Sebastian Mary has posted a thoughtful essayon if:book, the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, unpacking the debate around the ideology of ‘literary’ and its relationship to the web.

This isn’t to suggest that there’s no room for ‘the literary’ online. Finding new writers; building a community to peer-review drafts; promoting work; pushing out content to draw people back to a publisher’s site to buy books. All these make sense, and present huge opportunities for savvy players. But – and here I realise that this all may be just a (rather lengthy) footnote to Ben’s recent piece on Hypertextopia – to attempt to transplant the ideology of the literary onto the Web will fail unless it is done with reference to the print culture that produced it. Otherwise the work will, by literary standards, be judged second-rate, while by geek standards it’ll seem top-down, limited and static. Or just boring.

I’m particularly interested in his assertion that the notion of literature is inseparable from print. It tallies with my experience of how authors and publishers they think about how digital media relates to their industry. The discussions I most frequently hear are centred on the web as a means for promotion, distribution, building and connecting with communities etc. In my professional role at QWC, I almost never encounter practitioners actually producing collaborative writing, alternative reality games, hypertext etc, and perhaps this is because these activities are not regarded as ‘literary’.

I need to ponder this a while longer.

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