Digital Chapbooks

The chapbook has a long and (not always so) honourable history. In its modern incarnation it has found particular popularity in the fields of poetry and creative/experimental literature. Heather Bowlan has written an interesting piece on the chapbook and modern poetry, and emphasises the connection with the original form of this literary format in that both offer the same opportunity to engage with their readers through an abbreviated form.    Dale Wisely, on the other hand, has written a more general commentary on the concept of the digital chapbook.  Although this piece is now a few years old I think it still makes interesting reading because it highlights the different ways in which the chapbook, and literary websites in general, have been interpreted in the digital, online world.

My own approach to this medium is to use it to expand upon and develop many of the arguments that I have touched upon in my blog postings over the last few years. The underlying theme remains the same as it has done from the beginning: an exploration of the Real in all its incarnations.

I decided to start writing and publishing in this format because for a number of years I have felt that a great deal of ‘digital’ publishing, including e-books and pdf texts, is still trying to emulate the format of the ‘real’ book, i.e. a physical publication (this is something that Wisely picks up in his piece).  In my experience at least, this simply ends up being the worst of both worlds. Take the e-book for example (in either Kindle or e-pub format); most of these are simply digital replications of the ‘original’ hardcopy text without any of the aesthetic attractions of ‘the real thing’.

But why bother to try and replicate the ‘real thing’ in the first place? Surely it is better to make the most the medium you have, which in this case is the online, digital one, rather than making it a poor replica of the offline, physical one? Furthermore, in many ways the need for digital downloadable versions of the ‘real thing’ has become redundant due to advances in internet, web page and browser technology. With fast, ‘always on’ internet connections, responsive web pages, and browsers that allow truly user-friendly viewing (both on and off-line) what is the point of an e-reader application anymore?

Having said that, for those readers who are still not totally convinced and prefer a downloadable copy, or who like to print off hardcopies of the text, I have included a ‘download as pdf’ option.  And this perhaps highlights one of the problems that still haunt the concept of a purely online text, namely the allure of the hardcopy.  And this is not just the ability to print off a paper copy of a digital text, which to be honest is still often very convenient. Rather, it is the allure of the physical, the material.  In a world where everything appears to be increasingly ephemeral, transient, digitised; where reality itself has effectively become one giant simulacra, there is something inherently comforting about a ‘real’ book, just as there is something comforting about vinyl music.

At this point the ‘real thing’ has become an artefact, rather than something that actually serves any real practical function.  But perhaps this is to miss the point: artefacts do, of course, serve a real function; it’s simply that this has very little to do with everyday ‘use value’.  Rather, it’s the way such artefacts can function as fetishistic objects, which serve to cover over the void left by the departure of the very reality that such objects serve as a reminder (remainder) of…..