Apr/May 2004

From the Editors

For the last eight years, we at Eclectica have kept a relatively low profile. One of our reasons for doing so may have been a lack of motivation. I, for one, have never been much of a salesman or self-promoter, and Julie and I have also lacked the time and energy, outside of keeping the magazine afloat, holding down our day jobs, continuing our education, etc., to do much more than try to maintain high editorial standards and keep the ball rolling. And while I'm confessing, I might as well admit that I don't have much know-how, whether in the areas of promotion, design, or HTML wizardry, which accounts for why we're so long overdue for a technical makeover, or why our home page may be just about the most boring of all ezine home pages on the web.

Eclectica is anything but ostentatious for other reasons, too, though. We've made a conscious decision not to sell banner advertising. We don't make a habit of sending out mass mailings (although I confess to recently having tried to put together a contact list—my apologies to anyone who got a message they didn't want!). We just generally have let word of mouth (or word of web) speak for us, and we've relied more upon the great writers and work that have fortuitously come our way than upon any aggressive recruitment campaign. And we have purposely kept the look of the website as clean and simple as possible, so as not to distract from what's important: content. So, if we come across as "low budget," it's not just because we are no budget, it's because we kind of like it that way. We're only one of thousands of ezines on the web, but we aspire to be one of a select few that are completely independent, that take chances on material print venues won't touch but, at the same time, don't dip into the sort of self-indulgent tripe literary purists point to when they argue how literature on the web is not yet ready to be taken seriously.

I envision a day when literature on the web is almost universally taken seriously, particularly with the inroads web publishers like Andrei Codrescu are making on public radio, cross-over publications like Pindeldyboz, and with the constant interbreeding between print quarterlies, university presses and ezines. However, there is good reason to think that total respect will come later rather than sooner to net lit, and the reason has something to do with the medium but more to do with a few of the dominant personalities who people it.

The strength and the weakness of the electronic medium is its immediacy and its illusion of unreality. In email messages, chat rooms, blogs and message boards, people fire off their opinions without taking time or effort to think about what they're saying. Often, they seem to feel like their online persona, existing as it does in a virtual realm, does not need to be constrained by any of the social mores that bind them in daily life. The results are honesty on the one hand and rudeness on the other. People's true colors come out on the internet. A married man will field comments on his allegedly prodigious penis from a gaggle of married women, assuming their respective spouses will never read such comments, even though said comments are digitally preserved and available to anyone on the planet who wishes to read them. Poets will think nothing of attacking each other's work and reputations. They will flirt, whine, brag, insult, gossip and accuse in a way that brings to mind a cross between a Jerry Springer show, a hip-hop battle, and a model UN debate.

In a way, the online literary world is not too unlike the world of rap and hip hop—at least in terms of disputes/beefs and exchanges/battles. And Eclectica has stayed out of all such conflicts... until recently. I didn't wish to do it, but I felt the need to say something about the treatment I received at the hands of a certain online notable—a person who deserves "mad props" for promoting literature on the web, but who has, depending upon to whom one talks, done more than his share of the sort of boorish behavior mentioned above.

My comments in this very editor's note, which have since been removed and/or altered due to an understanding I reached with the individual in question, went unnoticed for two months and then suddenly incurred the wrath of a few members of a writers' discussion board (ie: they found out about it). Before I knew it, I was right in the middle of the sort of verbal pie-fight I described above.

I was not without blame in all this, having seriously impugned one writer's reputation with my comments, having published the texts of two emails in their entirety from the abovementioned online notable, and having come right out and called the guy an asshole. But the resulting tussle was... well, it was tame compared to many that go on every day in the web-lit world, but it also went a long way toward proving my point that web-lit people, for whatever reason, to greater and lesser degrees, myself temporarily included, act like children. And I'd like to think that the exchange also illustrated another of my points: that if literature on the web IS ever going to be taken seriously, those of us who are in the business of propagating it are going to have to find a way to balance the immediacy of our medium and the desire to act like children with the responsibility we have as pioneers in a brave, new, truly global world.

The same rules and ethics that apply to the print world may or may not apply to us here on the web. Certainly the same limitations do not. We've got the capacity for instant response. We've got the capacity to go back and delete what we said. We've also got the capacity to save what others said and feed it back to them when they claim they didn't say it. People with far greater intellects than I will doubtless crank out numerous dissertations in the coming years on this very topic, so I'll spare everyone any more of my feeble attempts to discuss it, but yeah, wow.

If you're reading this editor's note, I can only assume you have some investment in literature on the web. Whatever your interest in the abovementioned conflict or what I had to say about it, I do hope you'll take a few minutes to judge Eclectica on its literary merits by reading the current issue. If you like what you see, please let the authors know by emailing them directly. If you don't like what you see, please email me, or send us a comment to put on the scrawl wall, or post your criticisms on any board of your choosing. We have always welcomed feedback, positive or negative, especially if it's even slightly constructive.

What you'll find in this issue is a Spotlight Author named Ana Doina. Her essays on her experiences growing up in Romania and her subsequent emigration to America are beautiful, rich in detail, and poignant. Each has a real heft to it, and each left me with a sense of having "learned" something about the human experience.

You'll find an explosive (gastronomically speaking) essay from CE Chaffin and an equally explosive (but this time in an ideological sense) essay from Paul Sampson, along with the aforementioned piece from myself on villainy.

Then there's poetry and fiction galore, travel writing, book reviews, a libretto for heck's sake. And providing visual sustenance, Janet Snell's beautiful artwork. It's an issue of which we're extremely proud. We hope you enjoy it.