April 14, 2004

E-Mail Narratives in the NYTimes

by Scott Rettberg · , 9:44 pm

In “Call Me E-Mail: The Novel Unfolds Digitally” (archive), New York Times reporter Adam Baer covers e-mail fictions including Intimacies by Eric Brown and Rob Wittig’s Blue Company 2002 and interviews e-lit experts including Rob, Thom Swiss and GTA’s Noah Wardrip-Fruin. People interested in Blue Company *begin shameless plug* might also like its sort-of sequel Kind of Blue.

Rob and I are currently working on getting both email novels, originally published as serial email fictions and now online as archives, published together as a book.

8 Responses to “E-Mail Narratives in the NYTimes”

  1. noah Says:

    First ludology, now e-lit — what’s happening at the Times?

    I can’t Trackback from my blog (and Simpletracks was giving me an error) but here are a few more thoughts.

  2. andrew Says:

    Wow, great! Noah, you got some excellent quotes in there.

  3. nick Says:

    A nice look at the epistolary e-mail novel – I guess it pays to advertise in The Onion, in terms of NYT articles as well as readership.

    A second version due this month will deliver the messages at timed intervals, Mr. Brown said, so that reading them will more closely resemble the experience of receiving e-mail and instant messages.

    Not a very new idea, I have to note! Carl Steadman was probably the first one to do this in the Web era, with Two Solitudes, which you could get delivered to you by email, in appropriately timed intervals, back in 1995.

    As Rob’s fictional emails on IN.S.OMNIA demonstrate, we remember very little about what happened before the Web, but since email existed before then (and even before BBSs) there was almost certainly some interesting creative acticity going on in email, maybe even another such system.

    Mr. Brown said he was inspired to create “Intimacies” after watching young people use e-mail and instant messaging.

    It’s almost as if the novel were written in the situation of children’s literature – written outside the culture of the readers after the writer, in a different culture, observes them. Not that this makes it less worthwhile, but it’s certainly not the usual situation of e-lit.

    Although I haven’t read any of “Intimacies” and wasn’t immediately impressed at the glance I took at greatamericannovel.com, I do agree with Noah rather than Thom that such endeavors are as formally legitimate as more “accepted” ones and can be interesting. It seems worth a look, certainly…

  4. noah Says:

    One thing that I think this article helps bring to the fore is the two directions in which we can see ewriting moving. One direction is ewriting coming to inhabit everyday digital spaces: email, calendar programs, blogs. This is often in the “artifactual” mode — presented as the actual digital files of characters involved, etc. The other direction is in exploring ewriting for interfaces substantially removed from our everyday digital experiences: installation work, textual instruments, interactive drama. This often seeks to create experiences of text that disrupt our expectations derived from previous contexts (reading on paper, reading from web pages, the clunky cut-scenes of many computer games).

    This is not to say these types of work don’t have long histories (they do) or that people won’t, for example, keep using relatively traditional web pages for non-artifactual ewriting (they will) — but it feels to me as though the energy of exploration is in these two directions. I sense that these types of work, which have been somewhat marginal during their histories to this point, are going to be moving into more prominent positions.

    What do others think?

  5. dylan Says:

    “A second version due this month will deliver the messages at timed intervals, Mr. Brown said, so that reading them will more closely resemble the experience of receiving e-mail and instant messages.”

    One of my peers is working on an idea he calls “chronological realism,” where the reader encounters an experience in text, and in time as realistically as possible so that it takes as long to read about an experience as it takes for the experience to happen. It seems likely that electronic media might be fertile ground for experimentation with this sort of thing. Is ther anything else going on out there along these lines?

  6. scott Says:

    Dylan — Online Caroline is one successful example of this type of approach. In their original incarnations, Blue Company and Kind of Blue were both originally distributed in this synchronous fashion as well. It’s an interesting experience as a writer, if nothing else, to respond to the historical events of a given day and integrate them into a fiction which is then published before nightfall. Jeremy Bushnell’s web serial novel Imaginary Year, which has been running more or less continuously since 2000, is another excellent example.

  7. jill/txt Says:
    email narrative article
    The New York Times has an article on email narratives (or here if you have no subscription), mostly discussing Intimacies, a project by Eric Brown where you download a self-contained package that simulates emails, IMs and so on, all giving…

  8. razors Says:
    e-mail literature
    it is nice to see that the New York Times has diverged from their old fixation on “The Death of Print”. During my research for thesis, I got annoyed by the debate….

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