S: Regarding our hypertext novel for the Millennium, The Unknown, I think we need a home page, a start page, a beginning of some kind. That’s what Brian thinks, and he’s pretty much a good source, since he doesn’t like our writing, but likes the idea in general, so he’s a good guy to listen to in terms of general Internet issues.

D: Though I have absolutely no credibility as far as the Internet is concerned, I am violently, that is, as much as a pacifist can be violent, opposed to a homepage, and I refer you to Brian’s email concerning this subject in which he notes that the very idea of hypertext requires, philosophically, that there be no one single launching point, no “page one,” as there is in conventional print books that allow only one direction, i.e. from page one to the end, whatever that page might be. To insure that our hypertext remains as “pure” as possible, I suggest we not designate any page as the “homepage.” To do so would be to violate the essence of our hypertextuality.

S: Ah, yeah, well, but, we gotta think of the consumer—that’s not what I meant—the reader. You gotta think of the reader’s expectations. I mean, if we didn’t have a homepage, like the wildly though not as wildly as the rest of us, inconsistent, Brian intoned (and by the rest of us, of course, I mean the main players, me, you, William, Frank [and Katie, why is she always put in brackets?]), recently, if you don’t have a homepage, which explains why and how a project like this hypertext novel exists, you’ll lose a certain percentage of your readers from page one. We need to have some page named default.html that will be a consistent first page, so the people who happen to read this page *Hi People Who Read Our Stuff, We Love You* know what to expect as they delve into the encyclopedic millennial satire that is The Unknown. You know what I mean?

D: Yes, but . . .

S: Oh, we better mention some other people, we better thank them—sorry Dirk, didn’t mean to interrupt—Adam, of course, for the photography and tricky Photoshop stuff, Mike, for the party and communications systems and trains, Fred, for the great guitar playing, Paul, for the great songs and words and guitar playing, and all the people on the day on the CTA, Karen, Eric, Molly, Anne, and then of course well—shit this could go on for hours—oh, Dirk, I’m interrupting again, sorry.

D: Look, Scott, I don’t mean to be a hardass, but this just seems to be a time (a place?—such concepts get so attenuated in hypertext) to establish a position that will not melt in the face of the demands of the marketplace, or the “common reader”—whatever, or whoever, that is. Agreed: not having a homepage might possibly reduce our potential readership. But isn’t it worth something to acquire the type of readership that will encounter our hypertext unaided, without requiring the crutch of a homepage? Don’t we want readers who don’t need to be told that the navigation bar, with its colored buttons, will take them to any place in hypertext they want to go whenever they want to? Don’t we want readers who don’t need to be told that they can access lists of “People” or “Bookstores” or click on a “Map” any time they decide to pursue another route in the hypertext? Perhaps I’m being elitist, but . . .

S: No, no, you’re right. That should be obvious, of course you’re right. But at the very least we need to have somewhere where we acknowledge the fact that this whole thing is uh, wrought with conflict. I mean, we shouldn’t have people thinking this is easy, this whole collaborative novel-writing thing. We should explain our pain, in case they think that we’re just leeches, living off a welfare state that doesn’t exist anymore. Because we’re artists, and we work hard at producing these types of non-commercially redeeming items.

D: Wait, just a dad-blamed minute: this homepage, should it ever exist, is not the place to rehash the contentious nature of collaboration. If anything, it should provide the illusion that there is some mutually agreed upon entrance into this wondrous experience we have labeled, perhaps pridefully, The Unknown . . .

S: And somewhere in there we should mention our excitement about all the possibilities of this new, uh, media, convergence. I mean that we’re lucky enough to have one of the 21st century’s best artists on the site, that’s one thing, and the audio of many of the great artists we know or run into captured at erratic moments, that’s another, and I mean, uh, oh sorry, I was interrupting again—

D: Exuberance noted. Look: either we conform completely to the theoretical foundations of hypertext (such as they are) and forego a deity-like authorial genesis for our text, or we succumb to the presumed needs of our audience, who, if we decide to provide a homepage, apparently need to be taken by their tender hands and led gently into the wild, nonlinear world of hypertext, where readers actually have some volition, apropos their movement through the text they’ve decided to engage.

S: Yeah, and there’s a lot of good stories in here.

D: All I’m saying is: let’s be true to the precepts of hypertext, such as they are, i.e. the liberation of the reader to engage in a text in a fashion akin to that of the author (who, hypothetically ceases to exist in the traditional sense in the hypertext environment)—and let the poor benighted reader just read—without beginnings, without prescribed directions, without the anxious author leaning over their shoulder whispering in their ear: “Time to turn the page.”

S: It’s not all rambling, we should say that too. Though you, Dirk, tend to speak in long paragraphs—

D: In short, what I’m saying is, “Isn’t a homepage the ultimate sellout? The final capitulation to (linear) print conventions? I mean we’re on the World Wide Web! Why act like any ordinary paper-and-ink book? Sure, explaining that our hypertext provides a constantly convenient means to move from one site to another, multiple means, in fact, might appease the less patient of those who happen to stumble upon our creation, but, from an ethical standpoint: is it worth it?

S: That reminds of something that Bill Gates said to me when we had dinner last week when he was in town—

D: You do have a tendency to drop names, don’t you?

S: Yeah. So we ate at Smoke Daddy’s, right down the street. Howard and the White Boys were performing, I remember they were playing, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother, and She Could Be Jiving Too,” that’s not the real title, is it, and I ate a beef BBQ sandwich and he ate a pork one, we both had sweet potato fries, and Bill said, “Scott, a lot of people hate me now, and I’m not sure who my friends are, but I put out a decent product, I put out a decent product that millions and billions of people use. Isn’t that good enough?” And then I mentioned Carl Sagan to change the drift of the conversation before I confessed to him, finally, that I used Steve Jobs’ product way more than his. But that’s not what I was saying. Anyway, the point is, like T.C. Boyle said, “I don’t consider the publicity part of a book to have anything to do with the book itself, and the writing of the book—that’s done, that’s finished. Now it’s time to go out and let everybody know it exists.” That’s part of our job, too, you know? Oh shit, I don’t even want to see the transcript of this thing. Is it worth it? By George or God or whatever, yes it is.

D: So, if I’m hearing you correctly, and as you know, that’s always a dicey thing as far as my compromised ears are concerned, you’re saying that a homepage is definitely worth it, whatever one might think about its propriety from a strictly artistic, that is, pure and unsullied by the stench of hundreds of years of debilitating capitalist heavy breathing, standpoint. . . ?

S: And we should also mention the recent profound decline of the American political system, and the function of hypertext fiction within such a declined system, and how we hope that Frank quits his job and becomes an artist, full-tilt, no, I didn’t mean to say that, when you transcribe this, leave that out—and that people that we know are great artists who are unknown, and that it’s great that we know so many of them—so that in a way this is an even better community service project than planting grass with the kids. Sorry, oh, sorry, Dirk, I didn’t mean to interrupt—no I wasn’t interrupting there, was I—that was an awkward pause—I guess I meant well-done community service project. Is it community service if you’re servicing your own community? Or is it just being good neighbors? And how did insurance companies become that? Man, I’m rambling . . .

D: To say the least. Scott, by all that’s holy, and that ain’t much these days, let’s stick to the subject at hand. Homepage: yes or no. I must admit, I’m feeling less vehement in my opposition, if only because your incessant straying from the “assignment” (to use a phrase you seem particularly fond of) indicates that there might be a pressing need for some fundamental grounding, some bedrock spot where the eager but lost might find some place to begin their journey. I mean, if you’re in any way indicative of the type of reader our hypertext might attract, surely we need to clearly point out that at any time such a reader can enhance their experience of The Unknown by scrolling down to the bottom of whatever page they’re reading in order to click on either the “People” “Maps,” “Bookstores,” or any of the colored buttons so conveniently provided to further their exploration of this infinite jest of a textual extravaganza, The Unknown. Do we even need to continue this dialogue?

S: Perhaps we should explain the whole CTA metaphor: that the colored buttons at the bottom of the page, the “lines” as it were, link to parts of the novel that are conceptually different from each other. The Red Line is primarily about the whole ugly story of what happened on the book tour; The Purple Line is “Metafictional Bullshit,” that is, places where we talk about the concepts etc.; The Blue Line is a space for documentary projects, like our Audio of the Photo Shoot, and the Transcript of the Unknown, and the (as yet not uploaded though presently documented) Day on the CTA; while The Brown Line is all about Image=Text projects like Katie’s great Watercolor Diary, and the Blue Note Cards, and the Post Card Poems (on the way); and then of course there is The Orange Line, with all that classic correspondence; and the Green Line, where readers will be able to find reports and audio from our live events. Is that what you mean?

D: Even if it weren’t, there’s not much I could do about it now, given that you have so helpfully filled everyone in on the secret.

W: Hey, though I hate to crash your sweet little two-man party, what about my thoughts concerning a homepage? Don’t they count for something?

F: Yeah, ditto, and “Et tu, Bruté” you usurping dudes in Chicago! What happened to collaboration? Democracy? All for one and one for all?

S: Oh, you guys still want to be in the Unknown?

D: Of course they do, Scott. Despite your high-handed appropriation of Frank’s good name and reputation, there seems to be . . .

S: Hey! I said I was sorry!

D: I know, I know. All I was saying was that whatever our personal disagreements about The Unknown, no one seems willing to completely disown it, which might seem like something less than a sterling endorsement, but it nonetheless suggests that were it not for The Unknown, none of us would be spending so much time worrying about it, but now that we are, we’ve come to the conclusion that, despite the uneasiness, we’d rather worry about The Unknown than return to a time when The Unknown wasn’t even a glimmer in our collective consciousness.

S: And don’t get me wrong, I mean I think that Frank and William, who are sensitive and irrational, but great writers, should do another Welcome to The Unknown.

W: Whatever that was you just said, it was not particularly funny.

S: How’s your back doing?

W: Not particularly well. We need to talk.

S: Guys, by the way, how the fuck did you get in here, who let you in, oh, hey Adam.

A: Sorry.

S: Glad to see you, glad to see everyone. Pull up a chair, guys.

W: I’m more comfortable standing, ever since the accident.

S: Grab a beer. Ah, but you guys are writing that intro page tomorrow night, right, and then ah, William is going to set up some kind of a PERL script so that half the time they’ll get this, and half the time they’ll get that. And so, ah, it will all be okay. Okey-Dokey?

D: Sounds good to me.

S: Well, guess that’s the end of our little hearthside introduction. We were wearing smoking jackets at the time.

F: I want to talk to you, Rettberg.

S: Ah, have you got a beer? Hungry?

F: I’ve got some issues. You’re writing in my voice, without my consent.

S: The chili’s pretty good. Grab a bowl. You need anything?

W: Yeah, we’ve got problems.

S: Do you realize how long people have had to scroll down by now?

D: They’ve probably hit a link by now, and gone deeply into our hypertext novel.

S: What are you doing with that fork, William?

F: We want to talk to you, Scott, about some decisions you made, with the hypertext.

S: Yeah, uh, you guys want a cookie? I got some good ones, right over here.

F: We’re your friends but, ah . . . we need to converse.

S: Arrrrrgh!

A: William! Scott, are you okay? Scott? Scott?!?

D: Nothing good can come of this.
Audio Button
Robert Coover Introduces the Unknown
Brown University
112K RealAudio Clip

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