|hile one reviewer has referred to Krass-Mueller’s new book—Short Talks with Bad Guys—as a flawless parody of sexist literature in the vein of John Updike, and another reviewer, has, more directly, called the book “sexist,” the consensus seems to be that the new collection of “belletristic pieces” is promising but inconsistent.
Meanwhile, many readers are complaining that the writing of America’s oldest juvenile author does not serve its readership, but only serves to protect the author’s status as the only famous living American writer.
Like the software industry giant Microsoft, however, Krass-Mueller’s hold on the market may be threatened by a new movement. But this is a literary movement that exists not for recognition and money, but simply to offer a new literature. They call themselves the Open Source Hypertext Movement.
The Unknown—a sprawling hypertext novel—the first place winner of the Trace/Alt-X hypertext novel competition (judged by Robert Coover)—is a classic example of the new Open Source Hypertext Movement. While most novelists, in lifting ideas and phrases from other writers, permute these to avoid being caught, The Unknown makes its sources open to all for inspection. The scene written in the style of Kerouac bears Kerouac’s name in the title. The same is true for Paul Auster, Julio Cortazar, Nelson Algren , Henry Miller, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley, among others.
In addition, the novel contains its own documentary material so the reader can better understand how the work was constructed.
And, while Krass-Mueller’s writing—even when it is derived from the work of other writers—is copyrighted and remains the author’s exclusive property (readers must pay a fee to license a copy of the book for reading purposes), The Unknown is on the internet free to all. And while many of the stories in Krass-Mueller’s new book have disappointed readers (even some of the stories that show promise collapse into indulgent metafiction before the end), The Unknown offers its readers tools to edit the story themselves, removing or rewriting the sections that don’t work.
And, astonishingly, The Unknown is offered free for anyone to download, copy and revise.
While this may not make sense from an economic standpoint—the authors of The Unknown may never receive genius grants, royalties, or appear in Allure magazine—the popularity of their hypertext cannot be denied. After all, access stats do not lie the way a blurb on a dustjacket might. Even book sales can be misleading in that they do not indicate whether the book is being read.
One theory has it that the new movement will lead to a revitalization of American literature. Rather than a single writer’s run-on sentences and story fragments being guaranteed publication—regardless of quality—for bearing the brand name of the author, open-source novels must compete for readers solely on their literary merit. While no one may touch the sentences of Krass-Mueller’s Real Big Joke, (a novel whose composition is such a mystery that the author himself has forgotten the justification for huge sections of it), readers are free to rearrange and edit The Unknown as they please, and the authors encourage this.
It is believed that Open Source Hypertext Movement will lead to a sort of survival of the fittest in American literature—in which the novels that have the most entertaining writing, rather than the most aggressive marketing and corporate backing, will be perpetuated. Indeed, the authors of The Unknown have demonstrated their willingness to lose money giving readings and going to conferences where their writing is in demand. And yet, they have not achieved celebrity status and do not expect to—they are completely unknown.
But their novel is slowly getting known. It is already one of the most-visited hypertext novels on the World Wide Web.
What will the Open Source Hypertext Movement mean for those writers who—through shrewd marketing and a continuous process of building the ideas of less-well-known writers into their novels—hold a monopoly on the American readership? What does it mean that a free novel—one that foregrounds its sources and literary influences—is growing in popularity so quickly as to pose a threat to the most widely-hyped novels of the 1990s?
Simply, it means that the future of American literature has arrived. And it’s free.