A Digital Publishing Model for Publication by Writers (for Writers)
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A Digital Publishing Model for Publication by Writers (for Writers)

In Chicago, the afternoon of 26 October 2016, I attended a showing of Hearts & Minds in the Electronic Visualization Lab of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Scott Rettberg, in collaboration with Roderick Coover, Arthur Nishimoto, and Daria Tsoupikova, created this 3D virtual reality theatre enactment of recollections by American soldiers who were active in the torture of political prisoners during the Iraq War. The project was based on interviews with soldiers conducted by collective violence researcher John Tsukayama. Though the identities of the soldiers were protected and their recorded words spoken by actors, the recollections took on a distinctive immediacy against the backdrop of desert landscapes interleaved with domestic American environments such as a boy's bedroom, a back yard comfortably contained within a white picket fence, as well as a kind of mosque-like space. Clips from the work can be viewed at http://www.crchange.net/hearts-and-minds/.

Scott and I first met in Chicago in 1998 when he was a graduate student at the Universty of Cincinnati. We were put in touch with one another by his then dissertation director, Tom LeClair. We met near my apartment on Division Street in the Wicker Park neighborhood at Leo's Lunch Room (now long gone). Scott showed me some scribbled documents he was putting together for a not-for-profit enterprise he was calling the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). Rettberg at the time was collaborating with Dirk Stratton and William Gillespie on a hypertext novel, The Unknown (1998-2001). It occurred to me, that day in October watching Hearts & Minds, that my friendship with Rettberg had extended over a literary period, from the era that novelist Robert Coover would eventually periodize as the "golden age" of hypertext fiction through the CAVE projects that Coover at Brown University would oversee and on to the present systematic archiving of the print and emerging, born digital literary corpus. With this shared history in mind, I suggested (over dinner later that evening at The Twisted Spoke on Ogden Avenue), that we might record our recollections of some of the formative events of the e-lit field and discuss our various projects—notably the Electronic Literature Directory (ELD) that Rettberg and Ewan Branda and I rebuilt for the ELO in 2010; and Rettberg's European "Electronic Literature Knowledge Base," the Electronic Literature as a Model for Creativity in Practice (ELMCIP).

That evening, Scott and I discussed the way that the visualization of domestic and war zones managed to bring live remembrances (recorded by Tsukayama in his 2014 disseration) into a setting distinct from reportorial media, where viewers provided with 3D lenses and an instrument for clicking on objects could contemplate the actuality of events experienced by participant soldiers.

Two weeks later, at an electronic literature conference in Bremen organized by Daniela Cortez Maduro, our conversation continued, this time on the topic of our respective literary databases and how they each could be seen as alternatives to the commodification of academic scholarship in for profit, subscriber platforms. In our respective presentations in Bremen, we each addressed a certain instrumentalist tendency in contemporary Digital Humanities which will be the default unless we ourselves in the academic institutions provide an alternative. Though we recognized the corporatist slant of much "digital" development, we'd also read an early draft of Henry Turner's essay, "Love Your Corporation." In Bremen, our conversation turned toward the idea, expressed by Turner that you don't supplant corporate power with anti-capitalist and anti-network rhetoric. You resist the incorporation of literary canons (and academic freedoms) by forming alternative, not for profit and Open Access networks.

Joseph Tabbi:

In my talk yesterday I'd mentioned some early literary networks like Fiction Collective 2, Alt-X, ebr, the American Book Review and Open Humanities Press. And you, during the question session, brought up other projects, some that I had heard of and some that I hadn't.

Scott Rettberg:

All right. So let me back up a little bit and say something that I didn't say earlier. John Cayley made this point during a...