Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (resumed): Audience
From the email interview with Mark Frauenfelder: How popular is your weblog?
Beats me. I've tried to not pay much attention since the hit counts passed those of my two ancient Yahoo!-linked pages.
To Paul Perry:
Unless you're advertising, popularity doesn't matter on the web. That's the whole point of the web as a medium: wide distribution is cheap, and therefore not dependent on things like popularity. I know the readers who'd enjoy my crypto-cornpone style are a small minority. I just want as many of that minority as possible to get a chance to enjoy it.
I used to tell my web design students that they should count success by the amount of nice email they got. I've gotten some nice email for the Hotsy Totsy Club.
Perhaps I'm overoptimistic, but I think the distinction between community and incest is easily maintained with a little conscious exogamy.
As Aquinas says, incest is sinful because its cramming together of multiple social relations "would hinder a man from having many friends." To share an interest in a form is one thing, and a nice thing. To share all the applications of that form would be incestuous if consensual; simple plagiarism if not. Which doesn't appear to be a problem in the ontogroup you've posited -- I doubt that you and I have ever had a link or a line in common, for example -- probably due to the very things that interest us in the form....
Answering David Auerbach: My question to you, about writing on the web: how do you react to the
choice/imposition of a very imminent and particular real audience that
trumps any thought of an ideal audience?
I recognize the words you're using, but I would've used them to describe my issues with print publication.
The painfully particularized audience who happens to be subscribing to a particular magazine during my particular appearance or to have bought a particular anthology containing my particular story is (precisely because it's the target audience of the publications) more than likely to be bored or annoyed by my work.
Web publishing, on the other hand, is only "ideal audience." There are no promises, no presuppositions in those fluffy network-diagram clouds; anyone might bump into anything. No "ideal audience" right away? Well, put the pages into the search engines and wait. No "ideal audience" ever? Well, at least it was cheap. On the web, the non-ideal audience will simply not bother reading what I've written; that is, it doesn't exist as an audience.
The biggest problem I have with web publishing has to do with that very fluffiness -- the lack of antagonism and risk means fewer itchy stimuli to respond to, less friction to push off against, less lying but more solipsism -- which is where I'm hoping that crosslinking, email, and public discussion can help....
Although it seems to make sense that conventional publishing should lead to more topical and less personal discourse, that hasn't been my experience. In the shorter forms of paper-publishing, anyway, public commentary tends to be driven by professional feuds and personal friendships, and private commentary restricts itself to messages like "Would you write something similar for my publication?"
Books are available to a more diverse readership and thus receive more diverse reactions, but book publishing is much more big-businessy than magazine publishing, and its barriers seem well-nigh insurmountable to the easily discouraged or stubbornly erratic.
I've gotten many more direct and diverse and therefore useful responses from web publication, partly because search engines don't worry about enforcing an editorial tone, thus allowing for more startle effect, and partly because email makes it easy to send responses.
As for the cult of personality, I'd be happy to admit that I think it's impossible to separate "voice" from "content" -- at least for the kind of content and the kind of voice I have. What journalism and academia might describe as the "privileging of content" or as "self-discipline," I hear as "mendacious (if useful) voice of authority," and it makes me sick with hypocrisy when I mimic it. Scholarly and commercial venues would be accessible if I could stick to the point, and hip venues if I could stick to aggressive role-playing; but when de-emphasizing the performative and the off-putting is required for writing, then I simply don't write. And since I still seem to want to write, I make the working assumption that it's not required.
Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (cont.): Technique
- Here and there I've noticed a couple of nice people on the web try to refer to a specific entry in the Hotsy Totsy Club and end up having to point to the all-consuming vortex instead. For those nice people, I've just recently added the ability to link persistently to current entries. The link is attached to the entry's date (e.g., "2000-07-04" below or "2000-07-05" above): click-and-hold or right-click or control-click or however on the date and you should be able to copy the URL and use it as you please.
- Speaking of persistence, regular readers would probably be better off slightly irregularized: I'm a revising terror. Whenever a publisher is kind enough to send me proofsheets, their margins end up blackened with additions and substitutions and their innards end up scarred within a 1/24 inch of their lives; publishers who aren't so kind are deluged with email suggestions. And, more immediately than any other medium, the web gratifies that urge to revise. In the particular case of the Hotsy Totsy Club, links will be added, stiltedness will be pared back, spelling mistakes will be corrected, and vocals will be brought up in the mix, "generally within 36 hours" (to use Jouke's formula) of initial publication.
- Maintain ephemera! Support open stacks! No learning without browsing; no love without exogamy!
That's why I try to put the Hotsy Totsy Annals on as many search engines as possible, to make the entries self-sufficient, and to not get that interested in the size of my "regular readership" (although god knows I love those regular readers who're vocal enough to send me email) (and god knows, whatever the number it's much larger than I'd gain from a little magazine, scholarly journal, or self-published zine): my real target audiences are users of search engines and special interest portals who, I hope, will value the ephemeral distraction on the side they'll find when they bump into an issue of the Club.
- Because those of us who reflect persistently on ephemera tend to think/write in a dialectic-supplemental sort of way, I knew from the start that I'd need a server program to thread "items" by "topic" into chronology-crossing dynamically constructed pages, thus taking care of serialized essays, corrections, discussion threads, and so on.
|The program also provides limited (exact word or phrase only) user-directed searches:
|Collage by Christina La Sala||
Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (concluded): Rooms for Improvement
Over the past year, I finished a long essay, collaborated on a short film, wrote some letters, and made a living. But mostly it's been Hotsy Totsy.
Over the next couple, it won't be too big a surprise if I finish some other essays I've been promising for years (on Patricia Highsmith, on Jean Eustache...) or months (on Barbara Comyns, on Karen Joy Fowler...), or even something unexpected. And I better make a living. But mostly I expect it to be Hotsy Totsy.
Well, if this is gonna be my standard watering hole, I got some suggestions to make to the proprietor, if he can rouse himself up from behind that 1.5L jug of Wild Turkey for a moment....
- As previously noted, one of the goals for my topical-page-assembler script was discussion threading: folks would write me and then I'd thread their letters. It hasn't worked out: over time, I've gained more readers but they've become more passive. I want to keep editorial control, which is why there's not a "Forum" plugged into the page, but that assertion of control may be stifling conversation.
Maybe also I've gotten shyer about quoting correspondents?
Whichever, I get tired of hearing my own whiny voice alla time. Something must be done.
- One of the storms that drove me into this dive was my frustration with fiction. But that's also one of the things I miss. About the only weblog I know that's experimenting with fiction is Once I noticed I was on fire, with its Robert-E.-Howard-meets-Tim-Powers alternate history scenarios. But what about dialog and incident? What about characters? What about sensitive poetic descriptions of landscapes? And all the other garbage I'd like to get rid of without putting it into a story? Because I don't trust story farther than I can throw it, and my noodle arms can't throw story very far....
- And while we're on fiction, how about that paraliterary subgenre we call "real life"? How about a little more real life? Admittedly, I've been living in one place for a while now and, like most predators, I can't see anything that stands still for any appreciable amount of time. But I could always go travelling with a laptop.
|My favorite statement on life after death, from "the suicide club" by archy the cockroach ("The Thinking Man's Charles Bukowski"):
i was a
young man possessed of a
considerable fortune which it was my only
occupation to dissipate when
everything else palled i
took up theology i made a bet
with another student that the soul
was not immortal the only way to
settle it was to die and find out we both
did well fellows we both lost mine
proved to be immortal for here i am but his
was not it completely disappeared and
has never been heard of again
which shows you never can tell and
yet i am still interested in
games of chance
|1. Oh, rocks!|
|2. So I'm a little late....|
3. [YOUR SUGGESTION HERE]|
(Speaking of "games of chance," the least-likely-to-gain-credit-except-from-me Web reference to Ulysses and "metempsychosis" and Molly's "Oh, rocks!" comes from tiddlywinks champ Gavin Keyte, who I hope to meet at a tiddlywinks pub some Bloomsday.)
(Speaking of Google, its most interesting response to "life after death" + "cockroach" is this vicious attack on Islam from some old-fashioned cracker barrel atheists, and believe you me it's hard to maintain faith when you're living in a cracker barrel.)
(In second place, a legally-ambiguously-exhaustive set of quotes from a novel by Terry Pratchett is upsy-downsy entertaining, but suffers my wrath for using the same set-up without coming near the punchline of a National Lampoon writer during Michael O'Donoghue's reign of morbidity: "Dying is just like going to sleep. Only it hurts like a bitch.")
(And in third, "Mystory" has a pink sky background and claims that "me" was to "Happydiculous World Of The Upsey Downsies" as "a Muslim" is to "Jihad.")
(And though neither placing or showing I have to agree with Kathleen's premises about "the deck is stacked against all of us," and each of us being "a hopeless sinner," and "infinite human potential" being "whatta crock!" Can't say the same for her deductions, though.)
Tomorrow: Google search on "immortality" + "piglet"!
Last night, poet Owen Hill wondered within earshot whether the current spate of degrade-yourself TV hits would bring on a relapse of popularity for Terry Southern's The Magic Christian. And as if to prove his prescience, here's Episode 3 of Juliet Clark's psychedelic serial:
THE DREAM FACTORY
The Magic Christian (1969)
Chatting with a German friend on the train, I learned that U2ís Bono is co-producing a new adaptation of The Magic Christian. "It will be very Continental in style," my friend said. I suggested that the previews Iíd seen made it look more Borzagean, but then Borzageís films do have sort of a Continental look, donít they?
||Since movies began, they've been swapping techniques with dreams. I think that's because they share a structural problem: how to maintain different rates for elapsed time and for narrative time -- expressing years in an hour, an hour in minutes -- in a medium where the narrative is directly experienced rather than related.
Rather than come to grips with this problem, the filmmakers of contemporary Hollywood tend to simply give up, appending more and more running time to avoid the question of condensation, and saddling clumsy voice-over narration onto the broken back of the "direct experience":
Hi-ho, Sliver! and away!
In another way, all narrative art, including written narrative, condenses time: creator time vanishes into the much shorter audience time. A novel may take a month or fifteen years to write, but almost always takes less time to read.
And with movies the time compression is even more extreme, especially if we start talking about people-hours....
Now, although there's always the possibility that I'm falling into the food-in-a-tube fallacy, it seems to me that this compression -- story as time-compactor machine -- is key to the pleasure taken in the curiously strong arts of narrative. As evidence, when there's little or no such compression -- as with the semi-automatic writing of Gertrude Stein or Lionel Fanthorpe, or the semi-automatic early moviemaking of Andy Warhol -- the results, fine though they are, seem more lyric than narrative.
We must think further on this, if we can do so without falling asleep....
|Although a narrative work's creation takes more time than any single incident of its consumption, a certain type of audience (mine) may revisit it so often that audience-time eventually sums up bigger than creator-time. I know for certain that I've accumulated more days reading The Glass Key than Dashiell Hammett took to write it.
My type of audience includes most of the critics in the world, and we aren't shy about flattering ourselves (e.g., Barthes's "Those who fail to re-read are obliged to read the same story everywhere," undoubtedly referring to Joseph Campbell).
But there's something distinctly unelevated about surrounding ourselves with these papered and videoed units of time, like so many Everlasting Gobstoppers, and I don't believe we escape the market through our repetitions any more than a kid with The Lion King T-shirts, action figures, picture books, and computer games fights the power by insisting on watching the original work again.
Instead our re-reading and re-viewing gives us the chance to treat time itself as a commodity -- something to collect, to hoard, to revel in -- becoming misers of time, diving and wallowing in our libraries for all the world like Scrooge McDuck....
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.