays a video game? The possibilities might be quite different: instead of being able to build things, collect weapons, and kill enemies, imagine being able to go deeper into the story, to interact with characters on varying levels, being able to explore parts of the story that interest you, and maybe not explore parts that don’t. But you’d have a similar sense of making decisions about your path through the story, and being able to influence its outcome. You’d be creating a playership for fiction.
Throughout your work, I keep coming across a theme of DISAPPEARANCE (e.g. Frank’s parents’ in The Artist of The Missing, Charlie in The Night Ocean) and OPEN CREATION (Like The strong presents Lovecraft plays in The Night Ocean or the painter and Frank Himself in The Artist of The Missing. Not to mention Haussmann in Haussmann or the Distinction, being a sole creator and destroyer and the story setting around the repercussions of such a duality). I mean the examples are numerous. Does this derive from a conscious effort or the stories just unfold how they do? I feel there’s more at play here, subconsciously maybe?
My therapist would probably be able to answer this one better than I can. But: I’m definitely interested in disappearance. When a person vanishes, you have a mystery: where did they go, and why? And you also have the potential for activity: Can I find them, or get them back? Those elements can all drive a story forward. So possibly I am a lazy writer? As for the question about open creation, I think again it’s attributable to laziness. I spend nearly all my time making things, and I’m fascinated by that experience and its pitfalls and its complexities. Writing about characters who are making things gives me a way to think about what I’m doing.
Although in The Night Ocean, the story is a little different: I wanted to write about Lovecraft and Barlow and their circle, because they’re terrifically weird people, who also happen to be writers. My interest in them isn’t (for the most part) in them as writers, or in their writing — it’s in their emotional lives and the stupid things they do at parties and so on. The same is true for Haussmann, I think: that book started with an experience of Paris, and the question of what kind of person would have demolished big tracts of this beautiful city, and why, emerged as a function of my being in love with the city. In that sense you could say I’m just curious about causes.
Where do you feel the form of communication in terms of relaying artistic expression will evolve into?
See above, I guess. I think there’s also a question of what will be expressed. Novels are great at representing subjectivity: they can put you in a person’s head, and make you party to that person’s private thoughts. Which makes sense, because the novel came into being right around the time that people started to have privacy, and to have the leisure time to have a developed inner life. The people who read novels weren’t busy working or starving or fighting all the time. So what happens if our ideas about privacy and private time and private thoughts change? What if solitude stops being a luxury (finally, I can afford to be alone!) and becomes a handicap? What if we stop caring about private thoughts, and care about collaborations, or followers, or some new thing which I as an old person have difficulty imagining? Possibly our experience of being people will change — indeed, I think it’s already changing — and so what artists express will change also. And at that point the form of communication will change to fit the new content.
As a GenXer yourself, was there any pieces of literature you felt inspired by growing up, and any that relates today in regards to my generation of millennials?
There were so many works of literature that influenced me, growing up, that I’d have trouble identifying a single one as being the most important. And a lot of what I was reading in my teens and twenties wasn’t contemporary literature, either. I tore through Anna Karenina in high school, and it changed my life. I’m actually listening to it as an audiobook now — and it’s changing my life again. I got a lot out of Eugene Ionesco at a certain point. I got a lot out of Keats. I think the trick is to read widely. So many things that feel radically new are in fact radically old: some clever person has gone back and revived them.
Where would you say we have gone as a society, from a literary standpoint and in general in the form of what we digest, and where are we going, and how will that effect, either positively or otherwise for Millennials?
Again, see above. “Literature” is a historical entity; we haven’t always had it and we won’t necessarily have it forever. What we always do seem to have are stories, and engagements between the people who tell them and the people who receive them. The challenge for Millennials — of the 2000s or the 3000s — is to find stories that capture what’s true about their world, about your world. Don’t make books or paintings or companies by force of habit, i.e., by copying the last thing that worked. Kill your parents. Copy your grandparents, or your great-great-grandparents, up to a point. Observe everything closely and be honest about what you see. It’s a strategy that seems to work. At least it’s worked so far.
Anything you wanna promote?
Kindness. Generosity. Patience.
We want to thank Paul for his insight.
Check him out at his website!