Updated: Jun 19, 2021
This queer memoir charts 12 years in the life of American writer and artist Stephen van Dyck as he charts, chronologically, dispassionately, all of the people he's met on the internet from age 13 onwards. Many are hook-ups. All are described anecdotally in a formal, factual prose seemingly devoid of feeling or judgement.
It's not for everyone. It certainly took me a while to get into it. As an art project, if felt facile and self-indulgent. The parade of names, faces and body parts seemed monotonous and confusing. The writer's detachment was challenging. As a reader, I kept asking myself, why should I care?
And then about halfway through, the power of the work - which had been accruing discreetly, in thin layers - began to make itself known. At first it took the form of an uncomfortable feeling as I realised that while the writer refrained from judging these people, I was doing just that. I began to question my own reactions not just to the text, but to the queer bodies and identities in my own life.
The cohesion and rigidity of the format means that stories don't feel edited to serve a narrative. This allows the randomness and contradictions of this cross-section of humanity to make it onto the page, raw and real. It also means that when a sliver of unmanufactured beauty, humour or sadness shines through the list, its impact is naturally amplified.
Like the best memoirs written early in life, this is less about the writer than it is about the times in which the writer formed his worldview. It charts nothing less than the transformation of queer culture as the internet began to permeate our lives, our thoughts, our social structures and our sexualities.
People I've Met From The Internet updates the raw, gritty honesty of a Dennis Cooper or Guillaume Dustan for the age of Craigslist. As an arts project, it’s both self-absorbed and – as the brilliant final sentences make clear - dizzying in scope. In casting its unflinching gaze inward, (genital) wart and all, it also holds up a mirror to the reader. Whether we are prepated to stare back as unflinchingly is entirely up to us.