Prose in Motion: Avant-Pop Teleconferencing

With: Arie Altena, Ernie Jonker, Mark Amerika and scores of internationals from Amsterdam

Sometime in the middle of May, Alt-X got an e-mail message from Ernie Jonker and Arie Altena, two artists from Amsterdam who help run the Perdu Arts Center, one of those cool alternative spaces that dot the European landscape. Ernie explained that they were building a MOO-site at the virtual Perdu located at De Digitale Stad and that they were planning to devote an evening to Avant-Pop and all the stuff happening at Alt-X. Dutch writers would read from Avant-Pop works, Dutch critics would debate the merits of the "movement," Arie Altena would present an introduction to what the new American writing consisted of, and Ernie was creating HUGE HARRY, an automatic cut-up program/billboard that would spew out random excerpts from Avant-Pop/Alt-X texts on a large-projection screen connected to the MOO.

To cap the evening off, Perdu requested an interview with Alt-X Director Mark Amerika which he was thrilled to do. What follows is a transcribed excerpt from the discussion that took place on June 9th (10:00pm Amsterdam time). Imagine the Perdu Arts Center packed with young internationals looking for an update on American writing and how it was being effected by the online culture while Amerika sits alone in his office in Boulder trying to keep in sync with the party going on at the other end of the Atlantic.

Perdu zegt, "first question, how is the reception in the USA of your new book?"

Je zegt, "Great! I just got back from a 15-city tour and the response has been very positive. A lot Alt-X fans come to the readings now."

Perdu zegt, "Are you amazed by the amount of people that know about Avant-Pop"

Je zegt, "Yes, very much so. It is becoming an international art & writing movement, thanks in large part to the evolving network culture---the thing we're participating in right now."

Perdu zegt, "do you think the literature on Alt-X is something new, like the future for literature, or the literature of Internet?"

Je zegt, "It is new in that it comes from the digital culture in a broadcast media. That's very new for writing. But the lineage Avant-Pop grows out of and that is represented at Alt-X goes way back. I was just reading Robbe-Grillet today and his For A New Novel and concept of New Man was ahead of its time also. Still, it's connected."

Perdu zegt, "What projects are you working on at the moment?"

Je zegt, "The big project encompasses both Alt-X and my new narrative project called GRAMMATRON. GRAMMATRON is a multi-media, virtual reality writing-machine that translates your experience *for* you *as* you experience it. It takes place in a near future environment modeled after the Net but with Alt-X styled writing mixed with music, graphics, movies, theory, etc."

Perdu zegt, "Oops, but does that mean that GRAMMATRON is not on paper"

Je zegt, "Good question. You see, there are a lot of people raising phony distinctions between books and computer-mediated environments. Sure, there are differences, but it does not preclude a more positive and/and relationship between books, writing and computers. GRAMMATRON can be packaged as a book (with no audio or moving images). But it can also be a CD-ROM, a museum installation, a World Wide Web publishing network, etc. For example, the first section of GRAMMATRON will appear as a text-only in the upcoming Penguin USA Avant-Pop anthology..."

Perdu zegt, "Do you think that the kind of writing we call Avant-Pop is somehow more appropriate to an electronic environment?"

Je zegt, "I think what differentiates Avant-Pop writing from avant-garde or early postmodernism is that the emerging practitioners of this writing style are more comfortable with the digital culture they find themselves absorbed in. Our ability to process information is becoming an art in of itself. I have no problem surfing the net and I enjoy it when people like you folks at Perdu take Avant-Pop texts and run them through an automatic cut-up program like Huge Harry. The writing seems made for it, yah?"

Perdu zegt, "it's chaotic here IRL [in real life], we'll change a bit, I'll invite the other writers present IRL on the stage to discuss and we'll continue our interview at the same time"

Je zegt, "OK"

amerika smiles as the other writers come on stage

Perdu zegt, "smiles too"

a_projection-screen shakes again

amerika scratches the area above his right ear.

Je zegt, "For some reason, I am reminded of John Cage's line about 'Everybody is in the right seat.'"

Perdu zegt, "we are trying a question"

Je zegt, "Or McCluhan saying Art is anything you can get away with."

Je zegt, "Before I forget, everyone is invited to check out the Alt-X site at -- let us know what you think..."

Perdu zegt, "Is this more about communication than Literature..."

Je zegt, "But I thought Literature *is* communication. I think it has more to do with the science of writing while surviving in a digital culture. Are you trying to bring up 'values'?"

Perdu zegt, "eh.. yes.."

Je zegt, "I think we need to break down these phony distinctions. Value is in the act of writing which is a communicative act. Like now..."

Perdu zegt, "The use of media is not yet fully developed. Could you imagine to write say, a MOO?"

Je zegt, "I must say as an artist/writer/publisher, that the fact that the new media is still in development is our only advantage in staying alive within the mediascape. If it were already fully developed and released to us as passive consumers (like TV) then we would be in trouble. What's exciting now is that the new media is, in a certain sense, still out of control. So the idea of Art being anything you can get away with becomes more intense. This would include writing MOOs MUDs WWW-pages, everything."

Perdu zegt, "Is this Art?"

Je zegt, "Are we getting away with it?"

amerika smiles.

Perdu zegt, "Netherlands laughs. We on't agree"

Perdu zegt, "w/d"

amerika laughs.

Dat begrijp ik niet.

Je zegt, "I am interested in your ideas about Art and Value."

Je zegt, "Did everybody leave?"

Perdu zegt, "There's heavy talking here... but no question"

amerika nods in understanding.

Perdu zegt, "Question: Are you creating new meaning. and yes: what?"

Je zegt, "Yes, I'm creating new meaning, but only as an active participant in our culture. We are all creating new meanings, adapting new strategies to co-evolve with the specto-consumerist culture that would like to create our new meanings for us. That's the struggle..."

Perdu zegt, "do you consider yourself a digital darwinist???"

Perdu zegt, "who do you expect to be your followers?"

Je zegt, "Not really. When I say 'co-evolve', I mean that we are constantly coming to grips with the fact that the meaning-making apparatus that keeps our culture alive is becoming a blur---sometimes I feel like a cut-up text -- other times I fell vainly original. When I feel vainly original that's when I start becoming a digital elitist --- and I don't like that feeling."

Perdu zegt, "Do you think language will change, by the use of it in the new media"

Je zegt, "I don't believe in followers as much as I hope to be creating an expanded network of art-activists who would like to change the curve of international culture. As for language changing, the big difference right now is in the enormity of the broadcast-reach the new media entitles us to. It's more utilitarian than TV and even radio and this in turn can cause great changes in the way we think which, to some writers, is inextricably connected to language. Personally, I see more of a connection between the new media and experience."

Perdu zegt, "the chaos is complete. We open the line for who wants to ask any questions."

Perdu zegt, "Officially: thank you very much for joining us!!"

Je zegt, "My pleasure!"

Je zegt, "I hope to meet everybody one day as Avant-Pop Incarnate!"

Perdu gets a beer

amerika grabs a beer himself.

Perdu zegt, "cheers"

Je zegt, "OK"

Je zegt, "Bye-bye"

Je zegt, "thanks"

Perdu zegt, "Byebye"