Dead Write in my own field of expertise

Dead Write in my own field of expertise

The following is a version of a comment I offered in response to Joseph Tabbi’s recent article regarding his reflection on 300 works of digital literature.

I suspect Joseph Tabbi’s excellent article and the many subsequent intelligent replies, taken in the context of the current economic climate, surreptitiously suggest moot questions of cultural hegemony, exclusivity and potential unrest among future digital natives. Should I comment directly on the kernel of his original questions, i.e. Can I know if models of reception and commentary will conform, if these digital works will actually ‘work’ in a sense that is comparable to accepted or traditional literary understanding / criteria ? Erm.. no..I can only offer my own messy mispredictions below to mirror his lucid reflections above.

In the year Robert Coover was reviewing dead trees, several naïve (geographically isolated) individuals, myself included, were experimenting with the initial hardware wave of personal computers, comparing the performances of then new Amstrads to our toddling two year old C64s. Like the web of Tim Bernier’s Lee, the mantra, “Save & Save often” had not fully entered common consciousness and anyway quarter inch tape was relatively expensive, consequently many ‘If Then Goto’ like textual/creatively conditional experiments, actual works, failures, innovations, were blown to a void beyond the bios. Maybe for the survival of the field it was just as well such barriers and gaps existed.
The academy and Eastgate developed, curated, preserved, evolved and promoted their own commercial vision/version – and anyone with any affinity with digital literature certainly respects even reveres Bernstein, Joyce, Bolter, et al - but by now clichéd notes ‘on Newtonian thinking in an Einsteinian universe’ have been hammered again and again, wave after wave, onto the doors of the academy, recently by people like ‘David Weinberger’.
Institutions IMHO introspective under a perceived threat from the current wave of de-commercialization, democratization, decentralization, demarcation of knowledge management and the nature of knowledge itself, will not jump to encourage the rise of a new Georgics ala Thomas Hughes, Rabelais rewritten by Rheingold’s mobs, or Shakespeare restructured by Surowiecki crowds or Shirky’s everybody. S(H)elf preservation must take precedent. (Certainly in Europe)
The majority of the academy resists such a wave, the evaporation of its brand of knowledge gate keeping, its central role in knowledge definition itself – into such high seas are today’s writers/creatives trying to birth works that may have those, contentious, confusing, fifth column like, ‘Digital Literature’ e-lit, tags applied. 
Emergence in such a pull paradigm, the era of the prosumer or produser – means hitting the high seas but getting that sheet music off the turntables, sound ideas and solid compositional principles, common values and aspirations but invalid formats, erroneously specialized, extinct, incompatible, ultimately irrelevant – irreconcilable – new round pegs for old academic squares. Will Digital literature be a free forum in the future or bound to it’s antecedent academic past- rigidly contained by the academy and fixed within categories of knowledge and understanding that are themselves shifting, dying or even dead. "To be dead" according to the rural Irish Poet Kavanagh, "is to stop believing in the masterpieces we will begin tomorrow..." I commend Joe Tabbi and other contributors for throwing shapes.. of life preserver that just might fit and save us from the next wave.