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Publishing Means Business

CHAPTER SEVEN

Who Are the New Gatekeepers?

Literary Mediation and Post-Digital Publishing

MARK DAVIS

Introduction

What are the valorising pathways and practices of literary reception today? A decade or so ago this was a relatively easy question to answer: agents, publishers and editors, broadsheet-newspaper literary sections, the academy, broadcast media, literary journals, literary prizes, and festivals and events, all played a part in the critical mediation and reception of works. These were Pierre Bourdieu’s famous ‘cultural intermediaries’ (1984, 359), a ‘petit bourgeoisie’ corps of cultural capital dealers who provide guidance in the consumption of symbolic goods and services. Today this question is much more difficult to answer. Agents, publishers and editors still play a crucial mediating role, albeit under mounting commercial pressures (Thompson 2012). Newspaper literary sections have lost audiences and prestige at a time of declining circulation, standardisation and increased copysharing (Nolan and Ricketson 2013). A thundering review from an established critic no longer has the power it once did and many newspaper literary sections have shrunk or disappeared altogether. The academy no longer functions as a valorising, canon-making institution in the way that it once did and literary departments, along with the humanities more generally, are feeling the managerial pressures visited on ‘non-counting’ disciplines (English 2010) that privilege qualititative over quantitative research. Broadcast media—mostly radio and television arts shows—remains an important medium for authors, but appearances are mostly restricted to state-supported and community broadcasters. Literary journals survive, and smart ones even prosper, reliant on cultural communities and significant volunteer labour and grants. Prizes, festivals and events are, more than ever, an important consecratory tool, but are no longer so concerned with protecting the boundaries of the literary from the popular (Driscoll 2014).

Other channels, meanwhile, have proliferated. The literary field has expanded to include social media forums such as Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Library-Thing and Pinterest, among others. Driven by popular ‘power users’ who have a significant profile, or by sheer numbers, or when leveraged off festivals and events, social media now plays a role in championing and popularising literary texts. Publisher websites, author blogs, online bookstore reviews, self-publishing portals, collective editing sites, podcasts, bookblogs and literary portals, bookstore e-newsletters, online bookstore customer reviews and recommendation algorithms, have further multiplied pathways to reception.

Already a paradox is apparent. Pathways to reception have increased but none are authoritative. A small number of large gates have given way to a proliferation of openings, even breaches. A related issue is that traditional agents of literary reception served to valorise the status of literature itself; in traditional literary gatekeeping culture, even negative commentary mediated and maintained the status of the field. Reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads, readers engaged in book talk on Twitter, Facebook or bookblogs, or self-publishers, appear to show little commitment to contextualising any given literary work within the broader cultural practices and dispositions of the literary, or in maintaining or acknowledging what John Frow (1982) has called the ‘literary frame’.

I want to begin to enumerate, here, how this new literary gate-keeping dynamic works, with reference to recent literature on digital literary cultures and gatekeeping more generally. My aim is to make a contribution to understanding literary digital economy, and to think about changing media ecologies and cultural structures, and the politics of these changes.

The Post-Digital Literary Field

Above all, this new apparatus is ‘post-digital’—against narratives of technological supersession, digital media and analog forms such as print media coexist, interact and intermingle (Andersen, Cox, and Papadopolous 2014; Andersen and Pold 2014; Cox 2014; Ludovico 2013):

Post-digital, once understood as a critical reflection of ‘digital’ aesthetic immaterialism, now describes the messy and paradoxical condition of art and media after digital technology revolutions. ‘Post-digital’ neither recognizes the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, nor ideological affirmation of the one or the other. It merges ‘old’ and ‘new’, often applying network cultural experimentation to analog technologies which it re-investigates and re-uses. (Andersen, Cox, and Papadopolous 2014)

This is a space of ‘remediation’, where traditional forms of media re-fashion themselves to meet the challenges of digital media and where digital media draws on and reproduces traditional media forms (Bolter and Grusin 1999; Deuze 2006). As Alessandro Ludovico says: ‘There is no one-way street from analogue to digital; rather, there are transitions between the two, in both directions’ (Ludovico 2013, 153).

Setting aside narratives of technological supersession allows for an understanding of the post-digital as a space of social interaction and contestation. As Michael Stevenson has argued, following Lisa Gitelman (2008) and Benjamin Peters (2009), ‘technology-centric narratives of the “essential difference” of the new fall short of explaining a medium’s development, as these are ultimately sites of negotiation where neither technical nor social protocols are fixed’ (2016, 1089). To capture the sociality of the internet’s development Stevenson deploys Bourdieu’s notion of the ‘literary field’, understood as a more-or-less self-contained ‘universe of belief’ (Bourdieu 1993, 82), where different agents compete for prestige and the ability to mediate what counts as quality and legitimacy. Bourdieu’s notion of the ‘literary field’ also provides a potentially useful way to understand post-digital literary culture. Simone Murray, for example, proposes the concept of a ‘digital literary sphere’ as a ‘unifying term that could give focus and coherence to a currently scattered body of work’ that encompasses such things as ‘the broad array of book-themed websites and other digital content whose focus is contemporary literature and its production, circulation, and consumption, however blurry that tripartite distinction has been rendered in an era of Web 2.0 and social media’ (2015, 313).

As Murray says, Bourdieusian ‘field’ theory ‘provides a capacious device to conceptualise the digital literary sphere in its totality’, not least since it ‘appears especially applicable to the online environment, given the Internet’s rapidly fluctuating constellation of agents and institutions, as well as its demarcation as a “universe of belief” by all participants’ self-identification as “literary” adherents’ (2015, 330).

However, Bourdieusian field theory famously has limitations, especially in light of recent developments in the publishing industry. As David Carter has said:

This model made one kind of sense in a literary field (as in France) where publishing was largely a matter of independent houses that behaved like self-governing individuals, more or less consciously taking a position within a self-contained field, and where homologies existed across authors, editors, publishers, booksellers and critics … the fit is much less obvious in the contemporary Anglophone book trade given its dramatic restructuring since the 1980s by the emergence of multinational publishing conglomerates and global booksellers. (2016, 4)

Digital literary production stretches the model still further. Murray says ‘the advent of the Internet throws many of Bourdieu’s pronouncements into sharp relief, casting doubt upon the alleged universality of his structuralist-inflected ‘rules’ of cultural functioning by highlighting their French (and especially Parisian) specificity’ (2015, 330).

While I am in close sympathy with Murray’s project, here I argue that the post-digital publishing environment with its panoply of mediators stretches Bourdieu’s model perhaps beyond its limits. This proliferation of arbiters suggests not only a transformation in scale, but also in kind. Works of literature, now, are enmeshed in a multiplicity of digital paratexts many of which demonstrate little reverence for the literary field, its ‘universe of belief’ or its systems of valorisation and consecration. The relative autonomy of the publishing field is challenged by the integration of book publishing into a wider digital media sphere and by the challenges posed by disintermediation and convergence at every level of production and consumption, from individual users to powerful digital corporations such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, with their command over a post-convergence media environment in which book publishers must compete.

New Agents

This new multiplicity of literary paratexts is made possible by the accessibility of online media as a medium for publishing. But what effect does this have on the literary field? A series of struggles is arguably taking place over the place and meaning of the digital in literary culture. The struggles for position within the literary field described by Bourdieu have become a struggle for the shape and role of the literary field itself. In this respect digital literary initiatives can support as well as contest traditional literary cultures. For example, among the new agents are online literary reviews such as the Sydney Review of Books. According to the site’s ‘about’ page, ‘Concerns about the reduced space for serious cultural criticism in the mainstream media prompted the establishment of the Sydney Review of Books’. The site thus seeks to establish itself as a bastion of self-conscious literary seriousness in the digital networked space. There is an irony in this given that online media has been responsible for the budget shortfalls that have resulted in the decline of ‘serious’ literary review space in newspapers and elsewhere. The site is at the same time resolutely redolent of print literary culture. Text based, without multimedia, populated mostly by known literary figures, it is notable for its sober tone and its seriousness. A comment in the Review’s ‘Critic Watch’ column makes the stakes clear by self-consciously framing the journal’s approach against the ‘cloud’ of online commentary:

The entire field of literary criticism is shifting, and the delineation of the cloud becomes increasingly important for monitoring criticism’s career in the broad public sphere. The great challenge at present is for the established domains of disinterested judgement to retain their integrity as transformations take place in format, revenue structure and reading habits. (Etherington 2013)

The Sydney Review of Books, in fact, represents a form of the anti-digital within the digital—an act of literary rescue from behind enemy lines. It reminds of Mark Deuze’s comment that ‘Remediation can be countered by tradition, where tradition can be seen as the perceived safety or sense of security in sameness, similarity, routines, and deeply entrenched patterns of organization’ (2006, 69).

Another new set of paratext producers can be found on sites such as Goodreads.com. A striking characteristic of Goodreads reviews for a work such as Helen Garner’s This House of Grief (2014), chosen here because it is the highest-profile Australian literary non-fiction work published in recent years, is the extent to which many seek to replicate the form of the traditional book review. At the same time, such reviews aspire to middlebrow rather than highbrow literary culture; they emphasise personal reactions to the book rather than focus on trying to position it within the literary field (Driscoll 2014). As one reviewer put it: ‘Fuckyeah this book’. Among the notable features of Goodreads, which it shares with sites such as Amazon. com, is its use of a star-based ranking system mimicking the ranking systems of movies and hotels and a note of the popular. Goodreads, as such, functions at one level as a form of post-digital remediation via which a traditional form is taken out of ‘expert’ hands and put into the hands of the non-expert ‘participatory user’, who expects to have their opinion heard and to accrue cultural capital for transformation, perhaps, into personal symbolic capital. At the same time, such reviews operate as a form of disintermediation through which the traditional form of book reviewing is bypassed. As Deuze says:

Digital culture consists of the practices and beliefs of the bricoleur—whose activities should not be confused with boundless freedom and endless creativity … we can also observe how bricolage simultaneously consists of repurposing and refashioning the old while using and making the new. Again, bricolage as an emerging practice can be considered to be a principal component of digital culture, as well as an accelerating agent of it. (Deuze 2006, 71)

Bookblogs play a similar role in the remediation, and at the same time disintermediation, of traditional reviewing forms. For example, Richard Flanagan’s novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014) (Narrow Road), which by dint of its Man Booker Prize win is the highest-profile Australian literary fiction work published in recent years, was widely reviewed in international media in publications such as the London Review of Books to the New York Times, the Indian Express, The Scotsman, the Hong Kong Review of Books and the Japan Times. It also received considerable attention on bookblogs. A notable characteristic of bookblogs is the way they often offer a commentary on, and contrast themselves against, the book’s reception in ‘official’ literary culture, as well as commenting on the work. Valorie Grace Hallinan, in her review of Narrow Road in her bookblog Books Can Change a Life, captures this ambivalence:

I don’t consider my blog posts to be book reviews or literary criticism. My intention is to write about how a book affects me, personally, or how I think it might affect you, the reader, or why it may be especially significant in some way. (VG Hallinan 2015)

At the same time, such reviews often offer commentary on mainstream reviews or a book’s worthiness as a prize-winner. Hallinan, for example, provides direct commentary on the book’s reception, taking the New York Times reviewer to task for her mixed critique of the book: ‘she describes Flanagan’s writing about the love affair as “treacly prose,” whereas I found many of these passages beautiful. I disagree with her assessment here.’ The famously negative review of the book published in the London Review of Books, comes in for still harsher treatment:

Have you ever thoroughly loved a book or movie only to encounter a respected critic who points out how seriously deficient or flawed is the thing you absolutely love? At this link [hyperlink provided in original] is an especially vicious review in the London Review of Books. Flanagan must have poured his heart and soul into writing about a terrible time that his father survived, and he spent years working on the novel. This negative review is not reasoned literary criticism that I value or trust, and I wonder what motivates the critic. (VG Hallinan 2015)

Other reviews assess the book’s worthiness as a prize-winner:

Let’s get this out of the way—The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a BRILLIANT book! It deserves the Man Booker and more! I loved, loved, loved it! It moved me, it angered me and it made me think. (Pooja T 2014)

The emphasis, here and across the three dozen or so bookblog reviews of Narrow Road that I was able to discover, is on human affective response rather than the literary:

I cannot recall the last time a novel left me stunned and nearly breathless, but that was my state when I let the covers close on The Narrow Road to the Deep North. (stanprager 2015)

Many such bloggers also use reading as a form of emotional support. Timothy Aubry has argued, ‘many readers in the United States today, treat novels less as a source or aesthetic satisfaction than as a practical dispenser of advice of a form of therapy’ (2011, 1). For example, Books Can Change a Life explicitly uses books as a form of therapy: ‘I grew up in a family affected by mental illness. For me, books were a lifeline’ (VG Hallinan 2015). Bookblogs, in this way, function as a form of disintermediation in so far as they self-consciously position themselves outside the literary field and offer an alternative commentary aimed at peer readers. Their emphasis on affective responses to texts and identification with their authors positions them as instances of the ‘new literary middlebrow’, which Beth Driscoll (2014) argues has become a dominant force in literary taste-making. Yet they function, too, as a type of remediation that re-uses the traditional form of the book review by shortening, personalising, and substituting identification with characters, plot and the author’s background and experience writing the work, for ‘critical distance’.

These same patterns of disintermediation and remediation that test the boundaries of the literary field can be found across the spectrum of bookish online media. Online book clubs, for example, make public the private, face-to-face, non-consecratory practices of group reading, giving them what tech people call ‘scale’. Such practices can be amplified via social media and mass reading events such as the One Book, One Twitter book club (#1b1t), later titled ‘1book140’ (after the number of characters available on Twitter). As Anatoliy Gruzd and DeNel Rehberg Sedo have said:

The online book discussion group is very different from a group of readers gathering together in one member’s living room or in a local library, which is often the case for Western f2f groups. Readers who participate in #1b1t hail from disparate parts of the globe and really never meet in one space at the same time. (2012)

Mass reading events such as ‘One City One Book’ reading events, according to Danielle Fuller and DeNel Rehberg Sedo (2013), have become a form of cultural occasion that combines print-based culture with online media to create enthusiastic reading communities and ‘serve various ideological, social, and commercial purposes for a range of agencies’ (2013, 6), which reach well beyond aesthetic understandings of literary culture. They have also been described as a form of ‘dumbing down’ and ‘middle-browing’. As Fuller and Rehberg Sedo say: anxieties about mass reading events have something to do with anxieties about the making public of reading and echo a ‘much older debate about the polluting effects of commerce on culture, and even an anxiety about “the masses” themselves’ (2013, 7). Digital media, in such debates, becomes a site of struggle over who can be designated as legitimate agents in the field, and the terms in which literature should be discussed. Mass reading events, like the televised book clubs (Oprah’s Book Club, and, in the UK, Richard and Judy’s Book Club), which have helped spark a renewed interest in mass reading, make visible a non-elite reader who reads literary texts for reasons that have little to do with what Bourdieu would call their artistic ‘autonomy’. As Fuller and Rehberg Sedo say of such critics: ‘Their role as cultural arbiters of literary taste is not of much account for many nonprofessional readers who have developed their own methods for determining which books to buy, borrow, read and share’ (2013, 7).

Other forms of social media play an important role in these developments. As Beth Driscoll has argued, Twitter can also be understood as a field. Outlining how publishers use Twitter, she says:

Twitter’s format makes these ties observable: users can see who follows a publisher, who retweets (forwards) their comments, and who replies to them. Such connections, explicit and traceable, produce a visible expression of community. In this, Twitter is an embodiment of Bourdieu’s field theory. (2013, 104)

Driscoll argues that Twitter usage (and no doubt other forms of social media) by attendees at literary festivals and other writerly events (to discuss the awarding of prizes and so on) enables them to transform the symbolic capital associated with the event (her research focuses on literary prize-givings) into social capital. It also, arguably, constructs participants as belonging to an active audience able to exert media power on the literary field, to critique and intervene in processes of discrimination and judgement. The same can be said of other bookish social media forums such as podcasts, Tumblrs, subreddits and video blogs (‘Vlogs’).

Fanfiction sites such as fanfiction.net, Kindle Worlds and Archive of Our Own, also play a role in literary remediaton. As Aarthi Vadde has said: ‘This is a genre in which the erotic bonds created by an artwork are paramount. Broadly speaking, fan fiction rewards fantasy over critique and attachment over detachment as modes of reader engagement’ (2017, 34). Yet while fanfiction eschews traditional literary values, its focus is often literary texts. The works of Charles Dickens, J.D. Salinger, Emily Bronte, William Gibson, and many others, all form a rich seam for fanfiction, with dozens of works derived from each appearing on these sites.

Nick Levey has developed the term ‘post-press literature’ to describe how self-published writers and their works can enter and at the same time problematise the literary field. He cites Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011), initially self-published, as an example of writing ‘created outside the established circles of book production’ that illustrates that the ‘publication, dissemination, and securing of symbolic and market capital enable a new analysis of current “struggles” in the literary field as well as a fresh understanding of the value of writing and reading in the twenty-first century’ (2016). As he says: ‘publishers have been forced to tacitly admit that they no longer necessarily introduce the “next big thing,” so much as hunt it down after the fact and rope it in before its success worries them even further’ (2016).

These post-digital practices of remediation are exemplary of ‘bottom up’ media convergence, which involves a mixing of forms by users (Jenkins 2006). But perhaps the most profound forms of convergence, at least where post-digital literary culture is concerned, involve top-down corporate strategies focused on finding ‘synergy’ across multiple holdings, the multiplication of platforms, and forms of ‘technological hybridity’, which fold the ‘uses of separate media into one another’ (Hay and Couldry 2011, 473). Google Books, for example, destabilises literary production processes through its industrial-scale duplication and, in effect, republication of titles in ways that challenge traditional copyright provisions. The long-running case with the American Authors Guild, which the Guild lost, demonstrates its perceived impact on literary culture (‘Authors Guild v. Google’ n.d.). Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle effect a similar form of remediation and convergence, but whereas Google Books literally copies and renders digital the codex, iBooks and Kindle merely imitate and pay homage to its construction with book-form pagination, animated page turns, book-style typesetting, folios and so on. Yet these homages also develop the format, through the availability of social reading via highlights, the provision of instantly accessible virtual bookstores (themselves remediated libraries) and so on.

Amazon, of course, leverages its ebook operations off a much bigger operation. There is irony in the fact that one of the big four digital media companies started off as a book retailer precisely because books were considered a non-fungible product, unlike, say, fungible bits and bytes. Amazon’s reach into publishing has expanded to the point where Mark McGurl has asked: ‘Should Amazon.com now be considered the driving force of American literary history? Is it occasioning a convergence of the state of the art of fiction writing with the state of the art of capitalism?’ (McGurl 2016, 447) As McGurl points out, Amazon dominates in the areas of print book retailing, ebook sales, and self-publishing, through its Kindle Direct program. As he reminds us, it is not only readers who have gravitated to genre fiction on ebooks. Noting ‘the recent mass migration of otherwise “literary” writers into the space of genre’, he says, ‘one might go as far as to say that fiction in the Age of Amazon is genre fiction, a highly gendered and age-differentiated genre system complexly structured by the poles of epic and romance and their characteristic modes of wish fulfillment’ (2016, 460). He continues:

In this system the novel per se—the genre described by literary historians as “the rise of the novel” and brought to a highpoint of achievement in the realist tradition of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Henry James—is not particularly important except as a unit of discourse in the formation of a trilogy or a longer series … In this system success, and even a highly qualified version of originality, is the result of effective variation and permutation within established generic structures. (2016, 460)

Such novels, of course, form part of an interconnected data matrix that links ebook sales, ebook reader behaviour, customer web-browsing habits, and their Amazon purchases, into a web of mediation.

Also in the picture, here, are non-human actors such as the algorithms that drive Amazon’s recommendation engines and Facebook feeds, and which are part of an ‘algorithmic culture’, which Ted Striphas defines as the ‘enfolding of human thought, conduct, organization and expression into the logic of big data and large-scale computation, a move that alters how the category culture has long been practiced, experienced and understood’ (2015, 398). Algorithms, as Striphas says, now make cultural judgements. As he and Blake Hallinan ask in a paper on Netflix’s recommendation engine:

What is the difference, if any, between a human being’s determining ‘the best which has been thought and said,’ to recall Matthew Arnold’s … contentious definition of culture, and a computer system’s selecting movies tailored to an individual’s taste preferences? (2016, 118–19)

An Expanded Dynamics of Mediation

These new agents demand to be understood as literary mediators and therefore as agents in an expanded and reworked post-digital literary field. As Jennifer Smith Maguire and Julian Matthews argue (following Bourdieu), cultural intermediaries perform three types of work: First, cultural intermediaries ‘construct value, by framing how others— end consumers, as well as other market actors including other cultural intermediaries—engage with goods, affecting and effecting others’ orientations towards those goods as legitimate—with ‘goods’ understood to include material products as well as services, ideas and behaviours’ (2012, 552).

Second, cultural intermediaries are ‘involved in the framing of goods (products, services, ideas, behaviours) as legitimate and worthy points of attachment for intended receivers’ (2012, 554). Third, the work of cultural intermediaries has ‘impact’. That is, ‘All cultural intermediaries are implicated in the construction of legitimacy, although the primacy of that intended impact will vary between different cases’ (2012, 557).

Most of the new agents mentioned above perform these functions; that is, older forms of gatekeeping and mediation are, to a significant extent, being superseded by new forms of reintermediation. As such they generate their own symbolic and cultural capital and perform cultural work that adds value to texts.

The work of cultural intermediaries, according to Smith Maguire and Matthews, ‘is not common to all because of its expert orientation’. As they argue: ‘In the struggle to influence others’ perceptions and attachments, cultural intermediaries are differentiated by their explicit claims to professional expertise in taste and value within specific cultural fields’ (2012, 552). There is no necessary reason, however, why non-professionals cannot do this work. First, literary mediation has never been solely the business of those with professional expertise since the literary field is inhabited by many quasi- and para-experts, whose credentials are not necessarily acknowledged by, and that are often contested by, others within the field. Developments affecting the literary field have further challenged its boundaries such that, as Clayton Childress has argued: ‘within the modern literary field, however, this gatekeeping function has transformed into a key site of contestation’ (2011, 118). Second, particular literary bloggers, tweeters, and other participants are able to amass considerable cultural, symbolic and social capital through their activities allowing them influence akin to that of acknowledged experts. Third, digital media is able to give scale to individual sentiment such that significant trends towards approval or disapproval of a given text on social media can gain consecratory weight. That digital media privileges amateur labour is, in many cases, precisely what leads it to be championed as transformative, as seen in discussions about crowdsourcing and networked models of content production (Bruns 2008a, 2008b).

This expanded model of mediation doesn’t only overflow existing models of participation; it also tests geographical boundaries. Benedict Anderson’s argument (1991) that storytelling through print media provides a basis for practices of imagined national belonging, is tested by social reading practices including online social reading. Social reading via book clubs, reading events, and so on, works to build imagined and real communities through person-to-person exchanges that can involve exclusion as much as inclusion (Rehberg Sedo 2011). Online social reading potentially takes discussion of literature beyond its traditional national frames. Books, prizes and literary events are now subject to transnational literary conversations, often conducted in real time, which test the local specificity of literary production and reception. Nor do participants necessarily have much of an ear for, or commitment to, a work’s local contexts. What, then, is the fate of national storytelling and the delineation of national canons that have traditionally been a mainstay of literary framing and consecration?

Looking at how conversations unfold around particular books shows that the transnationalisation of literary participation has contradictory effects. Reviewer locations from a random sample of 100 of the 318 Goodreads reviews of Garner’s This House of Grief, posted at the time of writing, demonstrate that commentary is for the most part local in origin. Seventy-two per cent of reviews are written by readers within Australia, 15 per cent listed their location as the UK and 4 per cent in the US. Other reviews are from Germany (3 per cent), Canada (2 per cent), and New Zealand, Brazil, India and Vietnam (1 per cent each). By contrast, a random sample of reviewer locations from 100 of the 4735 Goodreads reviews for Narrow Road, posted at the time of writing, is heavily international, which is unsurprising given the international attention the book gained after it was short-listed for, then won, the Man Booker Prize. Thirty-three per cent of Flanagan’s commenters are in the US, 23 per cent in Australia, 13 per cent in the UK, 5 per cent in Canada, 4 per cent in both India and Greece, 2 per cent each in Germany, Spain and Saudi Arabia, and 1 per cent each in New Zealand, Brazil, Portugal, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Russia. Yet the commentary on Flanagan’s book is often mediated through local specificities, in particular the location of the book’s story in Asia and Australia, and through Flanagan’s status as a Tasmanian. The national, here, too, is perhaps remediated, reworked for a global stage. Every author and book in the world of online literary reception has to be from somewhere. But somewhere, now, is more often mediated through elsewhere.

Post-Digital Literary Mediation and Publicity

While it is tempting to think of these new developments as simply an expansion of the literary field, it also seems clear that the very epistemology of the literary field is deeply contested by such developments. To briefly return to Murray’s discussion of the digital literary sphere, my concern, here, is that this organic metaphor proposes a ‘big tent’, and is too inclusive of practices that cut across and not only expand the literary field, but burst it open. As Murray argues, ‘literary discourse and its characteristic dispositions continue to shape the nature and norms of online book talk, rendering it distinct from online discussion of other cultural forms’ (Murray 2015, 314). While this is to some extent true, there are now senses in which actors with little commitment to the literary or its dispositions mediate literary texts.

What, then, is a more appropriate metaphor? ‘Network’ carries connotations of flatness, neutrality, and is tied up in the language of what Jodi Dean has called ‘communicative capitalism’ (Dean 2005). A better metaphor might be to think of the literary sphere as a once more-or-less self-contained field where the gates have been broken and the fences are down. This is not to suggest no gatekeeping is attempted or even succeeds. But the real struggle, now, is not over who belongs where in the field, but over the field itself. Ours is a borderless literary culture in which sites such as the Sydney Review of Books function not so much as centres of power as outposts in the bad-lands of the formerly literary. The presiding greeting in this fractured, deterritorialised, post-literary space is not ‘how are you one of us?’ so much as ‘who goes there?’

This destabilisation extends far beyond the literary and is to do with changes in publicity itself, in particular the question of what is private and therefore publicly invisible. Remediation and convergence in almost every case serve to make the private visible and publicly consequential. This is consistent with Zizi Papacharissi’s observation that convergent digital media further blurs and redefines already fuzzy lines between public and private and ‘among audiences of different media, audiences and publics, citizens and consumers, consumers and producers’ (2010, 52), since it facilitates a reconfiguration of social practices that goes beyond technology. Under such circumstances the very conditions of literariness are altered. As Murray says: ‘In a manner perhaps discomforting to traditional literary-studies self-conceptions, “literature” to a large extent becomes that which the digital literary sphere deems to be literature’ (2015, 332–3 original italics).

These new forms of post-digital literary mediation are not without social or political consequence. In the language of ‘Web 2.0’ they speak to ‘democratisation’ and ‘participation’. Recent critique focused on the political economy of digital media and draws links between its cultures of ‘participation’ and neoliberalism (Andrejevic 2007; Barbrook and Cameron 1996; Dean 2005; Hassan 2008; Mejias 2013; Mosco 2005; Morozov 2012, 2012). Post-digital literary culture conclusively moves reading, literary publishing, criticism, bookselling, and so on, into the realm of the quantitative. While it is important to remember that digital literary culture simply remediates the commercial imperatives that have underpinned literary publishing since the emergence of the novel as a popular form, ebooks and other forms of e-reading render practices once held paradigmatically private into commodity form, tracked by page turn, book completion and so on (Davis 2015). Highlighting, ‘likes’ and so on in ebooks, as Lisa Nakamura (2013) has argued, is a form of unpaid work, consistent with critiques of the wider patterns of exploitation that underpin large corporations’ use of unpaid user labour to build their online portals (Banks and Deuze 2009; Terranova 2000). At the very moment that the borders of literary culture are being breached by new digital mediators, literary culture is also being subject to what Mark Andrejevic (2007) has described as new forms of digital ‘enclosure’. Literature, a form that in many cases seeks to offer refuge from and critique the logics of the market, is ever more deeply enfolded within those logics.

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Publishing Means Business

   by Aaron Mannion, Millicent Weber and Katherine Day