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Allen B Ruch: Creator of The Modern Word
Interview by Jeff VanderMeer

INTRODUCTION

Allen B Ruch runs The Modern Word Web site, perhaps the best source for information about authors like Borges, Joyce, Marquez, and others. I first came across Allen's Web site work when I encountered The Libyrinth, the previous incarnation of The Modern Word. Allen's masterwork may be the subject of more publicity than in the past and now comes complete with a distinguished editorial board, but the mission of his Web site remains the same: to convey a love for great fiction in the form of comprehensive articles, reviews, and bibliographies of the best writers. The Modern Word promotes qualities like vision, experimentalism, and audacity without making distinctions between "genre" and "mainstream" fiction. Much of the site contains material well-suited for readers of the Fantastical. Future additions to the site include Angela Carter, Michael Moorcock, Philip K Dick, and Stepan Chapman.

For more information on Ruch, visit www.themodernword.com/bio.html

THE INTERVIEW

What gave you the idea to create the Libyrinth?

I had just returned from Ireland, where I had wandered around Dublin and the surrounding countryside with Ulysses as a reading companion. I had also just gotten a connection to the Web, and a friend of mine--Scott Youmans, who would later work for Netscape--wanted to teach me how to create a Web site. My idea was to place some of my own writings online, things I created for various role-playing games. Basic geek stuff.

I quickly got hooked on the Web and began doing searches for just about anything, from the lyrics of "Desolation Row" to obscure Lovecraftian spells intended to turn my Chemistry students into blindly obedient Shuggoths. As I was preparing myself to read Finnegans Wake, I also wanted to look up a few things about Joycean criticism, and I was surprised to find only one or two Web sites. Unfortunately, none of them quite had what I was after. I filed away my disappointment, and busily learned how to code HTML. Soon I had my first Web site online--"New York by Night," a resource for my game-related vampire writings. (And as it would turn out, a magnet for attracting strange emails from people convinced I could introduce them to [Anne Rice's Vampire] Lestat.)

Shortly after finishing the site, I suddenly went on a big Borges kick. (I think it was after reading Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol.) Again, turning to the Web as a resource, I discovered there were no sites at all about Borges! It was around that time that Scott Youmans suggested I start creating sites about my favorite authors, to fill the void, so to speak.

At first, I set my mind on a James Joyce site. After compiling a bunch of information and creating some simple reader's guides and such, I placed it online on June 16, 1995 and called it The Brazen Head... I was actually surprised when people began emailing me; and soon I was amused to discover I was becoming something of a "Web guy" for Joyce.

Next came a Borges site, which was even more exciting because I was the first to get something about him online, and The Garden of Forking Paths went up soon after the Brazen Head. And then I began thinking of an Umberto Eco site... A scholar can tell you about Modernism and postmodernism and the anxiety of influence and all that; but I wanted to connect [these authors] for the non-scholar, for a person who just liked reading literature with a sense of play, a sense of experimentation. So many people seemed intimidated by Joyce, and Pynchon, and Eco.... Which sent my "teacher gene" to twitching. I firmly believe that any intelligent reader can read Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow or One Hundred Years of Solitude--they just needed to be pried loose from the crust of academia; and perhaps handed over with a few words of friendly advice. Most of all, I wanted to present things in a playful way--these books are fun, and reading them can be very enjoyable as well as intellectually rewarding. So I had this idea to link all these "challenging" writers up under some sort of umbrella site, one that would be comprehensive but still playful.

How did you come up with the Libyrinth name?

One day I was attending an in-service meeting for teachers. I was bored mindless, and I began doodling possible names and designs on some paper. (The topic of the lecture was--and I kid you not--"Attention Deficit Disorder.") At the time, I was still reading Finnegans Wake, and I had begun to mix and slur my words constantly, seeing puns in everything. So I definitely wanted a Joycean pun as a name; something that combined the ideas of allusion, illusion, and elusiveness. Something that evoked libraries and labyrinths.... And after a few permutations, I jotted down "LIBYRINTH," and well, I just fell in love with it. And that was the site I created to link all the author sites together.

How is the current incarnation of the site different from the previous ones?

The Libyrinth version of the site lasted about a year and a half, until I met Stanley Goldstein, the President of the American Friends of James Joyce. Impressed by the site, he found a few literary-minded investors, and they provided the resources to turn the site into a "professional" venture. It was then redesigned by Renaissance, a team from New York, and we expanded the Libyrinth and rolled it into a new creation--The Modern Word. A much better navigation system was installed, some extra functionality was added, and the entire site received a much-needed update and overhaul.  The Modern Word expanded the scope of the project to include not only the Libyrinth but art galleries, a newsletter, a quote-of-the-day, that sort of thing.

For me, the most exciting change was the addition of a "Literary Advisory Board," a group of very cool people from academia and publishing who advise and assist the site. All of them are very enthusiastic about the site, and all understand that the main goal is still to bring twentieth-century literature to everyone who wants it, from beginner to rabid fan to academic scholar.

Have you read the Modern Library's 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century list? If so, did you think it was a fair assessment?

Yes, I am familiar with it, and I think it is essentially fair; but it's also important to recall these are works only in English. An international list would yield some very different results. Though I do believe there is one glaring omission and several regrettable [choices]. The worst offense is the lack of Thomas Pynchon. To leave Gravity's Rainbow off the list seems terribly short-sighted; in fact, it seems quite conspicuous by its absence. (I would even think Crying of Lot 49 deserves to be on there; and certainly Mason & Dixon?) I also think the list (typically) overlooks science fiction and fantasy. Where's The Lord of the Rings? Neuromancer? The Man in the High Castle? I suppose I would have rather seen less "repeat-authors" and more breadth. I mean, did D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, Henry James and Joseph Conrad really write 13% of the greatest novels of the last century?

I'm not sure I'd put any of the SF pieces you mention on a list of the best, but it is a remarkably white, non-genre list of works.

I agree. As far as my own SF choices, I suppose I have to look at the idea of "best" as also having the connotations of important and influential, in which case I think Neuromancer certainly deserves a place, and Tolkein.

In your editor's bio on the Modern Word site, you write: "Being a sort of geeky kid with a fixation on Saturday morning monster movies, I naturally gravitated to horror, fantasy and science fiction." You mention reading Tolkien, Lieber, Bradbury, Lovecraft, then Moorcock, M. John Harrison, etc. A lot of kids "grow up" and don't read fantastical fiction after a certain point. Why do you think you kept reading it? What do you find so appealing about it generally?

I've noticed that before in many of my friends, as a matter of fact. I think there are two reasons I still read fantastical fiction. The first is simply a matter of taste--if I may say so, I have always had fairly good taste when it comes to reading in general, even as a kid. Sure, I've read--and enjoyed!--my share of "trashy" SF and fantasy; but what was really getting to me was the stuff like Tolkien, Bradbury, Moorcock, Lovecraft and so on. In other words, good writers--writers who knew their craft, and could spin their tales in a way that didn't come across as childish or simple. I quickly outgrew stuff like Piers Anthony and Alan Dean Foster and a host of writers not even half as good as them--why read another Xanth instalment, when I was already turned on to the Viriconium books? So I never felt a sense of disillusionment with the genre...From a very early age, I realized that every kind of literature has its hacks, its average writers, and its "greats."

The second reason also answers your question of "appeal." The stuff that attracted me to this kind or writing was its sense of exploration, its wonder, its mystery and the things it did with reality--both in terms of its topics of speculation [and] literary mechanics such as narrative play and games with language. These interests run deep in me, and I think in the "genre" writers I love the most. In order to tell his stories, Tolkien invented whole languages, maps, mythologies... Lovecraft blended fact with fiction and painted his modernist anxieties in a consistent mythology described in an affected, antiquated prose; Moorcock simply destroyed my perceptions of time and space and showed me that narrative didn't have to be linear. From there, it wasn't that difficult to move into Philip K. Dick, Borges, Burroughs, Joyce, Beckett...

What fantastical or horrific work have you read in the last couple of years--new authors--that you would specifically recommend and why?

To be honest, other than stuff by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and Tim Powers, I haven't read a lot of straight-up SF or fantasy lately; but a few related names do pop into my mind. Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves was just phenomenal, a massive horror story that one-upped postmodernism and just left me astonished at its sheer creativity. I'm fond of Thomas Ligotti's horror stories, which seem to be in the neurotic tradition of Lovecraft; and I very much enjoy Stepan Chapman, author of The Troika. And although he is by no means a "new" writer, the best horror story I have read in ten years was Fred Chappell's Dagon, which finally came back into print only recently. Two recent novels I've enjoyed that may loosely fit the mold of "fantastical" are Julian Rios' Monstruary, a catalog of mad artists that reads like a cross between Borges and Bosch, and Edward Carey's Observatory Mansions. In science fiction, I've been reading a lot of Patricia Anthony of Brother Termite fame. I think her ideas are very sophisticated and her characterizations are dead-on. I've been enjoying Jonathan Lethem, who wrote a few offbeat SF-style novels before the superb Motherless Brooklyn. I like Jeff Noon--and Arthur Neresian's bizarre SF tale "Manhattan Lover Boy" was pretty cool. And I recommend Kurt Andersen's semi-satirical Turn of the Century to just about everyone I meet--though its "future" date has already passed, it's amazingly insightful and quite cutting, especially in its portrayal of new media. I also like comic books--Grant Morrison is a genius!

One thing that struck me as possibly inconsistent in your editor's bio was the gaming work you did. How do you feel that ties into your love for literature and to what extent does your love for literature inform the gaming work you did?

I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I love to write, and I like creative writing just as much as I do reviewing and writing essays and articles, perhaps even more. Writing materials for role-playing games is just good fun. I think gaming is wonderful; it gives me a chance to take ideas and bring them to life, whether they're my original ideas, or ideas stolen from literature. I do think that the writing I do for my role-playing games--especially Vampire and Call of Cthulhu--has been generally enriched by my fondness for literature and "good" fantasy. Not only do I want my characters and scenarios to be consistent, believable, and imaginative; but from a purely "literary" level, I would like them to be a good read. I think to a certain extent I have succeeded--I get encouraging e-mail all the time from non-gamers who stumble across my "New York by Night" project. Many of these people think I am writing vampire stories!

I'm also struck by the fact that you do not feel the need to differentiate between "genre" and "serious" or "mainstream" literature. This seems to be a major stumbling block for some readers, writers, and academics on both sides of the fence. Why do you think this is, first, and second, why don't you think in those terms?

One thing I have found interesting about this interview has been exactly that--it has made me distinguish and reflect upon these categories. It's not a distinction that I naturally make. I mean, to me, good literature is good literature, be it J.G. Ballard or Herman Melville. Some of it may be more to my taste, certainly, but I am not going to qualify my praise of someone like Philip K. Dick by saying "he's a great SF writer." No, he is a great writer, period, and he largely works in the SF medium.

And yes, I agree with you--it is a stumbling block, especially in academia. I am personally very frustrated at the ghetto "genre" literature is forced to occupy in many circles. I don't know if I have anything original to add about why this is the case--I think much ink has been spilled on that subject--but I do think it is unfortunate. I am intrigued, however, by your statement "on both sides of the fence." That is something less discussed, and also a bit frustrating. I have some friends who only read SF and fantasy; and they have a very thorny attitude about so-called "literature," dismissing it as abstruse, or too rarified, or not really relevant anymore. In fact, one of my friends thinks that I'm a snob because I like Joyce! I don't really know why this is, but I suspect it's something of a reaction against academia's frequent snobbery concerning genre fiction. When your tastes get dismissed and demonized enough, you develop a very "go to hell" attitude. So maybe this is just a reaction against the bias of the literature establishment.

However, I do think that is changing--our current postmodern idiom is more embracing of genre fiction, and I have been noticing more academics starting to take SF, fantasy, and horror more seriously. How can you not? The groundwork has been there all along, from Homer to Mary Shelly to H.G. Wells to Umberto Eco. As long as a book discusses the great issues, I trust that one day it will not be marginalized just because it takes place on another planet. I mean, Lovecraft--he's brilliant, I think, in his later works--he has more to say about alienation, paranoia, and the anxiety of modern life than many "canon" writers I know. But since he writes in a "debased" genre, and certainly speaks in a horrific and mythological framework, he is largely dismissed. Now, he may not be as profound as Beckett or as good a writer as Pynchon; and his convoluted prose and hysterical style may not be to everybody's taste. But I long for a day when I won't raise academic eyebrows when I crack open The Call of Cthulhu at an MLA convention! And likewise, I look forward to the time when more people at the NecronomiCon will express interest in Calvino and Kafka!

Just out of curiosity, have you by any chance read the work of the French and English Decadents of the late 19th and early 20th century? Many writers of the fantastic have been influenced by them.

It's interesting you bring that up, because that is some of my favorite literature and poetry! In fact, I made an early and conscious decision to limit "the Modern Word" to only twentieth century writers; but I could very easily see an alternate version where it picks up with Wilde and company. Personally, I love the aesthetes, decadents, symbolists, and so on--and not just Oscar Wilde, but Baudelaire, Symons, Dowson, Rimbaud; the usual suspects. And Huysmans--I adore Against the Grain, it's a terrific novel! Their word-play, their over-refined sense of beauty, and the subtle awareness of death and decay that secretly informs almost every line.... And of course the wit, the sex, the scandal!

Given the context of our discussion thus far, to what extent does The Modern Word try to promote international fiction and, also, commit to the idea that good writing exists in both the literary mainstream and in genre fiction? I guess I'm curious about potential conflicts with your advisory board, which might be perhaps more conservative than you?

That's a great question, and let me answer it in two parts. First of all, the site is definitely oriented towards global literature; indeed, the only American author we currently feature on a major site is Pynchon. Latin America has a lot of representation--the so-called "Boom" is rich with writers who fit the Libyrinth mode. Other countries represented on the site, or will be in the near future, include Ireland, England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Japan, India.... the list is fairly inclusive.

The genre question is a bit trickier. I am 100% committed to the idea that genre fiction can contain some very important and literate works, and The Modern Word will always promote that position. However, your curiosity is perceptive. Though the Advisory Board is pretty up-to-date, and has a few members who love genre fiction (especially Adele Haft and Michael Dirda), I do sense a bit of the good old academic prejudice against science fiction, horror, fantasy, and comics. And to be fair, I have my own prejudices--I would replace Proust with Philip K. Dick in a heartbeat! But I do see their point, and it is important to remember a few things. First of all, the "Next Ten" list represents potential sites that we are willing to pay for. Though it is not much, we do have a small amount set aside for each one as an incentive to find a capable editor willing to tackle such a site. For instance, if someone wanted to create a Philip K. Dick site as purely a labor of love, I think the Board would have no problems. Secondly, the Scriptorium has no such limitations, and I hope it will connect more genre fiction (H.P. Lovecraft,  Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, etc.) with the idea of "great modern literature." And finally, the Board has shown itself to be both very flexible, and very respectful to the original goals of the site. I am extremely happy with our relationship and so far there have been no problems.

If you had to choose just one author from the 20th century as the greatest, who would it be?

James Joyce. I don't even have to think about it. He's a revolutionary the likes of Beethoven or Picasso or Einstein. You can trace modern literature as far back as you'd like--I mean, you can find postmodern elements in Hamlet and Mozart's Don Giovanni--but Joyce fulfilled the promise of Cervantes and Melville and then made a quantum leap forward; and then made another quantum leap forward with Finnegans Wake, which we are still just beginning to understand... And all this amazing technique never overshadows the profound sense of understanding Joyce has of the human heart.

Would it be safe to say that all of your major literary loves are already explicated on The Modern Word? And who would you like to add to the list from among contemporary novelists?

I feel like I am just beginning! Of course, Joyce and Borges are the two pillars of my personal temple of literature, and I am thrilled that I was able to create both sites early on. But there are many other authors that I would be delighted to see included--Italo Calvino, Carlos Fuentes, Philip K. Dick, Vladimir Nabokov, and Franz Kafka come immediately to mind.

In fact, the Literary Advisory Board just created a list of "Next Ten" authors: Samuel Beckett, Italo Calvino, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Carlos Fuentes, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. If all goes well, we will find capable people to create all ten sites--and if I have the time, I would love to do the Calvino site myself. Currently, both Beckett and Woolf sites are already underway--I am having a ball laying out the Beckett site, Apmonia, as it finally affords me an excuse to read through Beckett's works. I feel like I have truly discovered a new favorite!

As far as contemporary novelists, I would be very much interested to see sites on Salman Rushdie, Don DeLillo, J.G. Ballard, and Haruki Murakami. I'd also like to see Tom Stoppard in there.

There's also the Scriptorium, which I plan on developing into a more focused area in which to feature living writers and emerging talents. There's a lot more freedom and flexibility in this section. I think it would be a great place to showcase younger writers like David Foster Wallace, Jeanette Winterson, Mark Danielewski, and so on.

What draws you to books and literature? You are making a huge commitment of your time to a form that some would say is out-of-date and on the decline. (Not me, of course!)

Not me, either! I do not believe books will ever be replaced. There is something almost mystical about them, the feel of the pages turning in your hands, their weight, their scent, even the inviting patterns of the spines along a well-stocked bookshelf. Books are freighted with an archetypical significance, a presence, that a computer screen cannot touch.

So what draws me to books? I could go on all day, I think; or I could just quote Borges' entire story, "The Library of Babel." But to keep it short... a book is another world. You enter it and you bring something back. You interact with it on so many levels--as Borges would say, it is an "axis of innumerable relationships." You and the author, you and the authorial voice, you and the characters, you and your own experiences, and a myriad of internal relationships. Each book is a blueprint for an entire universe--but only a blueprint. It is up to the reader to make contact with the book and bring into being a new world.

A good book has many lives. Like a multi-dimensional entity, each time you read a book, you are intersecting the work at another location. You can never read the same book twice--you always return a different person, changed by time, by experience and events, and changed by your previous reading of the book itself.

I like to use a software/hardware analogy: there are some books that you need to "load" into your brain before other books will make sense.

Yes, that's a marvelous analogy! And some books, like Hamlet, have pretty much established themselves as a component for the Base Literacy OS.

Getting back to Joyce for a moment in this context: I have never been fond of Joyce in his longer incarnations (I love his short work) in that I am unable to perceive a viable pattern or form in his fiction. What authors would you suggest I read prior to re-tackling Ulysses or Finnegans Wake? For the sake of the question, I'm assuming the deficiency is on my part.

The first writer to read before you take on Ulysses is Joyce himself. He spent his life carefully constructing a universe called Dublin and filling it with a multiplicity of characters. Reading Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man before Ulysses is vital to getting the most out of the work. A basic knowledge of Homer's The Odyssey is important, otherwise you might not enjoy, or even catch, a lot of the mock-epic structure and ironic parallels. And I would certainly advise "loading" Hamlet into your brain as well. But the most important thing to remember is that no one will understand it all the first time through, or even the second and third and so on. But if you are enjoying it, if you are caught up by the language and the characters, just keep reading! You are bound to find some of it obscure, and you will certainly "miss" some things. But it should all come together in the end, and there's no reason you can't establish an enriching relationship with the book on your own terms. And it helps to consult a few guides--I recommend Blamires' The New Bloomsday Book and Gifford's Ulysses Annotated. And in the end, if you still don't enjoy it, then that's fine, too. It's not a question of deficiency, only taste!

Now, as far as Finnegans Wake goes, what you really have to do to completely understand this book is simple--you have to be James Joyce! But the crucial thing to remember about Finnegans Wake is that it's truly not a normal reading experience, and unless you really want to work at it, there's no point in beating your head against it. I find that a lot of people mistakenly think it is difficult in the same way that Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow or Moby Dick may be difficult--long, occasionally obscure, not much of a plot. That may all be true, but the Wake is not merely a long and difficult novel; it's a totally different animal altogether. Really understanding the Wake has more to do with curiosity and fascination than it does with intelligence--you should have a half-crazy desire to constantly interact with it. Every single page is a "crossmess parzel," a treasure of puns and allusions and slurred language and deliberately obscured situations; even the characters change identities in this sprawling, mythological dream. You need to both struggle with the text and yet allow it to possess you, and most importantly, all this should bring you joy, or what's the point in treading it? And that's just not where some people are at, which is perfectly fine. Indeed, I have met many Joycean scholars who love Ulysses, but are left cold by the Wake.

Given that today's youth may be reading less due to the infiltration of other media and the Internet, what do you think your organization, or individuals, can do to encourage reading in today's youth? And I don't mean reading of comic books or nonfiction or R. L. Stine's Goosebumps, but of novels? And I don't mean any old novel--I mean really good novels. Complex novels.

This is really a difficult question! First of all, a lot of these complex novels are difficult for teenagers for a very good reason--how can you really enjoy Ulysses if you haven't read Hamlet or Portrait yet? Modernism and Postmodernism works from an assumed storehouse of knowledge, and it's critical to actually build up that knowledge to appreciate many modern texts.

I do think we can make a more concerted effort to teach modern fiction in school--some books will always be important, true, but I would love to see an effort being made to include more twentieth century works. I also think educators should keep opening doors, too. "Well, you like science fiction? Have you tried this book by Vonnegut?" "I see you like comic books and fantasy--have you ever read Calvino or Borges?" That sort of thing, which is what a good teacher does anyway. I suppose it all comes down to the same advice I would offer any teacher--make the subject interesting, make it fun, and don't tell lies. Remember, a lot of these complex novels have some controversial material, and an educator has to contend with that as well.

And if The Modern Word is to help, I think we need to stay friendly, upbeat, and accessible--not to mention try to raise our profile among educators and younger readers. I think it's important to not scare off a potential reader when they are young!

To what extent do you think the Internet is changing the relationship between reader and writer? (Just to give you some idea of where I'm coming from--I had a very exasperating email discussion with Richard Seltzer of the website Samizdat in which he stated his belief that the Internet would allow the reader to hold a more equal role with the writer, even to the point of influencing the writing of new fiction. A position I recoiled from in horror--both as a reader and as a writer.)

Ah, here's where I put aside my postmodern airs to reveal myself as a closet Romantic! So I warn you, my opinions are quite biased, and I have had similar discussions with the "The author is dead!" people.

I do believe that the Internet will change the relationship somewhat--especially at the level of experimental fiction and basic author/reader communication--but I don't think that will take away from the essential relationship as it exists today. I see your horror, and I feel it, too, but I think it may be premature. Most people realize that the heart of an artistic experience lies in the imagination of the artist interacting with the imagination of the viewer, reader, listener, etc. And we seek out these artistic experiences--I think that's something humans have been doing all over the world for quite some time. We expect something from our artists, especially the great ones. When you listen to a Beethoven symphony, or when you read Shakespeare, you are interacting with a mind that's achieved a certain level of expressive genius. The artist is able to produce an expression so sublime it seems to speak for all of humanity. We are moved, sensing something greater than ourselves and yet part of ourselves, approaching, if you will, a mystical union with the art, the artist, and perhaps humanity itself. I think most people realize that not everyone is a Beethoven or a Shakespeare, and we will always need great artists to express the miracle of our own souls.

So I am not particularly worried about the Internet. I am certain that some writers will establish closer relationships with their readers, especially those in a niche market; some writers may take on "patrons" who will guide their fiction, and certainly some works will be produced mutually--and that in itself is an exciting new prospect, but one I see as being additive rather than subtractive. A communal book, a group composition, a collaborative painting ... all are interesting, but in the end, after the work is concluded, it's just an example of a work with shared authorship. The Internet may make this more common, but I don't find it particularly revolutionary, nor will it ever threaten the desire to be "taken away" by a great book.

Perhaps more to the point, I don't think writers like Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce are the type of writers who will change their endings based on a focus group!

What is upcoming for The Modern Word in the next couple of years?

Well, hopefully it will continue to expand... until it permeates every Web site, every Mailing List, every BBS--finally spilling over the Web and into Reality, into every library, converting by slow alchemy every copy of DH Lawrence into James Joyce, slipping into the pages of Deepak Chopra and John Grisham and scrambling their words into arcane patterns, moving paragraphs of Samuel Beckett and Mark Z. Danielewski into random copies of Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul...

But if that doesn't happen, at the very least I hope to add many new author sites, from the "Next Ten" to whole sites on genre writers and even poets and playwrights. We would also like to create educational initiatives, trying to get high school students to read more twentieth century literature--and more educators to teach it. There's also music and art, two areas into which we would like to expand. For instance, the artist Paul Joyce, the great-grandnephew of James Joyce, created a whole series of etchings and oil paintings about Ulysses, which we host and sell online. We'd like to do more like that. I suppose our main goal is to create a community of thinkers, readers, writers and artists, a community that sees modern literature and language itself as something wonderful, playful, enriching and life-affirming.

But don't forget our real goal: total literary domination by a postmodern paradigm. So be very careful of that copy of Crichton you may have on your shelf. Even now, the letters may be slowly re-arranging themselves....

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© Jeff VanderMeer 25 August 2001