If there’s such thing as genius in the 21st century, it’s a collective genius. We can thank the Internet. The individual’s indebtedness to others is finally, undeniably evident, and traceable online. Our collective knowledge is pooling, in Wiki collaboration. Tumblr surpasses Blogspot for its capacity to share, and the greatest pop critiques are not in the New Yorker, but in Facebook comments threads.
Even the novel isn’t safe from groupthink. Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be recorded real life. David Foster Wallace’s info-satiability pervades the MFA consciousness. And read back—Moby Dick now feels hyperlinked.
In 2004, the seers of Bernadette Corporation (BC), a New York-born art collective with three core members (Bernadette Van-Huy, John Kelsey and Antek Walczak), published a novel composed by somewhere between 20 and 150 people (the number depends on your source; a deliberate ambiguity, no doubt). The novel is titled Reena Spaulings and it is a bildungsroman like Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education, though this one is not about a coming of age, so much as a coming to politics, society, and culture.
“Like most contemporary fiction,” the book’s blurb jests, “Reena Spaulings is about a female twenty-something.” Reena. An inscrutably attractive guard at the Met c. 2002 who meets a person who makes people into somebodies, Maris Parings. Maris turns Reena into a famous underwear model. Reena rises then drops out, becomes involved with terrorists, meets Slavoj Žižek...
The novel’s plot is secondary to its prose which is secondary to its ideas; but, also, fuck hierarchies. What’s genius about Reena Spaulings is everything, equally: its making, its result, its clichés, its innovations, its contradictions and confluences. It’s a book unlike any other, and achieves this by being like many; a bright young thing just like you and you and you and you.