Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, July 17, 2009

the media of literary fandom

Here’s a wonderful article on the seemingly archaic and yet evergreen medium of the electronic discussion list and the kind of writers whose fans thrive in that environment. Here’s a sample paragraph:

Pynchon, Wallace, Ballard. These aren’t the only writers with active mailing-list followings: Foucault-L is fairly popular, as are lists on Joyce and a number of late Modernist poets. Still, they do suggest a certain correlation, sorted roughly along the shared lines of the postmodern, the “cult” and the pre-Baby Boom. When John Updike died in January a few Facebook groups were founded in his memory, but there was no Updike-L to organise a communal run-through of the Rabbit series or to collate his obituaries into a handy list. Similarly, Wallace’s cult reputation seems to have added an imaginary decade to his bibliography — contemporaries such as Franzen and Chabon barely get a look-in. And, yet, the work of these mailing lists is never quite as stable as it seems. The prevalence of outdated technology means that discussion lists such as Pynchon-L straddle an uneasy line between permanence and ephemerality: the archives are there, but are as difficult to navigate as they are to maintain, especially when the software garbles all hypertext messages into indecipherable strings of formatting code. Projects such as the Pynchon Wiki are a partial solution, bringing members slightly closer to fluid interactivity of Web 2.0, but in truth represent only a tiny fraction of the list’s accumulated expertise.

Now, it does seem that the author is trying really hard not to say that geeky male writers draw geeky male fans who use geeky technologies to communicate with one another — but it’s an interesting article nonetheless. (I wonder if some skilled sociologist could discriminate between the kind of person who uses these lists and the kind of person who prefers Usenet and allied technologies.)


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