Amerika Online

Excerpt From "Work-In-Progress: The Making of GRAMMATRON"

Mark Amerika

There is no good way to tell you any of this. The development of the GRAMMATRON project is so dependent upon the rapid changes taking place in the literary, publishing, new media, and critical spheres that it's become a transhistorical experience for me. By transhistorical, I mean to say that it has become its own ongoing historical example and that there has not been enough time to meticulously document its various stages of development as either a multi-media narrative environment or a full-fledged experiment in network-distributed publishing.

For example, when did the idea of GRAMMATRON, my so-called "third novel", first enter my mind and what exactly did that idea represent? I have no idea. But it must have been sometime just after the publication of my first novel The Kafka Chronicles (Black Ice Books, April 1993), yet before the extensive lecture tour on "network publishing" I did in throughout Germany in May 1994, including a stop at the German Association for Amerikan Studies Conference in Tubingen, where I boastfully claimed that

The emerging youth culture's ability to align itself with intuitive intelligence and multi-linear narrative surfing is just one sign of where the future writer's audience is situated. Soon the Data Superhighway will finally once and for all do away with the high- priced middlemen, and artists will reap the benefits of their own hard-earned labor. The distribution formula will radically change from

Author - Agent - Publisher - Printer - Distributor - Retailer - Consumer

to a more simplified and direct

Author (Sender) - Interactive Participant (Receiver)

I know this to be the case because somewhere during my trip in Germany, I received a fax from literary critic Larry McCaffery that included a contract to publish in his Penguin USA Avant-Pop anthology what was then "the opening section" to a novel called GRAMMATRON, an excerpt I must have sent to him sometime in late 1993.

The opening paragraph to that very short novel excerpt is revealing:

Abe Golam sat behind his computer wondering how he could escape his marketing candor and enter a plea of Not Guilty. Gone were the days of pot-smoking music-listening meditation. His mental deposits of rare minerals were a thing of the past. Every speck of creative ore had been excavated from his burnt-out brain and it was obvious to him that the only way he could even pretend to survive in the electrosphere was to focus attention on himself, one of the innovators of an art movement that had a brief flash of success during the last few years of the 20th Century.

Not Guilty of what? Of creating a marketing plan to bring more attention to his life's work? I'm sure that I wrote this opening line after having spent a considerable amount of time and effort directing the promotion campaign for the Avant-Pop Black Ice Books Series introduced to the literary community by the publisher FC2 in 1993 and that The Kafka Chronicles was part of.

But I wonder if, instead of being an obvious transitional line connecting ones immediate past experiences with the generative-fiction of the day, it wasn't referring to something else entirely different, that is, the near-future evolution what was soon to become my principle work-obsession, the Alt-X Online Publishing Network and what amounted to the site's completely unexpected international reputation as "the literary publishing model of the future" (Publisher's Weekly) becoming what Details magazine called "the best site on the web for cutting-edge fiction, criticism and hypertext." For as I ask myself the question implied by the opening lines to GRAMMATRON (Not Guilty of what?), I realize that Abe Golam, the central avatar-figure in the story, came into being before my own online publishing network, Alt-X, came into being, and that by setting the story in the future and looking back at a past that was still in my future, I could use the project as a way to try and prophesize the future.

This is significant to me because it means that from the start I have been using Golam, and the GRAMMATRON project in general, as a way of narrativizing the potential development of various models of writing and publishing in our internetworked culture. Whereas I personally don't have the patience or desire to locate the various reasons as to why I wrote these initial sentences of GRAMMATRON the way I did, I am now able to retroactively see that the idea of placing Golam in the future, besides giving me ample creative license to play with the story's space-time discontinuum, was also a way of enabling me as a writer to try and gather some distance from myself and what it was I must have already seen myself becoming, that is, an electronic writer and publisher whose commitment to literature would go through radical metamorphosis.

When the GRAMMATRON narrative speaks of Golam as focusing "attention on himself, one of the innovators of an art movement that had a brief flash of success during the last few years of the 20th Century," I am, of course, making a direct reference to a movement very much like the Avant-Pop phenomenon that McCaffery introduces to a mainstream audience via the Penguin USA anthology he eventually released in October 1995. The term Avant-Pop, sampled from a 1986 Lester Bowie jazz album of the same name, has been bandied about various literary and artistic circles for a few years now, suggesting that it refers to a cultural phenomenon that combines Pop Art's focus on consumer goods and mass media with the avant-garde's spirit of subversion and emphasis on radical formal innovation. My own role in spreading the Avant-Pop "meme" throughout literary and pop culture has differed from McCaffery and other young writers spawned by the era of literary postmodernism in that, besides being a novelist who is actively developing narrative structures that employ this "spirit of subversion," I also try to show, via Alt-X and GRAMMATRON, how the evolving network culture, particularly as manifested via a hypertext protocol like the World Wide Web on the Internet, creates a new publishing-distribution paradigm that radically alters the way we produce and disseminate literary texts and that this too must be considered an essential part of Avant-Pop aesthetic practice if one truly wishes to address the possible subversion of the dominant literary-publishing model.

This idea of combining an Avant-Pop writing style with the network-publishing model offered by the Internet first came to me in 1993 when I wrote my Avant-Pop manifesto, perhaps the first artistically-generated document that not only addressed the potential of the Internet to invite us to seriously reconsider the way we compose and distribute writing, but that also used the Net itself as a medium of distribution. Putting it on the Net in early 1994, ancient history in "web years," provided me with my first real explosive experience with writing in the age of digital reproduction. As an intellectually-disowned "copyleft" document, The A-P manifesto, like many such self-generating "memes" in network culture, was rapidly absorbed into the Mediascape via an unending process of replication that circulated in many different niche communities that manifested themselves on mailing lists, newsgroups, email correspondences, web servers in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia, and eventually, without my caring, print publications.

The idea behind creating the Avant-Pop manifesto was not so much to put a bunch of writers, artists or works of art into a cage and let them be viewed the way one might go and look at monkeys in the zoo (or paintings in a museum, poets in an anthology), but to take an old format and charge it with contemporary data that could, if the receiver of such data chose to use it in this way, contextualize what the Avant-Pop anti-aesthetic sensibility was trying to become. And yet looking back with near-perfect hindsight-vision, I realize that the manifesto was not only the clarion call of a disenfranchised writer publicly acknowledging what he thought to be the relevant context to consider his work in, but that it pointed toward the near-future world I was developing for "GRAMMATRON starring Abe Golam".