cover image Picnic Comma Lightning: The Experience of Reality in the 21st Century

Picnic Comma Lightning: The Experience of Reality in the 21st Century

Laurence Scott. Norton, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-60997-4

Scott, a writing lecturer at New York University in London, considers the nature of reality itself in a world of internet exaggeration, digitally edited photos and doctored videos, and humanoid robots in this wide-ranging philosophical investigation. He uses the recent deaths of his parents as an entrance into this subject, demonstrating how reality becomes unmoored during periods of grieving (death, he declares, is like “the flicking of a light switch, although whether it has been turned on or off is unclear”). Most often, Scott considers reality through the prism of literary criticism, commenting, for instance, on the newfound popularity of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in an era of greater restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, or relating the “God-like” voice of the Amazon Echo to the “insinuating oneness of all things” explored in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. A chapter on symbolism and metaphor in tech is particularly clever, exploring how “the textualisation of our reality,” through the internet and digital communication, has allowed stories from marginalized individuals and groups to proliferate, thus dispelling stereotypes. Scott’s acutely perceptive book delivers a thoughtful message about finding an authentic way to live at a time when reality itself can seem built on shifting sands. (June)