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GAM3R_7H30RY, Writing Process

Educator/writer McKenzie Wark is writing a book online, with the support of the ever-imaginative Institute for the Future of the Book. It’s a fascinating effort, though after ten pages, or sections, or whatever they are, I became a little weary of the copyediting errors (“past time,” “battle field”), missing commas (“Well don’t kid yourself”), and unrelieved tone and form.

Once in a while it really works:

“Even critical theory, which once took its distance from damaged life, becomes another game. Apply to top ranked schools. Find a good coach. Pick a rising subfield. Prove your abilities. Get yourself published. Get some grants. Get a job. Get another job offer to establish your level and bargain with your current employer. Keep your nose clean and get tenure. You won! Now you can play! Now you can do what you wanted, secretly, all those years ago. Only now you can’t remember.”

But after a few, um, pages? I had the same feeling I get when I eat a banana: about half-way through I want it to turn into a raspberry or tangerine, at least for a bite or two. Page after page of the second-person singular may be mimetic, but it also wore me out. I’m not a gamer, so the subject matter is a little remote; on the other hand, I’ve never ridden a horse, but Seabiscuit enthralled me.

I also admit to being more enchanted by the form than the process, though I’m guessing that labels me as an old fogey who doesn’t have radical trust in the wisdom of crowds. (I keep asking, if crowds are so smart, how did Bush get elected?) I’m not alone in this; over at Copyfight, Alan Wexalblat shares his skepticism about writing a book online, cutting through the collaboratory hoopla to point out that traditionally, writing is a rigorous process shared at best with a select group of high-trust peers–the writing group. (I realized recently that I have naturally defaulted into sharing works in progress one-on-one with other writing friends, which mirrors my mano a mano playdates as a child, and even resembles how Sandy and I socialize–usually with one other couple. My mother once told me she was worried about my play patterns until she realized they worked well for me. They still do!)

In any event, IF:Book and McKenzie have rolled out something fresh and new, which is always exciting. I wouldn’t mind using this form for an essay, as long as I didn’t have to share the process with several billion of my closest friends. Read a few pages–or whatever they’re called–and ponder the future of the book.

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