Why did you write I Hate the Internet?
I Hate the Internet was inspired by four years of living in San Francisco’s Mission District, more or less the high water mark for a flood of the hypergentrifying tech superclass.
What was that like?
Awful, like watching someone die of cancer. You could see class warfare on a daily basis, painted in miniature. People who’d lived in the neighborhood forever were being steamrolled by an unending tide of bad taste, money, and designer denim. And the money, almost invariably, came either from web-based advertising revenue or sales of consumer goods built by slaves in China.
Why did you leave San Francisco?
I’d be lying if I said it was a principled stand. Basically, I got gentrified out. (In its own way, this was just dessert. Artists are the shock corps of gentrification.)
It left me slightly unhinged. Which is the best possible state in which to write an angry book.
What were some of the techniques you used in writing I Hate the Internet?
I realized from the start that a novel about gentrification and technology could not be anything like the common literary experience. Literary novels are tools of class exclusion catering to bourgeois values, and more or less predicated on the illusion that class doesn’t exist. So how could a literary novel address class warfare?
I decided to write what I have termed a “bad novel,” a book that violates all the spoken and unspoken rules, and ideologies, of highbrow fiction.
I tried to adopt the use of historical materialism, which is one of those terms that Marxists throw around right before they bore you to death about a revolution that’s never coming. In its simplest sense, it’s the idea that history is the story of money and how societies order themselves around money.
For most of my life, I rejected historical materialism, but when you watch San Francisco’s coked-out tech class rolling on molly while wearing Google Glass and making YouTube videos about equality as they gentrify away minority communities that’ve been in the city for decades, then it becomes impossible to ignore the brute fact that money, and money alone, creates its own reality.
Did you find this approach easy?
The problem with me, personally, writing a Marxist novel is that I’m kind of an idiot. I don’t really understand Marxism and I find studying economics to be like chewing glass. But this is probably a good thing, as there’s about five people in America who want to read a Marxist novel.
The major difficulty was in finding a language by which I could express fairly complex ideas without alienating everyone in jargon. I settled, instead, on alienating everyone with simmering rage, a willingness to discuss tough issues in blunt language, and some very crass jokes.
Is this book even a novel?
Yes, it’s very much a novel. There are characters. They face challenges. They exist. It’s all fiction. It’s not a good novel. But it’s a novel.
Who’s the protagonist?
The protagonist is a White woman in her forties named Adeline, who speaks with an outrageous Transatlantic accent and was one half of the creative team on a beloved comic book called Trill. She makes the mistake of expressing opinions in a classroom of writing students without realizing that one of the students is recording everything she says on her cellphone. The video ends up on YouTube and then Adeline must, alas, go on a hero’s journey and learn how to use Twitter.
(By the way, this is almost identical in plot to a handful of very terrible recent movies, including a film called Chef in which Jon Favreau eats a lot. I picked the lamest imaginable plot and then worked outwards to see if it could be transformed into something radical.)
What is the nature of your objection to Twitter?
Here’s all you need to know about Twitter: it was given a tax break by Ed Lee, the Mayor of San Francisco, as a stalking horse to socially and ethnically cleanse the Tenderloin of its poor and Black people. I know a lot of people—many of them very smart—have made arguments about the efficacy of social media in political organization, but how depressing is it that we’re at the point where democratic action is hosted by a corporate-owned platform on which ISIS creates advertising opportunities for the barons of Silicon Valley?
Who do you want to read this book?
Women. I know this comes from a place where there’s no trust—women have had to deal with at least 60 solid years of fiction from male writers about whores, madonnas, and abortions that make men sad. The best you could hope for is a more-or-less accurate picture of what some White ladies might do when they were having tea time affairs in upstate New York or the American Middle West.
But here’s the appeal that I would make: this is not a good novel and is thus free of all of the macho ideology injected into literary fiction by the alcoholics who founded the Iowa Writers’ Workshop while taking money from the CIA. It’s something totally different. Adeline is a very different kind of a character.
So please, women readers, please read the new book and rescue me from the guys who keep seeing something of themselves in my earlier novella about Islamic terrorism.
Does your novel offer any solutions to the problems of the Internet?
One time I met Peter Tork of The Monkees for about three minutes. I told him that I really liked Head, the career-ending Monkees movie written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson.
He looked at me and then said something like, “I don’t think it’s a very good film because it asks a lot of questions but doesn’t offer any answers.” It was at that moment I had two major epiphanies: (1) Peter Tork of the Monkees is kind of a dick. (2) I would never, ever do anything that offered easy answers.
JARETT KOBEK is a Turkish-American writer living in California. His novella ATTA (Semiotext(e); 2011,) an imagined first-person account of the 9/11 hijacker, was called “highly absorbing” by the Times Literary Supplement, and has been the subject of much academic writing. He’s currently working on a book on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers for Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series.