Amerika Online: Vanguard Narrative Amerika Online

The Time of Our Time: Vanguard Narrative In Cyberspace
(Opening Remarks to the Brown University Unspeakable Practices Night of Electronic Fiction)

Mark Amerika

Seeing as though this third Unspeakable Event is being referred to as a Festival of Vanguard *Narrative* and that many of our distinguished guests are (let us call them) "healing sorcerers" who use the language to manipulate our sense of TIME, all I can say is: it's ABOUT time, the time of our time, right now, this live event here at Brown University, but also this live chat happening behind me, behind me on the screen yet simultaneously happening in different time-zones around the world on other screens (even as it's all being recorded by C-SPAN for future TV rebroadcast), a kind of spatialized hypertext distance that is being COVERED (virtually) by Sonicnet in New York and Alt-X, the start-up electronic publishing concern I founded in Boulder, Colorado some three years ago.

What time is it?

We at Alt-X just started our chat-space this week. Now, by chat-space I mean to say that we opened up our own CHANNEL on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) which you might say is the Internet's interlinked "talk network", a network that has thousands of channels worldwide serving many different constituencies, audiences, niche communities (whatever you prefer to call them) -- a network that enables various people from around the world to meet in spaces like the one behind me (but is it really behind me and where are the people?) so that they can gather together and communicate with each other about whatever they want, all of it happening via the ongoing ungoing scroll of ether-inscribed text-delivery, but soon, with the network technology enabling the participants to use THEIR ACTUAL VOICES instead of instantaneous keyboard-punching letter-processing, there will exist the potential polyvocal consciousness of each CHANNEL'S COMMUNITY of INTERLOCUTERS who, interacting with each other over the network, will continue to create this Virtually Significant Tower of Babble that renames our history for us even as TIME, the vanguard writer's dearest friend, passes us by.

And yet, the drama continues. This edified conversation persists. In fact, it is here, in the drama-o-rama of cyberspace, that the textual characters play out their hyperperformance. The material word becomes electronic currency, like digicash itself and, taking on a vision of ultimate transcendence, employs itself toward a kind of new-age empowerment and, while making fun of itself, discovers that the interconnected space of endless ether is now teleporting consciousness beyond the either/or to what Tom Meyer calls the ether/ore. A place for imagineers of all types to mine The Mind, the cyborg-narrator-within.

Here on the Net (but where is here and how can we ever be here if we never really COME here), anchors are visited, expository transformations subsist on navigational aesthetics, emotional surfing becomes read-only-boredom. That is, until an especially HOT email exchange creates a new Artaud whose Theatre of Cruelty has become part of the pop-will-eat-itself culture's crusade of benign cannibalism. What's so avant about THAT?

Meanwhile, tonight, in cyberspace, on the Alt-X channel, being moderated by Jay Dillemuth here at Brown and Alt-X's Ben Cohen in Brooklyn, we are grateful to Michael Joyce for having coordinated the dialogue now taking place between, among others, hypertext practitioner and theorist Stuart Moulthrop, Jay David Bolter who authored the very influential book Writing Space, and the eloquent Jane Yellowlees Douglas who reminds us all tonight, as we mix various voices from both the worlds of print and electronic storytelling, that "when we navigate through interactive narratives, we are pursuing the same sort of goals we do as readers of print narratives--even when we know that the text will not bestow upon us the final sanction of a singular ending that either authorizes or invalidates our interpretations of the text." Of course, open-ended vanguard narratives that work against closure, that work against the end of time, the end of this world as we know it, that mine The Mind so as to exacavate whatever rare gems may still be found there, these are exactly the kinds of narratives we are celebrating here tonight and the kinds of aesthetic practices we set out to disseminate into the cyberculture via the Alt-X network.

When the artists, writers and other interactive participants who collaborated with me on developing Alt-X ended up calling our project an ONLINE PUBLISHING NETWORK, we had no idea what kind of life-duration this sort of instantaneous global distribution system would have, a distribution system that we saw as somewhat revolutionary in that it completely changed the way a writer wrote, published and created an audience, moving away from the formulaic writer-agent-editor-publisher-printer-distributor-retail bookstore-reader equation, to a somewhat simpler, more immediate and unrecognizably far-reaching inter-relationship between the writer and reader, one that could do an end-run around all of the industrious cultural workers of the print-based publishing system and challenge those writers who felt comfortable with this new medium and the potential it presented, to become a kind of author-as-network-publisher (or groupware-publisher) who, picking up off of the D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) aesthetic of the indie music scene, could move beyond the hocus-pocus of the oftentimes self-absorbed if not outright incestuous New York publishing establishment and evolve a network audience all to their own, one that could, if pursued with the same sort of passion we now associate with the "little magazine" phenomenon we saw at the beginning of this century, turn this idea of "vanity" publishing on its head so as to investigate where our literary vainglory festers most while brimming with commercialism's fetid waters.

And yet, as David Bowie sings: "Money goes to money heaven, bodies go to body hell."

The truth is, the explosion of the World Wide Web into the mainstream culture has radically altered the way we give and receive texts. We at Alt-X did not know that this would happen. (Although now that is has, we do encourage everyone to check out the results of this collaborative effort, one that features MANY of the writers participating in this week's event, at

Meanwhile, with events like the 1993 Unspeakable Practices Two festival held here at Brown, we print-oriented writers who were fortunate enough to have attended and who became interested in the possibilities of techno-narrative, we DID find out, thanks to the social mixer served up by Professor Robert Coover and the highly reputable Creative Writing Program in the English Dept here at Brown, we DID find out that, in fact, some writers and theorists were already well on their way to investigating the potential uses and misuses of computer-mediated narrative technology, that is to say, hypertext and/or hypermedia. And we are very lucky to have some of them here with us tonight, in person as well as virtually, and we also welcome a select group of novelists whose print work continues to amaze us with their prescient visions of eerie worlds that soon await us.

Mark Amerika is Director of the Alt-X Publishing Network. In the last year he's published three books including Sexual Blood (Black Ice Books), Degenerative Prose: Writing Beyond Category (Black Ice Books) and In Memoriam To Postmodernism: Essays On the Avant-Pop (San Diego State University Press).