February 21, 2006

an interesting conversation

Filed under: literature — ABRAXAS @ 5:29 pm

BASHKIM SHEHU: Now, although I am not quite familiar with the internet literature, I have certain initial ideas, or questions. What would be the impact of internet on literature? How literature would change? Where is the truth: in the conviction that it will radically change, even the “death of the book” – one more of the several “deaths”, after that of God – or in the opposite one, that basically nothing changes, or somewhere between these to extremes?

CHRIS KEULEMANS: The impact of internet on literature is in the first place practical: Partly thanks to easier and cheaper transportation, writers now have the possibility to travel to all kinds of locations where they want their work to be situated. It can be no coincidence that many novels today have foreign, even exotic locations. Internet helps, too. Researching historical or faraway facts, data, places, names and events is much easier now. Google and all kinds of other search engines and factual websites allow the writer to be very precise, even about places and times he has never known. The overwhelming amount of research data are still in the English language, due to the better digital infrastructure in the Western world, the budgets for digitalization of Western institutes and libraries, and the use of English as common global language. So the novelist who locates his work in the English-American universe profits most. A typically pre-digital, though modern European writer like the magisterial W.G. Sebald would, had he not died a few years ago, still use mostly non-digital archives to cement his imagination. The imagination of most presentday writers using the internet as library will inevitably tilt towards the English-speaking world, history, cultural codes etc. Thanks to internet, more literature is available to more people. Amazon.com and other bookselling sites have a basically endless supply of new or used books in stock, contrary to even the biggest bookshops. It is now possible to find easily almost any book the writer wishes to investigate, as a basis for his writing. Again, this goes especially for the English-speaking publications, but bookselling sites are now fashionable in many languages. There are also less practical effects of a more psychological or atmospheric nature. In the case of my recent novel, ‘De Amerikaan die ik nooit geweest ben’ (The American I never was), it helped me to always write the chapters while playing pop music from the period I was describing. Internet helped: music download sites made it possible for me to quickly assemble a ‘playlist’ of songs from the period, that worked as an inspiration, a quick way back to personal memories, while writing. When I was 25, I once wrote that I wished to live hanging in a web, to be a part of a constantly present, constantly shifting and renewing web of messages, images and lifesigns, which would enable me to move freely without ever being alone. I could hardly imagine that a decade later, this wish would become reality. If writing requires solitude, internet can be a lifeline to the outside world that one can open or shut at will. It allows you to live a solitary life, necessary for the concentration writing needs, while not becoming a hermit. I developed a website which was a kind of library, open to all, of the popular culture that formed my inspiration and also the world my characters grew up in. This site grew into a kind of parallel world next to the inner one I was working in. It placed my own work into the much wider, almost universal context of American pop culture. It allowed me to communicate with others about the material I was writing about. It kept me ‘present’ while ‘absent’: I was out there, sharing and communicating material often with strangers, while at the same time immersed in the confinement of my writing room. A friend of mine wrote that art (including literature) made especially for the internet, tends to have a sense of melancholy. This is apparently inherent to the medium, that resembles our memory: reliable but unreliable, you know that you know something, but where did you leave it? Literally, the internet will not mean the death of the book. On the contrary, as I wrote above, books will be available for a longer time and to a greater reach of people than ever before. Also, printing on demand makes it easier and cheaper for very specific, mostly academic, publications to be available to those who wish to read them. About the more literary implications of the internet, more below.

BASHKIM SHEHU: If there will be a change, is it fruitful to literature, or is it going to trivialise it, meaning the “death of literature”? And, does undermine the idea of authorship? Of the “creator”?

CHRIS KEULEMANS: Some of the advantages of internet, I have sketched above. I believe they can aid the inspiration and support the creative act of writing itself. Inevitably though, there are also risks. The interesting system of peer reviews on websites (where visitors or customers personally review books/movies/music, including their other preferences, so that you can base your choice on the judgement of those who seem to share your taste) can lead you onto discoveries in your line of preference, but more often than not it leads you into the mainstream, creating a kind of online populism that pushes more adventurous work to the margins. The endless addition of online journals, weblogs, magazines etc creates a boundless forum for more or less literary texts, and this new space at once liberates and trivializes the act of writing. Creating text, be it personal shorts like sms and msn or uninhibited private fantasies on the countless (porno, sf, rant) storytelling sites, has lost its remaing aura. It is no longer an exclusive gesture, anyone can write and publish online. On the other hand, the best of these online magazines provide a unique platform to share and preserve texts of high quality. A Café Europa website could be such a platform. Already, there are many such indispensible sites, ranging from the innovative www.McSweeneys.net (of Dave Eggers and friends) in the US, the serious German-English site www.signandsight.com, the adventurous South-African site Sweet on http://www.substancebooks.co.za/component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ , or a collection of otherwise unpublished Palestinian poetry on http://www.sakakini.org/literature/poets.htm Writing for the internet seems to be developing into a specific style. As most people still prefer reading longer texts on paper than online, the medium can force you to write differently: shorter, catchier, fixed on catching the attention of readers who can easily click on and be lost forever. I myself find the medium too valuable to hand it over to the less literate, so I appreciate those who insist on publishing serious texts online, trying to create design and context in such a way that a serious reader will be invited, even seduced to keep reading. But it is interesting to approach writing online as a specific style, using the specific qualities the medium offers. An excellent example is the Dutch poet Tonnus Oosterhoff (one of the most appreciated and honored poets of my generation here), whose online poetry is of the same high and inimitable quality as his work on paper. Even to non-Dutch readers this must be interesting (and reminiscent of the work of our own Peter Jukes): www.tonnusoosterhoff.nl Much has been said about the death of the author with the advance of the internet. Until now, nothing like it seems to be happening. On the one hand, online writing partnerships do happen: Italy boasts interesting writers collectives Luther Blissett and Wu Ming, who probably operate online. Here, a group of people artfully disappear behind an alias – but this is hardly typical for the age of internet. On the other hand, the advance of internet can create a persona of the author that is practically separate from the human being himself: but this is mostly the case with globally marketed writing phenomena like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. But the question goes deeper, of course: does the figure of the author evaporate into the thin air of digital communication if he writes online and thus can assume any personality he chooses, opening his work to various and anonymous interpretations?

My friend Aryan Kaganof, a brilliant and very subversive filmmaker and writer, recently moved back to his country of origin South-Africa, where he has started to work under everchanging names, producing an amazing amount of films, visual art and literary texts, many of them online. It is hard to keep up with the reality of these alibi’s and even of the excellent reviews they seem to gather in South-African publications unknown to me. On the other hand, was this not exactly the strategy Fernando Pessoa chose in his day?

I personally don’t see a radical change in the status of the authorship these days. Yes, the possibility of hiding behind an alias is evident. Yes, the sharing of text and of co-producing even literary work is a widespread phenomenon, and the authenticity of a text can be harder to distinguish, now that a writer has so much more untraceable sources from which he can ‘steal’, and even that won’t be stealing once the concept of copyright will be softened into systems like creative commons that are now being explored. But on the other hand, the human desire to see a face and hear a voice behind the work they read is probably bigger than ever, so that it becomes ever harder for a writer to hide in obscurity. Innovative and important European writers of today (Orhan Pamuk, Michel Houellebecq, David Mitchell, Christian Kracht, Julia Franck, Aleksander Hemon) don’t seem to give up on the concept of the author: all kinds of unreliable storytelling goes on in their work, and the diversity in style must surely have something to do with the blurring of authenticity and inauthenticity in this information age, and of the modern reader’s capacity to make huge mental jumps in a matter of seconds, but the persona of the author itself is hardly being disputed or blurred – at least no more than we know from postmodern times.

BASHKIM SHEHU: And what about the relation between author and reader? Or is the “open work”, concieved in the thirties by certain German theorititians?… In history, there are other cases of important technological phenomena: Guttenberg, for instance. Is this new one a more radical one, and in which sense? By the way, in as much as Guttenberg was mentioned, and since this KOSMOPOLIS 2005 has to do with the 400th aniversary of the publication of “Don Quixote”, and reminding that, in a way, the print machine becomes a “dramatis persona” in the second part of the book, in which the book speaks about the publication of the book itself, let us also discuss about this, refering at the same time to the recent technological novelties. And let us (at least in this preparatory issue, reflect about Gordon Graham, Umberto Eco, etc.

CHRIS KEULEMANS: These questions, as I tried to go into them above, don’t seem to be fundamentally influential in the art of writing and reading books. If we want to address them, we would have to include writers in Café Europa who are actually writing (much of their work) online. I guess Peter Jukes and I have experience with this in some way. (And in any case, I would love to hear Peter’s thoughts on all of this, so I also address this to him.) In my case, I did try to create an open literary/cultural platform with my website, www.theamericanineverwas.net, with its own rules of writing (if I may call even call them that, because most of the writing was basically not much different from short magazine writing), and the website did actually create a kind of online growing archive around the novel, but the novel itself was a fairly straightforward exercise, published in classic bookform, with no essential differences from any growing-up novel.

I don’t know many writers who, with their online work, would truly break open this discourse. Maybe the young Hungarian Peter Zilahy (www.zilahy.net), or the above mentioned Dutch-South-African Ian Kerkhof / Aryan Kaganof.

Our Nino Zalica is now starting up an interesting post-Yugoslav site called www.NewImm.com, (stands from New Immigrants), which is still only in their own language at the moment, but promises to be a nice exchange platform for like-minded writers, academics and fans, but does not aim to revolutionize writing itself. Let’s start by designing a good website for Café Europa. How should this look? Let’s aim for something more ambitious than just a collection of our texts. The design should be intelligent, looking for cross-references, making links visible between this text and that, opening up the realm of references behind the texts (this would be interesting in the case of various participants like Mileta Prodanoviç, Migjen Kelmendi and Pavel Huelle), creating co-written texts on ‘our’ themes etc. I would recommend again including Ernesto Ortíz, a playful and openminded young Cuban poet now living in the village of Montalban near Sevilla, who is also a very able webdesigner: ernestortizcu@yahoo.esBut that is a matter of further exchange of thoughts. Right now, I will leave it here.

originally published here

9 Responses to “an interesting conversation”

  1. peter jukes Says:

    Dear All And Hola to Bashkim,
    What a great subject for a cafe@europa. Thanks to the internet, I am replying immediately, with my unmediated thoughts late on a friday night/saturday morning. I only do this because the subject is so provocative and stimulating. Otherwise I would be sleeping! I think the internet is part of the ongoing ‘electrification of the word’. The word, the Logos, is such a fixed and profound part of hellenic thinking. It required education, expensive vellum and the social organisation of the monasteries to develop. In the age of mechanical reproduction, to be ‘published’ to be official, required either the apparatus of state or commercial capital investmen. But what do you need today? For the means of production, just a printer and a computer. And for the means of distribution and exchange? A blog site. My personal feeling is that the age of the word – the hieratic, priestly, authored word – is the exception. For most of history, language has been oral – fluid, shared, unrecorded. The paradox of the information age is that the written word, thanks to this computer, and this internet connection, has become as fluid as the spoken word. Literacy has returned to orality. As Mikhil Bakhtin said – it’s all just dialogue, conversation. But please contradict me if I’m wrong. I’m just getting the dialogue rolling.
    Best wishes to you all And hope to see you soon.

  2. bashkim shehu Says:

    Both Chris and Peter said many interesting things which, therefore, lead to several questions.
    First, concerning the fact that it makes the publication easier. Are we entering a new stage, in the same sense that the invention of Johannes Guttenberg? I am repeating a previous question of mine, but I intend to connect it here to something else: the sacrality of the written word, and thereby the aura of literature in the written form, is far more ancient than the 15th century. Thus, in order to go a bit further and deeper than my previous question, what is the realtion between internet literature and the idea of the desacralization of the book? Allow me to put forward that I consider this idea a by-product of another one, that of the Death of God. Besides these, other questions come to me mind when reading the remarks from Peter and Chris – the problem of the impact of internet into the literary language of the text itself, and still more questions. But I leave them for a bit later, I have already … talked?… too much for a layman in this domain…

  3. peter jukes Says:

    I agree with Bashkim that there has been a desacralisation of the word in the information age, but I would also agree that this process began with Gutenburg, with the mechanical reproduction of text. As Walter Benjamin explainsed, in mechanical reproductio text loses its direct connection with handwriting, its aura or physical residual contact with its creator. I suppose its not suprising that our notions of divine creation are shaped by changes in human creativity. With mechanical reproduction, human creators became more distanced from their works, and I’m sure its not coincidence that the rise of information technology was accompanied by the theoology of a ‘hidden god’ at work in nature, a deus absconditus, who employed intervening processes of gravity or evolution to express himself. Flaubert draws on the same analogy when he says that an author should be in his work as God is in the world, invisible but all powerful. So to me, this information age begins in the early modern period, sometime around the late 16th early 17th century – appropriately for us, around the time of Cervantes and Shakespeare – when there was a sudden shift in what
    I’ll call the ‘technology of knowledge’. The question is whether the last twenty or so years are just a part of the same process of speeding up mechanical reproduction, or if something else more profound has taken place. I would also add that mechanical reproduction didn’t mean the death of god, or the death of the author, but both creators became more distant from their works and their audiences. About ten years ago I wrote an essay for the New Statesman, updating Benjamin for the information age. I called the brief piece THE WORK OF ART IN THE DIGITAL DOMAIN. Some of these issues were explored there, but one paradox did strike me. Thanks to digital technology, it was clear even then that, working alone on our computers, we could edit video, music and sound, compose and tamper with images. To me, this represented the REVENGE OF THE WRITER. Sound and image had also been turned into code, and could be manipulated like text. In effect, digitization turned everything into literature, ecriture, and more people into authors. I could expand more, but the essence of this forum is dialogue – so I’ll leave others to respond. I would also suggest that we could easily turn this debate into a simpler form of dialogue, TODAY, by logging onto… http://www.blogger.com/start This is a free blog site which Bashkim could invite people to join. It keeps a record of our interactions and is easy to track. Just a thought, Looking forward to your responses.
    Best wishes from London

  4. marius serra Says:

    Dear all. Sorry for my delay in joining your words. Time’s gold. I have read your previous interventions, and I agree in the fact that internet will have an impact on literature. I have my doubts about the role of weblogs. I see they can form a great map of, so to speak, reality. But I also think they can promote graphomany, and literature is not endless writing but endless rewriting. Levare, in Leonardo’s words. So I agree with Chris when he says that “this new space at once liberates and trivializes the act of writing”. Literature could be out of there. Bashkim asks for the relation between Internet and the desacralization of the book. I would say we are just talking about two media. Books were sacralized because they were one (if not the only) way to convey knowledge. Gutemberg’s age is not over, but we live in a sort of MacLuhan’s age. Moreover, nowadays there are lots of book which don’t convey anything at all. I believe in desacralizing things, even the common desacralizers (verbi gratia: Internet’s guru John Negroponte apologizing for having written a book: Being digital ). I’ve got several Internet and Virtual Reality experiences related to literature, art and wordplaying, in which I am specialized. I create verbal enigmas and crosswords in Catalan, my mother tongue. I am sure we write shorter, now, and I am nearly sure that cut-and-paste will have a great influence in style. But in my opinion there is a concept which is much more important: interactivity. In 2003 I published an unfinished novel (really unfinished, I mean that I had been working in it for two years and I didn’t know how to finish it, nor what to do with those hundred and twenty pages) chapter by chapter in “La Vanguardia”, the most read newspaper in Barcelona. The novel was called “Monocle” and I had left it near a sort of climax, so that you could start thinking in an end. But it was really open. La Vanguardia published daily a synopsis of each chapter in its paper edition, but the text was complete in the digital edition. So, when my last chapter was published we asked the readers to send a sort of finishing proposal. It was all done through the web. They were invited to send a text of a maximum of 2500 characters with their proposal (they could win prizes as well) during one month and I had the compromise to finish my novel in the next month, so that the newspaper could publish it on a Sunday edition. Everything was to be done between April 23th (Saint George) and June 24th (Saint John). We were quite scared about it. What if nobody write? Readers were invited to read and write (and all by Internet), and we didn’t know how many people would participate. Ten, twenty, fifty? We finally received 145 final proposals, some of them excellent, with lots of ideas I would never have imagined. I used ideas from twenty proposals. I wrote twenty-five pages in one month and “Monocle” was finally published with “La Vanguardia”. One year later (2004) I wrote a sort of biography of that novel titled “De com s’escriu una novel·la” (Of writing a novel) in which I narrate the whole process as if it was a new novel. Withou Internet this interactivity would have been impossible. I also join Peter when referring to that “conversation” (by Bakhtin).
    Life is conversation, and so literature is.
    See you woon.

  5. hannah charlton Says:

    Apologies for being very late in joining the discussion – but it’s great to see what you all have to say and be able to join in! Great to meet you, Chris, online – I was very pleased to see your website back last century. I though it had exactly the type of qualities that online could offer – a personal multimedia space where an interesting, engaging story could be told – and that could not really have been produced in any of the one dimensional media forms offline. As a former music print journalist, I always felt that life would have been far easier if I had been able to share the pieces of music I was referring to! I think all the discussions around the nature of the word are interesting – I agree with all that Peter says about literacy returning to a more fluid state in the age of digital information. And within this context we are being pushed to rethink how we assign value to the ‘word’ in an exclusive state, as opposed to a form of communication that uses sound, images and words in an integrated form. I also think we need to be clear about what we are discussing. What do we actually mean by literature? Is it work that engages, entertains, challenges, supposes, and illuminates the human condition? Is it the highly mediated written work that is found in published form – in books? Is it the linear narrative that we commonly associate with traditional novels? Or is it the more general meaning of literature as in the totality of information found around any given subject – say for example on the digital world. This immediately brings up the question of literature versus information. We are all very aware of how we are living in an information culture. We all have our personal strategies for dealing with our daily levels of saturation and how we search, retrieve, store, process the different kinds of information we can find online – and how we assign personal meaning and value to any of them. What seems to me to be missing from the discussions so far is the whole notion of connectivity. I am reminded of what a colleague, David Stevens, put on his personal pages about the interiorisation of knowledge brought about by books – “Borges tells us that the end of the fourth century saw the
    birth of a new mental process – one where people communed in silence with the written word. Augustine was spooked to see Ambrose read without saying the words aloud. “When he [Ambrose] was reading, his eyes ran over the page and his heart perceived the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent,” he writes. “Very often when we were there, we saw him silently reading and never otherwise. After sitting for a long time in silence (for who would dare to burden him in such intent concentration?) we used to go away.” The move from the very connected oral tradition – producer and active audience – to a much more internalised world of reading books [not disregarding the tradition of reading aloud in a group] meant that the act of sharing ideas, of having conversations was carried out on a more individual level. And it is the move towards regaining a greater sense of connectivity through the online medium that interests me – the building of communities of knowledge, of learning again to share, discuss, debate, but at distance, with a range of people who want to learn from each other. So if people are connecting online, where are they connecting? David Weinberger, author of ‘Small pieces loosely joined’ [a great book about how we feel and function in the digital domain] talks about the web feeling spatial because it’s ‘place-ial’. To quote him: “We’re not well prepared for the distinction between space and place. We’ve come close to it only in literature, movies and dreams. And except for dreams, generally, the space-less places we’ve visited have assumed that the laws of space are still in effect: Tolstoy can transport us from Paris to Moscow without having us traverse any distance, but the characters in his imagined world are not so fortunate. Nevertheless in literature, the author can arrange events according to her interests, can build and juxtapose them as she likes, all without having to worry about how they’ll physically fit together or how long it will take the reader to travel from here to there. The author, and the reader, enjoy the freedom that comes from the liberation of place from space. The web is in this sense, like a collective, global work of literature. Or a dream”. Borges again – the blind Director of the National Library in Buenos Aires in 1946 – for the recurring themes of his writing seem to have relevance for how we regard the endlessness of the internet. His ‘Garden of forking paths’ serves as a metaphor for how we operate the endless choice online: “In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts’ui Pen, he chooses – simultaneously all of them . He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse time which themselves also proliferate and fork”. Through the internet we can connect at many different levels, in many different ways. We can choose when we connect and how. And it is this surely that is the major change from the reading of literature in books. There is a successful Chinese cyber-lit website, Rongshuxia, that has to date published the work of 100,000 people. Started in the 1990s it has been popular with individuals wanting to share their writing and their vision with others, happily bypassing the narrow world of magazines and publishers. The writers want to express their thoughts and to get feedback on their work. They are not paid. Their work is not sold. It is purely for the act of writing. This is an entirely different model of communication and community than the publishing model, where books are chosen by expert editors and marketed to
    different audiences. Does this model guarantee quality? No, not by any means. And the argument that only with these judgemental filters do we have a product that can ensure that a writer can earn a living is not always the case now either. Ask a lot of writers and they will say it is necessary to write books to build a profile in order to get other paid work. So the peer to peer writing sites seem to have a lot to offer in terms of building connections. And I suspect that we no longer have the same relationship with ‘great’ writing as we did when we had fewer distractions such as film, tv, ipods, games, magazines. And teenagers now are equally engaged a range of media – for them, the word no longer reigns supreme. Visual literacy is equally important. I would suggest that the supremacy of the word is being challenged by a new visual literacy. Of course words matter and always will – and the book will not die and people will always write poetry [though they may increasingly be combined with music or images] Late last year, the New York Times broke its first news story from a combination of blogs and the citizen journalist is very much part of our lives. That to me, is literature online. The fact that I can, through blogs, dip in and out of the experiences of all sorts of people, of all ages, creeds and cultures seems to be living literature. The blogzine that appeared after the recent Bush victory – was it called I’msorryworld.com? – was a great example of an instant, global response with individuals posting self-portraits holding up a placard with a message of solidarity. You pose the question of how to preserve the quality of authorship as online we are all authors and publishers. Perhaps some of these concepts will be increasingly challenged as debates around quality and significance and meaning continue. We will always continue to have the cultural and commercial institutions that will recognise and reward “quality” – but surely a more open and democratic form of conversation is a better social and political way forward? I read recently that Angelina Jolie is to star in a movie of the Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf. I can’t think quite what part she will play. I went online looking for Seamus Heaney’s recent translation and in about two minutes found a site where I could download an extract read by Heaney. And it was magnificent. I was connected and engaged in a way to quality thinking and imagination that is to my mind not possible in any other form. These are just some thoughts in response to your ideas. Will be glad to continue exploring!

  6. bashkim shehu Says:

    I would furtherly propose to all of you the two following questions (you might respond to any of them or to both, accordingly with your preference). First, let us try to deepen a little bit into what Chris Keulemans introduced about the possible novelties of language in internet writing (see his second intervention above). And, second, some reflection upon the relation between internet and hypertextuality, including probably what you may think about hypertextuality and literature in general. Of course, these questions, as well as the others, can be largely debated during the KOSMOPOLIS in December, but I think it would be fruitful to make a short prelimenary approach here.

  7. peter jukes Says:

    And hello to Hannah. She has done a great job of introducing herself, but forgive me if I just sing her praises. In an amazing number of media, Hannah has been an inspiration to people – from photography to novels to interactive art works. In a world ominously filled with ‘gate keepers’ Hannah is that rare thing for artists and writers – a ‘gate opener’. So her words have an extra resonance and weight, especially for writers like myself who search for benign gate openers in their life. I am glad of her presence during this discussion. What is interesting about her intervention is this acceptance of diversity, of different genres and media co-existing together, without some kind of historicist desire for succession, replacement, and linear progress. I think that is the danger in all discussions of technological innovation- the idea that the printing press, or the telegraph, or the internet, came along one day and changed everything for good. History is not a succession of innovations, it is fragmented, parallel, and discontinuous. What I particularly enjoyed about her approach to the discussion was this accepting perspective. Nothing need ‘replace’ anything else. Every new medium has its practical constraints, and ultimately its human limitations. Bashkim, rightly, wants us to pick up this them of ‘hypertextuality’ and I suppose what he wants us to address is how these new technologies change our inner conception of writing and literature, often in subtle unconscious ways. I note that Chris has some very interesting things to say about the STYLE of internet writing. He should know: in The American I never Was’ he’s done it
    comprehensively and well. One common complaint I often hear about these new information technologies is that texting, emailing, and blogging are somehow undermining our standards of grammar, spelling and punctuation. It’s certainly true that my kids ‘txt’ all the time, and message me weird coded messages on chat ‘soz dad l8 – brb’. Sorry dad I’m late for school. Be right back. However, both my msn/txt children are gr8 at school, and just as they shift their accents from the argot of the playground to the politesse of family dinners, they seem very adaptable when it comes to the rigours of exams against the acronyms of text messaging. Two styles can co-exist simultaneously, often with great wit and vigour from the cross fertilisation. And when it comes to rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, I always remember that Britain’s most creative period of writing, and the birth place of this modern English now spoken and written throughout the world, was during the age of Elizabethan Jacobean theatre and poetry – a time in which Shakspeare spelt his name in ten different ways, and the rules of spelling and grammar were in flux. That’s one way that the new knowledge technologies are affecting the physics of our textuality (and no doubt our sexuality). But when it comes to ‘hypertextuality’, I always feel we are straying into areas of’ metaphysics’, indeed theology, as I pointed out in a previous intervention. So perhaps one way of looking at hypertextuality is to go full throttle for this quasi-religious approach, and since literature and the arts have classically offered some kind of subsitution for religion, then it may be germane to ask… How does the internet affect our idea of immortality? Years ago, as a tense teenager, I longed to have a book published. I was reading the canon of famous writers, and then books about these writers – Eliot, Lawrence,Beckett – and my idea of salvation was to become famous enough that someone would write a book about me. In the years since then, many things have happened – not least a realisation of the limits of my own literary talent – but I wonder if a broader cultural shift has taken place: i.e. the decline of the book, the printed page, as an emblem of social approval, legitimacy and authority. In
    the era of Hola magazine, the National Enquirer, and in literature of intrusive scandalous biographies, probably the last thing now I’d want is to be ‘immortal’ in this way – like Primo Levi or Elvis Presley. But I wonder how the internet changes our notions of fame, immortality and Parnassus. About five years ago, I explored with a entrepreneurial friend of the idea of setting up SOUL.COM, in which people could upload their lives to a webspace memorial, complete with architecture, music, photos, poems and songs, which would act as a repository of their soul. We imagined it a bit like the Sims or Sim City, the difference being everyone would build their own mausoleum or utopia. 700 years ago, Dante’s image of Paradiso was firmly based in the hypertextuality of books; he saw every redeemed sinner as a page in God’s library. Oddly enough, with more and more people having access to publication, we all have a chance to be at least a ‘web page’ in the library of mankind, and have our fifteen minutes of fame. We have got our place in the library in the absence of God. This seems to be the crucial problem. In this electronic era of information technology we can all be visible. The biggest anxiety is not expression, but the lurking realisation that nobody may be watching. There is presence, but no judgement. Who is going to ‘editorialise’ this mass of human expression? We don’t have a God anymore. But we do have Google. Has Google replaced God? Well, as you can see, these fugitive email thoughts, in the absence of some divine editor, have ended up in a rather bizarre place. But I’d prefer to be bizarre than fail to stimulate further conversation, so please prove to me that some kind of authority exists, and put my thoughts in context.

  8. anton krueger Says:

    hi there,

    yes, very interesting…i’m on the offensive these days in the department about the internet…it seems most lecturers are actively discouraging students to research on the net and keep telling them to get back to the books etc…& in my thesis i’ve been told
    i can’t quote from internet sources…it’s ridiculous: there’s a whole universe out there and they’re trying to bolt down the frail wooden doors to keep out the electro-stream…the photon ray gun…

  9. joan metelerkamp Says:

    Dear AK

    you are indefatigable, incorrigible, unstoppable etc…go surfing!

    thanks –
    I’ll read it again when I’ve got the adrenalin necessary…