"For those who want to escape their own subjectivity the internet should be a utopian playground, but unlike in Tim Berners-Lee’s original mind-expanding conception of the world wide web, our experience is increasingly personalised. The ‘real’ world narrows to fit the picture of us the internet has, based on fragments of ourselves we’ve shed (often unknowingly) online like trails of dust, dead skin and hair. According to the internet’s idea of me, right now all I care about is pregnancy (avoiding or enabling) and super absorbent period underwear."
In her extended essay, Exposure, Olivia Sudjic offers an intimate account of author anxiety in the digital age. From the management of multiple online personas to the deeply-personal criticism the world wide web affords, Exposure examines the power of 'autofiction' in a post-truth world — the internet as a place where fact depends on perspective and absolute relativism takes form. How do artists – and, in particular, female writers – navigate this extreme type of exposure?
Ahead of her appearance at the 2019 Sydney Writers' Festival, go between the lines with Olivia Sudjic as she shares her thoughts on this year's theme and who she's coveting in the program.
The theme of this year’s Festival is Lie to Me. How does this theme resonate with you and your work?
I’ve written three books and all of them deal with this theme to a degree. I think all fiction writers, writers in general, women writers especially perhaps, are intimately concerned with it. In fact when I begin writing a book that’s basically the line that’s running through my head. I have to egomaniacally cheerlead myself through those terrible, throat-clearing first chapters. It seems absurd to be creating a world, sentient beings to populate it, using Microsoft Word. I feel like a child introducing Ken and Barbie. In my first novel, Sympathy, the Ripley-esque protagonist knows her elaborate deception is doomed but is sustained by self-delusion. Writing my second book, Exposure, I realised just how blurred the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction can be, and explored the hybrid genre we see everywhere now: ‘Autofiction’. In my second novel, Asylum Road, the protagonist is not sure who is being lied to, and that psychodrama becomes the plot.
What’s on your own reading list ahead of the Festival?
I’m reading Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel right now and would love to hear her talk about it. If I can get hold of a copy of Lanny by Max Porter I’ll probably devour that on the plane over. I really want to read Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad. And I’m re-reading You Know You Want This (Kristen Roupenian), and The Wife (Meg Wolitzer) in preparation for our discussion.
Who are you most excited to meet?
I can’t say, but if I can make it happen I promise to humiliate myself. OK fine, Alexander Chee.
What’s the most interesting question you’ve been asked by an audience member?
I’m sure there’s a brilliant answer to this but I tend to get such an adrenaline rush – and so much anxiety – that afterwards the entire event (except for a few choice words of my own I am suddenly mortified by) is obliterated from my memory. That's a carte blanche to heckle me I guess.