Richard Chiem's first collection of short stories You Private Person is forthcoming from Scrambler Books (2012). Ana C.'s first full length collection of poetry Baby Babe is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms (2012). C. stands for Carrete.
"Because, when you really look at it, in the interior of a relationship—boy/girl, boy/boy, girl/girl—there is this small, strange world that only the inhabitants truly understand. It has its own language. It has its own justice system. It has its own flag."
"There is a connection between two people. There is a connection between people who know each other's cell phone numbers. There is a new kind of way to hurt the one you love by ignoring their light on the little ear box."
"This thing is gonna rattle you and your (mis)conceptions about e-books and telenovelas and collaborative writing, and I’m thinking GOOD THING"
Making space for literature is a challenge. Aside from finding the physical spaces required to store your ever-mounting collection of books, it can also be a challenge to create the mental space required to really relax and enjoy a book. This issue is only exacerbated online. In virtual space, literature really has to fight for your attention. Often, it can feel like the reader is privileging a story or poem by choosing it over an infinity of others. Some have concluded that conventional literature does not function in a web browser: the distractions are too great.
I wish to propose that the problem is not necessarily the literature, but the spaces we create for it.
The majority of virtual space is ordered in series of familiar patterns. Nearly every English language webpage follows the structure of a traditional book, where one reads from left to right and top to bottom. The web page commonly asks you to scroll up and down, but hardly ever side to side. This remains true even in cases where webpages have little to no text. There is an assumed freedom in knowing that a blog entry can never be too long, an issue can never be too filled. Virtual spaces are seemingly infinite.
Due to this expanse, much web-based information is presented as comprehensively categorised and fragmented. On many websites, one topic or article can be spread across plural webpages. It is increasingly rare to find two distinct articles occupying one virtual space.
In this online architecture, there is no navigational freedom. Interaction is guided and ordered.
However, there can be space for resistance. In an attempt to demonstrate this, we can look to Ana C. and Richard Chiem’s Oh No Everything is Wet Now (Magic Helicopter Press, 2011).
Ana and Richard are both young, highly successful writers. Both edit journals — Ana: New Wave Vomit; Richard: Vertebrae — and both have forthcoming debut books — Ana: Baby Babe (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2012); Richard: You Private Person (Scrambler Books, 2012). They are well liked within the online community, but (as yet) relatively unknown outside of it.
Oh No Everything is Wet Now is their first collaborative project. The e-book is introduced as a novella (a historically disruptive form) despite being a collection of flash fiction and poetry. Magic Helicopter’s home page encourages us to both “follow” and “unfollow” the lines. These dichotomies in definition and suggestion help to shape the unorthodox approach required to encounter the novella.
Oh No Everything is Wet Now opposes all established conventions on the ordering of virtual space. Magic Helicopter Press has created an environment that demands exploration. The novella has consciously chosen to refuse the ease of expositional space, demanding that we engage with the book. Rather than deter the reader, the disorientation generates a curiosity.
I believe that the architecture behind this virtual space can expose some missed opportunities in online literature. Rather than continually attempting to emulate printed journals, Oh No Everything is Wet Now demonstrates how to seize the potential afforded to us by the Internet.
There is no correct way to read this “book”. All of its content is presented to us at once. The webpage consciously affirms the decision to waste virtual space, using empty expanses that have been designed to inconvenience us. These areas must be navigated through to reach the literature. Rather than have their content reveal itself, Ana and Richard demand that it must be sought out. This is unheard of in traditional web architecture.
Our simulated journey around the webpage is reflected in the novella’s content, much of which is made up of YouTube videos. The clips show the novella’s authors on an ambling, playful journey of their own. The videos hide loading bars, which is surprisingly unnerving. One quickly gathers that these videos are not to be consumed, they occupy a permanent position is the make up of this virtual space; they are immediately relevant to the rest of the web page. The variation in their sizing suggests a knowing playfulness in the sophisticated architecture, drawing further attention to how presentation informs content.
Setting can broadly split the videos: interior/exterior. The internal clips see one, or both authors sitting still, reading in flat monotone. However, when Ana and Richard take us outside, they become enthused and playful.
By creating a distinction between the private and public sphere, the authors draw attention to flawed assumptions over online literature. The mobility of a book is no longer unrivalled. Wifi internet and affordable laptops have placed the computer in a central and uniting position between the working and social, private and public, interior and exterior.
Ana and Richard play on these disruptions by inverting classical standards. It is the interior, private Ana and Richard who present themselves very seriously: these are artists, responsible for addressing the viewer / reader on the other side of the screen. We become aware of looking in on them, putting us in the role of voyeur. In one section, this is reflexively acknowledged, as Richard is shown watching MDMA Films’ Bebe Zeva whilst narrating the experience.
However, the exterior, public, Ana and Richard act childishly. Their literature becomes a lived experience, a more plausible collaboration. It is a game that we are invited to become complicit in.
In his HTML Giant review, Matthew Simmons refers to the page as a collage (another technique that has been classically connected to the concept of resistance). His observation is acute. Within this architecture, content is frequently layered over other content. Some areas are packed tightly together whilst other spaces sit barren. The most sophisticated collage technique though, is Ana and Richard’s embrace of multi-media. It is here that Oh No Everything is Wet Now breaks most definitively from literature’s traditional, discrete language of virtual space.
Texts within the e-book are presented as screenshots of a word processor. Rather than making the text seem inadequate in comparison to video, this non-professional presentation lets the text seem raw and anonymous when compared to the videos. Their inclusion compounds our new awareness of being influenced by methods of presentation. By establishing a dialog between videos and texts, Ana and Richard create a resistance that suggests the accompanying words are barely an alternative, thus liberating literature from both the page and word processor.
Oh No Everything is Wet Now is a rebellion against the standardisation of literature. The collaborative relationship between Ana and Richard drives the novella, without managing to be expositional. We learn nothing of these two central figures. Instead, we join them on an absent procession.
If resistance is not possible through interaction, we may strive towards it in our creation of content. Oh No Everything is Wet Now demonstrates how the Internet affords us the tools for innovation in modern literature. It is down to us how we use them.