Response to the Online Literary Community
by David BackerPosted on November 23rd, 2010 at 12:21 am
Dear Online Literary Community,
I’ve been thinking about what you said. After talking with friends and reading comments here and elsewhere, I want to respond to a few general things regarding my first Duckfoot proposal and then make another one.
I’m committed to the idea that creative writing belongs in public discourse. I think we can all agree on this. I think we can also agree that public discourse is online and only getting more digital. Online literature may be nascent, as Roxane Gay points out in her thoughtful response to my initial letter, but it still carries the burden of literature’s future.
For better or worse, the new digital discourse changes things for the communities it includes. We’re seeing this in our community. Things aren’t normal anymore. What it means to be a writer, reader, critic, editor, and publisher are all unstable. Now readers are less passive, writers are their own agents, editors are curators, publishers are facilitators, critics are coders, etc. Our world isn’t the same world where our heroes grew up. Soon it will be different than the world where our heroes thrive now.
When the dust settles after the transition from analog to digital, the roles will re-stabilize again and there will be a new normal. We have some agency in this, I think. If we’re clear about what we want the new roles to be when they re-stabilize in the new discourse, we’ll be better prepared to make creative writing an important part of it for all communities involved. The Duckfoot idea was an attempt to clarify these. I think the discussion has been very fruitful.
I agree with Roxane and many of those who responded to my letter: page views are not a good way to measure literary excellence, for a variety of reasons (popularity, gaming the system, etc). I think, as Richard Nash told me, this aspect of the Duckfoot is wrongheaded. The comparative analytic aspect of it, though, is something worth pursuing. I also recognize that there are many worthy literary awards and anthologies out there for the online writing. But these use similar formats for selection and distribution as the awards in analog discourse use, as a good friend at PEN American Center told me. For this reason I’m not convinced that these awards and anthologies take into full account the new roles that digital discourse has made for literature.
So, here’s another thought: What if we made an icon, like Facebook or Digg or Reddit, and put it at the bottom of all literary texts published online. If the reader believes the text worthy of consideration for an award, she clicks it. This information gets sent to an analytic. At the end of a certain amount of time there will be a series of individuals elected by nomination–critics–to read certain sections of the data set: one critic reads the lowest voted, one reads the middle, and one reads the highest, all of which will be made available on a website for anyone to read and comment on. The goal is to find the best story.
What do you think?