Afterglow & Instagram: On Eileen Myles's Latest Works
Up today at the Los Angeles Review of Books is Maddie Crum's look into Eileen Myles's latest book, Afterglow, with an eye toward Myles's ongoing project of capturing slices of life through the poet's Instagram feed. And since Afterglow is a "dog memoir," plenty of pups make an appearance as well. Crum writes: "Those who follow their feed will notice similarities between the writer’s social media activity and their latest book, Afterglow (a dog memoir). Superficially, both turn a loving eye toward their dogs — Honey and Myles’s first dog Rosie. Beyond that, both aim to catalog life in gritty, naturalistic stills that, when amassed over time, form a lyrical whole, like a good grunge song." More from there:
Afterglow, like Myles’s 1994 novel Chelsea Girls, is a series of vignettes, which vary in tone, setting, and point of view. To the extent that there is a central story, it begins when Myles’s parents return their brand-new puppy to its breeder one night, because it barked and whined. Myles equates their childhood desire to own a dog with the want to be seen; decades later, once they owned a dog of their own, they question whether dog ownership is inherently cruel. In the years of her long life, Myles’s pit bull Rosie dragged the poet out of their house and altered their writing; what, Myles wondered, did they provide in return?
There are chapters of the book that meditate on this question, punctuated by transcriptions of videos Myles took on their walks with Rosie. These transcriptions are the most Instagram-like, and the most poignant, moments in the memoir. Rosie eats a burrito; Rosie romps on the beach. She does dog things, but the usual pathos of dog-as-subject is admirably absent from Myles’s portrayal of their pets. In these chapters, and on their Instagram feed, you won’t find a dog framed, posed, or hashtagged for the sake of garnering likes. You’ll find a dog standing, smelling, watching, shitting, and tugging too hard on her leash. By capturing their pets without sentiment, Myles works to bridge the power discrepancies between owner and dog, author and subject, Instagram poster and Instagram liker. And by doing so, they show how the social media platform can be used to connect, rather than isolate.
Instagram is often discussed cynically as a platform designed to gloss over imperfections, and to shill one’s brand. And certainly, it’s been used that way, affecting the places we travel and the foods that we eat, applying to all of it a sheeny filter. But Myles’s aesthetic, which involves repetition and spontaneity, is representative of a kind of Instagram counterculture, one that works against the capitalistic gloss to which the platform is prone.