anovelexperiment

Conceived as a digitally-native narrative object, the project constitutes a formal response to the ebook revolution, to digital as remediation, as an inferior facsimile of printed copies.

In February 2011 120 cardboard tubes – each a metre long – were mailed to a list of both known and unknown (to the project author) recipients. Each tube contained a print on 30gsm handmade Sekishu Shi paper, each print contained a short story encoded in the artwork – text and illustration as one object. Respondees to the invitation (typewritten on a library index card) for ‘more?’ were sent an SD card with the first fragments of text, video and images, and a roadmap to how and where they’d find the rest.

The whole digital/print/mailed project was a writing experiment encompassing 60,000 words, fifteen minutes of video, four digital prints, and three websites. The outcome of two years of planning, the ‘book’ (insofar as it can be classified as such) comprised a hundred and sixty-seven separate fragments of text and video, which could be reassembled in almost any order. An attempt to explore another way of telling a story interactively – asking a reader to participate in putting the pieces back together again. Threads within the project, strands of narrative forced together in a Burroughsian cut-up manner, provoked connections and challenged the idea that a story has a mandatory meaning. Pieces were designed to slide together thematically, guiding a reader through parts of a larger arc, the detail of which was mostly up to each individual. The tone of writing was deliberately detached – dreamlike – two first person narrators and three voices to subsume the reader in resonant tones, asking them to search for their own branches, their individual connections to the text. Anchors, in the shape of recurrent events and places – labyrinths, a jetty, a pool and a death – offered a cord to cling to.

The project arose from a simple proposal – Charles Olson suggests that form is never more than an extension of content and ‘right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.

Put that way – the shape of a narrative, how it is presented, printed, even distributed, should be influenced by the content. And never more so when that book is a digital object that wasn’t designed to exist in any other form, addressing form and content and shape and distribution.