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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Interactive Non-Fiction

Anonymous, Consultation Document for a Revised Structure of
VUWSA Business
(Wellington, VUWSA, 2008)

At the start of September, VUWSA-watchers were abuzz with the news that Anonymous—the loose collective of illiterate bards whose work was amalgamated and attributed to Homer as The Iliad and The Odyssey, who later composed Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and who more lately gained fame for persecuting Scientologists —chose that juggernaut among publishing houses, VUWSA, to print their experiment in an exciting new literary genre: interactive nonfi ction. The result is Consultation Document for a Revised Structure of VUWSA Business, already more popularly known as Change Proposal.

Arising from the late 20th-century mania for “consultation,” interactive non-fiction is a collaborative, interdisciplinary art form that incorporates techniques from prose, performance art and reality TV, and is characterized by four elements: goal, proposal, invitation, and fait accompli.

The goal is simply something that the authors wish to achieve, typically the solution to some problem, or issue. In this case, the goal is merely to mismanage student finances more efficiently than is currently being done. The proposal is a written document, often including tables and flow-charts, that the audience is expected to imagine outlines a series of actions that will achieve the goal. The selection of the goal and composition of the proposal, taken together, are performance art: the authors—usually calling themselves a committee—talk, delegate, take minutes, and eventually write. But here’s the hook: unlike pure performance art, where the cast seeks attention, the goal and proposal stages are conducted in secret.

Due in part to a misunderstanding of this new art form, the proposal is misconstrued to be the entire work, and critical analysis takes place more frequently in the news sections of magazines like Salient than in their arts departments. This is the case here: for an analysis of the proposal’s content, please consult Issue 20 of Salient 2008.

It is with regret that I inform readers that Change Proposal’s proposal, like the persecution of Scientologists, simply does not meet the artistic standards of Anonymous’ early work. Anonymous are truly great poets, but their prose stinks. Passive verbs, ambiguity, and reification all have their place in written English; flagrant overuse of these tools does not. Worse, Anonymous uses them badly: “It is intended that” is a poor way to start a sentence, and an ever poorer way to start two sentences in a single paragraph; “details a proposal for consultation” is offensive not just because using details as a verb is barbaric, but also because it admits two distinct meanings; and “roles” can be responsible for nothing, because it is the people who fill them that assume responsibility. The proposal is excessively intertextual: to understanding the document, one must be familiar with no fewer than eight other works, one of which—VUWSA Budget 2006—doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense, and two of which are unfinished.

If Anonymous underperformed, then VUWSA failed outright as a publishing house. The proofreading and formatting are inconsistent, one table straddles a page break mid-row, and in my copy, half of the pages were upside-down. I found this fitting.

Printing and distribution of the proposal mark the beginning of the invitation phase. Here, the audience is requested to respond to the proposal by making written or oral submissions. Analogous to audience-voting components in reality TV, this is known in management-speak as the consultation process. The success of this phase—and indeed of the whole work—relies on a tacit agreement between authors and audience: the authors pretend this is the most important part of the artwork, and the audience pretends to believe them.

The fourth phase of interactive fiction is the fait accompli, where the authors make superficial changes to the proposal in response to the submissions, bungle the actions listed in the proposal, and proceed to congratulate themselves on the democratic consultation process they went through. This last component of Change Proposal is still forthcoming. Newshounds and art critics wait with bated breath.


About the Author ()

BK Drinkwater's actual origins are shrouded in mystery, but it is said that he sprang from the summit of Taranaki fully formed, four days after the birth of Aristotle. He resents having been overshadowed in this way.

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