Friday, December 12, 2008

Teacup Manifesto on Electronic Publishing

A couple days after "Progress: A Play in _ Acts" went up on Wigleaf, its author sent along an accompanying postcard. He wrote in the email that he understood if it was too late. But as FRiGG editor Ellen Parker once told me: on the internet, it's never too late.

This was a few days ago, around the time when I was posting Stefanie Freele's story, "Because Condoms Seem So Desperate..." At first I was thinking that I would recode, so as to have Sean's postcard appear in the usual place, beneath his story. Then it would have been sort of hidden, though, four spots down in the column. Plus it would have taken work (a technical issue, to do w/ photos being on the right or left side). So I broke with format. I put the postcard beneath Stefanie's story, where readers would usually expect a postcard, if there was one, to be from her.

That's two things that would never happen in a print mag.

Another: Matt DiGangi, editor of Thieves Jargon, recently removed Blake Butler's story and bio from the archive. He was pissed at Blake, apparently because Blake hadn't granted a request to link Thieves on HTML Giant. Anyway he removed Blake's story, then said so in a comment on HTML Giant, then received a whole lot of derision. If I'm sitting on my ass in the jury box here, I'm going to end up siding w/ Blake, who should be able to link what he wants for his readers. At the same time, I'm interested in what DiGangi did, and glad that he did it, in a way--because it gave rise to some revealing discussion.

Some of the comments @ HTMLG reflected the line taken by HTMLG contributor, Justin Taylor: "When an editor of an electronic journal... threatens or actually carries out such an action," he wrote, "what they seem to reveal to me is the cravenness and intellectual bankruptcy of their own enterprise. When you do this, you deal a serious blow to your project’s institutional memory, its continuity, and its integrity."

That last part I agree w/. For practical reasons I woudn't do what DiGangi did--because for readers and writers, the mag's integrity might be damaged. I wonder about the rest of what Taylor says, though. I don't think DiGangi's move was "intellectually bankrupt," or that it's fair to say that about Thieves. I mean, from the human side, you can say what you want--it was petty, it was bold, it was rash--but in terms of e-publishing, there's easily more intellect here than in 3 out of 4 net lit ventures. Think about it this way: DiGangi didn't delete Butler--which would have been possible. To bend Jimmy Chen's term, DiGangi 'ghosted' Butler. You can still go to Thieves and click on Blake Butler, and this is what you'll find. Is that not something? Really, who's not delighted by this? I'm pretty sure Blake is.

This all gets to how you think of e-publishing. I'm not a hundred percent sure what Taylor means when he talks about net mags in terms of 'institutional memory' and 'continuity,' but when others use such terms they're often implicitly comparing the net mag to the print mag, with the sense that the net mag has something to prove. A print mag--would the argument go like this?--is solid. It forms its own memory--no matter whose hands it gets in, or who reads it--because it is an object, and we tend to preserve objects, especially when care has been taken w/ them, that's in our nature.... So even if the print mag in question dies, even if you have no contributor's copy and know of nobody who does, you're 'published' there. That's for sure. That's immutable.

You know, maybe.

Without getting in to the question of distribution, I want to say this: a net mag isn't a print mag without the paper. A net mag isn't just the 'light' of the print mag, minus the absent body. If that's how you think of them (and Issuzu clearly does), you'll always see the net mag as secondary -- the image of something else.

No, man. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Look at Juked. Look at elimae. What you see here--real liberation from the concepts (many of them deriving from economic factors) associated w/ publishing in print. John Wang and Cooper Renner--they're alive to what the net mag can be.

For Wigleaf, if I can get back to that, one thing I love is that w/ each new posting, the publication 'is' something, on the main page, that it will never be again. Yeah, Jennifer Pieroni's kick-ass new story, "Now, Right Now," will be archived eventually. But for now it and its thumbnail are at the top. That story 'articulates' w/ the title of the mag, on the left, in a way that's different from how it will three days from now, when the next story goes up. For three days you have something that you'll never have again. That's net publishing. Sometimes I think it has more in common w/ performance than w/ publishing in print. Which gets back to DiGangi. Performance. Applause.


Darby said...

This is an interesting post. I was thinking similarly, maybe last week, because I'd read a story online at a journal that publishes both a print and a separate online venue, and I thought the story wasn't that good, or I was surprised that the quality wasn't as good. Of course I have my tastes, subjectivity aside. I fear sometimes that when print journals decide to have separate online venues, or vice versa, the print tends to get the focus and the online is always secondary. I think a lot of people have this sentiment, and maybe it's inevitable given the circumstance.

I like what you are saying about online being a performance with respect to time, as opposed to the conventional idea of being published with respect to infinite time. We are kind of trying to trick ourselves into thinking online is paper but it will always take a human with the necessary funds to preserve it in some digital form somewhere indefinitely, and so there's always a putting up and taking down over and over.

Maybe it can be likened, though, to print journals having their own 'issues' that sit on a magazine rack for a certin time and then become, actually, much harder to find after that than if they were an online outfit. In a sense, the performance of print is even more severe if you aren't in line quick and actually buying the thing before it's taken down or it sells out.

Charles Lennox said...

I think if an editor agrees to publish someone's story (whether print or online) that they should hold up to their end of the bargain and publish it and leave it in their archives, end of story. To remove a story/poem over something that has nothing to do with the merit of that piece seems unethical to me, maybe childish. But, then again, i'm not involved with this whole matter and it would be ill of me to pass judgement from second hand information. It sure is interesting, though. I wouldn't wish those circumstances on any writer.

But what I'm really trying to say here Scott is please don't remove my story from Wigleaf. If you wanted me to post a link, just say so.

Scott Garson said...

darby--i agree w/ what you say about print. definitely its immutability is more conceptual than real. one thing that aids that: the lit-cultural capital of publishing in print. it's like, publishing in print isn't easy, bro. you've published in print? nobody can ever take that away from you!

charles--yeah, i'm going to take you up on that, have you link up to my pyramid scheme....

Matt DiGangi said...

DiGangi bows.

Maximum Etc said...

Scott- hey this is Justin Taylor. Just here to clarify what I meant by "institutional memory." In that formulation, the "institution" isn't the writer's CV/publishing history, it's the netmag's own sense of itself.

As Gene Morgan (and others, but he's the one I'm thinking of) has several times rightly pointed out elsewhere, very few if any internet publications do anything much to establish or ensure their own archives.

Sure, you'll probably be in Google Cache until the sun goes dark, but wouldn't/shouldn't a magazine also show a bit of foresight & self-reliance on their own account? I think so.

I mean imagine it's 50 years out from now, and some PhD candidate writing on Early 21st Century Internet Journals is trying to do primary sources research. This *will* happen.

Most of us will be dead or very, very old by then, and the internet itself (or access to it, or the way in which it is navigated) may exist in such radically different form that the Collected Thieves Jargon or the Complete Elimae is as impossible to assemble/experience/read as that one issue of Evergreen Review from the 60s that got pulped because a Brooklyn Judge thought some art photos in it were pornography.

I just think when you start purging your own archives, you're doing the wicked work of Father Time for him, and there's just no reason for it.

Pound opens one of the early Cantos with a slightly re-jiggered line from Eliot (I assume he's borrowing it *back*, rather than simply borrowing--but who knows). Anyway, it the "These fragments I have shored against my ruin" line, but in Pound's version he adds a parenthetical to let us know that "shored" should be understood as "shelved."

Scott Garson said...

justin--thanks much for this. that last paragraph might be the most excellent thing ever to appear on this blog.

Maximum Etc said...

my pleasure, man, though i actually got backwards which word is in the line and which is in the parentheses, but thankfully my point survived. It's Canto VIII, if you want to see it for yourself. Anyway, cheers-

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