Short story: “The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear”

by look i have opinions

“The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear,” by Jonathan Lethem

From the October 2009 Harper’s and available here

2,529 words

This story ought to be vaguely embarrassing, the way all clever takes on social media are vaguely embarrassing, but it’s so strange that it feels like a glimpse of another world instead of a satire or cultural critique or anything else with a sell-by date. Its strangeness is due only in a small part to the novelty of the Internet (did you know blog posts display in reverse chronological order?), much more to the conflation of physical place with mental place and to the narrator’s loopiness. In fact, one of the best things about the “blog” conceit is its inaccuracy. On real blogs, trolls rarely say anything as charmingly grade-schoolish as “WORMS SUCK EYEHOLES / YOU SUCK GUMBALLS” and few commenters use rhymed poetic imagery of any kind.

Anyway, the emotional content is right. The narrator, Jaw, creates a blog and is at first thrilled by the power of creation.

I offer this, my blog, to the world, but I do not require the world to need it or accept it, for it is my very very own blog.

Of course the mood doesn’t last. The story draws little distinction between online activities and “real” ones: a blog is a home, an online fan is a squatter and friend, a rude commenter is a vandal. A disemvowelment is a horrifying murder, staining the blog forever with blood and guilt.

The hyperbolic imagery is probably the reason this story is so unembarrassing. It’s over the top enough that you can tell it’s making fun of the whole concept a bit, which perversely makes it easier to care about the real pain Jaw goes through. This is sort of what I recently called “trying to short-circuit readers’ cynicism by anticipating it,” although I don’t think Lethem is consciously doing that, since most of his audience probably doesn’t share my allergy to this sort of thing.

Moral: Turn off comments.