Friday, June 09, 2006


From Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer:
Everything is packed into a second which is either consummated or not consummated. The earth is not an arid plateau of health and comfort, but a great sprawling female with a velvet torso that swells and heaves with ocean billows; she squirms beneath the diadem of sweat and anguish. Naked and sexed she rolls among the clouds in the violet light of the stars [...] Love and hate, despair, pity, rage, disgust -- what are these amidst the fornications of the planets? What is war, disease, cruelty, terror, when night presents the ecstasy of myriad blazing suns? What is this chaff we chew in our sleep if it is not the remembrance of fang-whorl and star cluster.
You want your social sci-fi? I got your social sci-fi, right here.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


I've been hanging out reading and leaving comments at Ken Wark's new GAM3R 7H30RY site at the Institute for the Future of the Book. As Wark says in the quick intro:
Games, as in computer games, are the subject of my next book, GAM3R 7H30RY. I am interested in two questions.

can we explore games as allegories for the world we live in?
can there be a critical theory of games?
At one point in the aphoristic mix, in a section called "America" - Wark writes:
Click to start. Here is a new world. The first level opens onto a topic (from the Greek ‘topos’, or place). Here a topic is a place both on the ground and within language. Jacques Derrida: “The themes, the topics, the (common-)places, in a rhetorical sense, are strictly inscribed, comprehended each time within a significant site.” One can place one’s foot on a topic because one can place one’s tongue on it, and vice versa. Or one can point toward it and say: “there it is…”. All around the topic it is dark, unknown, unmapped, without stories. Move around a bit and you bump into others, from other tribes, other settlements. Via others one learns of still others. The topics start to connect. A map forms. Once there is a map, there is the topographic, which traces lines that connect the topics, and which doubles the topical with the space of maps and texts. These outline the contours in space and time of what was the topical, redrawing and rewriting it a continuous and homogenous plane. The lines of the topic are traced into the page; the lines on the page are traced back onto the earth as the topographic. History is a story and geography an image of this topography, in which the boundaries are forever being expanded and redrawn. This play between the topical and topographic is the first level.
Navigating through the excellent designwriting interface of the work, I moved from 'topos' to u-topia, and then again to a-topia where Wark asks us "how do we get from nowhere to anywhere"? So far it's a fascinating read and pushes a lot of buttons both in the host text itself as well as in the feedback forum. You have to register to participate in the feedback forum, but reading GAM3R 7H30RY is scot-free.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The Music/Sound/Noise (MSN) thread at ebr, originally edited by Cary Wolfe and myself, will soon pick up again as we launch new material to coincide with the SLSA gig in Amsterdam. When we first launched the series in 2001, nomadic net art and Life Style Practice were just beginning to take hold. The hip, designer devices we were starting to carry around with us (I still have the original iPod) were changing the way we perceived sound in the network-distributed environment. Of course, since the site was coming from the Alt-X network, we also felt compelled to see MSN in relation to avant-pop critical writing.

As Joe Tabbi wrote in the intro to the thread:
There's a parallel here to the sort of critique that ebr has attempted from the start, a project that spatializes the web, but in an especially fleeting and evanescent way. As one literary/academic site within a network whose extension is literally global, ebr has needed to organize itself within and continually adjust to the very environment we critique. With the introduction of sound, this problematic - the achievement of an interdependent web identity - can now open onto the question of what are the relations between sound, then noise, then music. As "sound" approaches ever more closely the condition of music it too approaches a kind of writing, which is then retroactively revealed to have been "noisy" all along.

Working from the perspective of sound as one of the "spatial arts," future contributors to this thread might raise the question of how one should navigate through the rhetoric of noise (while filtering the noise of rhetoric). Who wants to remix this noise into pseudo-autobiographical narrative? mystory? critifiction?

Why did Progressive Networks change their name to Real Networks in the year 2000?
You can go here to find the link to the various mp3 tracks I curated at the time for the "Network Voices" exhibition.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

The Book As Hybridized Writing Project

Lately, the hot topic of how digital technology will change the publishing business seems to be burning up people's ears. Establishment writer John Updike was up in arms about it at the big BookExpo in Washington, there's a long article in the local Denver newspaper, it was featured in the long New York Times Magazine article called "Scan This Book!" that I wrote about here, and there's also a new article in the NYT called "Digital Publishing Is Scrambling the Industry's Rules" which gives us various perspectives on whether authors should embrace or fight the move to digitize (and possibly freely circulate) their work.

It's a complicated issue, and anyone who has followed my Alt-X site or has interacted with some of my digital narrative projects, knows that I embrace the changes happening to the publishing scene as a result of these emergent new media technologies. The novelist Mark Z. Danielewski, whose House of Leaves is a favorite of many of my students, is hybridizing his new book project. According to the NYT article:
When Mark Z. Danielewski's second novel, "Only Revolutions," is published in September, it will include hundreds of margin notes listing moments in history suggested online by fans of his work. Nearly 60 of his contributors have already received galleys of the experimental book, which they're commenting about in a private forum at Mr. Danielewski's Web site.
And then later:
Mr. Danielewski said that the physical book would persist as long as authors figure out ways to stretch the format in new ways. "Only Revolutions," he pointed out, tracks the experiences of two intersecting characters, whose narratives begin at different ends of the book, requiring readers to turn it upside down every eight pages to get both of their stories. "As excited as I am by technology, I'm ultimately creating a book that can't exist online," he said. "The experience of starting at either end of the book and feeling the space close between the characters until you're exactly at the halfway point is not something you could experience online. I think that's the bar that the Internet is driving towards: how to further emphasize what is different and exceptional about books."
That's the ticket. My sense is that if contemporary writers and artists want to "stretch the format in new ways," it will require us to reimagine the book, both as a printed object (like many metafictionists before Danielewski have done), and as a hybridized writing project that exists in multiple formats across media platforms. This includes print, DVD, blog, mp3 download, live performance (not just "bookstore readings" either), museum or gallery installation, interactive net art work, ebook, etc.

Let me put it another way, in quantifiable terms, since I am the Publisher of Alt-X Press, a literary and new media ebook publisher. Our most popular books have been downloaded between 60,000-80,000 times, and our worst "seller" (they're free) has been downloaded about 15,000 times. One of our authors, Raymond Federman, is becoming famous in literary circles in France and appeared on national TV there, so that at one point, over a two day period, there were over 4,000 downloads of his book in English. Oui, it's true, we don't know how many of the downloaded books are actually read from front to back cover, but do print book publishers know how many consumers who buy their books read them all the way through? Think of the number of books that you own that you have not read from front to back cover and you'll see what I mean.

The most popular of our ebooks are very experimental in nature. Some would call these works unclassifiable writing, similar to the Degenerative Prose anthology Ron Sukenick and I edited back in 1995. But here's something to consider: a lot of the subject-matter informing the works we publish is actually influenced by the net culture that digital technology facilitates and that we use to to help us reconfigure our audience. So the fiction and theory we publish, though in the tradition of avant-garde art and writing, deals with issues like computer code, net art, online identity, the boom and bust cycle, and info-politics, to name just a few of the themes circulating in the formally innovative writing styles featured in our titles. This is what a more politicized, avant-pop-influenced readership demands. Of course, a more "refined" literary press, like FC2 (who published my first two novels as well as the Degenerative Prose anthology metioned above ), might find most of the work we publish to be too avant-pop, and as a consequence, not part of a literary tradition per se. We would disagree. Still, there will inevitably be some overlap with the audience for our books and theirs, as well as with Danielewski's book.

Somehow it all comes back to networking. Really, as a writer, you're only as good as your network. I imagine John Updike would not agree.

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