I remember sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car on a long drive back from Melbourne Airport, listening

to my mum tell my dad that she had spent “two-hours surfing the net” in an airport in America. It was 1995 and I was 7-years old. I listened vaguely to my mum explain how ‘the net’ worked, and it seemed, to me, like a new activity, or a hobby, like swimming or maybe chess. I felt a curious admiration for my mum, as if she had been, somehow, inside a computer, surfing a digital blue wave with futuristic, dimly pixelated American people.

When we first got the Internet at home, my parents knew more about it than me and my sisters. They had to teach us how to use the dial up modem, how to make passwords and usernames, how to use email. My dad read books and magazines about the Internet, and I remember him telling me how it was going to change the world, that soon anyone anywhere in the world would be able to become a genius.

It didn’t take long, though, before I was spending a lot more time on the Internet than my parents. I would get home from school and spend the next few hours talking to friends and strangers on chat groups. The Internet, for me, was not about educating myself, like it was for my dad. The information I shared on chat groups was banal and mindless. It was just another thing that I used to communicate with and be entertained by. I did not reflect on it. I seamlessly integrated this abstract network that connected millions of bedrooms into my consciousness, like I had the telephone or the TV.

In an article appearing in the New York Times in September this year, New York-based writer Tao Lin recounts the steady and private way the Internet became

part of his life. Like me, Lin is old enough to remember a time without the Internet, but young enough to have experienced solitary exploration of it as a teenager. Lin writes that now he sometimes imagines the Internet as a U.F.O that landed one day in his garden, which his parents first noticed but then became half-hearted about, while he, their son, “as if by instinct”, relocated his life to.

Despite my dad’s early enthusiasm I feel that he, like Tao Lin’s parents, has become somehow detached from the Internet, or bamboozled, maybe even left behind. When I speak with him about social media, he is not so much confused by it conceptually as perplexed as to why anyone would be compelled to participate in it. I think my dad still believes in the Internet as an infinite digital storehouse for sharing old media, a place for unilateral interaction with books, music and video – not other people.

Because social media is not a physical medium, like radio, television or computers, and because it broadcasts itself off pre-existing technologies, it is difficult to conceptualise it as a ‘medium’, like, say, TV. But, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, all new mediums at first appear “as mere codes of transmission for older achievement and established patterns of thought”, and only later, emerge as mediums expressing “new languages with new and unique powers of expression.”

In 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote about how early photographers used cameras to capture images that had previously been painted or engraved, like portraits and landscapes, but as the medium became more popular, people started using cameras in new ways: to record crime scenes, mass migrations of people, sports games, the unobservable movements of animals. Images, and the human perception of the

world, were transformed by the new medium, even though this transformation had not been intended when the medium was invented.

It is probably too early to be prognostic about what new forms of previously inconceivable cultural products social media will enable. It might turn out that social media is eventually recognised as the medium Marshall McLuhan was talking about in 1962 when he wrote, “the next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness”. Or it might be that social media is subsumed very rapidly by some other medium in the not too distant future, some gadget that enables telepathy. I don’t know. But I feel like I am starting to perceive, in the writing of Tao Lin and others his age, the first expressions of a new type of art that has developed slowly and insidiously in the minds of those who grew up quietly plugged in and instinctively communicating.

In 2005, when Tao Lin was finishing a degree in Journalism at NYU, quietly working on his writing in libraries around Manhattan, he kept a blog called ‘Reader of Depressing Books’. In September of that year, Lin wrote on his blog: “Of the writers I've read, I feel like it'd be hardest to program a computer to write something that Lorrie Moore has written … she is more human and less robot than all other writers, I feel, that I have read.” Lin compares Lorrie Moore’s writing with at type of “authorless-sounding” writing that uses stock-phrases, cliché and plot devices, techniques which make Tao Lin “feel vaguely cheated and vaguely unalive and vaguely despairing”, as if “the author has made a clone of him or her self … and the author is at home, sleeping, eating, living his or her real life, and I am trying stupidly to make a human connection with the clone, the once-removed and deconsciousnessed thing, the unhuman, scarecrowed thing.”

Lin, who doesn’t have training in robotics or computers, is not, I don’t think, writing about the technical limitations of computer algorithms, but is asking a philosophical question about language and technology: how can I relate my emotions to another person through language in a way that could never be replicated by an algorithm? What makes my language human?

In his first book of poetry, you are a little bit happier than i am (2006), Lin attests to his humanness through the non-metaphorical description of “unrequited feelings of loneliness, meaninglessness, death, limited-time, and the arbitrary nature of existence.” The first poem in the book is called ‘some of my happiest moments in life occur on AOL instant messenger’:

i will create a new category on my instant messenger buddy list i will call it ‘people i like who don’t like me back’ and i will move your screen name into that group and i will invite you to my house and show you and you will say, ‘if i didn’t like you why did i come over’ and you will look at my face and i will have an honest answer for your question i will tell you that you came over to be polite and after a while you will go home and you won’t call and i won’t either and after a while i won’t like you anymore and after a while we’ll forget each other and after a while you will be beautiful and alone inside of your coffin and i’ll be cold and alone inside of my coffin

Literary critic, AD Jameson, has described Tao Lin’s poetry as belonging to a loose-knit shared sensibility emerging post-September 11 2001 that privileged sincerity over irony. Jameson, who refers to this sensibility as the New Sincerity, describes it as “a resurgence of interest in preciousness, sentiment, & twee” spanning over the cinema of Wes Anderson, the music of Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists, and the writing of Dorothea Lasky, Nate Pritts and Matt Hart, among others. Although there is little concretely similar about these artists, their work seems to be motivated by a desire to communicate personal experience directly to other

people. This means that reading a poem or listening to song is not so much about interpreting meaning, but being emotionally moved.

This can be contrasted with the conceptualism, irony and formal experimentation of North American writers of the previous decades, such as David Foster Wallace, who, in an essay concerning the influence of TV in fiction writing in America, predicted that a return to sincerity might occur as a reaction against irony and detachment, precipitated, in part, by the future technologies that would inevitably displace TV.

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate singleentendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew selfconsciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point … The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to … risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness.

That sincerity might be a response to Internet technology is being addressed by a number of younger writers, including Krystal South, who in an essay called ‘Identify Yourself’, writes about how the Internet has shaped her identity from such

a critical age that she no longer bothers to separate her online and offline experiences. South observes that the challenge of growing up on the Internet has been figuring out how to use non-human, mathematical machines to denote her human non-mathematical emotions; for example she writes about the experience of forming friendships on the Internet:

Some of my favorite human beings have come to me in on the Internet. I found the work of Krist Wood through another Internet artist, Ryder Ripps, who was mesmerized by Wood’s work and carefully composed identity. I reached out to Wood on Google Chat after spending a lot of time with his online output. One of the first things he said to me was, “Identify yourself,” a command to explain who I was and what I wanted. It is a fair request in contemporary Internet culture, where often people receive friend requests from strangers with no context. I found myself able to summarize my existence into G-Chat, into the context of what I knew about this other person, what I thought he might want to know about me, where I saw our identities overlapping.

Self-identification on the Internet is a parentless experience, a self-taught skill for people born between approximately 1982 -1992, those whose parents were aware of the Internet U.F.O. in the garden, but didn’t instinctively relocate to it. Tao Lin’s writing has, understandably, become popular with people born within this date range. In 2008, Tao Lin established an independent publishing house called Muumuu House, which published the writing of a number of writers within this age bracket – Megan Boyle, Ellen Kennedy, Brandon Scott Gorrell and Zachary German – who were writing in similarly detached, unaffected yet existentially absorbed and emotional styles. Reading their work often feels like they are trying to pass a reverse

Turing Test; as if they are trying to prove their humanness through the screen via text. In an online social environment, the ability to communicate emotions and meaning as directly as possible becomes more important than formal experimentation. For those who have been brought up using the Internet, unlike their post-modern predecessors, the construction of a self-identity through text is a platitude; the Internet is a textbased ever-shifting, concatenating, and contentious current of being.

Between 2006-2010 Tao Lin used his blog to aggressively promote his writing, rationalising his actions with the idea that the more famous his Internet presence, the easier it would be for him to make money and write more books. In February 2007, he wrote on his blog:

if you feel bad at promoting yourself you either have an error in thinking (you think not with facts but by received ideas and peer pressure) or you should begin to exist less and do the opposite of promoting yourself, if you want to not be a contradiction. if you feel shame or disgust at self-promotion that means

you either aren't able to view yourself without preconception, as just a 'tool,' or you are ashamed and feel guilty of your own existence, of what you do with the power, influence, and money that you already have. (Reader of Depressing Books, Lin)

Some of the more innovative self-promotional tactics Tao Lin has used include:

1. Requesting that followers of his blog write blurbs for his books. 2. Publishing the rejection letters he received from various literary journals and ranking them from in order from nicest to least nice. 3. Publishing an email in which he fires his literary agent. 4. Soliciting drugs via Twitter 5. Writing detailed lists for his followers that outline the precise ways in which they can promote his career for him. 6. Selling his MySpace account on Ebay for $8100. 7. Selling 6 shares of 10% of the U.S. royalties of his then partly unwritten second novel Richard Yates for $2000 per share.

These activities brought Tao Lin viral-like attention online, both positive and negative. For instance, Emily Gould from Gawker – a gossip blog that Tao Lin relentlessly emailed promotional material – wrote an open letter to Lin in which she addresses his self-promotional tactics:

Tao Lin, I know you're reading this. I just want you to know that because of your ill-conceived self-marketing strategy, you have 100% guaranteed that I will never read your damned book with its oh-so-wacky title... Your publicity games

aren't a play on fame-seeking or celebrity culture. Actually, you're maybe perhaps the single most irritating person we've ever had to deal with—and you wouldn't believe our in-box. Stop it. Stop it now. And now we will go back to never mentioning you again. (Striker)

Other online commentators have interpreted Lin’s tactics as evidence that he is “the first author to really figure out how to harness the viral potential of the web”. Much like the way Andy Warhol experimented with mass-production and media saturation as working material, Tao Lin is experimenting with self-promotion within the blogging format as a medium. Although his self-promotion alienates some readers, the overall effect is to reduce distance between Tao Lin and his followers, as it encourages their participation. Many of Tao Lin’s readers have been in direct contact with him via email, responding to his various promotional activities. So while the obnoxious, ironic and self-promotional side of Tao Lin seems, in a way, inconsistent with the highly emotional, almost fragile writer of his creative fiction and poetry, this inconsistency only persists if you view his blog writing as something separate from his published books. If, in the future, a ‘Selected Writings of Tao Lin’ is edited into a volume, some of the most innovative work will be taken from his online “shit-talking”.

By 2010, the community that formed around Muumuu House accumulated a considerable Internet following, particularly Tao Lin, whose work was being lent authority via reviews in the New York Times and other ‘IRL’ gatekeepers of cultural authority. At around the same time, ‘Alt Lit’ became a term used to catalogue these writers, seemingly invented by a Tumblr blog called ‘Alt Lit Gossip’. The exact etymology of the term is unclear, but it might have been inspired, in part, by a popular blog called Hipster Runoff, which would use the word ‘alt’ – as in ‘alternative’ – as an adjective for cultural items not part of the ‘mainstream’. Although Tao Lin does not refer to himself as Alt Lit unless otherwise solicited, the work posted on ‘Alt Lit Gossip’ and other Alt Lit blogs was directly influenced by his the spare, terse, detached, noncommittal, affectless communication of highly emotional and personal experiences. As such, much of the Alt Lit writing being produced in 2010-2011 concerned highly intimate details of emotional distress, sexual encounters and drug use. This established links between Alt Lit and online publications like Thought Catalog and Vice, which positioned themselves as alternative (hipster) media distributors that branded their reportage as “immersionist”, a kind of post-Gonzo style of story about ‘real’ things told via one person’s point of view.

In 2011, when Portland college student Marie Calloway was 21-years old, she sent Tao Lin an unsolicited 15,000-word manuscript, via email, of a story she had written about a sexual encounter with a relatively well known New York-based writer in his 40s. Tao Lin agreed to publish the piece on Muumuu House, under condition that they change the name of the New York writer to ‘Adrien Brody’ to cover his identity. Marie Calloway was a pseudonym the young writer herself was using.

The story begins with an email correspondence in which Marie Calloway tells Adrien Brody that she admires his work, and she sends him a link to her Tumblr. After he responds encouragingly to her writing, Calloway flies to New York to meet him, and discovers that he has a girlfriend. Nevertheless the two end up spending a few days together; they talk about Marxism, browse items at American Apparel, and have sex multiple times. Like Tao Lin, Calloway reports the action of the story with unaffected, detached, dissociative language. Tao Lin writes of Calloway’s story, “I liked her ability to describe a memory objectively and interestingly and without preconception or judgment.”

One of us brought up cumming on my face instead. "I've never done that before..." he said. He said he would do it, but then said he wouldn't, and he kept going back and forth like this until I rolled my eyes. "Oh, now you're rolling your eyes at me." "Well, do you want to do it or not?" "That's a fair question..." I looked up at him, feeling vaguely annoyed. "Okay, I will," he said. And then a few minutes later he pulled out and took the condom off and was sitting on his knees above the side of my face. I could tell he was really nervous, and I was afraid he wouldn't be able to cum. To put him at ease I decided to reenact a scene from a Japanese pornography I had once watched. I opened my eyes and looked into his and smiled up at him.

Then when he finally came on my face I moaned and moved the cum from my cheeks with my finger tips to my mouth, and then sucked my fingers. His face changed to this huge dumb grin, like he couldn't believe it, couldn't believe his luck. "I feel so vulnerable," he said, his voice shaking. I felt annoyed he was only focused on his own feelings, after he had just shot a load on my face. "Can you take a picture of me with my phone?" I asked. He got up and got my phone, and then after I told him how to, took a photo. He didn't ask why I wanted a photo, he didn't say anything about it, like I hoped he wouldn't. "Oh, you can't see anything, it's too dark, " I said, looking at the photo.

When Tao Lin posted Calloway’s story on the Muumuu House website, it precipitated a small level of viral activity. Some bloggers praised the clarity and honesty of Calloway’s writing while others accused her of pathological narcissism or lack of talent. Predictably, the story was controversial within the New York publishing community, as people Googled and uncovered details about Adrien Brody’s true identity.

Before Calloway achieved Internet fame she kept a popular Tumblr blog that detailed similar stories of her sexual experiences, including a brief period in which she had sex for money in London. She also posted pictures of herself naked on her Tumblr to accompany her stories. Calloway explains that she wrote these blogs “to express my worldview/subjectivity because it felt then that no one had any idea. I guess ultimately I wanted to connect with others in order to feel less alone.”

This diaristic style of self-exposure has a lineage of writers including Arthur Rimbaud, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, Jack Kerouac and Kathy Acker, among many others. Like these writers before her, Calloway has submitted herself to emotional extremes in order to write about them. What makes Calloway’s experience slightly different, however, is the method, the pace and scope, with which her story was distributed. In the past, stories have had to be approved by publishing houses, and then subjected to editing and sometimes censorship. Today, blogging sites like LiveJournal (an online diary) and Tumblr allow writers to broadcast their experiences unfiltered to millions of people. Before Tao Lin posted ‘Adrien Brody’ on Muumuu House, Calloway posted it on her personal Tumblr with the older writer’s real name, and a picture of her with his semen on her face.

Anna Poletti’s discussion of perzine culture, in her book Intimate Ephemera, provides an interesting comparison. Perzine culture is an offshoot of the post-punk zine culture of the 1990s. Unlike other zines, the content of perzines is the explicit expression of self to establish a distinctive and intimate connection between author and reader. Parallels between perzine culture and blogging culture are obvious in Tumblr blogs like Molly Soda’s, whose post-punk/riot grrrl aesthetic looks just like a digitised version of a popular 1990s-style perzines.

As material, handmade objects, perzines require from scratch design; text layout, paper quality, printing methods are idiosyncratic expressions of an aesthetic philosophy. While blogs have customisable HTML, there is still an underlying design aesthetic imposed by the business/programmers that own/built the platform, and implicit in the aesthetic is a certain philosophy about how information ought to be represented. Also, unlike perzines, which are printed in small runs and distributed among a like-minded community, a highly intimate blog post can ‘go viral’ and transform individual subjectivity into a meme. The risk of this is that the individual is de-personalised, and taken as symbolic of some larger cultural trend, as can be seen with Marie Calloway, who, after the publication of the story, became a ‘symbol’ of what many considered Internet culture’s narcissism, voyeurism and infantile exhibitionism – which made her a target for anonymous and merciless criticism online.

In Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin suggests that criticising an actor in a film is more like criticising an inanimate and reproducible object than a human being. This effect is intensified on the Internet where criticism is un-moderated and instant, completely unaccountable and, therefore, empathy-less. After the publication of ‘Adrien Brody’, Calloway was subject to intense online scrutiny and abuse. She recounts, "I incessantly ruminated about all of it to the point of mental exhaustion, working myself up to a panic attack which finally culminated in me hiding from my parents' Christmas party in the guest bathroom. There, I curled up into the fetal position and hyperventilated". Calloway, like many young authors, has used the Internet to draw her audience nearer, and achieve intimacy; but the very same technology subjects her to a boundless room of unaccountable hate.

Stephen Tully Dierks, who produces the popular online Alt Lit magazine/blog, Pop Serial, has said that Alt Lit is primarily the circulation of texts by a “nexus” of readers who interact and participate on a variety of blogs. Critical theorist Michael Warner, in his book Publics and Counter Publics, provides theoretical backing for Dierks’ definition, noting how certain communities “come into being only in relation to texts and their circulation”. Warner calls these text-based communities “publics”, not in the sense that they are a physically bound audiences, but because they are selforganised around the discourse about specific texts.

A public is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. It is autotelic; it exists only as the end for which books are published, shows broadcast, Web sits posted, speeches delivered, opinions produced. It exists by virtue of being addressed.

Warner adds that members of publics are, in theory, strangers. Therefore, it is participation, rather than pre-existing relationships between members of the public, that “produces a sense of belonging and activity”. Because publics require participation – require the reader to “scrutinize, ask, reject, opine, decide, judge, and so on” – historically, there have been practical obstacles to their creation. For example, the editorial pages of newspapers have long been a location in which readers converse with one another about texts. However, the activity of these publics has been forcibly punctuated by the speed with which newspapers are printed, delivered, and responded to via the postal service.

Alt Lit, as a community that has developed almost exclusively on social media, has never had the barriers to participation associated with print media. As long as the

reader has Internet access and a computer of some sort, they can participate, literally 24/7. Social media is designed to allow strangers to participate in discourse about texts: hyperlinks, hash-tags, @’s, likes, reblogs, are all digitally accelerated methods of participation in discourse. Every time a person goes on Facebook and presses Like on a video or song or status update, they are becoming part, Warner would say, of a public.

I recently read a Facebook post by popular Alt Lit writer, Heiko Julien, in which he expresses his dissatisfaction with Alt Lit writers for not engaging with their medium, the Internet, in intelligent, considered and “meaningful” ways.

Alt Lit is failing as an artistic movement because it is aggressively incurious. Essentially, a lot of work is creative non-fiction, however the brilliance of the genre is the new approach to communication in a developing environment by technological natives. But the writers themselves haven't proved to be up to the challenges those who aspire to make meaningful art are faced with--or that they're even aware the challenge exists ... I may be naive, but I think people writing on the Internet could make something great. Unfortunately, very few people appear to be trying.

Within the first few minutes of posting his thoughts, Heiko was engaged by a number of Facebook users who respond in the comments section below his post: ! !

Rod Naquin i wonder if ppl have always thought the work of their contemporaries is inadequate, meaningless, not justified, whatever. i wonder if ppl of every era and age have thought the banners and movements of their time were new names for old ideas, or rehashes of old precedents pretending to be fresh. i wonder if we always think other people arent trying as hard as we are !31 minutes ago · Like · 5! !Thais Benoit I think many Alt Lit writers have gone irl, and have failed to capitalize on the opportunity to collaborate with the net art movement and other net based cultures. Amen. !28 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 3! !Dan Wriggins Rod Naquin i do think that whether or not Alt Lit really has "a shallow ethic and values nonsense and confessionalism," similar complaints were made about now-entrenched literary genres. !25 minutes ago · Like · 1! !Gilbert Morgan I was a simple Internet troll. My life was easy. Then I met you guys, and now I have feelings, and I hate myself. !23 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 10! !Algebra Huxley i don't think it's silly to sell ourselves. i just think we should encourage people working really hard on something before they put it into the world. !20 minutes ago · Like · 3! !Mattie Hillock Process Over Product !19 minutes ago via mobile · Like · 2! !Zach Stone i think positivity is fine if it is up against something !11 minutes ago · Like · 1! Algebra Huxley It's funny to me...the more I try to destroy Alt-Lit (very egotistical thing to think I could do) the more people see me as AltAlt Lit Culture !9 minutes ago · Like · 2!

There is a certain irony in Heiko Julien’s Facebook comment: he criticises his peers for not engaging inquisitively with Internet technology, but then is immediately engaged, online, in a critical debate about the nature of Alt Lit, that proliferates and intensifies within minutes. This Facebook conversation, when viewed as a collective expression, might be the “great” and “meaningful” engagement with technology Julien is demanding from his peers, even if none of the comments are, on their own, brilliantly insightful. The insight is embedded in the collaborative conversation in which strangers are participating willingly, in real time on Facebook. In other words, the Facebook exchange is the message.

It is possible that Heiko Julien’s disillusionment is caused by the absence of boundaries around the Alt Lit public. That is, maybe the ease with which others can become part of Alt Lit reduces the amount of meaning Heiko Julien is able to derive from his membership. Given that Facebook also facilitates vibrant publics that engage in discourse about Harry Potter fan fiction, White Supremacist literature, and rating the attractiveness of people’s girlfriends – the sense of ‘meaning’ associated with a public diminishes as if a sense of belonging is diffused through the number of possible publics one could be a part of.

For the sake of comparison, consider the public created in the editorial pages of print newspapers again; participation is selective (chosen by the editor), and punctuated. When Warner wrote Publics and Counterpublics in 2002 – before the rise of social media – he speculated, “if the change of infrastructure continues at this pace, and if modes of apprehension change accordingly, the absence of punctual rhythms may make it very difficult to connect localized acts of reading to the modes of agency that prevail within the social imaginary of modernity”.

Heiko Julien is in the paradoxical position of wanting to put up restrictions around Alt Lit, even though the distribution of his art depends, essentially, on its barrierlessness. His rise to micro-fame in the Alt Lit world was precipitated by his constant, unending stream of participation – his flooding of the newsfeed. Julien knows that if he is to remain relevant he has to keep participating, otherwise his readers will lose interest. To get attention in the Alt Lit public you have to participate not in punctuated bursts, but constantly, totally, immersively; participation becomes an act of endurance. In a way, the content of the writing becomes less important than the fact it is simply there on the newsfeed, like a type of defensive advertising reminding you of the writer’s existence. This atmosphere cultivates a pervasive anxiety about the fickleness of one’s readership. If you ‘step away from the keyboard’ and stop participating, even for a minute, your readers will be distracted by another writer who commits to publishing tirelessly, even if their writing contains only mindless positive platitudes.

I wrote about Heiko Julien’s Facebook posts on my Tumblr, and posted a link on Heiko Julien’s wall. Within a few hours he, along with a number of other people, responded to my post. It got more than 30 reblogs on Tumblr. The next day, Heiko wrote a long response to my essay and posted it in the comments thread of my original post. This experience validated, for me, everything I was writing about: the rapid, almost instantaneous participation of a reading public, and the ever-narrowing gap between ‘the artist’ and the ‘the reader’, or in this case, ‘the artist’ and ‘the critic.’

Partly as a response to the anonymity and cruelty enabled by Internet culture, Steve Roggenbuck, a 26-year old American poet and vegan activist, has ‘re-branded’ Alt Lit as a positive community that is self-organised through participation.

For the past three years, Roggenbuck has pushed the idea of participation to its limit. In early 2010, he wrote and self-published a chapbook of minimalist, sentimental, almost pastoral poetry called i am like october when i am dead. Roggenbuck printed 1000 copies of the book and sent them out for free to many of his online followers, and also released it for free into the public domain as an ebook. Following the release of the book he published the following message on his blog:

i want to encourage you to use my writing and art however you want. it is just here for you to enjoy it. you can post my poems on your blog and upload my art to your facebook. you can print or republish my writing wherever you like, with or without credit. you can modify it, then publish it. you can sell it under your own name.

Roggenbuck’s online followers were enthusiastic in assisting him with distribution. They shared the link to the ebook via social media, and those who Roggenbuck sent free copies took ‘selfies’ with the book and posted them online. By the summer of 2011, i am like october when i am dead had over 15,000 downloads. Compare this to ‘traditional’’ print-based distribution of poetry in which a print run of 200 is considered good, and anything more than that, excellent.

Although Roggenbuck didn’t directly benefit financially from the publication of his first chapbook, the attention it generated online built a community of people to

whom he could directly release his cultural content, including T-shirts, stickers and posters from which he is able to make, what he considers, enough money to support his lifestyle. When judged alone on abstract ideas of ‘literary merit’, the poems in Roggenbuck’s first chapbook might not be ‘formally ground-breaking’, but his networking and distribution methods on social media ought to be considered part of his artistry. His formula for self-publishing is simple: post content for free online, build an audience, and then collect output into books. The proofing and editing is done in public with the benefit of constant feedback and encouragement. This represents a new paradigm for publishing that values attention and community building as highly as aesthetic innovation, and doesn’t distinguish between readers and friends.

Since the release of his first chapbook, Roggenbuck has contributed prolifically to multiple online content streams. He produces YouTube videos that are a combination of absurdist humour and vegan activism; he constructs image macros (lines of poetry superimposed over jpeg images); he holds video conference calls for poetry readings and q&a’s with his followers; he Tweets, comments on Facebook and updates Tumblr relentlessly; and most impressively he responds to almost all his fans when they reach out to him via social media. The purpose of this consistent and periodic release of content is, according to Roggenbuck, to build a recognisable personal brand, and to generate and maintain attention around this personal brand.

In 2013, the poetry Roggenbuck is feeding into social media experiments with the language of the Internet. Roggenbuck’s latest collection of poetry IF YOU DONT LOVE THE MOON YOUR AN ASSHOLE is appropriated from social media platforms like YouTube and msn messenger logs, and includes the tone and cultural references used by predominantly young people when they communicate online.

i thought I had copied a URL, but when I hit command+v in browser it pasted “FRICIIICKING BOOOOOOOOOOST.” I Love to See That Many Of My Followers are Dogs But If I Ever Find Out that You Are Not a Dog IRL You Will be In Some Shit

The language borrows from the Internet slang of his peers, recontextualizes it in the form of a book of poetry, transforms slightly by not correcting typos, and then he gives it back to the Internet through tireless promotion and meme-like distribution. In IF YOU DONT LOVE THE MOON, Roggenbuck uses the certain phrase, like “hashtag YOLO”, so many times that I can’t help but associate them with him and his brand, reminiscent of what Nike does with a phrase like ‘Just Do It’.

In 2012, Roggenbuck started a collaborative Tumblr blog called Internet Poetry that publishes, “screenshots of poetry, poetry on twitter, email, gchat, amazon book reviews, live chat customer service windows: poetry as wikipedia entries, blog comments, trackbacks/pings, google bombs, youtube video responses: poetry as facebook statuses, facebook groups, facebook notes, facebook events, facebook pictures, facebook videos, and facebook friend requests.”

Like the image above, a lot of the content that goes up on Internet Poetry is produced from appropriated images and screenshots of social media correspondences, encouraging the rapid production of new content. This method of cultural production has been given the name ‘quickshit’ within some online writing communities. Quickshit includes speedily produced and amateur ebooks of poetry, which are distributed via pdf through social media. Eschewing literary journals, Quickshit writers have complete liberty over how and what they publish, and without externally imposed reviewing, editing and quality control, they can easily publish dozens of ebooks a year. A repercussion of Quickshit-style publishing is that the lure of attention begins to trump ‘quality’.

This quick ‘mashup’ content has been criticised for being lightweight and vapid. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist instrumental in scaling the early Internet to a broader user base, has written that a culture that appropriates without acknowledging sources, and values quantity over quality will debase individuality and originality by making cultural production seem like the result of a collective hive-mind at the expense of the notion of the singular artist. Lanier’s point is that cultural production should be acknowledged as emanating from individuals, and not the technology they are using. "We can't afford to respect our designs so much” he writes, “What is important about printing presses [and technology in general] is not the mechanism but the authors".

Internet artist Brad Troemel argues that Lanier’s position owes to a notion of ‘the individual masterpiece’ that holds no clout for younger, connected artists. In 2009, Troemel started a Tumblr blog called The Jogging, which works like Internet Poetry but for visual artists; the images posted on The Jogging are produced predominantly

by young artists who “trump craft and contemplative brooding with immediacy and rapid production.” Troemel calls these hyperproductive artists and writers ‘Aesthletes’, because the pace of their work requires athleticism instead of refinement. Aesthletes, Troemel writes, “have transformed the notion of a “work” from a series of isolated projects to a constant broadcast of one’s artistic identity as a recognizable, unique brand … This has reversed the traditional recipe that you need to create art to have an audience. Today’s artist on The Internet needs an audience to create art. An aesthlete’s audience, once assembled, becomes part of their medium.”

In 2011, conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith, wrote a book called Uncreative Writing, which positions the contemporary writer as an appropriator and programmer, an organiser of pre-existing data rather than a producer of original text. This new type of writer, Goldsmith argues, does not consider their work to be creative expressions of subjectivity and personal genius; rather, they see their work as being part of a collaborative network.

Goldsmith explains “while this new writing has an electronic gleam in its eyes, its results are distinctly analog, taking inspiration from radical modernist ideas and juicing them with twenty-first century technology". Owing to this ‘modernist’ mode of thinking, Goldsmith is still indebted to the idea that art has objective aesthetic value, and that it can be quantified and measured to create some type of hierarchy of artistic merit. Goldsmith writes, “The moment we throw judgment and quality out the window we're in trouble. Democracy is fine for YouTube, but it's generally a recipe for disaster when it comes to art".

The idea of ‘objective literary merit’ is at odds with the motivations of all of the writers and artists I have written about so far. I would argue that ‘objective literary merit’ is the idea most directly challenged by the activities of social media writers and artists. ‘Objective literary merit’ enforces distance between the artist and the audience by implying that what you are experiencing when you read a poem isn’t communication with the person who wrote it, but the experience of some inherent, quantifiable merit contained and depersonalized within the poem. In the age of social media, however, these artists don’t want to be separate from their work, or their audience, because their personality and the audience constitute the work itself.

Goldsmith perceives the impact technology is having on writing, but there is a generational gap between him, and Tao Lin, Marie Calloway and Steve Roggenbuck. While his ideas work to further the distance between producer and product, their work attempts to draw the reader closer, to make them friends, to feel comforted and less alone. The point is, Goldsmith is not an Internet native, and will never be as completely immersed in the Internet as these writers are. He hasn’t had the same experience of constructing identity via online chat or gaming, alone in his bedroom, adolescent, experimenting. He did not relocate his entire life to the U.F.O. in the garden.

While Goldsmith can talk almost ironically about being a node in the network, this is a reality Internet natives have almost subconsciously internalised in their formative years. They have had to distinguish themselves as humans in a world mediated by machines. Their ‘aesthetic’ exists in the tensions between the ecstasy of connection and the anxiety of solipsism. There is a frightened and anxious quality in all of these writers, a sentimentality that Goldsmith opposes, an un-ironic desire for

direct communication. And when this is the motivation for art, objective notions of literary merit become a lot less important.

Works Cited Atton, Chris. Alternative Media. London: SAGE, 2001. eBook. Baines, Josh. "ALT-LIT IS FOR BORING, INFANTILE NARCISSISTS." Vice. 04 Feb 2013: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zorn. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. Print.

Bock, Charles. "Young Love." New York Times. 24 Sep 2010: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

"Book Notes - Tao Lin ("you are a little bit happier than i am")." largehearted boy. 19 Dec 2006. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Calloway, Marie. "Adrien Brody." Muumuu House, Dec 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2013.

Calloway, Marie. what purpose did i serve in your life. New York: Tyrant Books, 2013. Print.

Cicero, Noah. "Why Do We Like Marie Calloway." HTML Giant. 26 Apr 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Cicero, Noah. "“ultimately beautiful”: an Interview with Steve Roggenbuck." HTML Giant. 01 Jun 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Dinger, Frances. "My attention span is shrinking but my heart is growing, haha: An interview with Stephen Tully Dierks." fedinger. WordPress, 23 Jan 2011. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Foster Wallace, David. "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction ." Review of Contemporary Fiction. 13.12 (1993): 151-193. Print.

Goldsmith, Kenneth. Uncreative Writing. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Print. Hinton, Frank. "Pillars of Alt Lit." Alt Lit Gossip. Tumblr, Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Holloway, Dan. "Why Tao Lin's Taipei can breathe new life into literature." Guardian. 14 Jun 2013: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Jameson, AD. "What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity." HTML Giant. 04 Jun 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Julien, Heiko. "Alt Lit is failing as an artistic movement." 07 Oct 2013. Facebook, Online Posting to Facebook. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Lanier, Jaron. You Are Not A Gadget. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Lezard, Nicholas. "Richard Yates by Tao Lin." Guardian. 13 Nov 2010: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Lin, Tao. "When I Moved Online." New York Times 21 Sep 2013, Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Lin, Tao. Reader of Depressing Books. Blogger, May 2005 – Jan 2009. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Lin, Tao. heheheheheheheeheheheehehe. Blogger, Jan 2009 – May 2010. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20090214041315/http://heheheheheheheehehehe ehehe.com/.html>.

Lin, Tao. you are a little bit happier than i am. New York: Action Books, 2006. Print.

Lin, Tao. Richard Yates. New York: Melville House, 2010. Print.

Lynch-Smith, Richard. "New alternatives for Alt Lit."Books Blog. Guardian, 06 Jun 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Mackey, Walter. "QuickShit and AltLit." Habitat. Tumblr, Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Essential McLuhan. Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingorne eds. Taylor and Francis, 1997. Print.

Molly, Soda. Molly Soda. Tumblr, Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Peck, Jamie. "In Defense of Marie Calloway." Flavorwire. 20 Jun 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Poletti, Anna. Intimate Ephemera. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2008. eBook.

Roggenbuck, Steve. "Publishing Poetry into the Public Domain." Live My Lief. 14 Oct 2010. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Roggenbuck, Steve. IF YOU DONT LOVE THE MOON YOUR AN ASS HOLE. Self Published, 2013. Print.

Roggenbuck, Steve. "Doctrine on Internet Poetry." Live My Lief. 22 Sep 2011. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Roxane, Gay. "The Price of Revelation." HTML Giant. 23 Dec 2011. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Sebastian, Nic. "poetry print runs?." verylikeawhale. WordPress, 30 Mar 2011. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Sloth, Beach. "Everything You Wanted to Know About Quickshit But Were Too Afraid to Ask." Beach Sloth. Tumblr, Sep 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

South, Krystal. "Identify Yourself." Web. 4 Nov 2013. <http://idyrself.com/>.

Spilker, Josh. "Lexicon Devils: What Exactly is Alt Lit? A Conversation With Frank Hinton, Noah Cicero and Stephen Tully Dierks." Vol.1 Brooklyn. 20 Jun 2012: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Striker, Cole. "Go To Bed, Tao Lin." Rhizome. 27 Mar 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Stoeffel, Kat. "Meet Marie Calloway: The New Model for Literary Seductress is Part Feminist, Part ‘Famewhore’ and All Pseudonymous." Observer. 20 Dec 2011: 4 Nov. 2013.

Troemel, Brad. "Athletic Aesthetics." New Inquiry. 10 May 2013: Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Warner, Michael. Publics and Counter Publics. Zone Books, 2005. Print.

Weinberger, David. "The Internet is Not the Medium: WE are the Medium." Social@Scale. sprinklr, 11 Oct 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2013.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful