- Beyond the Book:François Bon and the Digital Transition
In numerous entries on his website Le Tiers livre (tierslivre.net), the French writer François Bon insists on the momentous nature of the transformations taking place in the contemporary literary world ("Si la littérature"; "Ceci n'est pas"; "Qu'est-ce qu'un livre numérique"). Bon argues that the advent of the Internet is equal in significance to the print revolution brought by Gutenberg. According to this view, the Web is not just one more medium among others, but in fact operates a number of crucial displacements in our modes of writing and reading and ultimately alters literary and social practices: "Internet est 'transparent', il traverse la totalité des pratiques mais en tant que lié à cette pratique elle-même, et non pas sa médiatisation" ("Vers un Internet").
It would be a mistake to see these claims as an expression of faith in progress, on the part of an author whose works (from Sortie d'usine in 1982 to Daewoo in 2004) have documented the damage to human communities wrought by technological and economic change. In texts posted on Le Tiers livre between 2005 and 2011, Bon acknowledges that we are currently on unstable ground; we do not yet know precisely what new configurations of the literary object will emerge, which developments will shape the material and social field of writing and reading (electronic paper is still unconvincing, new devices and interfaces for reading cannot yet compete with the book format). Nevertheless, in accepting the inevitability of change, Bon expresses a guarded optimism regarding not only the survival of literature, but also the possibility of its renewal: "Le paradoxe d'Internet, c'est d'accepter que le livre ne soit pas le seul destin de l'écrit, mais, nous conférant effectivité du langage sur le monde, parce qu'on va faire circuler des phrases sur un écran, renouvelle que la langue soit encore corrosive sur le monde" ("Si la littérature").
The following pages will relate Bon's wide-reaching claims about the new digital landscape to his recent literary work, with a particular focus on the curious Web-project and novel Tumulte (2006). Bon has increasingly placed the Internet at the center of his literary activity. His Web-based projects, which date from 1997, span various forms and functions. [End Page 37] The literary site remue.net, founded in 2000 and now run by a collective, includes a literary journal, dossiers and chronicles. Bon's personal site, created at the end of 2004 at tierslivre.net, includes personal journal or "blog" entries (often accompanied by photographs), observations on the relationship between literature and the Internet, miscellaneous notes and links ("brèves et liens"), short fictions, again accompanied by images, and responses to the work of other authors and artists. In January 2008, Bon launched publie.net, a collaborative project dedicated to electronic editions of work by contemporary authors, and which offers a choice of subscription plans (online reading or downloading of the text for computers and mobile devices). Bon's other projects include the creation of an online writing workshop "Écrire la ville" hosted on the pedagogical site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Bon thus adopts a number of roles in online space: he is an author publishing his work in progress, a blogger or diarist commenting on contemporary events and documenting his day-to-day existence (tierslivre.net includes his personal calendar), a creative writing teacher, and a literary editor promoting the work of certain contemporaries.
Nevertheless, from a certain point of view this work covers only a very restricted portion of the contemporary digital field. A full assessment of digital or electronic writing in the French context would have to cover a diverse range of projects including the algorithmic experiments of the Oulipo offshoot ALAMO (Atelier de Littérature Assistée par la Mathématique et les Ordinateurs) (Oulipo 108-137), the multimedia "cinépoèmes" of Pierre Alferi, and explorations of hypertext form such as Renaud Camus's online work Vaisseaux brûlés. At first glance, Bon's Internet projects can seem less radical than...