Author: R. Dominguez / Mark Amerika --- Date: 08/14/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

Interview with Mark Amerika
by Ricardo Dominguez

Mark Amerika is the counter-novelist
both avialable from FC2/Black Ice Books or
any fine bookstore, for very little digi-cash.
He is also the WEB publisher of Alt-X
recently referred to as "the literary
publishing model of the future," and he might
be infecting your part of the world soon.
Amerika is currently giving birth
to a hypermedia project at Brown University
--GRAMMATRON--and you can drift
into the screenal dreams of the cyborg mind
in his most recent work
whenever the need to teleport into the
electrosphere hits you.

RD: Is HTC part of the emergence of the cyborg mind which is always/already outside of the spasms of the body? Or is it part of screenal dream-space of the body introjecting on new organ and learning to play with it?

MA: It's a dream narrative application, a way to teleport collective consciousness to the electrosphere. Right now I'm investigating its potential to shift writing from linear print forms into more mixed media uses that create multi-linear narrative environments-- a lot of this had to do with how narrative gets distributed. HTC is capable of distributing itself within computer-mediated dream-narratives only because the network technology has altered our perceptions of what's possible -- all kinds of artists are beginning to reevaluate the political economy of meaning as it adjusts to this new network-distribution paradigm.

When I talk about the political economy of meaning I'm not talking about a prefabricated or lineal meaning whether it be uniformally conservative or pseudo-liberal. I'm thinking more in terms of the genesis of language and how the media itself has become a kind of narco-terrorist that redistributes our desire *for* us. HTC investigates the ways in which we can research and develop poetical-theoretical-aesthetical modes of operation that challenge the media status quo, its iron grip on distribution, by way of more collaborative, globally-interlinked, networked narratives.

For me, HTC becomes a way of writing. It's something I've always been attracted to, ever since I started developing my artistic practice back in the late 70's, but that I'm just now capable of creating a critical or theoretical language for. You might say that HTC is a process of *automatically unwriting* the pseudo-autobiographical becoming that radically marks itself into being. But these marks are not our own, that is to say they're not individuated, and they are infinitely manipulable by the collective-self that HTC ultimately renders into vision.

Take the case of this week, the week of August 5th. It is announced to the world that we are Martians. True, we live on Earth, but our ancestors, assuming we take Darwin seriously enough to afford him the right and responsibility of discovering the theory of evolution, may have come from Mars. NASA scientists just this week have revealed to us that single-cell organisms were imprinted in meteorite fragments that blew off of Mars (was this too some kind of terrorist adventure?) and were recently found in Antartica. Our thinking of ourselves as a people will now go through narrative revisionism. We can now see ourselves not as just the ancestors of Apes (this isn't 2001, this isn't science fiction), but, rather, that we are deeply connected to our freeze-dried brethren on Mars.

The Chief Martian himself, due for reelection, was quoted as saying that this was an "amazing thing" and that we should continue supporting the space program. Maybe we should call it The Writing Space Program, seeing as though the imprint of life on that rock fragment has completely rewritten our history for us.

RD: Do you see HTC as part of your fiction work or is it a manifesto for a new project specific to WEB culture?

MA: This isn't an easy question to answer because certain readers of my work will immediately see it as a continuation of my fictional work and I don't want to tell my readers how to interpret my writing. The idea of creating a fictional work-in-progress, of writing One Text Exactly, what Ron Sukenick calls an Endless Short Story, is not new and has a lot of appeal to writers working in various media. Already there are critics who say that my interview answers are part of the fiction -- my press releases, DAT tapes, virtual mail art, Public Access TV show, etc. That's fine. I can see it from that perspective. I don't want to discourage any readings, including a recent email barb that claimed I would have done better to have remained silent, that by "going public" with my HTC leanings I have essentially followed through on an internal desire to become the Madonna of hypertext theory.

Right now the new project I'm immersed in, GRAMMATRON, a multi-media public domain narrative environment being created especially for the Web, will probably absorb HTC just like HTC absorbed the Avant-Pop manifesto. I'm open to this because it's all being absorbed into my everyday work life. Once it's been totally integrated and the bugs are truly cleaned out, I think I'll have moved beyond fiction and into something more lucid.

RD: Are we now living within the imaginary of a social science fiction scenario where we have become or are becoming the aliens we have always feared would come to take us away for breeding stock purposes? Just like the old Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Humanity," which turns out to be a cook book. Or are we ET just calling home?

MA: Oh Yes, we are the aliens. The aliens are among us. Burroughs, of course, was all over this, as were Anti-Oedipus, Artaud and Sade. Micro-organisms that under a microscope look like wormy jelly substances (bugs in the system?) traverse the planet next door but are soon devastated by a firey explosion that shoots them up into the solar system only to eventually distribute their secret code of meaning onto the Earth's soil (what in SEXUAL BLOOD I call the "soul-soil"). Many, many years later, these fragmentary pieces, these materialist units of potential Digital Being ("soft machines"), evolve into dream-narrative applications that exist to do what? Prod and get prodded? Possibly. Prodded into work, mostly. But therein lies the pleasure. Or the pleasure-beyond. I mean there's a kind of beauty to the pseudo-autobiographical becoming of the aliens, don't you think?

RD: Net-space is reconfiguring everything--war, work, sexuality, time, agency, dreams into code. Does the HTC project, along with AltX, create a counter-disturbance, a side-stepping of the smooth wired world propagada of a net-topia?

MA: Counter-disturbance sounds good. But I believe a disturbance or agit-prop delivery-system can be a kind of pain reliever (although I don't think the FDA would approve of it). Like a good massage. A way of nurturing the mental plankton that feeds itself off of HTC.

As for Alt-X, it started off as an experiment in electronic writing and publishing focused exclusively on the development of what the digerati call "content" (is "content" really just an extension of form or is it a virtual reincarnation of the spirit of form?). Fortunately or unfortunately (I'll leave others to decide), since Alt-X was one of the first online networks that was pumping out regular hits of smoking "content", we got tons of unsolicited attention from a diversity of international media venues which has since led to a major reconfiguration of the project.

I immediately saw the Old World dinosaurs wanting to turn Alt-X into a "hip e-zine" that would then encourage other future Net-consumers to really get active and buy all the things one needs in order to Do-It-Themselves. I've had to work hard and against the prevailing commercial aesthetic to keep Alt-X from being just another free-content site that signals to all willing navigators that the Yuppie-Punk-Haqr chic that dominates so much of our youth culture nowadays is a good survivalist mentality to situate oneself in. As with Reaganesque 80's money-junk-egoism culture, big bucks are still the fashion and and the liquid economy doing its dance of biz in cyberspace will now continue to sustain itself by providing tremendous opportunity for the virtual class and the powercentric forces that keep it running. Alt-X, the ongoing ungoing networked-narrative project, exists to provide a different use of this technology so as to continually morph our understanding of cyberculture's effect on mainstream culture and creative endeavor, to frustrate the movement of multi-national corporate capitalism and its continuous circulation of various digicash paracurrencies, to develop hybridized genres of mixed-media art that we intend to distribute all throughout the electrosphere.

RD: Do you see the emergence of digital-narratives as the culmination of the avant-pop experiment? What digital-narratives have you recently drifted into that are pushing the form? Or as you have pointed out--just surfing is creating the most extreme form of HTC narratives?

MA: It's funny you should ask me that because I've recently come to the conclusion that avant-pop as a cultural phenomenon could only have come to life in something as out-of-the-blue like the World Wide Web. Trying to integrate the avant-pop idea to a print oriented culture was possible three or four years ago because there were a few literary artists being published in New York and a few of the better alternative presses like Black Ice Books whose material successfully blended the various genres that avant-pop is known for, particularly avant-garde modernism and postmodernism (metafiction, surfiction, cyberpunk, beatnik, etc.) and TV situation comedy. But now it's clear that the young writers of today whose literary aesthetic is confined to books and reading from books in performance and on tape, are hopelessly out of touch with where narrative art is going. And it's not going to Hollywood (although there's still some money floating around there) or hacked-out new-old journalism. It's IN cyberspace, particularly the multi-media hypertext variety.

Now that we all agree on that (thank you Mr. Gates, Mr. Speilberg, Mr. Clinton), what's out there right now that's proving my prognostications to be more than correct? This is where I start sounding like Beavis & Butt-Head. "Uh...heh-heh..."

Right now I'm more focused on the web as a whole. As a phenomenon that radically changes the way we create and distribute narrative. There are some interesting writings on the Net, but as far as pushing the form goes, there's very little. I thought Stuart Moulthrop did an interesting experiment when he immediately put the Netscape META-tag to good use in his HEGIRASCOPE. Tom Meyer and some folks at Brown University worked with David Blair in helping expand his video WAX into the WAXWEB multi-media hypertext project sponsored by the University of Virginia. Also, Robert Arellano just put up a new project, SUNSHINE 69, on SonicNet.

But as you say, some of the most extreme forms of HTC development happen everyday in the workplace, on the campus, at home, as various cyborg-narrators navigate themselves through the electropshere.

RD: You have been ranting about digging for fluid revenues on the intra-net that can help keep your zone or any zone alive. Have we all become old gold miners who have heard about a Mother Lode/Code somewhere north of us? We know that others have found some gold--why can't we? Have we all become Bogart on the Mexican border, almost dead, and under attack by a gang who don't "need any stinking badges!"

MA: This code you're talking about, Digital Being, or the code of desire manifesting itself in cyberspace, is embedded in all of us and I think the gold rush mentality that pervades the vaporware marketplace gives us new material to investigate, to research our own network-potential and see how it relates to our conception of value. What if the traditional merchants of value all of a sudden became irrelevant Martians who lost control of their virtual realities? How would we as a people survive? By working in wood, marble, steel, edible plastics?

One thing that's emerging is that links are valauble, can transmit meaning, and in hypertextual cyberspace the "ether/ore" condition is not a simple binary operation where we either write the code into electronic space or dig the virtual scene for potential meaning. These conventional writer/reader functions have been blurring for quite some time and the teleportation of Hypertextual Consciousness into cyberspace only accelerates that process. Meanwhile, writers today been programmed to perform as authors of our own story and this has led to a tremendous amount of attention placed on our ability to create presence, content, and lots of hype -- to breed links so that the grid that informs our life with meaning is continuous and comes from all directions. This is what I call the Value-Added Network (VAN). Not only can this be a complete waste of time, but it tends to take our alien-rights away from us and teleports them to the collective-self that rules over us. You'd think we'd have the guts to stare it in the face and tell it to take a flying fuck through a rolling doughnut. But this wouldn't be a smart strategy because we know all too well that us is them, that them is us, *we* are the collective-self, the cyborg-narrator drifting into the digital mix where pop goes the weasel.

RD: Finally--if the world were to end next week because we owed alot of back rent on the planet, what would Amerika do during the last days?

MA: Hypothetically speaking, I'd have a Bed-In with my girlfriend. Powerbook loaded and ready to transmit the sorcerer-code that would save the world from disaster.

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