The infancy of the electronic age has been accompanied by instant and ubiquitous prognosticating about the inevitable advent of online art. What I wonder is this: when will the first great work of literature first appear online? When scholars and schools of the future look back on the 21st century and study our contribution to the canon, will the early works of earthshattering, breathtaking prose have been things that appeared self-published online, or in an e-zine, or even, dare I wonder, on a blog?
When will a generation of writers break new ground in marrying the form of the medium to its content as, say, Dickens did with his serialized works, or Cervantes did when he wrote a second part to Don Quixote responding to unauthorized “sequels,” or Joyce did by integrating news headlines into Ulysses? What will it look like when someone starts finding the perfect marriage of the World Wide Web’s visual layout and the untapped abilities of text that it might uncover? When will we see a powerful vision of HTML and prosody commingled? Will it be a cheap novelty at first? Will it be scorned–or ignored–by the establishment, only to be appreciated by our grandchildren?
Is it already out there? Or will it somehow never be? No, sooner or later, the Great American Blog will surface. (Perhaps the Great American Text Message? Or even the Great American Tweet? OK, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
I’ve seen some wonderful writing online, but nothing that wouldn’t work just as well, or even better, on the printed page. I don’t know exactly what I’m wishing for, but it’s more than just text in a fancy font or with some jazzy animation or backgrounds. I guess that’s the thing about watershed events: you just can’t predict them until some genius has actually done it. If you could, then it would already be done.
So I’ll continue to wade through the Slough of Des-blog, seeking a great new work of literary achievement. Until then, I can always read Shakespeare.