Friday, March 16, 2001

What’s now proved
was once only imagined

The year is 1790: One year after the fall of the Bastille. One year before the outbreak of French Revolution. Fourteen years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in America. A Promethean place and time for William Blake, who would use his mind’s eye to imagine this wondrous new land and write in “America, A Prophecy” in 1793:

Silent as despairing love, and strong as jealousy,
The hairy shoulders rend the links; free are the wrists of fire.

The year is 1790. Nine years before Napoleon seizes rule, crowning himself, appropriating the king myth, that is, mythappropriatin’ power. Zeus restored, the chains go back on Prometheus, rebound, when nine years later, Bonaparte orders a further extension of the Network, that is, Claude Chappe’s optical telegraph, a system of links mounted on the of a top tower, the arms controlled by marionettes pulling levers to signal others operators in other towers like referees signaling touchdowns at a football game: Archons pulling the strings. Architectural renderings look like a child’s stick-figure drawing, or, Don Quixote’s demon windmill, or, the Hopi symbol for a religious leader Oraibi, made permanent signal, since after all, it was etched in stone 1,000 years before.

The groundwork for the Web is born. It’s a military appliance. Britain and Sweden join the race. It’s 2001, 201 years after 1790, and the race is still being run.
The year is 1790, seven years before The Encylopedia Britannica, still unplugged, observes: “The capitols of distant nations might be united by chains of posts, and the settling of those disputes which at present take up months or years might be accomplished in as many hours.”

The year is 1790, which means it will be 16 years before Mary Shelley will get to writing chapter four of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Fifty four years down the road from Blake’s Mythville, his marriage of heaven and hell inspired by his wedding gift, the “illuminated” book, the first Samuel Morse telegraph line is complete, and the first message from the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., via the first halfway decent bandwidth, to Baltimore, is this: “What hath God Wrought.”

The year is 1790. That’s 114 years before the outbreak of World War I, when those same Promethean links fail to send the signal to return the troop trains loaded with a subsequently doomed generation. They would never get to see the new century, the New Deal, or drink the New Coca-Cola. They would never see their grandchildren raise the New World Order, or, the hopes that a new network----the World Wide Web----would really, really make it possible that we could avoid the use of a carpet bombing a people to “send a strong message” another nation’s leader, and dooming another generation, when a simple diplomatic message, delivered by e-mail, might do. The doomed troops on the train won’t have grandchildren who get a voice, a vote or an e-mail address in the merging of the nations into One in cyberspace. But they may have understood the promise, made at about the time many of the inbred nobles who sent them to doom were born, whose own ancestors failed to be beheaded during the French Revolution, of what the Promethean fire would bring. Written in 1872, in a poem called “Victory,” a tribute to Samuel Morse, the spidery Web was celebrated with the words:

We are one! Said the nations, and hand met hand,
in a thrill electric from land to land.
…and Science proclaimed, from shore to shore,
That Time and Space rules man no more

They would have no impact on the creation of the World Wide Web, fashioned as a marriage of heaven and hell in cyberspace, exactly 200 years after William Blake published the words, “What’s now proved was once only imagined.”

The year is 1790, and William Blake is ever-so-painfully etching his “Proverbs of Hell” with the words: “The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.” That’s done now, and Blake sighs, making certain the paint is dry on the plate with the following words, “The road of excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom.” He throws it on the pile 16 years before Mary Shelley will start writing chapter four of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Fifty four years down the road from Blake’s customizing of this own Mythville, his marriage of heaven and hell inspired by his wedding gift, the “illuminated” book, the Morse telegraph line is complete, and the first message from the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., via decent bandwidth, to Baltimore, is this: “What hath God Wrought.”

n the poem, Satan tried to make the case that up was down, and down was up. It was written in 1790, just as France was disintegrating in Jacobin glee. Shortly after the New Jerusalem across the sea had decided to incorporate and marketeer itself with the name-brand symbolism of the all-seeing Masonic eye. The work was, essentially, the romantic period’s version of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Returned to its proper context and accreditation, the line taken from Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell,” a sort of discordant incitement to riot against Urizen, the enemy of the poetic imagination, was introduced in the following way:

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by incapacity.
He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plough.
Dip him in the river who loves the water.
A fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees.

And then, a few lines later, an observation rendered strangely appropriate in an age of closed networks, affiliates and pop-up boxes you can’t click out of: All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap. Out of this ethos of creatvity and control, William Blake fought his way out of the material realm by pointing all of his creative drive into the self-publishing paradigm.

Repurpose Thyself

The new e-book campaign is a race of “readerless” wild horses, of diverse formats that are technological marvels of customizeable Microsoft “Clear Type” and interactive inroads to all kinds of creativity, but untested as hardware devices, software and concepts fee-based content. In a wide-open field that expands the grand and continual stream of literary re-invention, even the racetrack’s course changes on a daily basis. Watch and learn as we reinvent the wheel that began in the primordial alphabet soup of the Hebrew and Aramaic traditions and appearing now, fully downloadable, at a personal home theater near you, as “Plugged Fiction.”

What’s the plot? Who’s playing? How’s it going to end?

Who knows? Does the bee know why it makes honey? The best advice to any consumer, based on all past applications for hyped gizmos, is this: Take a wait and see attitude, but dabble, all the same. The future is here. The history of plugged-in word is being written, and in all likelihood the great potential once-undiscovered bards will be unleashed upon the world. Everyday, we write the history of the e-book.

More fun than last year’s Napster buzz, or, the “Blair Witch Project” phenomena on the Web? Maybe even more, especially the likes of Stephen King has any more gothic stratagems up his e-sleave. Unlike the MP3 fury that caught the music industry’s major labels playing catch-up and hiring lawyers after the horse had already left the barn, this time the jockeying is being led by the giants of publishing and electronic content delivery systems: Gemstar, Microsoft, Adobe and Franklin Electronic Publishers, as well as small publishing entrepreneurs that are just as likely to win, place or show. All are wooing strategic relationships with brick-and-mortar publishers that are just getting their feet wet, as well as distributors such as and Barnes & Noble, which use the free and downloadable Microsoft Reader.

In essence, these are exciting times that challenge the very concept of the power and nature of “the word.” Should it be left unplugged, or, lit up like an electrified Christmas tree? You can’t tell a book by its cover, they used to say, but now what do you say when such handheld devices as the Franklin eBookMan or the Gemstar eBook----about the size and carrying weight of a standard-brand King James Bible----look like a cross between a pocket calculator and that timeless pioneer of interactivity, the Etch-a-Sketch.

With such radical shifts in the business of communicating, the very feasibility of the e-book is a challenge. Sure, the Web and wireless format feed and thrive on the short-attention span of the user, but when its available, will those same folks sit still for longer reads if something more ambitious were set before there restless eyes?

A plain old, thick-as-a-brick book----soon to be remembered, apparently, as the ink-on-paper player----lacks “multi-tasking” functionality, or, the ability to receive e-mail. But even if a handheld e-book is, conceivably, capable of consolidating an entire library on a PC’s hard drive, there is something about a real ink-on-paper player that will always be more practical. A book has a visceral feel and a “usability feature” that has been a popular favorite since the days of Papyrus 1.0.

Are we all really going to have to learn to read differently? Do we have that kind of time anymore?

“We don’t focus enough on how the consumer is supposed to use it,” said Carol Fitzgerald, founder of, serving as a guiding informant on newly published work. “With a book, you have to pay more attention to it. A book is fairly portable, a totally different experience. Trying to change people’s habits is what you need to do.”
This serving up of an unrestricted foray into the evolution of e-content is going to be an inevitable fact of online life in the year 2001. After so many floods, so many new business paradigms and technologies, from the Gold Rush to the Great Weeding Out, the raging river is each day more effectively channeled by the architects of centralization.

In Late November the Open Book Standards Project released launched a broad effort to promote a “robust, competitive e-book market and make it easy for consumers to find and use e-books.” The new standards support methods for an international copyright system for identifying digital content, as well as a directive toward a mutually agreeable infrastructure. The collaborative effort will, hopefully, allow the industry to use such systems----for example, ISBN or Bar Coding technologies----to all new players to tap into the system by speaking the same language.

Meanwhile, the reader is a guinea pig for market test under live ammo conditions, and many wonder if this experiment’s subject----you, the consumer----will read and react like Pavlov’s dog, or, simply trade stocks online and return to reading the horoscope in the local newspaper. Better to give the consumer a break this time, some say. Fitzgerald said the best compromise is for publishers to market real books by releasing excerpts as a tease online.

But that’s only one eddy of thought flowing in the currents of electronic publishing during the past six months. In most cases, the river runs without a channel. The news comes fast and furious, and the strategies at work are inscrutable, diabolical (in Stephen King’s case), frighteningly short-sighted or long-term, that is, truly visionary, depending on who you ask or read or believe.

For example: In October, Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc. announced the exclusive release of six titles in conjunction with its new eBook electronic reading device. The authors included are Patricia Cornwell, Robert Ludlum, James Patterson, Ken Follett, Ed McBain and Brad Meltzer, as well as more than a half dozen Harlequin romance novelists, a launch that drew in such big time kingpins Penguin Putnam Inc., Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press and Warner Books. The titles were made available 90 days prior to their bound-book release (notice, the need to include “bound,” when the word “book” once sufficed). All of this advance hoopla is just a warning shot across the bow of the bound-media, ink-on-paper empire. As an interesting coincidence, the book for Follett, “The Prometheus Deception,” based on the Classical Greek myth, “Prometheus Unbound,” is the 23rd of 22 novels by the author, with the exception that this one is a real wild card as it enters the non-book, no-space but imaginary space of unbound literature.

The ultimate goal of all of this hoopla was to promote a snowball of publicity for the holiday release of Thomson Multi-Media’s REB1100, and the full-color screened REB1200, a paperback sized device with a copyright-protected security system. In fact, security and copyright protection, as well as new creative possibilities, is the underlying theme hinted at with most of the new devices reaching the market these days.

In the category of on-demand publishing, combining the wonders of electronic access to the self-empowering freedom’s ring of self-publishing authors, many of them first-timers, iUniverse offers the intriguing possibility of being able to “Publish Your Book … Today!” Many of the new authors on the site are notable for being first-timers without much access to the literary mills of the media centers. They are notable for being, if nothing else, the shock troops from the barracks of the vanity press, but nonetheless pioneers, of a new literary paradigm. It works this way; you select a custom publishing program, and click to submit. Then, you proof the document, or hire someone else to edit it, and poof, you have manufactured an old-tyme ink-on-paper player. This apparent simplicity raises many larger issues. These points are by themselves enough to broadly label those who are trying to write the Great American novel for the first time as an easy target, not so much for the literary critics, who probably wouldn’t bother, but instead the brick-and-mortar booksellers themselves. With a simple wave of dismissal and a “tsk, tsk,” this first wave of newcomers will likely die unnoticed and unread.

Such is the role of first-wavers in any era, in the literary field or any other. Meanwhile, those who have been honing their craft for a lifetime and now feel the technological heat of Promethean possibilities, all sound a great simultaneous sigh: “If it was only that easy.” Despite the electro-lit glitz of the e-book, the actual challenges of literary creation remain a sufficient reason to keep your day job. And then, once the tome does get digitized in fully downloadable cyberspace, know fully well that the publishing world requires a collaborative effort of editors and marketing people to get the job done.

The eye has always got to be on quality control.

“What is going to separate the broad spectrum is the quality of editorial excellence that goes into the product beforehand,” notes literary agent Michael Rosenberg, whose Fort Worth, Texas-based agency was one of the first to submit literary proposals to Time-Warner’s electronic e-pub wing, “Right now there’s a rush to put product out there. The consumer doesn’t know what’s worth the time, or isn’t. Is it a really good story, does it offer a great reward, is it really put together? The great shakeout is going to come in the level of the quality of the material, not just the quantity.”

·New tools mean new possibilities for an author, and lifts the entire publishing industry into uncharted imaginative terrain, from the business end to the reason to participate in the literary world to begin with.

According to Hilary Liftin, director of electronic business development of Time Warner: "With lower publishing costs we can take bigger risks with experimental writers we publish. We can slice and dice parts of books and bundle them, tailoring books to specific reader feedback. We can take risks with books in digital form and if people respond, take them to print."

Self-Publishing and Creative Possibility

For just a few more paragraphs, lets avoid agonizing over the details, and, what appears to be not so much a corporate horse race of e-book delivery platforms as a stampede of inbred circus animals, a Web of affiliations and allied appliances and strategies to unwire the whole world, all customized for you, the consumer. New handheld devices by Gemstar and others, a tough battle between competing formats such as the Microsoft Reader, the Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF format and Franklin, or, on-demand books produced by self-publishing intermediaries such as and, all seem to be pointing the way to the promised land of content delivery capable of going anywhere you happen to want to go. And it actually pays, too.

Instead, look back on what we can learn from the Revolutionary Era of 200 years ago, when the poet and artist William Blake, perhaps the prototype self-publisher, self-empowered himself like an Eddie Vedder with a new Web site for MP3s----or better yet, Stephen King with an experimental e-offering of mutual how-to-do-it-hood.
The year is 1790 and the visionary poet’s first multimedia device is also built on a revolutionary new, if somewhat sluggish content delivery system, the “illuminated manuscript,” starting with “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and then “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” two works that resonate with a creative sheen that breaks down the toughest firewall of all, time, as in breaking the bonds of the distant past with an idea that had been, in its time, far ahead of its time.

Admittedly, with Blake’s arduous technique of printing and engraving, he could only produce at a painstaking rate, far slower than an ever evolving might find to be acceptable before it determined a need for a new business platform, to be followed by a series of press releases to participating authors who were told there work didn’t fit the new model.

But he could produce it all in his own print shop, distribute it as far as he could mail, ship, by boat or buggy, or, lacking wagon wheels or a mighty steed, he could carry his self-published product as far as his two feet could take him. He would sell them for very little, usually just a few shillings. But at least derived all of the proceeds of the sale. By eliminating the middleman, he could conduct his imaginative campaign against the enemy of the poetic imagination, Urizen, exclusively, as an attempt to overcome the mortal tether of time and earthly gravity.

There was no cut for the agent, no intermediaries of any kind. Since his technique and artistry was a idiosyncratic concoction of pre-existent myths and cosmic metaphors, all transmuted into gold by the very genius of a uniquely gifted imaginator who could paint like a master painter who could also match wits with Dante, Milton and Shakespeare, copyright theft was hardly an issue. In fact, even at his most recognized point during his life, he was a cult phenom at best.

Sure, he could have used the benefit of a little free-form viral marketing techniche. All the same, Blake is now regarded as one of the greatest artists of this or any day. Find him at the local museum, or at your local bookstore, where he is frequently repackaged and resold as a prophet for his time and, perhaps, all time remaining.
Why should you, the consumer, care? Because his life’s multimedia metaphor contains the kernel of reasoning as to why, exactly, we should care about e-books.
As Blake once wrote, “What’s now proved was once only imagined.”

While e-books have been around for a few years in experimental ways, with variations on hypertext and interwoven multimedia storyteller sites such as or the outlaw, lewd, yet none-the-less groundbreaking efforts intended for an underground, frequently adult-oriented clan of Netizens, what’s different now, for one thing, is this: Stephen King does it, too.

Followed by the host of newly created electronic publishing divisions of entities that all live within the floodplain of the Eastern Liberal Media Establishment. Actually, a conservative group of corporations who have watched the Blakean current of the swelling underground of literature, which is where the always serious stuff will always reside, but now they, too, are taking the dip.

In fact, they sound a lot more these days like one of those rascally publishers of Jacobin tracts and encyclopedias from the Age of Enlightenment, a time when you could earn a good name for yourself as the friendly neighborhood “radical bookseller.”

One of the more intriguing aspects of the history of this emerging side of pub-tech are possibilities for writers to publish and market themselves----since self-promotion became a reality for most authors long ago, as well as how many quirky Internet presses are cropping up such as, (which combines a spokenword or text CD with a jewelbox sized companion book). I have a quote if needed.

That makes sense, says Carol Fitzgerald of, one of the Web's best intermediaries for locating all kinds of literature, in print or electronic. "What you have to do is bundle the print book with the e-book. You might buy the print that offers the code for the convergent content that extends its possibilities online, or, you could use it to market a portion of it by giving the consumer a code for a few chapters, and then it will expire in a few weeks. If they like what they read, then they can go to the bookstore to buy the entire text."

According to something called Arago's Law of Technological Development, any new instrument exerts its greatest impact not by changing, improving, or replacing old things, but by generating things that are entirely new. Readers will follow e-books not because of some fancy new toy they can learn to use, but for the same reason readers always have: It’s where the writers are. And this, the best work comes with the inspiration set aflame by the fires of technological innovation.
That, folks, is the “self-publishing” paradigm.