12.5 review of Joanna Walsh’s Break.up

      1. Beneath its clean prose style is a deep philosophical investigation into the very definition of modern love, of what it means to be in love, to be loved in our times.
      2. The text is punctuated with quotes from other authors (Everyone from Chris Kraus to Kierkegaard) and a few photos, which give it a relationship feel as though the two sets of texts are in conversation with one another, by turns lending the text a lightness or weight.
      3. This is EXACTLY what I suggest you eat while reading this book.
      4. This book makes me want to fall in love all over again.
      5. And your telepresence is fragmenting: when I type its first few letters into the menubar, my computer no longer turns up your name like an unlucky card (the King of Hearts again? There’s no such thing as chance). An intelligent machine, it has begun to forget you before I can. Your telepresence telescopes itself: a house of cards, every card the King of Hearts, a box of air, they collapse: it seems like nothing. (pg. 42)
      6. Walsh has put her finger on something here and I think it’s the way our incessant connection to the Internet is ghosted over us. All of our myriad associations and webs of friendships and relationships are always there – one intangible fingertip away.
      7. At Brussels, I change trains, and the station is full of lovers leaving. They hang from each other’s bodies, and everything they do is slow motion. A boy pushes his girlfriend’s hair carefully back from her face. It takes aeons. (pg. 205)
      8. I realize Ms. Walsh is Irish and that it is a terrible cliché to offer up this song as musical accompaniment to this book, but you know what? I’m willing to risk it because this is a song about love and loss and a great. fucking. song.
      9. After Turing came the femmebots: artificial intelligence. ELIZA was the first. She empathises, and what empathy sounds like is echo. She was named for Ms Doolitle, who learned to parrot her betters. There is no intelligence in ELIZA’s code. Her program scans for keywords, no need for an idea in her head, and ELIZA replies by turning each statement into a question about the questioner. The impersonal becomes personal. Reflecting, she has no self, and is designed to be the ideal therapist, which is perhaps, the opposite of being human. Her job is to normalise the difference between human and machine intelligence, to bridge the gap, take on the labour of smoothing. And so smoothly do the femmebots carry this out that it seems this laboured smooth reflective screen should always be our interface. It affects me. Since g-chat, after Twitter, after email, I talk different, nicer, maybe. Like our bots I must not only serve, but serve with a smile, with please and thank you, with exclamation marks! But how petty of us (of either sex) to want subservience from what we already control, unless we fear that it already controls us. (pg. 40)
      10. #readwomen
      11. There is something about her style of writing that, when she gets up a head of steam, reminds me of that runaway-freight-train feeling, that exhilaration, that one finds in Nathalie Sarraute.
      12. There are several interviews with Ms. Walsh available but I’d suggest starting with this one she did for Monocle Radio

12.5 Buy Break.up here

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