I was on a panel at the Wordstock festival in Portland recently, and one of the other panelists, a poet named Mike Young, provided a précis of an idea called “bug time.” You should see the pad of hotel stationary I was using to take notes that day: BUG TIME!!!, underlined multiply, letters gouged into the paper. Look up. Joy L. (?) McSweeney. Notre Dame poet. I was excited.
I am hungry for ideas—specifically, ways of thinking about media, about producing and consuming it—that are truly new, and truly suited to our times. We have all these crazy tools now, and more all the time, and these crazy ways of wiring things together, but we still mostly want to be “authors.” (You can just overlay quotation marks around any/all words in this post. It’s “that” “kind” of “post.”) I mean, of course we do! It’s fun. I love being an author. But at the same time, I have a nagging sense that traditional authorship (even a bloggy sort of traditional authorship) isn’t quite “forward-leaning” in the way that I value. (If you’re interested, I tried to describe that sensibility recently.)
You read about the history of books and you learn: it’s all invented. Not just the formats, but the roles and relationships—cultural, economic, and otherwise. Back in 1450, there was no such thing as a person who paid their rent by writing. It didn’t even make sense to call anyone a “writer,” at least not in the sense that we mean it today. Scribe, maybe; writer, no. Erasmus was (probably) the first, right around 1500, and today we’ve got writers all over the place. So, by extension, there must be some role—or more broadly, some way of being, of working—that will seem obvious and essential and maybe even romantic in the year 2600 that we have not yet imagined today.
What might it look like? What might it feel like? Where can we find some clues?
I think Joyelle McSweeney’s articulation of bug time is a clue. I won’t attempt a summary here, because her post is fairly short, and part of the fun is her language—a blend of academic scaffolding and LiveJournal ranting. It’s at bullet point #8 that it begins to coalesce:
I reject the so-called economy of corporate time, capitalist time, so called ‘linear’ time, triumphalist time, which is a golden lie anyway, and instead I recognize this tide of shit and waste, I recognize that that is where I live, if I live, on bug time, on bug time; in Indiana, in the necropastoral; I have no interest in myths of posterity, in a secured future, in the supposed future of literature or humans or anything else; the way I’m writing now is disposable; in disposible media and unsturdy genres; but it’s the most important thing in my millisecond life…
On one level, I wince and frown and shake my head: I do believe in the supposed future of literature and humans and everything. And I have never in my life perceived anything as a “tide of shit and waste.” On another level, there’s something bright lurking in this grim graf, and something that speaks to me. I am, after all, the guy who deletes his old tweets. I’m living one tiny part of my life in bug time, kinda sorta? And it feels good. It feels right. It feels… new.
That’s all I’ve got. I think McSweeney is on to something. Her notion that the internet might proceed in bug time, rather than railroad time or author time, is more exciting than anything I’ve encountered in a long while. Not because I endorse her necropastoral (!) vision, but because she’s at least trying something. She’s groping in the dark for an idea that’s truly new. I’m hungry for more.