One night last December, in my miserable hovel in West Philadelphia (what it lacked in windows it made up for in the even coat of glitter covering every square inch of wallspace), I lounged around, flicking through my phone.
I found myself on an aimless digital “stroll.” I checked my Facebook; I read half a think-piece on rape culture, then clicked away to some friend/competitor’s Twitter feed; I googled myself; I re-checked Facebook; I read a couple paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry on the Carpathian Mountains. Soon I was lost, and could no longer remember what I left the house for in the first place. (Note: “house” refers to “any non-screen reality-space”; “leaving” the house refers to “entering” the internet.)
When next I looked up, I was on a website written entirely in lime-green font against a plain black background. The aesthetic was early-2000’s graphics: bare links, visitor counter at the top of the page. ‘YON DAILY DOOFUS,’ the title read in Lucinda Blackletter between two pinwheeling sun-faces. Underneath the place’s name, it read “The Facebook of Websites.”
I had found Peter Schranz.
The Daily Doofus is like a digital Farmer’s Almanac with no weather and all lore. One entry, titled “Have A Migraine,” is a list of FAQs on canopic jars; in “Inauspicious Be The Number Seven,” the writer sorts the titles of the first 21 novels that came to mind by syllable count, then points out that all those with seven syllables or more involve bad luck (he also explains why the word “pale” is two syllables). This sort of post has been happening every week or two since 2009.
As Peter himself is quick to point out, with a degree in creative writing from SUNY Purchase, he cannot be considered an outsider artist. But he is a sort of outsider content producer. There is a quality about his web-log that runs directly contrary to the social expectations of any creative young person: to be public in all the right ways and in one of a handful of prescribed tones. If you google him, you won’t find his CV. But you might find his withered Twitter account, which he hasn’t touched since using it to try to convince Marilyn Manson to buy Tinder.
I “spoke” with Peter over Gchat because I, too, am a citizen of the internet.
Leah Gallant: What IS the Daily Doofus?
Peter Schranz: Daily Doofus is a website where I expose my creative emotions to the world without having to make anyone like it first. It’s also what I think every website should be like.
I think people forget they are on the internet a lot of the time. Like I just forgot right now. But if you ask me nobody forgets they’re on the internet when they’re on http://www.dailydoofus.com.
LG: In “Time to Come Clean Via Lying,” you write, “I guess there’s no winning this web-log rat race: on the one hand, if you indulge in embellishment you just end up making yourself look like a big supermodel, whereas if you tell the truth about your mind you start to lose more traffic than a roadway stalked by automobile immunodeficiency virus.” What’s your relationship with social media?
PS: I was on Facebook all the way from 2008-2009 and then I got anxious about knowing/imagining too much about others so I quit and now I just have Frank Bunne [Schranz’s profile hails from Ulaanbaatar] who oversees the Peter Schranz fan page, which had 82 fans a few days ago but then someone stopped being my fan, so now it’s 81, which is something I could have gone without knowing. I also have a twitter.com website called @PeterWSchranz but nobody goes on that even though I went on a campaign for Marilyn Manson to buy Tinder, but I think I have too negative an attitude about twitter because I just figured if I wrote something stupid enough and with enough celebrity names it would get a million hits or whatever. Which it didn’t, of course. People adopt a similar voice on social media websites, and I think if people made their own websites they would have more control over what the heck they even sound like. I have a lot more control over dailydoofus.com than I have over instagram.com. I am inclined to think that even you have more control over dailydoofus.com than you have over instagram.com, because a report of your extremely flattering request for an interview is, if you couldn’t guess, probably going to end up on dailydoofus.com. My theory is that archaic websites such as www.dailydoofus.com for example will become de rigueur in about 2020, and I think that will go for chatrooms too. Mark my words. I promise there will be a fresh, young chatroom in 2020.
LG: Do you look at internet art or post-internet art or whatever they’re calling it? Or is there writing on the internet (or writing that takes the internet into account) that interests or repulses you?
PS: I remember being interested and repulsed by thelastpsychiatrist.com, whose writing is on the internet. He’s a psychiatrist from Philadelphia with weird wrong views about narcissistic personality disorder among other things. Also he tricks you using psychiatric demonism, like he makes a long, well thought out argument about something that takes ages and ages to read, and then he says, “Oh, by the way, if you think I was serious, then you’re a moron.” Any writing that causes distress is interesting.
LG: What other writers do you like? And what is it about writing that causes distress that interests you?
PS: I think everyone is interested in distressing writing. I have been reading the transcript of the Belsen war crimes trial and I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who wouldn’t be both distressed and fascinated by it. I’m also reading Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young, which I don’t think is necessarily a distressing read, not all the time, but I’m astounded sometimes about how much she can write that is simultaneously realistic and descriptive but also lyrical.
LG: Reading Daily Doofus also reminds me of parts of Bolaño where a narrator embarks on some anecdote that goes on much longer than I expect but also (somehow) stops just in time (usually). I was also thinking of how Bolaño writes a cast of thousands, but no matter how distinctive their characters or roles, they speak in the same voice. One of the reasons Daily Doofus intrigues me is because the voice walks a fine line between internet rando (like thelastpsychiatrist.com) and knowing writer. By “knowing” I mean an author who is aware of irony and humor and the inappropriateness of public displays of envy, and who writes in what is simultaneously their own voice and a fictional voice. Or are these binaries useless on the internet, where we always are in some way tied to our IRL selves even (or most) when they are furthest from our internet selves? When you talk about the future of websites or the future of writing on the web, is that what you mean: its bizarre relationship with fiction?
PS: I have never consciously considered how the fake aspects of internet writing relate to fiction, but I will do so now forever. I am also having trouble imagining gigantic, internet-centered writing-style movements. Also I think I make a pretty deep distinction between fiction and just incorrect stuff. I think someone who doesn’t want their audience to know that they’re writing something untrue isn’t writing fiction. The whole point of fiction is that whether it’s true or not isn’t important, whereas with scam emails or fake celebrity accounts, obviously it’s incredibly important whether it’s true or not, especially to its authors.
LG: Now for a lightning round of questions. What (if any) is your wage labor?
PS: I work at a day program for adults with developmental disabilities called Sparc, which also has a web presence http://sparcphilly.org/
LG: Do you think you’re an outsider artist? (Problematize away!)
PS: Definitely not. I went to SUNY Purchase for fiction writing, so that pretty much puts the kibosh on any such description. In terms of nobody at the New Yorker accepting my stories, my art is outside of the New Yorker I guess, but that’s obviously not what anybody means when they talk about outsider art.
LG: Should a writer in the era of Trump do anything different from one in a non-Trump era?
PS: Maybe they should write more about totalitarianism. On that note they should read more about it and report on it to the rest of us. Oh, God, I don’t know, but I think the answer to your question is “yes.”
LG: I have an idea for how we should part ways. I am going to send you to a random place (I am going to bring you to a random vista on Google Maps). And I want you to go there and describe to me what you see. (Just indicate that you are finished describing your transmission by typing the words END TRANSMISSION). Don’t do this just yet, finish reading this paragraph first, but you will need to navigate to http://www.mapcrunch.com/ and click the green GO! button. And please also send me a screenshot for me to put at the top of the article. And then when you have sent your description, we will both file out of this chat-space immediately and in total silence.
PS: Here I go.
“Who are those runners, are they running from me? Are they running from something behind me? Yes, I remember now: this is the ‘Thiès Region’ of Western Senegal, and it looks like I have quite a straight road ahead of me, so straight I suppose I could close my eyes for a little! After all, as long as I don’t touch the steering wheel I’m certain not to drive into that morass to my left, or to the brooding forest to my right. If there’s one thing I know for sure, there’s a bicyclist behind me, or perhaps he or she is in front of me, considering that off the top of my head I don’t know if you drive on the right or left in Senegal. I should also report that due to the constraints of my car’s screenshot capabilities I can only depict the bike-side or the runners-side. Ah, straight-as-hell Route Mbour-Joal, how gleefully I’ve sped down you, notwithstanding that I was unsure whether I was driving on the right side of you or not. How befuddled have I become as a result of the lip-shaped clouds which hover menacingly over you from above. How I wonder whether they are not a result of some camera error…!“