Friday, September 15, 2006

The Electronic Afterlife of Art


The internet is a huge city whose machinery moves so fast there is no time to consider urban renewal. Graffitti, written by unknown hoodlums, remains on the sides of passing trains year after year. Posters for bands that have long since disbanded stay nailed to utility poles. Chalk drawings on the sidewalk do not fade over time. Every rambling piece of art and expression continue to exist, and wait for rebirth.

A few months ago I was contacted by an Israeli publisher regarding a story I had published online years before. The story involved The Salvation Army, genital piercing, and teenage girls. I could not image what an international audience would think if they ever read it, but when the contracts arrived from Tel Aviv, I signed them. Then I forgot about the whole affair, considering it a bizarre event that would never be repeated. I was wrong.

Today I was contacted by an Indian publisher who wanted permission to republish a personal essay I published online about attending my first NASCAR race in Bristol, TN. What an Indian publisher would want with my exploration of largely southern race car culture is beyond me, but once again I granted the rights to publish my work in a country I will never see.

These request have left me a little puzzled. But when I considered them I came to a few conclusions.

First, I relized that culture is culture. My befuddlement at what an Indian publisher could want with an essay about race car culture in America must in some way be equal to that of a Hindu priest wondering what National Geographic could possibly see interesting in a temple dedicated to rats. The temple afterall is a part of his every day life, and most Americans belong to a different religion than his own.

Secondly, I realized that the internet allows art to have an afterlife. Words float in the electric ether waiting to be considered and reborn in new forms, but this blessing is not the sole territory of literature. Music is downloaded, shared, and posted. Art is pasted onto new pages, incorporated into other works, and photoshopped by strangers worldwide. Art is reincarnated every day in small and large ways, and its audience is sometimes the most unlikely thanks to the angels of search engines and scrolling screens. Once it is created and born into the electronic realm of being, it remains.

Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of Lists




This week, for the first time, I was able to walk into a bookstore and find something I wrote for sale. While it wasn't a book, or even a story, it was a great quiet moment. While what I wrote was something that might better belong on the back of a cocktail napkin, or in an forwarded email, it was nice to see my work in print. It was also one of those moments in life where failure, either my own inability to count and/or that of the copyeditor's, mixes with success. My list (Seven Band Names That Would Be Impossible to Book) appears in the anthology Mountain Man Dance Moves: The McSweeney's Book of List, although the list as printed includes only six names. Buy a copy. It's my greatest success and misstep to date.