This essay explores a new trend in contemporary character construction in which a character’s memories and sensations are depicted as exhaustively etched into and retrievable from his outside environments. Ben Lerner and Karl Ove Knausgaard represent their protagonists as alternately pleased and overwhelmed by the ease with which they can reach into outward records of their lives, over whose seemingly inevitable permanence and meticulousness they realize they have little control. The article traces the environmental origins of Lerner’s and Knausgaard’s characters to the recent explosion of digital storage and surveillance devices. At the same time, the article devotes less attention to these technological developments in themselves than to the consequences they have for the form of Lerner’s and Knausgaard’s novels and for the implied aesthetics and ethics that underlie their notions of selfhood. Contrary to what one might expect, these novels’ outlooks are strangely communitarian rather than hyper-individualist. Knausgaard’s and Lerner’s writing suggests that to get to know one’s self in such detail paradoxically leads one to recognize how commonplace and easily sharable are even our most private and seemingly unique experiences.

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