Why I’m Here

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I’m here to explore the changes that have been happening in publishing and writing as a result of the changing ways that people are reading. Over the past 30 years, the relationship between the writer and the page has changed. What a page actually is has changed. What happens to the pages you write has changed. Many people of varying skills and energy levels have been empowered to write and imagine on the Internet, first in the form of blogs and posts, and more recently, with the advent of easy self-publishing and self-enabled distribution (whether via individual or collective websites or via Amazon and other self-publishing programs).

How will readers sort this out? How will writers sort it out? Will publishers die out and be replaced by platforms? Will more sophisticated sorting systems be developed, beyond the inevitable and inaccurate “More like this”? As a writer I am totally convinced of my value—or rather, the value of my work—to some readers, but in the great noise of the Internet I am not so convinced that those readers will find me or that I will find them.

I am also concerned about exploring new ways of reading and integrating material. William Gibson has sometimes described himself as a collage artist, and I think the changing nature of prose, influenced by hypertextual communication (mainly now in linking, but also possible using more direct hypertext tools), will increase both readers’ and writers’ ability to think several things at once, and to understand multiple associations—sort of living footnotes or interlineations, if you will.

The Medieval manuscripts we were looking at earlier this morning at Stanford University Libraries’ The Circle of the Sun exhibit utilize these same hypertextual additions, limited by the size and format of the manuscript. Experimental writers have long made such associations explicit, but they have had to overcome the constraints of the printed page. We now have a way to create unlimited associations between texts. Is there a way to incorporate that ability into entertaining, accessible works? Are readers becoming better educated in how to read such works, as they leap about the web? Are sophisticated computer games books? There are some excellent writers (Marc Laidlaw and Maureen F. McHugh, among others) involved in creating them.

Certainly the possibilities for a sort of layered, sequential collaboration are here. In Japan, for instance, Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel The Difference Engine (1990) was published with a sort of glossary that I had created in English as a friendly critical analysis of the novel (Gunn 1990). Note: the authors of a work many not be happy with this kind of unplanned “collaboration,” but contemporary literary criticism could unfold the meanings of a work in a very interesting way. (Interesting at least for people who are comfortable with handling multiple meanings in a single phrase. Many readers are not.) Aside from criticism, planned narrative collaboration of this sort would probably be interesting and fun to develop.

Writing and publishing have a long history of collaboration: it takes many people to produce a book. With new technologies, the ongoing (post-publication) collaboration between a book and its readers may become more evident.

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