In the internet, the traditional publishing houses compete with newsgroups, alternative e-zines, commercial ad agencies, software-providers. News, hearsay, commentary, essays and conversation merge in one large medley of voices. Is there a new “third culture” of publications in the making, not unlike the “Little Mags”-fad in the sixties? What are the trade offs for publishers, what is the rationale for publishers and for students to publish on-line, what is the informational advantage for the readers? Are e-zines more interactive than paperbased zines – or should they? And what will the future bring: closed newsgroups, pay-per-view-newspapers, ad-infested factoid-collections? And: Most on-line-publications deal mainly with the net itself – but can a medium reflect itself, or is the need for paper-based net-criticism more important than the n-th e-zine?
Where are the Hyper-Nonfictions?
1. At the 1990 European Conference on Hypertext, Mark Bernstein posed a now notorious question: “Where are the hypertexts?”. He used the generic term, but what materialized, if that is the word, were hyper-FICTIONS. So where are the hyper-NONfictions? There’s a Way New Journalism on the internet, so they say. The term is Joshua Quittner’s, the phenomenon plain to see: multimedia-coverage of an ascent of Mount Everest, an interactive guide to the site of Mumia Abu Jamal’s arrest, interactive stockmarket charts, databases, travelsites; none of them narrative in the sense that hyperfictions are. Is there no Didion, no Mailer out there doing hyperreportage? Journalists are early adaptors -so why did they not get the hyper-scoop?
2. Let’s begin at the beginning: Technological hype sometimes blinds us to the most basic ingredient of journalism: Language. There’s a second manifesto rallying for a Way New Journalism: the foreword of the “WIRED STYLE book”. Kiss the inverted pyramid goodbye, Constance Hale suggests and overstate matters, if it helps to make journalism a text-adventure. This sounds a lot like the poetology, if this is the word, of the New Journalism of the sixties: it was dubbed First-Person Journalism, full of dialogue, onomatopoeia and GONZO flashbacks. Thousands of so-called Little Mags flourished, and their basis resembled that of tht e-zine: a vibrant youth, culture plus a cheap new publishing technology.
3. None of these experimental 60’s-zines left a lasting impression. What did, was Tom Wolfe’s famous manifesto The New Journalism, in which he maintained that literary journalism was out to save the tradition of realism, of Flaubert and Zola, from the bloody fangs of porno-litcrit. This conservative autostereotype stuck. Since the publication of Michael Joyce’s hyperfiction Afternoon ten years ago, some academic writers turned hypertexan and attempted to literalize just the pomo-aesthetic Wolfe had criticised as the spokesman self-elect of literary journalists -who in the meantime had abandoned the experiments of the sixties and gone back to writing in a realist tradition. The chasm between the two cultures, academic and journalistic, deepened.
4. The Way New Journalism, its subjectivity and its rejection of the inverted pyramid, marks a renewed convergence of the two literary traditions. But Neal Stephenson and Gary Wolf, Doug Rushkoff, and Josh Quittner write their scifiinspired, Way New Journalism ON the net-not IN a hypertext structure. Maybe the spatial metaphors used to describe hypertext are not just metaphors, but technical reality. For good reasons most hyper-nonfictions are visual stories that choose a distinct topography as topos: Pedro Meyer’s I Photograph to Remember, Spiegelman’s hypercomic MAUS on CD-ROM, or the New York Times’ interactive photo reportage Bosnia – Uncertain Paths to Peace. Maybe hyper-nonfiction is visual and topographical, not literary, not journalistic. Only one thing is clear: to study hyper-nonfiction (or the lack of it) can provide valuable insights into hyper/text/theory – and into journalism and literature in general.
Hilmar Schmundt M.A. (Germany) is editor at Zitty magazine, Berlin, writes for Die Zeit, Die Woche, Die Wochenzeitung, and is co-editor of the e-zine Softmoderne Online—Elektrobriefe. Together with Stephan Porombka he is the organizer of Softmoderne, an annual electronic literature festival, now in its third year. He studied literature, journalism and geography in Freiburg i. Br., at UMass Amherst and at John-F.Kennedy Institute in Berlin.