Sunday, April 17, 2011

Meta Solitaire and Robinson Crusoe

On Jonathan Franzen's "Farther Away" in this week's New Yorker, accessible here or by liking it on facebook.

He writes about his time on a remote (and, apparently, quite boring) Chilean island:
"In a very direct way, according to Watt, the English novel had risen from the ashes of boredom. And boredom was what I was suffering from.

The more you pursue distractions, the less effective any particular distraction is,
and so I’d had to up various dosages, until, before I knew it, I was checking my e-mail every ten minutes, and my plugs of tobacco were getting ever larger, and my two drinks a night had worsened to four, and I’d achieved such deep mastery of computer solitaire that my goal was no longer to win a game but to win two or more games in a row—a kind of meta-solitaire whose fascination consisted not in playing the cards but in surfing the streaks of wins and losses.

My longest winning streak so far was eight."
I like his eerily accurate characterization of remote/isolationist boredom as a slippery slope - that the instant you start trying to entertain yourself in order to distract, the less effective each tactic is.

Aside from that, though, this is a different type of meta than we've encountered on the blog before, I think. Meta-solitaire isn't the same kind of meta as we have posted on before ('thing of a thing,' a 'thing within a thing') per se. Its more that he derives meta satisfaction not from winning, but from patterns of winning. It's also emotional meta, not physical meta.

You will have to read a more full excerpt of this week's New Yorker to understand why he argues that the English novel has risen from boredom, and those housewives will all that free time on their hands to read, but alas.

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