Shakespeare’s in the Alley?

I was reminiscing about the good old days of ‘Silicon Alley’ with a bunch of old friends last week, at a gathering in a small downtown Manhattan bar.

This was a reunion of about thirty of us who’d been part of the New York City internet/new media industry in the early days, back before the stock craze of 1999, back before the stock crash of 2001. As I sat there treading through memories with my former co-workers, I kept thinking about how idealistic I’d once been about the literary possibilities of this new form of communication known as the internet, or the world wide web.

Literary? Hell, yeah. Back in 1995, I was positively starry-eyed about the creative and artistic potential of the internet. I looked at TCP-IP diagrams and CGI manuals, and all I could think about was how all of this was going to change fiction and poetry. It was looking to be a new age, a good age. Douglas Coupland, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson were on the bookshelves, and fresh voices in fiction and poetry were sprouting like dandelions all over the web. It had to be a revolution, and I was thrilled to be in the center of it all, helping to make it happen.

It would be an over-simplification to say New York City was in charge of the literary side of the internet, but we really did seem to be at the time. ‘Word’ was a high-profile online journal that attracted authors like Mary Gaitskill, Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen. They were on 54th Street and Broadway, one floor up from the storied offices of Mad Magazine. ‘Urban Desires’ was another well-financed online literary journal, a surprisingly innovative side-project of a wildly successful online advertising firm, Further downtown, a crazy guy named Galinsky was running a poetry show for ‘Pseudo Online Radio’ out of a noisy Soho loft.

I was working at the time for Time Warner’s terrible ‘Pathfinder’ website, which was less cool than all these other ventures but had a better benefits package. And my job was literary in its own way — I worked in the classic Time-Life Building on 50th and 6th, and I got a chance to interact with excellent writers and journalists like Walter Isaacson, Dan Okrent and Josh Quittner.

New York City seemed to be the only place in the world where you could meet with the top technologists and the top media executives in the world … in the same meeting. This was our claim to fame — and this was what made Silicon Alley better than our namesake across the continent, Silicon Valley (yeah, there were a lot of East Coast/West Coast beefs).

Whatever happened to the literary web? What happened to the ideals of Silicon Alley, a place where Wall Street programmers, beatnik poets, Soho artists, Tribeca filmmakers and Chelsea advertising execs would exchange business cards and invent new dreams and schemes for the entire world?

And what happened to cyber-fiction, and hypertext? Douglas Coupland was supposed to be only the first of a new generation of brilliant writers who’d blow our minds with revolutionary new literary styles and methods. That sure as hell never happened. In the end, I guess “Microserfs” by Douglas Coupland was as good as it got. “That was the orgasm,” as they say. (And, yeah, I know Douglas Coupland has a new novel out, but I’m not going to read it and neither are you. Okay, now you probably will just to spite me. Go right ahead.)

Of course, I can always take pride in the fact that LitKicks was founded before either Word or Urban Desires or Pathfinder or Pseudo Online Radio, and that LitKicks has now happily outlived them all (damn, it feels good to say that).

I don’t think anybody has ever believed more than I have in the literary importance of internet community. But when I look back at the last ten years, I can’t help feeling disappointed in general at the progress of internet-based and internet-oriented literature.

There have been wonderful moments, but we are still waiting for our Homer or our Shakespeare to show up. I’d like to know what you think: what is the potential of fiction and poetry on the web? And how far, or how close, are we now — as a medium, as a society, as a world — to realizing this potential?

46 Responses

  1. Shakespeare Wasn’t Made in a
    Shakespeare Wasn’t Made in a Day

    I too have thought there would be some sort of literary wave from the internet, and I’m truly surprised some star hasn’t been born on the internet. But perhaps that person is still in grade school or not yet born.

  2. RuminatingLevi, as a relative

    Levi, as a relative newcomer to the internet, 3 and 1/2 flown by years, it’s hard for me to relate to a lot of what you’re saying, but being in on the ground floor of something new and exciting is something that I can understand.

    My take on internet writing is that it is in its infancy. As I search the web, which I do daily, I am constantly finding resources and sites that are fantastic, along with some that are a waste of time. I still get constant feedback from my contemporaries in the arts community about the internet that are both positive and negative. Here in Baltimore we have an arts exchange called Artmobile that is a unifying force in the arts community, and it is awesome. We also have a new site Poetry In which is promising, yet I must say the good citizens are shy to post, but not wired me, of course.

    I guess it all boils down to this: I’m a man who knew nothing of the internet until 2001. I got interested via the possibilities of getting my sculpture to a larger audience, and I quickly found out it was not all that easy, you still have to be a promoter and send people to your site. That was a fast lesson I learned.

    Secondly I started surfing the web, searching things that have always interested me, and Beat poetry was one of those choices. While I was searching Gary Snyder I came upon Litkicks and Bam-Boom — the rest is history. I found that interacting with other like-minded, serious writers, from all over the world, was one hell of a ride and I jumped on the wave. This adventure is neverending and sparks my writing to unimagined heights.

  3. The Era of LogophiliaI was
    The Era of Logophilia

    I was going to tell a story about my website (which, I just realized, is getting on toward its ninth anniversary), but I don’t actually have that much to say about it. I mean, I have a lot to say about it, but I guess not in the context of this particular discussion.

    Except the thing I’ve learned about the Web, during the eight-plus years I’ve been contributing to its content, is that finding a dedicated audience (and keeping that audience) in this ever-growing hypertext jungle of voices clamoring for attention, is like fighting the proverbial uphill battle. And I think it’s interesting that although the internet is the most accepting medium unknown writers have, it’s incredibly difficult to find ways to stand out and be noticed.

    In a way, at least to my thinking, the internet has made a statement from Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting come true. He writes,

    “One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.”

    To that I say, the next Shakespeare probably has a blog somewhere, and my guess is that he’s pretty frustrated because nobody’s reading it.

  4. RipplesIt takes time for the

    It takes time for the thrown pebble to ripple out to the mass consciousness.

    Look at Action Poetry. This is a unique collection, a tangible hard copy edition of what happens on the net (on a good day). Today, I brought my copy to school and a friend opened it up, found a wonderful story by Alicia and wanted to keep it.

    No problem, I said. Just do a google search and you’ll be able to find it. It’s on the Net!

    And of course it was. And as luck have it, the link led her to the story with a reference to the fact that I’d requested it. (double sync).

    Hard copy has led back to the internet and so it goes in a huge circular wave.

    Time will be when it’s all one great big hypertext and I’m thrilled that the link grows.

    Do not despair, Levi. 10 years are a mini blink in the eye of time.

  5. Judih — I think you’re right
    Judih — I think you’re right about the blink of an eye. Well, that’s really cool that you were the one who had inspired the story by Alicia that you later enjoyed reading in the book! That’s a real nice touch, and a perfect example of why we all love this medium. Okay, I will remain patient. I’m blinking.

  6. Measure of SuccessI think the
    Measure of Success

    I think the basic question you are asking is based on this –

    “…when I look back at the last ten years, I can’t help feeling disappointed in general at the progress of internet-based and internet-oriented literature.”

    I see the internet as one humongous bazaar that caters to virtually everyone’s whim. Can anyone say they have discovered the best writer since Shakespeare..? How about the finest writer since Kerouac or Ginzberg or Whitman, or, or, or…?

    Currently the latest news is showing more discoveries regarding DaVinci, for crissakes! For hundreds of years his writings and drawings have been hanging around, studied by professors and scientists, and now they are saying “DaVinci may have planned the automobile!” Forget the helicopter.

    Human progress is slow… much slower than we realize. Ten years and we expect to find a literary genius amongst the millions of websites out here in cyber-space? The odds of that are far greater than we can possibly comprehend.

    Sure, I’d be willing to bet that there is an incredible new talent out here… no! make that 100, just waiting to be discovered. “Discovered” means “to be promoted and capitalized”… that we know. But who is doing the search? Who is going through every website, ponderously seeking the latest and greatest “new thing in literature”?

    Those seekers, if they are out there, are concerned with profits. Who is going to invest in the promotion of the next Shakespeare? Will it be a boom or a bust? What publisher, what marketer wants to put their reputation on the line and take a chance at some ‘new kid on the block’? Risk taking is not on the agenda of most already successful publishing houses, and those publishing houses that would take a chance on a new Shakespeare simple can’t afford to do so.

    I see the WWW as a bazaar… a very bizarre bazaar (couldn’t resist that!) Bazaars are plentiful with stuff and things that are as available as the walk through the bazaar itself. How much do we find in the bazaar that is marketable on a large scale? Which booth will be the next Banana Republic, the next Home Depot or Target or even Zale’s Jewelry?

    All success, on a monetary scale, and that is the measure of success in this world of ours, requires not only the talent to create, to write the words, but it also requires marketing – getting out and showing your stuff and believing in the product… marketing with a trained eye that knows how to grab and hold the audience. That is what makes the next Shakespeare in our 21st Century – product, marketing, acceptance, the trilogy of material success. Isn’t that what Shakespeare is, a material success measured by the number of books that has sold?

  7. It’s Still A Matter of
    It’s Still A Matter of Taste

    When someone speaks of “web literature” I think of two different things, and I may be wrong on both counts because I’m not fully immersed in the concept. I’ll talk about it anyway. Hopefully I’ll learn something.

    I think of (1) Literature that appears on the internet, straight up, like e-books, web sites, and blogs, and (2) literature which has qualities peculiar to cyberspace, i.e. fonts which change or links which add dimensions to a story. I’m assuming these exist; for example, you are reading a story about a knight riding through a forest and he comes to a fork in the road. A distant castle looms ahead on one road. The other road leads deeper into the woods. The reader chooses which path to take by clicking a link. There are already books like that.

    My only problem with (1) is that I don’t enjoy reading long, extended texts on the computer. This may be just my conditioning; maybe I need to “get with it” and be willing to change. It may also be a matter of ergonomics. I picture Levi in a comfortable swivel chair, kicked back with a monitor screen adjusted to just the right angle & height, maybe a glass of wine in his hand. Another reason I don’t read books on the internet is, my computer time is limited. Between going to the store, sharing the computer with my wife and son, and writing my own stories, I may only get to surf the net an hour a day, and when I’m there, I like to move. I’m checking email, cutting and pasting, dropping in on Litkicks, and ducking Instant Messages. I’m not reading Dostoevsky.
    But that’s just me.

    Now, as for the other thing, (2), I can only guess what might be happening. Reviews of the book House of Leaves say Mark Z. Danielewski originally self-published the novel on the internet. I notice that, in the book, every time the word ‘house‘ is used, it is in blue font, like a link on the internet, and I wonder if Danielewski actually linked the word to something on his internet version.

    As for the internet being an improved medium for finding an audience for poetry and prose, I would say it is similar to the printing press in the sense that, while writers can reach more people via this new technology, there is also a proportionately larger number of competitors for the same audiences. It will depend on the quality and taste of each individual web site as to which audience they attract.

  8. I’ve seen the best minds of
    I’ve seen the best minds of my . . .

    I’ve seen the best minds of my generation protecting themselves against madness. The System is now more complex than ever, with transglobal economic transactions, and microsoft empires to build. Thus, the System’s needs, of creative young talent, are greater than ever. With the stakes so high, the rewards being offered for services are difficult to resist. Most the talented people I have known are working for causes they once vehemently opposed. In short, the System has coopted our talented creative voices.

  9. Levi, I would like to add
    Levi, I would like to add that I found your account of the early web lit enthusiasts fascinating and exhilarating. You should write more about it. Have you ever read “The Last Days of the New Yorker” by Gigi Mahon or “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg?

  10. InternetsIn the end, isn’t it

    In the end, isn’t it all just words telling stories? How many tricks can change that? Can any form hide a boring story? There’s probably a reason there’s only been one say, James Joyce. People who read want to read stories and outside of the rare Joycean genius, tricks of form are just that and get in the way. And honestly, how many people do you know who’ve read Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake?

    Technology is a nice supplement to art, a helper, but it is never the art itself.

    I agree with Judih, that we’re still in the very beginnings of this new technology, and we’re not quite sure what to do with it yet. In the beginning, people become so enamored of the new technology that they try to make the art service the technology rather than the other way around.

    I’d make an analogy with George Lucas and digital movie-making. When the Phantom Menace came out, there were a lot of long, panoramic shots of digitally created scenes that slowed the movie and seemed to exist only so Lucas could show all the cool shit he could do without bothersome actors. Then some guy got a bootlegged copy of the film, uploaded it onto his Mac, and edited about 20 minutes of such material out, and ended up with what many considered a better movie.

    Lucas fell in love with technology and tried to make it into art. And people didn’t like it.

    When you look back at history (very generally) it seems that techonology’s primary benefit to the storyteller has been continually better methods of distribution.

    Writing made it possible to record stories for future generations, spread the power from the seers to the very slightly larger group that learned to read. The printing press extended that further and the typewriter and eventually computers made it less time consuming to write. (What would Kerouac’s spontaneous prose of been if he’d had to write by hand, more slowly?) Mimeo machines made distribution cheaper. And now the internets make it easier still for anyone (‘anyone’ here referring to the aprrox. 1/3 of ‘anyone’ who live in the developed world) to get their writing ‘out there.’

    But then, what difference has that made? How much different are blogs from xeroxed zines, and are they any better read? You mentioned some online zines, but those serve the same gatekeeping function as the old media New Yorkers and Paris Reviews of the world, to winnow the chaff so we don’t waste our time reading the gobs of bad writing put out.

    Litkicks was interesting in that there was no editor deciding what to post and what not to post, but even litkicks went old media and published an edited (gatekeepered) book. So it’s new boss, same as the old.

    As far as things like hypertext; heck, I was reading Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books that were doing ‘hypertext’ 20-some years ago, long before Al Gore invented the internets.

    The one thing I really like(d) is the way a place like Litkicks brought together a community of artists, some of whom may not have had any access to a community otherwise.

    I think that is where the internets will change art; in the increased interaction, in the sharing of ideas.

    Maybe this isn’t the kind of thing you were talking about. In the end, I guess I am not really sure what you mean when you say you’re disappointed in the general lack of progress because I’m not really clear on what you want(ed).

  11. Word.comI remember

    I remember very well. It was great reading, but as Levi wrote they mainly published the same writers that were getting published in the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. The most interesting thing about Word was the graphics, and that seems symptomatic of something. Old words, new presentation. What we need, and what Levi seems to be getting at, is that online journals need to think differently about the words themselves. Then we’ll start getting somewhere with this new medium. It will take time.

  12. like Bobby Zimmerman says,
    like Bobby Zimmerman says, “don’t think twice it’s all right.” Keep turning on the light, everyone …

  13. Shagspeare?THE DISCOURSE OF


    “I should say the art of conversation reached its zenith in the senventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and since then we’ve witnessed its gradual decline in the deafening dialectic of mass-produced gibberish and chatter, which began with the operation of the steam-powered printing press and the widespread dissemination of (quickly monopolized) “journalism” and avertising, in the fist half of the nineteenth century– and which at the presest hour has attained Babble-onian proportions, in the uxillary growth of “modern media” (movies and television, etc).

    “What distinguished the Shagspearean era from our own,
    was its emphasis on the subtlety of everyday language– the recognized potential of humour, ribald and otherwise, in even the most average conversational exchange.

    If we were to reduce this phenomena to an origin/causality, we might say the verbal landscape was greatly charged, in that the public sought its entertainment thereby– and, what’s more, an
    individual’s status could be equally determined by his merits as a wag or wit. In effect, the public life was a great, bawdy dance– and very much a play.

    Shagspeare was a culmination of this, augmented by the phenomenal extent of his own genius.

    “By contrast, in modern society we know very little of how to charm one another– one could make an argument that this reflects the present trajectory of our culture, away from the democratic ideal and towards caste-driven exclusion, or I should say towards the tribal fractioning of society, such that the “high tribes” will become the feudal masters of the “low tribes”– such that the well-spring of conversation would dry-up completely, there no longer existing any curiosity in one manner of life towards another. In which case, language would become only a priestly sanctioning of one’s cast-status, and would dissolve into an empty ritual.

    “The discourse of the internet will undoubtedly reflect these broader trends. Either the language will move towards a renewed interest in the “other”, with a correspondant heightening in the level of conversation (traits that can be associated with the phenomena of the previous “Beat” generation) or the language will further deteriorate into caste-driven ritual.

    “Now if you’ll excuse me, class, I must pay obeissance at the feet of the Dean, our daily genuflection, as it were–


  14. Time tested time….as I
    Time tested time….as I continually say and what every great artist says is that, “it’s all in the living!” I think I’ve mentioned this before, but here goes again, when I saw Gary Snyder read at a small bookstore in D.C. back in the late 90s he was asked by a member of the audience, “How does one make a living as a poet?”, his reply was instantaneous, “you stick to your day job, mine being a professor of literature at UC Davis.” That’s the bottom line I feel, you find a way to eat, something that pays and you enjoy to some extent, then you come home to your passion. Some time back in the ’70s I for one decided to take the materials I work with as a rodbuster and apply them to my sculpture, this has led to a very fullfilling and uncompromised existence, for I love my job! and I’ve been doing it since I was a teen.

  15. To that I say, the next
    To that I say, the next Shakespeare probably has a blog somewhere, and my guess is that he’s pretty frustrated because nobody’s reading it.

    That would be my take on it, too, Jamelah.

  16. I agree totally, even though
    I agree totally, even though I have an online journal. People are getting these journals just to do what they already do all day. Why waste the time? (even though I am)

  17. Hierarchies of FormI think in
    Hierarchies of Form

    I think in some ways, what is happening is that “literature” is being forced to confront the same types of problems that “art” has long been forced to face wth regard to technology. For example, photography as an art form took decades of convincing of the established order. Similarly, color photography was a hard sell. Digital art is slowly creeping in to major museums.

    Page-published writing is still valued over internet-published writing by and large. There are a few publications that have managed to make names for themselves and have managed to publish some innovative and interesting writers (I have stumbled into a number of new to me writers through, for example).

    I think perhaps a useful discussion topic to branch out from this one might be the question of where people are currently finding good, new writing on the internet.

    Also, I probably will read Douglas Coupland’s new novel, not to spite anyone, but because I’ve read and enjoyed most of his novels, particularly “Life After God” and “Generation X.”

  18. Well, thanks. You know,
    Well, thanks. You know, being a middle-manager in a few big media firms over the years, I have witnessed a *lot* of weird behavior from a lot of allegedly important people. I do got stories to tell …

  19. Very good points, Shamatha.
    Very good points, Shamatha. But, as for what I wanted — I just wanted CHANGE. I wanted to feel excited about fiction and poetry. I wanted to feel like anything could happen tomorrow. I wanted to see doors open. In the end, maybe the doors opened, a little … and then they just stayed stuck in that position, with the eyes peeping out.

    You’re right that hypertext is nothing but choose-your-own-adventure. And you’re right that the ‘Action Poetry’ book abandons the principle of equal inclusion that internet culture thrives on. I don’t think either of these issues are problems, though. If we’re trying to make waves in the world of literature — and I sure hope that’s what we’re trying to do — I don’t think we can afford to be too particular about what vehicles we choose. Anything that gets us there.

    Shamatha, do you agree with me that today’s mainstream literary scene is pretty limp? It was limp ten years ago and it’s limp now. I just thought maybe the internet could help. I just want newer voices, and better books.

  20. People Now Still Prefer
    People Now Still Prefer Books

    People read books and that’ll take some time to change. If Wi-Fi really took off, commuters might become PC zombies. As is, in Seoul, the younger set is always checking their cellphones for messages or playing games on them. Your correspondent instant messages on the cellphone until departure when in China and starts again upon arrival. The point is that the new media is competing with books. In the film Minority Report, electronic or digital magazines were featured but that technology doesn’t exist now but in a generation or 5 years the consumer may demand it but it will be difficult to cheaply replace traditional books and newspapers and their convenience, viz., no batteries or wireless connection.

    As for the demise of the literary web, it could be said that it is a reflection of society, i.e., the web’s for porn, games, B2B, and single sentence emails. Most folks read for the same reason they go see Hollywood films: they want to forget about what’s happening or not in their lives and the publishing houses sell the people what they want to buy.

    Dave Eggers launched a literary magazine that The Economist says has three times the readership of the Paris Review. He also has an e-zine, an example of both worlds now intermingling. The public will read something when it’s offered but it is a matter of the chicken and the egg, i.e., which comes first? With the decline in literacy in the USA, it will be a hard time for anything considered literary to compete with the the alternatives previously cited.

    Lastly, a hunch tells your correspondent that part of the online literary excitement pre-dotcom.bust was that American ideal of getting rich without working for it.

  21. Patience, Grasshopper…You
    Patience, Grasshopper…

    You were so optimistic only 10 years ago. Movements take a lot longer than 10 years to build (unless J.K. Rowling is on your team … bleh .. now I feel sick).

    Either literature and poetry have reached their zenith on the ‘net, or it’s too early to tell what’s going to happen. Remember, regular people still don’t give a rat’s ass about books. If they’re going to buy a book they don’t plan on reading, at least they can use a physical book some place down the line as a door stop.

    Another thing to consider is that writing is a product. If there is no money to be made in online entertainment-type lit, people will back away from it.

  22. I think he missed the boat on
    I think he missed the boat on that one Bill. The new media tell-all is like, so 1999.

  23. WW, these are good points.
    WW, these are good points. Just to be clear, though, in asking for an internet generation of writers, I’m not suggesting that we should be moving away from the book/paper format. Some might feel this is a good idea — for myself, obviously (since I’ve now produced a couple of books of internet writing) I think the book format is just fine, and I’m hoping for a change in literary sensibility, rather than a change in physical format.

    Dave Eggers is a decent example of a web-smart writer. Probably the closest thing we have to a major figure in the internet age. But, in my opinion, Eggers is a great graphic designer, a fun public personality and, at best, an inconsistent writer. He’s written a few great things, along with all the nonsense and postmodern filler. He’s better than the rest, anyway, and I’m glad you brought him up.

    And I have to rebut just one of your points, regarding the pre-dot-com bust and the people wanting to get rich without working. Yeah, there was some money floating around Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley, but we sure did work for it. In terms of late night hours, weekend workdays, missed vacations, stress, workplace arguments, painful project disasters … my dot-com jobs were the hardest of my life. My years at Time Warner/Pathfinder made my years in the banking industry seem absolutely easy in comparison. Just thought I’d point that out!

  24. Yes, I would agree there is
    Yes, I would agree there is not much going on in the contemporary lit scene. Of course, I live in Chicago, which hasn’t had anything resembling a ‘scene’ since Nelson Algren was in his heyday. I guess we got the poetry slam, but I don’t slam, so alotta good it does me.

    I think there are scenes though, they’re just smaller than anything like the Lost Generation or the Beats. And they’re smaller because of the internet. There are small communities bouncing ideas off each other, encouraging and promoting each other. I mean, does something like livejournal constitute a scene? I don’t know.

    And there’s zines by former litkickers like 9pages, Deep Cleveland, Tin Lustre Mobile, zygoteinmycoffee. . . aren’t those scenes?

    I read yesterday that there are something like 5 million blogs. Some of them have audiences in the thousands, but most don’t. And the average person doesn’t have time/doesn’t want to page through dozens of new blogs a day looking for exciting writing. I mean, I’ve tried and it’s not worth it, even though its out there. (I just recently discovered a Chicago-based zine with a website, and after reading through a few stories, I determined that these people make the common error of mistaking bad writing for fresh, edgy writing.)

    So we rely on gatekeepers to let us know what to read, and access to the larger public is still controlled by the same old dinosaurs.

    McSweeney’s had potential, love them or hate them they were trying, but then instead of publishing new voices like they did at the beginning, Rick Bass and TC Boyle and Denis Johnson (among others) started popping up, and I like Boyle and Johnson, but they already had a publishing outlet in Harpers and the New Yorker (etc). (I’d guess as soon as Action Poetry takes off, you’ll start seeing Jonathan Safron Foer and Zadie Smith trying to post on Litkicks, looking for a little street cred.)

    Still, I think there are quite a few individual writers out there doing good, contemporary (have the feel of being a product of the current age) work out there, they just don’t necessarily constitue a scene. Haruki Murakami; a trio of Scotsmen, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner; the aformentioned Boyle and Johnson; DF Wallace, though these people are so scattered I’m not sure they make up a scene.

    Litkicks is a scene, though it’s one w/o any particular unifying aesthetic.

    The web is still waiting for its Six Gallery, I guess.

  25. And speaking of money, it
    And speaking of money, it seems to me that the internet has made it necessary for businesses to give away a lot more freebies. People have come to expect it. After all, it’s virtually impossible to maintain control over anything for long once is published on the net. That’s why a lot of the web money is made, or attempted to be made, through advertising, same as TV.

  26. Hmmmm…are there already
    Hmmmm…are there already books like this? Is there not room for another, if done from a fresh angle?

  27. Well, there are a few, like
    Well, there are a few, like “Burn Rate” by Michael Wolff, “Dot-Bomb” by John Cassidy, “21 Dog Years” by some guy whose name I can’t remember.

    However, *my* stories have yet to be written, and I can assure Shamatha that my stories are not so 1999, nor even so 2004. I just need to find the time to tell them …

  28. Man, Shamatha, I sure am on
    Man, Shamatha, I sure am on an ideological collision course with you lately. I can’t believe you don’t think LitKicks has a unifying aesthetic! I have no doubt that there’s plenty missing on this site, but if you don’t see a unifying aesthetic here, either I’m doing a much worse job running this place than I thought, or you’re missing it.

  29. Hmmm . . . I probably just
    Hmmm . . . I probably just made a mistake by trying to use big literary words that I don’t understand.

    There are definitely recognizable guiding principles to Litkicks.

    What I was meaning (obviously incorrectly) by ‘unfying aesthetic’ was that on the old boards, on the stories board (I have no knowledge to comment on the poetry boards) there was such a variety of styles. You had Jamelah’s Carver-esque sketches to Billectric’s surrealist farces, and everything in between. And the same goes for Action Poetry.

    I don’t think someone could sit down and write a parody of a ‘LitKicks’ story, they way one probably could of say a story on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

    That’s what I was trying to say. I can’t afford to be on a collision course with anything; I have no health insurance.

  30. Looking ForwardI am looking
    Looking Forward

    I am looking forward to the day when the next “Billy Shivertimbers” will be named by fifteen minutes of fame. Hopefully, some day, we shall overcome and become a household name among the folk of the internet. LitKicks is a fine idea put into action. I’m just sorry I didn’t discover this site sooner than late spring of 2004. Ten years is goodly amount of time to be on the net, etc. in one form or another.

  31. silly con alleyCould it be
    silly con alley

    Could it be that personal blogs are the ultimate realization of the internet’s immediate literary opportunity? Like the fall of its predecessors, might even blogs face indifference and a shrinking audience due to utter inundation?

    As far as LitKicks goes:
    the spontaneous thing, ala the 24 hour poetry party, may not yet be the ultimate realization, but it may be one of the more interesting realizations. I could see continued varieties of such events making some noise on the broader scene.

    Automatic interactive theatrical events – combining real time written word and performance – streamed back online through several cameras could be interesting. Maybe.

  32. Thanks for explaining, Sham.
    Thanks for explaining, Sham. That does make sense and is probably true. I do think, though, that if you read the ‘Action Poetry’ book from front to back you’ll find it a more consistent and integrated experience than you might expect.

    In terms of both the book and the forums on the site, I do think a certain sensibility predominates here. Some words that come to mind: playful, anti-establishment, humane, funny, intimate, personal. We’ve never had much sci-fi or goth writing here, probably because these styles tend to de-emphasize the *human* aspects of writing. This sort of feels like a unifying aesthetic to me. But anyway, Shamatha, we can call off our impending collision. It’s all in fun … I don’t mind a bit of a debate and I don’t think you do either.

  33. Long Term Short TermYeah,
    Long Term Short Term

    Yeah, Levi, but it was like the genre “cyberpunk” — or any genre for that matter — cyberbunk. It was the dot-bomb.

    It’s so obvious in hindsight, but it was obvious then. How did these goons think they were going to make millions off the internet? Well, some did — out of thin air. Yet nothing lasted, with few exceptions.

    Yet things have lasted; this web site for example. I like to reminisce as well. I will always remember the day I saw LitKicks listed as a new web site at U Illinois supercomputer site. Back then there were so few web sites that new ones were listed every few days.

    There was no Netscape then (Netscape? What’s that? See — it has come and gone all ready. No one uses it today). There was only Mosaic (or lynx). There was Charm Net and Yahoo was on akebono at Stanford. WebCrawler was the best — no google — is the spider still around?

    Yet, your page is here still, new form, ~litkicks long gone. But here. Lasting.

    Look at the LitKicks beat news of July 7, 1995. I remember how exciting it was to have to uuencode these .au files I gleaned from a user group BBS and send to you, which miraculously you were able to unencode and listen to.

    And the Kerouac Speaks page you link to in that near decade old news bit is still there — essentially unchanged for years.

    It’s a great example of primitive web style — pure html done by me with no books or references or IT guys. And dull as it is, I still will receive e-mails from people excited to hear Kerouac’s voice. More than a quarter of a million people have visited over the years.

    Remember we were doing this stuff before the Kerouac industry has taken off as much as it has. Look-it — Paul Maher — Paul Maher!!!!! — has a book out as the “definitive biography” of Kerouac. Kerouac’s art is out in a nice book. Big Time Presidential-wannabe hagiographer is yet to put out his exalted bio but gets to be editor of the journals of Kerouac (Wind Blown World).

    Kerouac popularity was increasing when we began (and Bill Gargan started his list) but I contend we had a significant role in helping it along — an invisible impossible to quantify role. We helped John Sampas make his millions in our own little way.

    Another example of this unseen force is in one of my other little 10 year old web pages. Another example of primitive early internet I’ve left unchanged for years is the Old Master Q page.

    This is a page of an old comic strip from Hong Kong. When I put it up there was no Old Master Q (aka Lao Fu Zi) presence in the media. The comics were still released as cheap comic books. Amazingly over the years since I put up my web site there has been a Lao Fu Zi revival. The books of old comics are now nicely made as soft bound books and there are all sorts of new movies and videos and was even a computer graphic-live action movie made a few years back.

    Not that our websites can be credited with all of this. But in the subtle behind the scenes way, in the collective psyche, web sites like these infuse a kinetic energy that gets the wheels turning. Or one can say they provide the grease to keep the wheel spinning etc…

    It is imperceptible in real time, but I assure you your idea to put up LitKicks way back when has had more effect than you know.

    As far as your lament, it comes at a time when the internet is being trumpeted as having arrived. Not in literature but in news and current event coverage. It’s trumpeted as having impacted on a presidential race. And the horrible term BLOG is bandied about and the worse term “Blogosphere” (ugh what an awful horrible forced stilted term) is the new champion.

    Instead of the Homers and Milton you are looking for we have, ostensibly, the new Edward R. Murrows, the new Menckens, the new Nellie Blys. Muckrackers in pajamas. The pajamahadeen.

    As exaggerated and self-mythologizing (always a bad sign) as the “blogosphere” is now, there is truth to it. Dan Rather’s smoking gun memos from the 70s were clearly shown to have been written in MS Word and were posted at web sites. Just in terms of news, I saw a video of the tsunami linked from an obscure Swedish site and a horrible picture of the human devastation where bodies literally littered a beach. These were not available otherwise. And of course the worst of all — the beheadings.

    Before the internet these images would never have been available like this.

    So, it’s not literature, per se, but the real that emerges is not always what one envisions. I do think your vision is still happening, but in ways we don’t know. Literature is long term. News and politics and current events are short term. It is only appropriate they would impact first. Literature is more eternal and takes longer to grow in to the classic it becomes if it does.

    And, yes, you are right. I am not going to read Douglas Coupland’s new novel.

  34. Yo Tim! I did not realize
    Yo Tim! I did not realize this was you. Damn, you bring me memories a long way back here … and I do remember your Old Master Q page, after all these years.

    Thanks — I think what you say means a lot. Hope we’ll keep hearing from you here.

    And I’m glad to hear it about the Douglas Coupland novel.

  35. ah! Now you’re talking.
    ah! Now you’re talking. Widening experience through media. Increasing immediacy and bringing more audience into the event.

    Feedback possibilities as well?
    Remember Caryn and Jam asking for poems from the kickers to read in person? Open online dialogue and instant (almost) realization on stage makes theatre sizzle with present moment.

    yeah, Tony

  36. GutenbergCommunication

    Communication continues to evolve.

    First the tablet, then paper, then the printing press, the telephone, the radio, the movies, TV and now the Internet…the beat goes on.

    Oh, wait, first was singing and telling stories around the fire and then painting on the walls.

    Levi, you are my Internet literary hero.

    You write more books, I will buy them all.

    I loved the Summer of the Mets.

    Tried to buy Action Poetry on the net but my ‘puter exploded.

    Went to Borders, they didn’t have it.

    I’ll buy it, next paycheck.

    Peace out…

  37. Books-A-Million said they can
    Books-A-Million said they can order Action Poetry. They said they would order it for me but I haven’t heard back from them. I had a copy which I ordered directly from Litkicks but gave it to Chris Hutson (Khristophorous)to repay him for buying me so much coffee at Starbucks, so now I need a new copy. Should I wear safety goggles in case my computer explodes?

  38. jay…I saw action poetry on
    jay…I saw action poetry on ebay the other day for $9.oo, search under beat poetry, water row books is selling it……mark

  39. It might make for an
    It might make for an interesting experiment or installation but in a really arcane way. Nobody likes theatre anyway. Maybe if we could stream a stage version of spiderman…

    Anyhow, yeah judih!

  40. New FrontiersWe could try to
    New Frontiers

    We could try to predict the potential of anything, but we would only be guessing. The internet provides a different form of things that already existed-different ways of expressing news, poetry, literature. And it also promises new horizons on the edge of technology. Which sometimes doesn’t happen. It reminds me of those car ads in the 90’s when they’d advertise technlogical stuff that would “soon be affordable for everyone” that never really happened. I supposed whatever survived after that boom is what may stand to beome classic(s). And yeah, I remember Doug Coupland promising stuff which I never saw, maybe some of the stuff we were supposed to see would not be financially good when people cared less of it later. Don’t know.

    You’ve got your poetry readings live, and then ways of expressing it across computer boards. Literary journals in paper in stores, and ones you find flashing across as creen. In some ways, I think the internet offers more people the opportunity to discover literature, the scenes of old and new, and get into it. Which can be good and bad (good- a young kid discovers the magic of Kerouac, and wouldn’t have otherwise Bad- every dang person thinks they can write an “interesting” blog).

    In some ways, it used to be more difficult to get your writing out there. You had to scour the country for obscure lit mags to send off to. Snail mail. These days, many well known mags have at least their info online. What they are looking for. Which is a little more convenient.

    Do I want convenience? Sometimes.

    Anyway, it’s good to have choices.
    You can’t be as anonymous with literature in person, but if you want to on the web, you can. Then some people achieve more success with their mags or writing through the web than if it had been passed around in the store or on the street. You got choices.

    Wherever you go though, in the store, street or web, the audience that wants it is going to find it anyway. That’s what I believe.

    O.K. so anyway, I tihnk that as “our world gets smaller and more global” (to quote about a million politicians and technology company heads) we need to keep the web in mind. You can reach much more people and talk to people without using words. That’s awesome. I can predict bigger things, and the internet pushing back the frontiers of literature. But I’m still guessing. It’s a good guess.

    But I don’t think the web will produce another Shakes..maybe another Kerouac/Now THAT would be awesome.

  41. I remember I was buying a Tom
    I remember I was buying a Tom Wolfe book at a store, and the cashier told me “you know, this book is available online” So I was all excited thst you could listen to this book or read it online. It turned out to be just a chapter excerpt that Tom read himself, a sort of ad for the book I guess. But that’s what I like about the web and literature, it offers an alternative to just going to the store and buying the book. You can sometimes read one online or listen to it(well, at least, they should offer this more). But yeah, I still think people mostly read and buy the book, I know I mostly do.

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What we're up to ...

Litkicks is 26 years old! This website has been on a long and wonderful journey since 1994. We’re relaunching the whole site on a new platform in June 2021, and will have more updates soon. We’ve also been busy producing a couple of podcasts – please check them out.

World BEYOND War: A New Podcast
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