A website which is at once a blog and fictional may be known as “a flog,” but one rarely enjoys a satisfying literary flogging. Blog fiction is so far a rather bratty, lightweight literary genre, and it may seem curious that no great figures have made their name on such a potentially fertile frontier. If a blogger knows what they are doing, then they will acquire tens of thousands of readers within a year or so, whilst a first-time novelist will typically struggle to deliver much more material to a fraction of this readership. I am referring, of course, to artists who are struggling to further their ideas, rather than somebody who is merely endeavouring to make a living from a literary marketplace (which by now should be a thoroughly obsolete concept). Where, therefore, is the literary renaissance which ought to result from so much fresh air within the house of literature?
By this week, Tychy will have published two hundred stories, illustrations, essays, and dialogues. The website now resembles a vast sunken city – ramshackle and many fathoms deep – and anybody swimming around its arcades may encounter beautiful statues, frightful crazy fish, or, more often than not, masses of tangled seaweed. I’m planning to get together an anthology of highlights, although I’m just going to select them arbitrarily, which seems to be the best way of going about it.
The question posed above may require more of a technological than a moral answer. One may recall or envisage settling into a comfortable armchair and taking a sip from a heartening drink before stepping completely into the world of a novel. Many readers leave the reality around them from the train, or the bus, or that eternal throne of literature, the toilet. Blog fiction, by contrast, seems rather less comfy. The reader will probably be in the office with a dozen or so emails clamouring for answers, and they may drift away from their work every now and then to dip into the internet: a racing, swirling thoroughfare of music, video clips, adverts, twitters, and news, where they will adventure effortlessly down labyrinthine wynds and passageways.
I have heard it said that the act of reading a book is far easier on the mind than that of reading from a computer, where the image of the document is more varying and insubstantial. The E-book will probably render both formats obsolete in a matter of years, and just as the music industry is now sinking into the swamp like a clueless dinosaur, the world of publishing seems largely oblivious to the prospect of mass-produced E-books, in which thousands of texts may be downloaded, saved, searched, edited, and anthologised. Indeed, publishing houses seem to pin their future on an assumption of conservatism and lack of adventure amongst their customers.
The most significant problem for literary floggers is surely one of length. E-books may make longer texts more comfortable to read, but for now a work of blog fiction should be short, plain, and concise. David B Dale will pointedly only publish fiction which is 299 words in length. Tychy’s fiction is typically 700-1100 words in length, which is often a little too long. I find that reading a long article on the internet is usually very hard work, although some of the (non-fictional) polemics on Spiked will sustain my attention despite being almost 2000 words in length. As a student, I would print off piles of articles from JSTOR and Project Muse rather than reading them from the screen, and most of the scholarship on Tychy is probably more palatable in this fashion.
There are, of course, many great works of literature which are a bit longer than a few hundred words. The E-book may emancipate the unpublished novelist, allowing them to cast their novel into a vast democratic sea of literature, from which it can be fished out in the same net as any literary classic. The power of the publishing industry to process what is consumed may be increasingly overruled, just as the old record labels now have much less of a say over the range of music within the public sphere. But for now, the literary flogger is working with a genre which is largely uninformed by an established tradition of decent short fiction. The novel – with all of its philosophical airs and affectations – has long been disregarded as a vital literary genre, and it is not particularly relevant to the creation of modern fiction.
The lack of literary winds in the sails of blog fiction may explain why it has not journeyed very far as a genre. I have encountered many fictional blogs which adopt a premise from Fantasy or Science-Fiction, the most creditable of which often display a dash of J.G. Ballard’s postmodern experimentalism. But I have never found a flog which ventures a poetic, confessional narrative with the power of something by Sylvia Plath or Toni Morrison or indeed any great writer. Tychy very consciously reflects the influence of periodicals from the dawn of modern literature – principally Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine – and, in this respect Zbigniew Tycienski displays characteristics of Blackwood’s Morgan O’Doherty and the hapless subjects of Maga’s Sensation Tales. The Blackwood’s writers – and such heroes of the American Renaissance as Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville – experimented with literature in the context of an emerging democratic literary marketplace, and “flogging” would perhaps benefit from an observation of their work.
The house of literature has lately thrown open its doors to many more writers than ever before, and the practised cultural consumer of the twenty-first century should by now have comprehended that art or fiction or music is encountered arbitrarily, and that good things are only discovered by chance. Culture can no longer be managed and prescribed, and an elite can no longer be satisfactorily identified. It will not be feasible to have a favourite flogger – and one will be at a loss to champion the best floggers – because the rapid advance of the literary frontier and the sheer expanse of internet fiction will make impossible any attempt to judge the merits of blog fiction comparatively. One notes, incidentally, that the novels of the old-world were bound to national traditions and infrastructures, within which it was thought that leading lights could be distinguished. The transnational and cosmopolitan flogosphere largely confounds such possibilities.
The inability to garden a literary canon in these conditions is accentuated by the prevalence of subterfuge. Many fictional blogs, including Tychy, rarely allude to their fictionality, partially due to the awkwardness of doing so, but also out of the mischievous desire to gull their readers. I derived a certain childish satisfaction from the readers of “Letter from a Sufferer of Vagina Dentata” whom presumed that the article was real, and then submitted their own accounts of unpleasant vaginal complaints. The flogosphere may host a rich array of hoaxes, parodies, and satires, although if these flogs do not highlight their artificiality then their achievements are unable to be recognised and catalogued.
If one surveys the realm of flogs, some great websites such as Stuff God Hates and Lord Likely do not quite fit the bill – they are very ingenious – but they are formulaic variations upon a founding idea, and they lack significant creative freedoms. They have made their beds and must romp in them. DavisW, however, is one of my favourite humour blogs because it is endlessly inventive and versatile. Tychy frequently undertakes satirical stunts, but these are often rather low and plain. For example, following the Damian McBride scandal I planned to write an account of the Red Rag website. I would pretend that the contents of the website had fallen into my hands, and I would then dispense descriptions of David Cameron’s genital warts and orgies involving Nadine Dorris. It turned out that I was too busy over Easter to write this parody, and although these things attract plenty of readers, it would have been a workmanlike affair, mechanically delivering gags.
On the other hand, some flogs are too deep, and one needs to have been a reader from their conception in order to truly appreciate their artistry. Tychy is addressed to two sorts of reader, so that any post should be both accessible to a first-time visitor and yet it should also elaborate upon long-term storylines within the website. This is a difficult path to tread, and I can only gesticulate invisibly at any reader who goes back over the weeks and months trying to learn whether Zbigniew and Marcin were lovers and how Zbigniew met his wife.
Tychy raises a glass to thank all of those who have lately visited the website.