Patrick Carr and Clayton Lamar are two creators of the popular Twitter account @dogsdoingthings. The good dogs (and the bad dogs) do what they do in an alternative existence that is remarkably similar to our own, although darker, more melancholy, often desperate, obsessed with mushroom clouds and contemplating the abyss.
A selection of tweets was recently included in Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies, a collection of contemporary writing edited by James Lough and Alex Stein.
The Twitter project can be found Here. Short Circuits was released by Schaffner Press in April and Powerhouse Arena hosted a celebration of the book with readings from Patrick Carr, Clayton Lamar and Lily Akerman. Pick up a copy at a local bookstore like this one or any of the retailers listed on the publisher’s page.
PATRICK CARR: Did the academy influence these pieces? Yes, inevitably. A lot of the angst and spite you might detect in @dogsdoingthings comes directly from spending half a decade in graduate school, speaking personally. Kids, don’t go to graduate school.
As for the content of the writing, I guess it scans in some ways as “academic.” Look at the selection in Short Circuits, and you’ll find references to Sartre, Nietzsche, Cioran, Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. But anything academic here and on the Twitter feed is just grist for jokes.
This is not *why* I went to graduate school, but it is certainly the best way to put a graduate education in the humanities to use.
CLAYTON LAMAR: I think, too, whether self-consciously or not, there’s a field that @dogsdoingthings operates in. I don’t mean that in any terribly strict way, but there’s a range of concerns that pop up, and there’s of course a certain Twitter audience that’s particularly receptive to this stuff.
You don’t need to be conversant in academia to work in a discipline, but I do think some of our thinking about this type of material is structured that way. There are also a few ex-academics on Twitter who we’ve come to enjoy, and so that mode of intellectual engagement has been part of our recent writing in a somewhat roundabout fashion.
PC: I enjoy summoning a kind of world, or a kind of universe, in 140 characters. I also enjoy summoning a world and destroying it, or summoning a universe and watching it dissolve hundreds of billions of years later, all within 140 characters. Ideally, these bursts can fill someone’s imagination. That’s the point of all writing, but these are trying for a particular extent and duration. The demand is relatively small, and the reward—well, the reward could be as much as 5 seconds of mirth. Which, that’s a pretty good ratio as these things go.
CL: Other forms of short writing might aspire toward completion, which is a cool and interesting way to approach small forms, but I think @dogsdoingthings does something else. When these worlds are summoned, you’re presented with a particular perspective or a specific moment in time, and yet part of the gag is necessarily that these worlds existed before their summoning, and will continue to grind on long after the moment of attention has passed.
When @dogsgoingthings observes a mushroom cloud blossoming along the horizon—a beloved image—you’ll see one kind of riff on what’s possible in the face of nuclear apocalypse, but there’s also plenty that’s left unsaid: what circumstances led to this moment, and what comes next? I think we want you to dwell on the super-dense sentence you see before you, but we also want you to peer out into the void that surrounds it, too.
PC: What you can say for contemporary technology—let’s just say social media—is that it has helped form communities, let new voices be heard, and created some new writing environments. I don’t think Twitter has a way to make the aphorism relevant, exactly. Their social contexts are so different. Twitter is just another place to do short form, under constraints that are a little more explicit than usual.
To me, the quintessential Twitter accounts are bots, for better and worse. The most well known was @horse_ebooks, but bots abound. One of our followers botified @dogsdoingthings once upon a time, and the results were pretty impressive. Some people read @dogsdoingthings as a bot—we’ve been placed on many a bot list—and fair enough. That’s not at all how we conceived the account, but it’s suited to the platform in the same way.
There are no bots in Short Circuits, but that would be an interesting addition. The editors, James Lough and Alex Stein, have very generously elevated short form writing from lots of contemporary forums. There are academic poets, Booker Prize winners, professional writers, and comedians. There are people who are skeptical of social media and people who thrive there. The variety goes to show how far and wide you can find literary artifacts, when you look for them.
CL: Sure, access and outlets probably have something to do with it. Maybe, though, there’s also some small bristling against traditional longer forms? If you’re a reader whose tastes are even a little outside of the scope of classic and contemporary Western literature, I think you learned this a long time ago: that there’s a ton of cool stuff being written in forms other than big books, and which hold a whole series of concerns that are distinct from those of big books.
I read a lot in science fiction these days, and that’s a genre for which this type of stuff is kind of obvious. I bet readers of any kind of genre fiction or avant-garde writing probably feel the same way.
PC: Well, @dogsdoingthings is a collaboration, so to start, it’s a conversation between Clayton and me. And as I mentioned, @dogsdoingthings is endlessly referential, so it’s “in conversation” with high and low culture. Sartre to Star Wars. It’s in conversation with the news of the day, and memes of the hour. The @dogsdoingthings device can capture a wide spectrum of material for its own purposes—that is, imitating life, courting death.
CL: There’s also a conversation about the form itself that’s been unfolding for years now: what images we’ll return to, what idioms we’ll speak in, whether we’ll address the news-of-the-day type items, even the old chestnut about what dogs will or won’t do. It’s been neat to see how Twitter changes around that conversation, too.
When we started in 2010, it felt a lot more bold to post with what was essentially a non-interactive Twitter account. But now egg accounts who shitpost 24/7 and follow nobody have huge audiences. Wild times!
CL: We recently did a reading at Powerhouse Arena for the launch of Short Circuits, which is the first time @dogsdoingthings has been read live in public. It was interesting to export a writing project that exists mostly in the quiet corners of the internet and hear it aloud, and also to try to sustain it over the course of twenty minutes. I found it affirming; the rhythms and sounds of @dogsdoingthings played really well in person, and so I could definitely see more readings in our future.
PC: Tweets will appear on @dogsdointhings long after the Earth has been consumed by fire and the last descendant of the mutant octopus species that dominates the charred and boiled aftermath twitches a tentacle for the final time. Tweets will appear on @dogsdoingthings through the next several cycles of the universe’s collapse and rebirth. Reading live was enjoyable, so maybe more of that to come. I could see the spirit of @dogsdoingthings migrating to other written forms as well. 🐕😜🐙
CLAYTON LAMAR: Definitely not.
PATRICK CARR: There is only an end. An end without end. Amen.
Photos courtesy of Annmarie Pisano and hotsaucerev.com