A deeply informed, yet playful and ironic look at how the internet has changed human experience, memory, and our sense of self, and that belongs on the shelf with the best writings of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard.
“One day, as I was daydreaming on the boulevard Beaumarchais, I had the idea—it came and went in a flash, almost in spite of myself—of Googling to find out what I’d been up to and where I’d been two evenings before, at five o’clock, since I couldn’t remember on my own.” So begins Maël Renouard’s Fragments of an Infinite Memory, a provocative and elegant inquiry into life in a wireless world. Renouard is old enough to remember life before the internet but young enough to have fully accommodated his life to the internet and the gadgets that support it. Here this young philosopher, novelist, and translator tries out a series of conjectures on how human experience, especially the sense of self, is being changed by our continual engagement with a memory that is impersonal and effectively boundless. Renouard has written a book that is rigorously impressionistic, deeply informed historically and culturally, but is also playful, ironic, personal, and formally adventurous, a book that withstands comparison to the best of Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard.
About the Author
Maël Renouard, born in Paris in 1979, is a novelist, essayist, and translator. He has taught philosophy at the Sorbonne and the École Normale Supérieure on the rue d’Ulm, of which he is a graduate. Between 2009 and 2012, he worked as a speechwriter for the prime minister of France. His novella La Réforme de l’opéra de Pékin (The Reform of the Peking Opera) received the Prix Décembre in 2013, and his novel L’Historiographe du royaume (The Historiographer of the Kingdom) was named a finalist for the 2020 Prix Goncourt.
Peter Behrman de Sinéty grew up in Maine and teaches English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.
“Using films, books, and personal experiences as touchstones, Renouard offers a thoughtful consideration not of the internet’s properties or even its possibilities but how its very presence changes us as human beings. A pleasing metaphysical ramble through the nexus of self, emotion, memory, and experience in the digital age.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Fragments of an Infinite Memory, translated beautifully from the French by Peter Behrman de Sinéty, is a meditation on the many ways that the internet has changed how we register, remember, and forget the past. . . This is not a how-to manual or a guide to overcoming internet addiction, nor is it a nostalgic paean to the analog days before the information superhighway. No, Renouard’s book is something that we don’t see enough of—a clear-eyed and not particularly sentimental look at the role played by the internet in our intellectual lives.” —Kate Prengel, Words Without Borders
“Maël Renouard turns cultural theory on its head: in his brave new world, it is the internet that meditates on Proust, not the other way round.” —Tom McCarthy
“Maël Renouard’s zigzagging essay in search of time lost, time wasted—the time lost and wasted in the virtual world of the internet—is elegant, brilliant, and urgent.” —Adam Thirlwell
“Maël Renouard takes us on a conceptual adventure, meditating on what remains and what is forgotten and observing the progressive annexation of our interiority by the external and infinite memory that is the internet.” —Philosophie Magazine
“Renouard is never less than fascinating.” —Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
“The French writer and translator Maël Renouard was born in 1979, which means that he—like this reviewer—belongs to the last generational cohort in human history to have known life both before and after the internet. In this thoughtful and erudite essay-memoir he reminisces fondly about the analogue era’s fin-de-siècle, a halcyon world of snail mail, vintage cinema posters and uncluttered headspace.” —Houman Barekat, TLS
“Fragments of an Infinite Memory offers a series of thought experiments on the possibilities of online connectivity, winging the reader on flights of fancy that circle around the Internet’s impact on academia, our social lives, and its near-limitless capacity to fuel both nostalgia and the search for what’s new. It’s allusive and full of unexpected digressions, structurally experimental and ironic.” —Gavin Francis, The New York Review of Books
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