There are always at least two forces at work on language that make it what it is: the desire to define and reduce language, simplify it, maintain it; and the constant modification and evolution that is placed upon it by its users. Over the millennia we have been communicating, we have developed new tools and ways to exchange information that have in turn been adapted into our core language. New words are made, new concepts defined.
Just as the written word changed the nature of communication in the fifteenth century, we are witnessing a new wave of expression alongside the ubiquity of the internet and the devices that have come along to help us surf it. Many of us at Seizure were raised on concepts of ‘proper English’ and academically have been discouraged from employing the ways people really communicate in the modern age into our writing as it butchers the language we love with abbreviations and intentional mispellingz. That’s why we have created a new project: AltTxt.
It sometimes feels that prose, as a category, assumes a responsibility to maintain ‘literariness’, in the 20thC tradition of writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, tending to avoid the saturation of product names and contemporary pop-cultural markers – exactly the sort of preoccupations that have made Bret Easton Ellis both loved and hated for his willingness to embrace them in novels such as Glamorama. But we’re hoping to take a further step, past the inclusion of technology in writing as a contemporary gesture, toward a new definition of ‘realism’. With AltTxt we seek to explore our relationship to the platforms and devices that filter and distribute the ways we make meaning. We want to explore why we feel so voyeuristic; then, on the other hand how seeing other people’s phones filming a gig or shoved in front of some stunning scenery of holiday can unravel our own experiences. Even so, out of range and on ‘technology bans’ we still itch to record our experiences.
This writing project will be curated by Justin Wolfers who is on the look out for writing that questions where we are in literature and also sets us off in a new direction. We’re turned on by, and hoping for, the sort of writing that embraces the way people are communicating now – poly-visual, multi-tabbed, always excited, always distracted – and uses literary techniques to tease out the intricate details of the way it works and the way it makes us feel.
We love the trove of excellent, incisive, internet-infused content you can find at htmlgiant.com, and are familiar with the intricate, boring, heartbreaking prose of people like Tao Lin and Heiko Julien, as well as the ridiculous and awesome Emoji Dick project – just to name a few examples of areas in which this idea of 4G writing exists. But we want more: we want it all!
We want a story that talks about the meticulous work that goes into making that ultimate brunch Instagram and the feelings you have when it gets favourited and commented on. (Just kidding, but also, not really.) We want to hear how sad you got when you were sort of broken-up-with/over Facebook chat, or by that text message that didn’t confirm what you thought you felt about somebody. Or a whole love story constructed in text messages all the way from ‘Last night was really nice’ to that text that they just casually didn’t reply to when you said ‘Catch up next week sometime?’ Or your evening spent between the three different screens playing three different sports games. This incredible short film expresses a lot of what we’re trying to achieve – we want the writing of this experience.
But we’re not just after gimmicks and clever pop-culture references; we want to really examine these interactions. We want pages/screens of writing that are all-too-aware of their pagey-ness/screen-ness, of the writing’s presence as a somewhat archaic medium when you could be trawling Reddit for something way more instantly gratifying. We want to question what fiction is now, and how you feel about it. We want the writing that asks why all our literary friends watch far more movies and enjoy much more Facebook than they spend reading those ‘book’ things.
We want to question the nostalgic urge to put the devices away and jump into the ocean: we want the stories about that, too, as well as the Huxleyan fear of being completely overtaken and replaced by the technologies which claim to be merely the messenger in your communications. Sci-fi-horror AltTxt fantasies? Bring it on.
From time to time we’ll point you to AltTxt elsewhere in the world, but mostly we want your stuff. And because this is all new, and we want you to experiment, we’re after anything from 500-5000 words– or their equivalent if you’re going to embed technologies in your writing, which we encourage. And we’re not looking necessarily for the most polished work, just the most interesting (we will help you polish, that’s what editors are for). So don’t worry if you think you’ve got a great idea but haven’t quite fitted all the dots together yet, we want to read it anyway! We heartily encourage you to write something specifically for this project and just send that sucker through. We’ve got a Submittable page up and running for you to send us work, and if you have any questions or problems with file formats, email Justin: justinw at seizureonline dot com.
Ciao for now (old eighties salutation)
Tweet @seizureonline #alttxt if you see anything out there you like.