David Prater Interviews Talan Memmott

By and | 1 December 2011

DP: Which journals do you think have an affinity with or a similarity to Beehive?

TM: I would say the closest thing right now is Drunken Boat. They have a completely different agenda, but in terms of being conscientious and really supportive of cultural practice in a wide scope, and including electronic literature, and really focussing more on digitally based cultural practice more than electronic literature – you know, to include digital art or electronic literature or digital poetry or whatever you want to call it, I think that’s a very contemporary, strategic editorial move being made there.

I mean if Beehive had have continued, that’s probably what would have happened anyway. When Alan Sondheim was the associate editor, we were already thinking in that regard, in that we needed to eliminate literature and just think about cultural practice. The thing is, as culture moves you don’t really have control over the culture; the second you try to control culture, you’re introducing politics into editorial (not that editorial isn’t already completely political). You disenfranchise half the field, you eliminate emergence, the happy accidents that happen in a field … so I think all in all as the field becomes more complex, the editorial processes become more complex. At this point when we think about electronic literature, does it even need to have words?

DP: Yes, I guess that’s the point which we’re reaching now, but if I can just drag you back in time, to 2002 when you published the last issue of Beehive – why did it stop?

TM: Well, I left the company [Percepticon], so I could go to Brown University. It was kind of time for it to end, I think.

DP: Why?

TM: It made its point. It’s not that I lost interest in the editorial process – obviously not, I keep editing stuff – but I definitely moved away from working in corporations, and despite the way Percepticon operated, it was become increasingly not a good place to be. I mean, my own career in terms of practice was taking over, so I needed to find a more cohesive way for that to work. And so by leaving Percepticon I really lost support for the journal.

DP: You say that it was time for you to move on, that the journal had made its point, but how did you actually feel at that time, about the contribution that the journal had made to the field?

TM: I think the only way you come to a realisation in terms of contribution is in retrospect.

DP: So now, ten years on?

TM: Like I said, I think it’s made its point, and I think it’s interesting to look at it now, and to think about the period it was written and produced in, and what was going on culturally in terms of electronic literature, in terms of literary journals online, and in that regard it made significant contributions, and I’m happy with those, for the time in which it was published. That it’s still archived, and that there’s still interest in it, is a good thing. To be honest, I rarely look at it, but when I do look at it I feel sentimental – not nostalgic, maybe even sentimental is the wrong word but …

DP: Wistful?

TM: Uh, no, pissed off! [laughs] You can edit that out.

DP: [laughs] No, that’s going in.

TM: No, I think about what the journal would look like now, and I really enjoyed working on it very very much. Now, I think it would have to be far more collaborative, the process would be different, it wouldn’t be Beehive, it would be more of a journal of cultural practice and phenomenology, or something. It wouldn’t be so tight in terms of context.

DP: In terms of the journal itself but also in terms of things that are happening now, one of the other I think very significant parts of the journal was the series of Micro Titles that you produced. That was pretty late in the piece, wasn’t it?

TM: Well, around 2001. PDF editions of certain texts (some of them not appearing in the journal at all) formatted for the Palm Pilot.

DP: Yeah! Why did you choose the Palm Pilot? I’m very interested in the choice that was made there, was it a visionary choice?

TM: Well, consider the time.

DP: DP: I’m with you.

TM: The PDF reader on Palm Pilot was brand new. It was an experiment in creating a very early concept of e-books, I think, that required a specific platform, but not a platform like the Kindle that’s only a Reader. So, to a certain extent I was trying to predict convergence. We stopped fairly quickly. I mean, there’s only eight titles, I think, and we gave those away for free. But the downloads – for example, my own Translucidity, and Mez Breeze’s Vehicular Datatraffic, each had 15,000 downloads. That’s phenomenal for the time. So, it was a short-lived platform, a decent concept but temporary.

DP: But they must be readable to some extent on modern-day devices.

TM: They’re PDFs, so you can download the PDF, it’s going to be very narrow columns but you can still read them.

DP: What I like about that part of the website is that you have a little widget that simulates what it would look like on the Palm Pilot at the time. That to me, in some respects, that’s one of the most historically important little windows on the site, in terms of what it looked like then. If you’ve got a web browser, you can look at that little simulator, and scroll up and down on the little screen there, I think that’s really cute. But at that time, in 2001, was there really a sense that mobile devices would be so widespread and that literature would be available on them?

TM: Well, I spoke at a few conferences about the Micro Titles, I got invited to various e-book conferences because of them, believe it or not. I think a lot of people were looking for a different platform, a very specific device, and I remember that I pulled out a very early cell phone, and I pulled out my Palm Pilot and I got my laptop out of the bag, and put them all on the podium and said ‘Eventually these will be one thing’. Some people thought I was full of crap; I mean, the idea of convergence was definitely being discussed, but at the same time it was not considered – but look where we are.

DP: But I guess at the same time, we’re at that point in time where we have convergence of devices but certainly not convergence of formats, I mean PDF is one thing – most devices these days will read a PDF, but how many works of literature – or perhaps more pointedly works of electronic literature – are actually readable in a PDF format?

TM: Well, next to none, but I think heavily technology-based or media-based electronic literature is not about platform independence, it’s actually about specificity more than anything else. So in that regard it’s a very material kind of process and a material form of practice. When you think about electronic literature, there’s stuff that’s available on the web, there’s stuff that runs in its own individual application, stuff done on blogs, as performance, as installations, but they’re all very specific to whatever medium they’re choosing to use. I don’t see that necessarily as a problem. Maybe it is a problem, but it’s a good one.

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