Saturday, February 16, 2013

Essayist Orange Deserves Your Attention

This Is Running for Your Life: Essays Cover

In this weekend's Oregonian is my review of Michelle Orange's brilliant essay collection This Is Running for Your Life, a new book that deserves the attention of anybody remotely interested in the life of the mind.

From the review:
... Michelle Orange models an ideal balance of firsthand engagement with -- and grounded criticism of -- the lightheaded culture all around us. "The new American dream," she writes, "is to build a really bitching personal brand, and the result of all that tap dancing on all those individual platforms is a pervasive kind of narrative decadence. We race to consume and regurgitate the hour's large and small events for each other like patricians in a postmodern vomitorium -- to know them first, translate them into bitter capsule form fastest, and be shocked or stirred or perceived as in any way less than totally savvy about these things the least. Even within our self-contained realities we become dulled to what's real and what's not, and further desensitized to what lies behind our fellow performers' virtual scrims." Here and elsewhere in the book, Orange's insights share their probing, persuasive rhythms with those of Susan Sontag, whose name rightfully comes up a number of times.
In the stunning chapter "Pixelation Nation," which takes its cue from Sontag's hallmark 1977 book On Photography, Orange explores the scarcely considered implications of digital imagery and dissemination in a time when every smartphone, iPad and iPod is a camera which, "with its promise of perfect recall, both reminds and relieves the shooter of the burden of being present." As we each become daily -- not to mention hourly -- publishers of images we've captured and edited for immediate upload, the images themselves take on "more of a social than a subjective or individual purpose." Our pictures have become part of a larger, ongoing self-publicizing project: "It's more about representing a certain reality than remembering it."
It's this kind of unfailingly X-ray-like inquiry into the peculiarities of our ultra-mediated world that unites Orange's 10 absorbing essays. Where Sontag's work generally took literature as the hub of its radial concerns, Orange proves herself an eloquent revealer of things more broadly socio-cultural and, as it happens, patently bizarre -- though they're the very things we refer to as "daily life." ...
 [continue reading here]