Incubating online writing possibilities

Mark Stephens

Writers and ideas engaging in and with the relationship between writing and the internet came together recently at the incubation conference, organised by the trAce: online writing community at Nottingham Trent University, UK.

A text not only approaches the singularity of its writer(s) but also a community comprising each and every reader. If the reading audience inhabits the space between words, one hopes a comfortable space will be made by the text for its visitors (the writing of ambience). Considered as such, the text itself is structural, paradigmatic—a necessary and arbitrary formality whose contrivance abridges physical and ideological distances. This contraction apparent in language is a one whose design draws people together in the social space between signs.

The thread I know specifically as incubation and then generally as conference—itself a type of text—also functioned as a structural formality with its own set of social spaces. By providing opportunities for meeting or gathering—the rapture of the moment as a celebration—incubation was a success. Many delegates commented that incubation possessed a vibrancy not normally felt at conferences.

The gift to be found in conversation is perhaps to make possible in writing the passage and the place, the transient and the preserved, the singular and communal, the foreign and familiar, comfort and vulnerability without contradiction. Conversation that keeps the lines of communication open and plural, speaks of what it means for writing (language) to be interactive.

Linda Marie Walker and Michael Tawa consider the reciprocating contexts of language and structure as an endless modification and questioning of reality’s perceived formal dimensions—or the validity of a finished product—by way of an email correspondence. Conversation approaches an inclusive space in which each participant’s contribution is welcomed—“… so, to live is to live with strangeness, to approach without knowing, to touch without possessing” (Linda Carroli, speak, http://ensemble.va.com.au/speak/ featured in Salon, an exhibition of internet writing curated by Mark Amerika, http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/incubation as part of the incubation program).

How to find ways of being with others is the question approached infinitely through the practice of communication and writing. This motif recurs variously in the hypertexts of the writers featured in Salon.

incubation asked: “What is the value of the conference as a mode of communicating in the field of electronic media?” For me, its value lies with the understanding that television, telephone, mail, book, video, voice, conversation, music, song, sculpture, internet, conference and letter are all possible means of facilitating communication. There is room enough in the world for all mediums and means when one recognises that each moment of expression complements, enhances and accompanies the others.

It follows that if one considers how one writes; one will have also considered how one writes for the internet. Writing and the internet exist as social practices within a world of reciprocating contexts. Here I found the theme of writing and the internet sadly limited in scope in contrast to the experience of verve: the other writing, coordinated by Teri Hoskin for the 2000 Adelaide Festival of Arts, in which writing and writing technologies were considered expansively.

Something of the other writing was suggested in Dr Jill Seal’s discussion of the Perdita Project—a growing online compilation of manuscripts by women that not only recovers their historical contribution through writing, but also includes often overlooked writing practices such as diaries, account books, vitalogies and devotional writings.

Voice and text messaging already articulate private and transient writing practices whose relevance and joy exist purely for participants. Panelist Mike Allison suggested that we are the last generation for whom the printed word carries implicit authority, and so perhaps the revolutionary practices he feels are so lacking on the internet are already taking place in the privacy of chatrooms, through mobile phone message banks and via email.

The internet’s wider ecology of communication technologies and communicating possibilities were addressed by panelist Robin Hamman who spoke of television and mobile telephones as tools with the potential to broaden individuals’ access to information and chatrooms over the internet. The chatroom—itself a transgressive writing practice—is a series of private and public overlapping texts made by a community of individuals. Independent of the formal channels of professional literary institutions, the chatroom, or MOO environment, reminds us that writing perceived at the level of its universal practice can be a truly liberating experience.

incubation: trAce International Conference on Writing and the Internet, director Sue Thomas, web design Simon Mills, administrative assistant Jill Pollicott, web editor Helen Whitebread, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK, July 10-12.

RealTime issue #40 Dec-Jan 2000 pg. 20

© Mark Stephens; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2000