:: Article

Twittering Machine

By Colin Herd.


Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film, Masha Tupitsyn, Zero Books 2011

The sheer number of films and books to be encountered in Laconia is remarkable: 421, as indexed in order of appearance at the back of what is an extraordinary (and somehow unlikely) book: ‘1,200 Tweets on Film’ by film critic, cultural theorist and fiction writer Masha Tupitsyn. Tupitsyn’s 2007 book Beauty Talk and Monsters blended film criticism with fiction and memoir, not getting into any of those categorical wardrobes, but leaving them all wide open with the contents disturbed. Movies in Beauty Talk and Monsters are a part of the experience of reality, and reality as full of special effects and elaborate Hollywood trickery as any movie; both above all potent arenas for feminist critique and politics.

In many ways, Laconia continues this project, replacing the fictional framework of Beauty Talk and Monsters‘ with the structural scaffolding provided by Twitter. And the importance of their origin on Twitter makes itself strongly felt throughout the text; it’s a very different book to what 1,200 Aphorisms on Film would have been, for example. It’s impossible in Laconia to get away from the fact that this book forms just a part of the long stream-like text that Twitter users compose everyday, and beyond that the long text we’re all always writing with every utterance, every email etc, etc. There’s an awareness that the text is in the broadest sense a part of the culture it’s critiquing.

Twitter itself is sometimes the target of Tupitsyn’s observational, witty, right-on-the-mark and pull-no-punches criticism:

“109. It’s typical that when it comes to Twitter celebrities grovel to fans to get them to follow them in order to reach a goal number
3:08pm July 30th

110. – a million followers for Ashton Kutcher or 20,000 for the new-to-Twitter John Cusack. And yet celebrities only follow other celebrities.
3:09pm July 30th

111. Fans stay at the bottom and stars stay at the top. Only now celebrities pretend to “reach out”. Or as one twitterer @KevinAlban humorously
3:10pm July 30th

112. put it: “Twitter: Enabling celebrities to fight back since 2006.”
3:11pm July 30th

The range of the material Tupitsyn considers manages to combine a pleasing eclecticism with a sense of thematic engagement. That tweet about Twitter, for example is part of a strong Baudrillardian thread running through the book about our relationship with celebrity culture and in particular about the advent of ‘reality’ celebrities: “After years of watching fake movie lives maybe movie life is now more real than real life.”

While Tupitsyn tweets about films as disparate as Kramer vs. Kramer, The Lovely Bones, Avatar and My Fair Lady, the book also features in-depth if fragmentary analyses of multiple works by filmmakers and actors such as Hal Hartley, John Cassavetes, Hitchcock, Theresa Russell and Truffaut. The tweeting style varies dramatically from anecdotal, personal, critical, academic, gossipy, sometimes simply a quotation; but what is always conveyed is a sense of someone in the act of thinking, thinking reactively to film and culture, where film and culture are a vehicle to thought, but the town you drive that vehicle through as well.

The title, ‘Laconia‘, refers to a mode of expression using as few words as possible, characterised by concision and concentration. But it also brings to mind the word ‘lacuna’, and Tupitsyn’s writing is thoroughly invested in the idea of the fragment as method of criticism and analysis, writing and thinking. Because she gives the time of each tweet, and presents them chronologically, our attention is drawn to the way her writing and thinking unfold in time. Her approach is non-totalising, dramatising the process of responding and reacting to films and culture, rather than advancing a single thesis. Tupitsyn’s writing makes use of the lacunae between the tweets in the manner of linebreaks in poetry:

“812. In Mrs. Soffel, which sounds like soulful, Mel Gibson’s face is threaded between prison bars, and fire and snow go together.
10.55 PM Jan 29th

813. In the subway ads for Audible.com, men read men. How about Sean Penn reads Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar or Jeremy Irons reads Emily Dickinson?
5.13 PM Jan 31st”

The two-day gap between tweets and the disjunct in their mood and content is genuinely startling and funny, as well as being rich with a kind of unintended synergy: the “rhyming” of prison bars with music bars. In other instances, Tupitsyn’s tweets roll over the character-limit to develop more sustained sentences which trip off hot on the heals form the previous tweet, mere minutes later, as in the Twitter tweet quoted above, and sometimes the two are combined: two quick tweets and then a 45 minute gap (the gap of thinking, or the interruption of something into the process of thinking, only to pick up the thread a little later):

“779. Reality TV personality Heidi Montag states: “I’m in an industry. I’m in the limelight, and I have to do what makes me happy at the end of the
10.26 pm Jan 26th

780. day.” Happiness and industry are officially one and the same. Montag also said that her message is : “Beauty lies within.” Within what,
10.27 pm Jan 26th

781. industry? Is there even a “within” left in this country? Within has become entirely without.
11.14 pm Jan 26th”

The experience of reading Tupitsyn’s tweets in a book doesn’t quite recapture the experience of seeing them accumulate on the screen, filtered through the text-overload of Twitter’s endless stream, but the retention of the disrupted, broken-up textual surface, where you have to jump across the ends of tweets like a stone path across a river somehow makes this act of dramatised thinking feel more crucial, more critical and urgent.

With Laconia, Tupitsyn does for Twitter what Kevin Killian did for the Amazon review in his two-volume Selected Amazon Reviews. They’ve taken the structures and conventions of networking features on internet mega-sites and attuned and altered them into art forms and vehicles for their particular, nuanced, extraordinary artistic intelligences.


Colin Herd lives and writes in Edinburgh. He is co-editor of Anything Anymore Anywhere. Poems have appeared in Shampoo, Streetcake, Velvet Mafia, Gutter and Pop Serial, and reviews in the blog of Chroma journal. His chapbook, Like, is published by Knives Forks and Spoons Press and his poetry collection, too ok, by BlazeVOX.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 9th, 2011.