The original is here . As I repost this I realise that it is something of a companion piece to my musings on Twitter here . I was probably a little bit more dubious about the Hitrecord enterprise than I captured here; Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems an admirable person but hitrecord’s ouevre seemed pretty superficial overall. The original book is very pretty (it is on the desk beside me as I type) but one can’t escape awareness that this is a product of the well known independent underdog HarperCollins.
I have noted that over the years I have written quite a bit of experimental prose; I also realise I don’t particularly rate it.
|The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1|
|hitRECord, HarperCollins, 88 pages|
Virginia Woolf famously said that throughout history, the author “Anonymous” was usually a woman. An equal if not greater case could be made that Anonymous was usually more than one person. While the pendulum of scholarly opinion as to whether there really was a historical individual called Homer who wrote the epics now attributed to that name goes back and forth, there can be little doubt that many of the classics we enjoy were collaborative efforts.
The romantic notion of the writer as a lone genius struggling to bring their unique consciousness to light — James Joyce’sA Portrait of the Author As A Young Man being the exemplifying text — is of course a misleading one. For starters the whole process of an individual’s inspiration finding its way to book form in the reader’s hand obviously involves a whole chain of people — eBook revolution or no eBook revolution — from the publicists to agents.
And yet, while no writer is an island, collaborative fiction has been a minor feature of the last couple of hundred years of Western literary history. Science fiction, perhaps more than other genres, has seen fruitful collaborations (usually on the part of a duo of authors, or on a “shared world” basis) — nevertheless, the act of literary creation is by and large attributed to an individual. There are exceptions from the avant garde, such as the Italian collective Luther Blisset, and occasional experiments online (such as Penguin Books’ A Million Penguins and the almost self-explanatory http://www.wikistory.com, which unfortunately last time I checked was overrun with spam).
hitRECord (www.hitrecord.org) is an online collaborative website curated by the actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Using thenom du hitRECord ordinaryJOE, Gordon-Levitt himself participates on the site. According to his Wikipedia entry, Gordon-Levitt originally founded hitRECord as a place to explore some of his own artistic and collaborative interests in a relaxed site somewhat removed from the scrutiny of Hollywood; the decision to open it up to all comers came later. From a look around, hitRECord is a fresh, easy-to-use and exciting site and one which clearly has a strong community spirit. Anyone interested in playing around with collaborative ideas and perhaps stumbling (as a by product of having interesting fun) onto The Future of Literary Art should really have a look around and dive in.
Gordon-Levitt announces on the site, “I direct our community in a variety of collaborations. When one of our productions makes money, we split the profits 50/50 between the company and the contributing artists.” Volume 1 of a projected trilogy of tiny books of tiny stories, this is one of those productions. It is a beautifully produced and illustrated book, which features 67 of the 8569 contributions to the Tiny Stories collaboration.
A randomly selected sample of the text of some of the Tiny Stories gives a flavour of the purely literary element of the enterprise:
Of course, the above quotes isolated from the illustrations give a false impression. Perhaps it is fairest to say that this aims to be an integration of text and illustration. The links above connect to the textual part of the collaboration; you can get a sense of how the rest is put together. For instance, for the racoon story the final “result” as it appears in the book is here: . There are a few Tiny Stories which work as standalone pieces:
This story, my favourite in the book, appears as so.
Almost any consideration of “tiny stories” will inevitably, and rather predictably, turn to Twitter. Most of the stories contained herein would certainly make the 140 character or less mark. The aphorism has long preceded Twitter and the various other means of compressed, instantaneous self-expression which are so popular nowadays. Various attempts have been made in the English-speaking world to revitalise the aphorism as a literary form, one of the most notable being the Scottish poet Don Paterson’s various books. Paterson has, in a way typical of our time, often reflected on the aphorism itself.
In his recent collection Best Thought, Worst Thought, Paterson writes: “Despite our attempts to imbue them with some flavour, any flavour — aphorisms all turn out so… generic; they all sound like they were written by the same disenfranchised, bad tempered minor deity.” This is a common effect of any literature that strives for universality by omission, including the science fiction story set in an abstracted, nameless world. Paterson, to my mind, could easily be describing even the wittiest Twitter feed; after a while, even the most fascinating personality becomes shrill and predictable when reduced to 140 (or less) characters. A few towering geniuses such as Borges and Daniil Kharms could produce short pieces of genuine power, and concision is a worthy enemy of flabby longwindedness, but all too often the limit of concision becomes as stultifying as the overinclusion of detail.
Perhaps the above is too more freight to put onto this slim, beautifully produced volume. The illustrations save the Tiny Stories in this volume from the pitfall of over genericness (generality? genericity?)
tiny stories themselves are variously charming, moving, whimsical, thought provoking, at times a little twee to my taste but generally diverting. Combined with the illustrations this is an beautiful little artefact. Future of literature or pleasant diversion? I can’t help thinking that this would be a nice present to let someone else decide.