a jaundiced eye: saner heads
for thursday, june 12, 1997.

Bukowski, Patron Saint of the Web

If Wired magazine is to be believed, Thomas Paine is the Patron Saint of the Internet, even its true founder. The man who coined the phrase "United States of America"; who argued against organized religion; who advocated the abolition of the monarchy; all these fit with the overwhelmingly Libertarian slant of the old Internet community.

If Wired magazine is to be believed, Theodor (Ted) Nelson is the Patron Saint of hypertext, even its true founder. This is easier to accept since he did in fact coin the term back in the 60s and has for years chased his opium dream of a scheme for interconnecting the knowledge of the world, using a simple fee-based system of transclusion called Xanadu. His ADD-wracked mind seems well-suited to the 12-second rule ascribed to websurfers, and yet...

To choose a politico or a wacked-out propellerhead to be the Patron Saint of anything distracts us from the true power of the Web - it is not the power of cheap pamphleteering, although it is certainly being used for that. It is not the resistance to serialization that hypertext offers, although the effects of that on the corporate world, to say nothing of Joe Six-pack, cannot be measured - nor can they be predicted to have solely positive benefits.

Rather, that any of the millions of underemployed liberal arts majors, working shit jobs as slaves to computers, have found the power in the Web to express their poesy-drenched, creative natures - this is a source of constant surprise, especially when the majority of these previously unpublished Wordsworths have not yet succumbed to the temptations of the Corporate Web. Sure, they find hope in the existence of Suck, of Slate, the Onion. Sure, they find some joy in doing random nslookups and whoises on cool domain names, and they certainly enjoy dreaming of the Big Sellout, but what drives the mass of web poets is the freedom to pass out unlimited copies of their scribblings to anyone who happens to net.stumble across their works.

The sheer drudgery of document conversion, the exquisite stress of moving from one new tool to the next without ever exploring the online help, of coping with hundreds of inane emails a day trying to get that one good recommendation for a suitable text editor - all of this would make anyone want to escape through tapping their creativity. But instead of keeping it jammed in a little black blank book, it ends up on a server somewhere. For the love of it, or, more importantly, because it provides an escape from the drudgery and anomie of the electronic sweatshop.

Charles Bukowski is celebrated on no less than four thousand Web pages. His life, like Paine's, is immortalized on film. His works are published, for the perusal of many a wine-drinking, tweed-laden professor of literature, poetry, etc. etc. etc. They are available in nice, glossy covered folios or the much more earth-happy recycled cardboard versions. What is obscured by all of this finery is the fact that Bukowski was an educated man who chose to write on scraps of paper, drink cheap wine, take chances on glory and bet on horses. He was not kind to women, at least in his work; sympathized with revolutionaries and the hopelessly inept alike, and loved his children. It is to Charles "Hank" Bukowski that the Web belongs:

talk to me, machine!

we can drink together.
we can have fun.

think of all the people who will hate me at this

we'll add them to the others
and continue right

so this is the beginning
not the

("My first computer poem", 1992)

Steven Champeon

r e c i p r o c a t e

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© 1997-2001 Steven Champeon. All rights reserved.
All slights reversed.