Tanner Harby is the most substantial writer of the 21st century, although since the Century has only recently started, that might be presumptuous. But I am already this far in my report of his craft, and if it emerges that there is anyone who has written as extensively and with such detail, I will kill myself. I will put a gun to my temple and blast away, because my life will have become a purposeless ooze.
What makes Harby interesting (abstractly, not in actuality) is his lifelong attempt to document his entire life experience – all of it. Every minute, every moment, every fart, as it occurs in real-time.
Obviously, this project has had its pratfalls. Harby cannot record everything. In fact, his novel (shared with me, and only me, through Google Docs) is abridged. His babyhood, his childhood, are fleeting. The true conceit begins in his dwindling teen years, specifically when he learned how to write at 16, and will end at his death. Most of it is typed, but some parts are scanned napkins, toilet paper scrolls, whatever’s available.
And there are many deviations. Some of the book is pondering exposition that pulls free from the linearity of time and enters beautiful memories, yet too much attention is spent describing the author’s room, computer, his viewings of pornography. When Harby reads a book, he types it in its entirety (this is rare; Harby hates reading). There are also the instances in which Harby was forcibly removed from his Mission, especially by his parents to go to the doctor’s, dentist’s, or church. However, I’d argue that these tangents and omissions don’t detract, but enhance his Poetic Vision – silence becoming the pedestal of noise. There is a saying I will revive for Tanner Harby, and Tanner Harby only; he leaves much to the imagination.
Some (my parents, friends, and Oxford University Press) call him a freak, a man-child, or a moron. Others (my counselor, that girl I dated in college, and you?) a victim of mental illness and the cult of the memoir. A few see his work for the enduring experiment that it is. Even fewer have imitated but to no success. The physical acumen, the diligence, the focus, is unprecedented.
Now, to logistics. Tanner dedicates nearly ten of his waking hours to writing. It takes him about a minute to finish one page of 250 words, and each page encompasses approximately one minute of his life. This means that in one day, he produces up to 150,000 words, or 600 pages, which comes to 200,000 pages a year (with a rich increase in 2013 when his mother died). As of this dedication, he has written about 6 million pages. Of course, I make discoveries every day of more writing he did in bathroom stalls, the backs of chairs, receipts, and the arms and legs of lovers.
As Tanner Harby’s eminent scholar, I have undertaken the task of reading the entirety of his opus so as to critique and glorify his works and their contribution to Western Canon. Here are just two of my discoveries. The first, which might surprise you, is that Tanner is most certainly an idiot. His project has led to the abandonment of academia and self-improvement, and his commentaries involve racial and sexual metaphors far too archaic and Confederate to be ironic. Even his style shows little improvement over these past thirty years, partially because his schedule hasn’t allowed many books and partially because he doesn’t consider reading to be a worthwhile endeavor.
Second, I have discovered that I too am an idiot, not by my association, but by my decision to read this opus in its entirety without considering the consequences. It takes about one minute to read 300 words (I’d consume faster but you must consider the unedited content that is my diet), which means I complete 1.2 pages per minute, or 72 pages an hour. I carry on with 12-hour reading periods, 11 devoted to Harby and the rest fractured into short breaks. This means I complete a considerable 792 pages per day, or about 280,000 a year. I started at 19, am now 40, and have known few other pleasures. Nor am I so sure of my future celebrity – I am nearly done, and yet, I have no theory, no system, no methodology, and no idea of how I will present Harby to academia. Is he minimalism glorified? Menippean? Or is he a curiosity, as momentary and useless as the Voynich Manuscript?
But there’s no time to think of the future. I must sit here at this hot computer, plummeting into some dim cave-world, knowing that far, far below he type, type, types, and if any misfortune were to befall the author, well…
I wouldn’t know it for years.