Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Troubled in Uppsala

Haven't posted for some time, because I'm in Sweden and have limited Internet access. Ira's home computer is a virtual antique running Windows '97 & she's got a per-minute dial-up connection that is apallingly slow, so I've stayed offline, which hasn't been a bad thing. I've spent the past hour in her office at Uppsala University reading articles about the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which are problably not the abberations that the Bush Administration and the military have portrayed them to be. It's all very disturbing. I suspect the reputation of the United States has suffered irreparable damage, in large part because of the extreme arrogance of Bush and Co. Recently watched Lars von Trier's Dogville, which can be read as a disturbing allegory about American arrogance and the will to sadism behind the ethos of compassionate conservatism. Ira needs to use her computer, so I'm signing off.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I Love The Unknown

On both a personal and a professional level, I'm pleased to report that The Unknown, a pioneering hypertext novel co-authored by William Gillespie, Frank Marquardt, Scott Rettberg, and Dirk Stratton, is now available as a free downloadable Zip file. I just downloaded it myself, & if I'm posting here in the next couple days it means that their hypertext didn't infect my Mac w/ some monstrous form of digital herpes.

But seriously (as Derrida said to Searle) as a friend of The Unknown, I'm glad to see that the fellas got their shit together and not only archived this beast (which, judging from recent posts on Scott's blog may be stirring yet again; will it ever be finished?) at the Open Source Books website, but managed to be the first hypertext novel to be listed in the archives. W.W. Norton loves that kinda shit. Here's hoping that the next edition of Norton's Postmodern American Fiction anthology includes The Unknown alongside Michael Joyce and J. Yellowlees Douglass. This kind of recognition is minor and as a genre comedy tends to be undervalued, but once the 'tipping point' is reached, The Unknown has a good chance of becoming a cult-classic--like 'out-there' writing by Burroughs, Ballard, Dick or Acker--that eventually gets its props in the literary mainstream.

Were I to pimp The Unknown to Paula Geyh and the other Norton editors, my argument on behalf of the work would be that it is an exemplary piece of what Deleuze dubbed "minor literature," and that the major tongue they were twisting was that of the pre-millenial literary establishment. This hypertext appeared at a time when the literati were begrudgingly shocked into acknowledging that the printed word has always been a network technology for establishing connections between readers, and The Unknown can be read as a testimonial to a joyful belief that the publishing industry, just like the music industry, was in the midst of losing its grip on the dissemination of art. Obviously, this historical moment hasn't played itself out.

The Unknown deserves to me read for more than socioeconomic or historical reasons. I think it demonstrated that metafictional irony hasn't exhausted its potential, and that self-reflexive writing was more necessary than ever in a culture where everything seems to be choreographed for a voyeurs. The also reminded those who forgot that metafiction needn't be smug and smarmy or cold and impersonal. Somewhere Donald Barthelme was laughing.

I realize that I'm using this post as a way to avoid grading final exams. But before I return to the grading, a bit more on the Deleuze... I know it's something of a cliche to talk about hypertext as an embodiment of Deleuzean concepts like the "rhizome" or "the body without organs," but in the case of The Unknown, it really makes sense. A major trope in the hypertext (in the tradition of Burroughs, Pynchon, etc.) is how intoxication can function to reinscribe disembodied information within the realm of the all-too-human.

The Unknown carry on the migratory, masculinist tradition in American Literature that Deleuze & Guattari so admire (Melville, Miller, Kerouac, etc) and in tracing their quasi-autobiographical line of flight across American (a fictional book tour), they managed to make it funnier through parodistic power riffs on intellectual tropes like the death drive, the will to power, etc. that permeate so much of literary modernism. Were Deleuze still with his, I think he'd appreciate The Unknown, though he'd probably refer the fellas to the passages in A Thousand Plateaus advocating the practice of getting high on water.

Thanks to accolades bestowed upon it by Robert Coover, The Unknown stand a decent chance of being remembered the annals of e-literary history. Not that Scott, who, when he is in his carny barker mode can make Mark Leyner appear modest, is likely to let that happen. But it takes more than a streetstoopid, self-promotional machine to spread the word. Reliable access is key, and it's good to know that (God forbid) should this gonzo crew push things too far & disappear forever into cyberspace, or some dungeon created by John Ashcroft for domestic threats to Homeland Security, The Unknown will remain available for reading.