Franzen and my ‘social object’ miss

/>Jonathan Franzen’s disdain for social media is well-known. He’s also careful not to let the Internet distract him from writing. I read somewhere that he superglued a computer so he could not plug in a modem.

In  Nathan Bransford’s  excellent blog on the topic of books and writing) he  described hearing Jonathan Franzen speak and how this gave him  a new understanding of where Franzen was coming from. Franzen thinks very deeply and social media is a distraction from that.

I heard Jonathan Franzen speak at Brisbane Writers’ Festival on the chilly afternoon on September 10, 2011. He spoke a lot about birdwatching. At the end of his talk during audience questions a young man asked if  he could comment on the changes in the ‘American psyche’ in the 10 years since 9/11.

Franzen said no.

But then he said he’d explain why he was saying no. Part of the answer was that he did not like memorialisation of events being commoditised into an experience. After the talk I bought a Franzen book and  joined the end of a long queue to have it signed. A young man lined up behind me. He worked at the excellent Avid Reader bookstore and was shivering, having set out that brilliant spring morning without a jacket. When we reached the signing table, I suggested he go first.

When I reached Jonathan Franzen I thanked him for his talk and said I felt much the same way about memorial celebrations. Then I said, “You and I have work appearing in the same anthology.”  
It’s something I’m unlikely to be able to say again.
He asked me the title. It is City-pick New York I said.

Where I meet Franzen

“What's your story about?” said Franzen.

I described "Blue, blue sky". "Its a simple recollection of  visiting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It's a tourist's memory. Returning  10 years later I questioned myself about my resistance to interpreted memorials. I am also resistant to seeing tragedies as cultural events that I can choose like experiential tourism.

After he had signed his book,  Jonathan Franzen handed it to me, then took my cold hand into his, shook it warmly and thanked me for being "one of us."

Later I realised I'd forgotten to get a photograph. The moment had passed.  There would be no currency, no

'social object' – a la Hugh McLeod –  on Twitter or Facebook or any other social media of me meeting Jonathan Franzen. It seems fitting.

Marian Edmunds

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