Picnic Comma Lightning
The Experience of Reality in the Twenty-First Century
by Laurence Scott
Pub Date 28 May 2019
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In Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Humbert Humbert offers a memorably brief account of his parents’ death: “picnic, lightning.” Picnic Comma Lightning, too, opens with death—that of Laurence Scott’s mother—because, for a philosopher, death raises a profound existential question: How do we know what is real, especially when we have come to question the reality of so many of our day-to-day experiences? Writing from the intersection of philosophy, politics, and memoir, Scott transforms his personal meditation on loss into a beguiling exploration of what it means to exist in the world today. It used to be that our lives were rooted in reasonably solid things: to people, places and memories. Now, in an age of online personas, alternative truths, constant surveillance and an increasingly hysterical news cycle, our realities are becoming flimsier and more vulnerable than ever before. Scott’s far-ranging examination charts the ways our traditional mental models of the world have started to fray. He ponders how ubiquitous cameras reframe our private lives (an event only exists once someone posts the video), how mysterious algorithms undermine our attempts at self-definition through their own data-driven portraits, and what happens in those moments when our illusions about reality are ruptured by incontrovertible facts (like the death of a parent or a bolt of lightning). “A report from the front line of the online generation” (Sunday Times), Picnic Comma Lightning is an essential account of how we’ve started to make sense of our strange new world.