There is a tone of hysteria that comes into many voices when we start to talk about the influence of the Internet on our brains, on art, on literature, on the way we process information. Surely the Internet is making us all incredibly shallow, as we click from link to link, reading the first two paragraphs of each news story before escaping elsewhere. Surely this is doing irreperable damage, and the inevitable result is widespread cultural decay.
Read the last Bookslut column on opera lovers.
“I’m a victim...of the early days of the Internet,” the narrator of Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds tells us, “when wandering or surfing the Web was governed less by destiny or by the efficiency of search engines than it is today, and one drifted among things that were similar, irrelevant, or only loosely related.” The narrator is an unnamed writer of unknown books, and he’s in an unknown town in southern Brazil, attending an unnamed literary conference. His last book is not getting fantastic reviews, and he knows this because he’s also the victim of the latest days of the Internet, where you can instantly read what other people are saying about you in other countries, where people take spiteful glee in sending you links to bad news.
But there’s something lovely about the structure of My Two Worlds, that relates back to those early Internet days. As he walks around this town, frustrated to find that the map only loosely correlates to the actual physical landscape, he allows his brain to shift from location to location. The fountain in this Brazil park reminds him of a German fountain which reminds him of a watch he found in the window which...He’s nearing his 50th birthday, and this sort of sifting seems appropriate for the landmark, looking back on what felt like chaos but looks patterned from a distance.
The narrator stops and starts, and occasionally it’s difficult to tell if the story’s he’s telling is happening in front of him, or in another city at another time. “That touched off a long train of thought not worth summarizing,” he says at one point, shifting from one subject to another. And like a day of online reading, there is no real satisfying end, just a moment when the author decides to stop. It’s fitting that this mental meandering is happening while on a walk across a foreign city—the pace suits it, and Chejfec’s prose authentically resembles the free associations that can happen on a slow, distracted tour of a city. But it also suits the structure, as the story loops and folds rather than continuing in a linear thrust. Chejfec reminds us what browsing can remind us—it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.
Jessa Crispin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bookslut.