Personal Life Outsourced

An Interview with Michael Filaas                                                            v.5  Outsourcing
                                                                                                            by Alexis Goolkasian

Over the past few years, social media sites have created countless outlets for people with similar interests or issues to connect and share their thoughts and feelings on topics, and the shared interest aspect of these sites provide users with a sense of deep connection and trust.  In this issue of SPECS, we have published sections of Michael Filas’s “Lyrica Cantos,” a series of poems that demonstrates the outsourcing of personal life through the speakers’ online activity promoted by their diagnosis of fibromyalgia and search for drugs and cures.  Filas writes, “A well kept white woman in her fifties or maybe early sixties sits in a dark room and speaks directly to me—she is opening up, being honest. I am provided no reason to mistrust her.” Such speakers express their feelings to people they do not know and takes the information of others with gratitude and trust. In this piece, fibromyalgia patients use the internet to come together and discuss their shared diagnosis. Online friendship is important because they have great difficulty functioning in the outside world. Social media can help break the isolation most people feel; “Sonny gazed into the screens presumably in search of an answer, a reason to feel hopeful about his future.”

I put a few questions to Michael Filas about this moving, often funny, piece:

SPECS: What inspired you to use Ezra Pound's Cantos as a source for "Lyrical Cantos"?

MF: I had the idea for "The Lyrica Cantos" well underway before I read the complete Cantos by Pound, including the notes and translations. It was a right of passage. I wanted to make a connection between the hybrid critique I intended in my work with the tradition of collage literature developed by Pound and Eliot. I was also struck by how profoundly Pound's language, when re-fragmented and re-assembled, fit my needs. His broad and biting critique of history and usury was re-deployed in my project for a critique of the role of capital in pharmaceutical culture, and the way social media might replace/displace other more traditional communities. I also like the high-culture component blending in among block quotes and treatments from television commercials and youtube videos. My hopes were that the Pound excerpts, polyglot and angry, would borrow some of his gravitas.

SPECS: The use of social media is strongly demonstrated throughout your piece. How do you feel about social media and poetry?

MF: Social media is represented in "The Lyrica Cantos" mostly through the youtube excerpts, which are various and abundant. Social media is part of our landscape now, and especially when it comes to the challenges faced by fibromyalgia sufferers it provides an important platform through which isolated patients can reach out to each other and connect. The disease is invisible to the usual diagnostics and often misdiagnosed and ineffectively treated for a typical span of five years before the patents get a proper diagnosis and effective treatment. In this instance social media provides an intimate comfort to people who desperately need it. In short, I found incredible pathos laid bare and raw on social media, and for me that charged the poetic impulse. This ersatz "empathy network" for fibromyalgia sufferers undermines the usual knee jerk reactions that critique social media as impersonal or watered down representations of humanity.

For patients like those in Filas’s “Lyrica Cantos,” the expansion of opportunities online is important and necessary. We outsource our personal information and personal lives each day on social media sites, and it is fascinating to see how Filas’s poetry translates social media into lyric form. Be sure to check out “Lyrica Cantos” in the upcoming edition of SPECS.