Conference Season

HTLit returns from conference season with this takeaway: there is a lot of work to be done out there.

A common theme that I heard at the conferences I attended and followed on Twitter last month (which covered many overlapping, if distinct, disciplines) was that there’s nowhere to publish and that nobody appreciates what we’re doing. People say they want to write criticism, to write papers, to write fiction and make art, to do science, but there’s no audience, there’s no outlet, no money, and we haven’t yet tapped into some huge pool of readers that would surely appreciate this work if only we could find them.

I think most of these are just excuses. We have, at our fingertips, an accessible medium capable of publishing with unprecedented ease. There’s no excuse for a lack of web-criticism. Tales of the deaths of publishers and art galleries have been greatly exaggerated.

And that mysterious audience? Despite the arguments that no one reads anymore, a ride on the subway suggests that more people are reading on their tablets and smart phones than was the case even 2 years ago. There will always be a market for stories and art. Perhaps eLit hasn’t tapped into our magical fanbase because either we’re restricting the definition of eLit too narrowly and not acknowledging the fanbase we already have, or because we aren’t making the work accessible enough; the debate over our audience is a discussion for another post.

As for publishing our research, it’s true that eLit doesn’t have an established journal, and perhaps it’s time to start one. This mostly comes down to an institutional problem of research metrics, but argument for research blogging notwithstanding, several other disciplines are sufficiently related that their journals welcome our work. And while we’re looking at those fields, let’s invite them into the discussion. ELO could certainly have benefitted from more computer scientists, librarians, web researchers, and publishers; and the Hypertext and Narrative workshop at Hypertext 2012 would have loved to hear from more artists and creators. These conferences once had the same audience; perhaps it’s time to reconsider over-specialization.

I urge the field to simply write. Create. Read, explore, critique. Do the work. If you’re not sure where to submit it, ask.