Erudite novel calling on us to surrender not to data, but to life
A great deal has been written about the ever more radical ways in which data shapes our lives. The tone is either optimistic and impressed or cynical doom-and-gloom. Maxim Februari, one of the Netherlands’ sharpest, most multifaceted thinkers, has turned his hand to the novel to explore at close quarters the influence of big data on a number of lives. The result is Lump.
‘The lump was the enemy.’ So starts Februari’s novel on the digital world in which consumer data has piled up to form an uncontrollable autonomous system. Due to proliferating algorithms, users are subject to the tyranny of the lump. Against this backdrop, Februari follows two characters: the charismatic Alexei Krups, who enthusiastically applauds the endless possibilities, and technology expert Bodo Klein, who is sent by the Minister of Security to shadow Krups.
An inspirational speaker and prophet, Krups proclaims the word on data, despite barely believing in it himself. When his message is taken seriously, making him a prominent authority, he becomes increas ingly perplexed: ‘This is the sort of non sense that people want to hear.’ There is no question of stopping, so he becomes ever more reckless in the statements he cuts and pastes together.
Klein follows Krups, trying to get a grip on him, and on his own life, which has been derailed after he sent a suicide note by email but then changed his mind. His position at work is unsustainable and things at home are not much better. Both Klein and Krups are confronted with powers greater than themselves.
One of Krups’ disturbing messages to the world is that data renders novels obsolete. Lump proves the opposite: the novel is indispensable. By zooming in on Krups and Klein, Februari shows that their personal lives cannot be reduced to data.
The novel offers an erudite reflection on modern developments. It is enhanced by the essay style in which Februari excels and by the intimate portrayal of characters who constantly find themselves offbalance in an ever more grotesque world. The message of *Lump *is that we should surrender not to data but to life itself.