Have We Learned Anything From Miranda July’s Celebrity Email Project Yet?


It is now four weeks into Miranda July’s email art project We Think Alone , and therefore it seems time to report on how it’s going. If you haven’t heard of it before, the project will run for 20 weeks, so you too still have time to sign up for the weekly compendium of emails from the “sent” folders of ten people July has chosen. That the people she has chosen happen to be moderately famous – Kirsten Dunst and Lena Dunham are participating, as are Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, and the writers Sheila Heti and Etgar Keret – is there to serve as additional enticement.

The emails are, like yours or mine, dashed off haphazardly. So the only real interest they hold is the small snippets of trivia they contain about the lives of the people who wrote them. This week’s, for example, contains Lena Dunham’s instructions to her “people” to stop trying to get her book proposal taken down from Gawker and various gossip websites. “Of course I don’t fully understand the business implications of any of this, but on a purely personal level I’d rather let it go at this point and focus on how much is still left to write and share on our terms, rather than add fuel to the web fire,” she writes.

If that begins to sound like PR gloss to you, you’re not alone. In interviews, July tends to be coy about the role of fame in the project. “’The-stars-are-just-like-us’ thing! Yeah, I get that there’s kind of no way around that feeling,” she told Fast Company’s co.Create blog. “But I have a limited amount of thoughts on that territory… Everyone is a specific person living their life, with their own humanity or whatever, and I feel like, over time, that’s more what you’ll experience than just that little fizz of connecting it to yourself.” But she also told interviewers she wanted the project to comment on how privacy shapes up in the digital era:

In a way you have to start to sculpt your privacy, and that sculpting becomes a reflection of what kind of person you are. And you see that in this project. Some people manage to get through 20 emails without really sharing anything. There’s an art to that as well.

We Think Alone does, indeed, show that that’s true, so far. People hoping for insights into Dunst’s psyche will find it hard to divine much from her email, most of which is “Sent from my iPhone” rather than the obvious product of deep contemplation. But perhaps that’s because Dunst has now been a celebrity for pretty much the whole of her short life; picking and choosing what she reveals to anyone but close friends and family has pretty much always been part of her daily routine. The hiding-in-plain-sight thing from her is almost expected. It doesn’t raise any new questions about her, nor bring any new insights.

I’m not unsubscribing just yet, of course. I like knowing little details like how little Sheila Heti was paid for her book, and that once, when emailing with the lesser-known (but excellent) novelist Helen DeWitt, Heti didn’t get the title of DeWitt’s novel right. (It’s The Last Samurai, not the Seventh.) But I keep wondering, as the story unfolds each week in my inbox, if it’s going to get to the part where it feels like it has the insight, the surprising cast of light, I usually expect from an art project. So far, no dice. But there are 16 weeks left to go.