The Problems of Open-Sourcing the Novel: The Case of Exit Strategy

On July 9, 2001 the following e-mail was forwarded to the Rumori listserv on behalf of Douglas Rushkoff and most of the e-mail was published on the author’s personal column and in the Guardian of London:

HEAR YE:

You’re all invited to join in the creation of EXIT STRATEGY, an Open Source Novel by ITP faculty member Douglas Rushkoff. It goes live today, Monday, July 9, at Yahoo Internet Life. http://www.yil.com/exitstrategy This online release is important to me; it’s the first time I’ve foregone a US print deal in order to give my text away for free. And it will only work if people truly feel invited and welcome jump in and participate. This book is not about me — it’s about all of us. (So please forward this to appropriate friends and lists!)

I’m in the process of releasing my book, ‘Exit Strategy,’ online as an open source novel. (It’s already been published as printed novel, ‘Bull,’ in the UK.) It’s going up on Yahoo Internet Life’s web site (www.yil.com/exitstrategy) in 14 weekly installments. The story I wrote is merely the starting place for what I hope will be a lively interaction between everyone.

The premise is that the entire text was written in present day, but then hidden online and only discovered 200 years from now. Because society has changed so much, an anthropologist has annotated the text for his 23rd Century contemporaries. They are no longer familiar with notions such as venture capital or advertising, much less Microsoft or NASDAQ.

The project is ‘open source’ in that all the online participants get to add their own footnotes to anything in the book – even footnotes to the footnotes. It’s a way to pretend how people from the future will relate to our current obsessions. Instead of describing that future, though, we get to suggest what it will be like by highlighting the facts and ideas that future readers *won’t* understand. We’ll all be part of the annotation process, and comment on one another’s work. Then next year, I’ll release an open source edition of the text an e-book and print-on-demand – with 100 of the most compelling footnotes added by readers. I’ll buy the authors copies of the book, and throw them a party in New York.

Not surprisingly, Rushkoff’s book idea had mixed reception. Traditional publishers, according to Rushkoff, could not understand his willingness to devalue his copyright by posting it online—for free! Other voices of skepticism viewed Rushkoff’s project as an “online scam,” and even the journalists who came to interview him, could not see it as anything but a covert business plan, suspecting that there must be a catch. But others claimed that the author was charting new digital ground, as the concept of open-source (originally developed by computer programmers to expand their work with peers) when applied to the novel, is considered to be a huge departure from traditional book publishing as well as early attempts at online publishing. Rushkoff claims that so far no traditional US publisher has dared to make an offer on a book that will be released online, for free, before it was released in print. In this sense, this project was hailed as an e-xperiment (Rushkoff’s own terminology for his work) that can reenergize publishing and, in accordance with the open-source spirit, Rushkoff donated all of the profits from the sale of the book to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Software Foundation. After six years of the launch of the now-defunct project and five years of the publication of the print version of the work, I will inquire as to why Exit Strategy was not really an open-source novel, nor was it as revolutionary as it was originally made out to be. As a work published online, I argue, it reinforces the novelistic conventions that emerged within the print medium for centuries. So, what went wrong? Before answering this question, let’s take a look at what the novel is about.

The subject-matter of the novel is a reflection of the author’s anxiety over the dot.com madness which resulted in many of his friends leaving their vocations to jump online to utilize the new emerging consumer market. Having lived through the dot.com bust of the early 2000s that took many businesses down with it, one realizes that Rushkoff’s fears were not completely unfounded. An allegory of the story of Joseph, Exit Strategy is the tale of a young hacker named Jamie Cohen who, betrayed by his hacker buddies who call themselves the Jamaican Kings, takes the fall for a hack for which he has no responsibility. Later he ends up as the right-hand man of one of New York’s most powerful venture capitalists. He becomes part of a plot to launch a new online program capable of hypnotizing web users to become passionate consumers and investors. But his old hacker friends have also developed their own new networking tool, Teslanet, which could revolutionize the Internet, and make the NASDAQ pyramid absolutely worthless. The novel is mostly about Jamie’s search for understanding who his real friends are and how to execute his own exit strategy from the market madness.

Since Yahoo Internet Life went out of business and the source files of the work have long since disappeared, I have no absolute understanding of the materiality of the original online work. Some of the following discussions came out of my online research of third-party accounts of user experiences and of online interviews with the author himself, while others are conjectures on my part. The unfortunate fate of the online version of the work bears curious resemblances to that of Tristram Shandy, a work published in a serial form in the 18th century. As mentioned earlier, since the modern day reader experiences Sterne’s work as a complete bound volume and is historically and geographically removed from the original circumstances that gave birth to this novel, she has no way of understanding how the work’s materiality emerged for its contemporary readers.

One could make similar claims and question the reliability of the following discussion. Nonetheless, I contend that there are two reasons that give my arguments credibility. The obvious reason being that we do not have three centuries that separate us from the original publication of Exit Strategy, and even though it was first published in England (as did Tristram Shandy), the author of the work is a media theorist living in New York whose cultural experiences and understanding of the Internet is close to those experienced by the American audience. More importantly, as the author tells in his open invitation to the Internet community, the work itself was not originally born online, but published in print in the UK under the name of Bull. So the printed book available in United States is somewhat indicative of the materiality of the online version.
The publication history of Exit Strategy is quite interesting, if not confusing, because it was printed and reprinted in different media with different shapes and forms. As I noted, the book was first published as Bull in the UK. Then it was republished as Exit Strategy with minor changes by the Time Warner’s print-on-demand division, iPublish, and was simultaneously released as an e-book by the same company. This edition, published as the “original version,” had only “Sabina Samuels” footnotes—the pen name the author gave himself when he was annotating the text assuming the role of a reader. iPublish’s edition was simultaneous with Yahoo Internet Life’s printing of an 11,000 word excerpt with Sabina’s footnotes. Very much like Tristram Shandy, the work was serialized by Yahoo Internet Life, but online, in fourteen installments from July 9th to August 2001. Referring to it as the open-source version open to user commentary, Rushkoff invited the public to participate in this project. The project continued to be available through Yahoo Internet Life’s Web site for a year until the company went under. A couple of hundred of the thousands of notes entered on the public site were then included in an open-source edition of the book published by a non-traditional small press, Soft Skull. The publication history of Exit Strategy demonstrates and reinforces the genre’s ability to transform and redefine itself by taking on different forms and shapes even if this means migrating from one medium onto other. The novel, as its name suggests (new), has perpetually redefined itself throughout the centuries and proved to be a genre that adapts to the changing times and technologies and accommodates new story-telling techniques. As Sterne tested the boundaries of print technology with his typographic experimentation in the 18th century, Rushkoff makes use of the advantages provided by the electronic age to, once again, redefine the genre. No doubt, the physical resources of the work were mobilized differently in different editions by the contemporary reader and different types of materiality emerged as a result.

Although both Tristram Shandy and Exit Strategy were serialized, albeit in different media, their serialization, not to mention their publication history, is quite different from one another. As we noted earlier, unlike Rushkoff, there is no clear evidence that Sterne ever knew how many volumes he would write or how many years the process would take. The erratic publication of Tristram Shandy coupled with the difficulty of renegotiating the publication of each installment with different publishers suggests that Sterne had to overcome a different set of problems than those that were facing Rushkoff in the 21st century. Moreover, unlike in Exit Strategy, audience responses to each preceding installment of Sterne’s work were partially responsible for the open-endedness of his novel. Tristram’s allusions to reviews of previous installments generated even more responses, thereby creating a novel that genuinely responds to its own reception. As we have seen earlier, the erratic publication process and the improvisation in which alternative possibilities and futures for Tristram Shandy were always in play made the work an open-ended process which came to a conclusion only with the author’s death.

On the other hand, although Exit Strategy was serialized online, a rather more flexible platform than print, the novel itself is obstinately stable and its comments are inevitably regulated by its author. The stability, however, is hidden beneath the rhetoric of open-sourcing and is not readily visible at first sight. This is hardly surprising because Rushkoff’s novel is originally born within the print medium which became a rather stable platform throughout the centuries and, as a novel born in print, unavoidably inherits the issues that has been problematized in the novel for centuries. For instance, novel writers have always displayed an obsession towards authorship. While some denied authorship, others reclaimed it, and yet others toyed with the idea in their works. Exit Strategy employs the same novelistic convention that hundreds of novels before it have used over the centuries: its author distances himself from his work in the forward doubting the authenticity of the following text, and thus, taking no responsibility for its contents. In his note, the annotator, Sabina Samuels, claims that the DeltaWave manuscript, popularly known as Exit Strategy, has stirred much controversy because “[a]lthough forensic evidence strongly indicates that the file was created over two hundred years ago in about 2008, experts have not ruled out the possibility that it was generated much recently by historical pranksters or even revisionist activists” (Rushkoff 3). Samuels hopes that he has made the old text more accessible to the modern casual reader, while providing the scholarly community with references for additional study, but warns the reader:

Unfortunately, a dearth of accurate information about the period—and the rise of radical revisionist thinking about the capitalistic experiment—has led to conflicting accounts and interpretations of the events depicted therein. Please understand that our inclusion of these alternative viewpoints does not imply an endorsement of their credibility. (3)

The obsession of the novel in problematizing the issue of authorship is symptomatic of why the medium of print is conducive to the novel. Several media theorists have already identified the emergence of the concept of author as the primary reason why the novel and print appeared almost concurrently. While Marshall McLuhan, in Gutenberg Galaxies, argues that print gave rise to the novel by facilitating the emergence of the fixed point of view, Maurice Couturier, in Textual Communication: A Print-Based Theory of the Novel, identifies the primary cause of the birth of this genre as the sense of an ownership and intellectual property that print generated. Couturier asserts that print gave rise to the novel by encouraging the rise of the author and fostering a new poetics that evolved primarily around her figure. To put it simply, the author became a god-like figure who created the narrative. Prior to Gutenberg, Couturier argues, narratives were the invention of a community, but the novel was, from the start, the invention of an individual “who enjoyed a comparative immunity, partly guaranteed by the industry which mediated between him and the law” (95).

With the idea of the open-source novel, Rushkoff attempts to overcome this very notion and bring back the communal creation of narratives that existed prior to Gutenberg. To Wired in “A Footnote to E-Book” he explains that “[o]pen source means to prove that collaboration works better than authority, or private authorship, for that matter. Universal autonomy beats slavery to absolutes. It’s the point of the book, too. What my modern-day Joseph [Jamie Cohen, the protagonist hacker] learns is that people who build pyramids are slaves—whether they’re physical pyramids or investment ones.” And surprisingly, three centuries after Tristram Shandy, Rushkoff’s troubles of publishing his work in print in the United States mirror those of Sterne, although for different reasons. He explains to the Wired that traditional publishers could not understand his willingness to surrender his authority over his work by letting others participate in the narrative; of course the implicit fear being that the book will not sell if provided online for free. Finally a non-traditional small press, Soft Skull, who according to the author, “understands that publishing in the 21st century means allowing readers to participate in the narrative,” accepts the publication of Exit Strategy which was considered by other publication houses to be risky. Rushkoff claims that “That’s the whole thing our civilization is trying to learn: how to co-author reality, rather than live by decree.” To hit the point home, in his open invitation to the Internet community, the author states “The internet is for amateurs. No – that’s not an insult, but high praise. ‘Amateurs,’ by definition, do what they do for the love of it. Because it’s fun, social, enriching, transformational, evolutionary, or even just beautiful. Now that the investment community sees the net is seen [sic] as more of a lame duck than a cash cow, the only ones left out here (or the only ones that should be) are us amateurs.”

According to the Wired, Richard Eoin Nash, the chairman of Soft Skull, explained that the project not only allowed Rushkoff to interact more directly with his readers (and let him become a reader of his reader’s writing), but “it allowed for the book’s shortcomings as a static thing, a monologue, to be overcome … (and) turned into a living thing.” Thus the readers (of which Rushkoff is one) commented not only on the primary text, but also on each other’s comments. Nash at the time anticipated that some readers of the print book will go to the site and add new annotations—a safe assumption, but since the source files no longer exist, this fact cannot be verified. He suspected that yet others might go to the site and to the annotations Rushkoff chose to omit from the print version—again, a very probable assumption. In subsequent printings, Nash continued, the annotations will continue to be updated. Nash hoped that “the whole project becomes this fascinating organism, a conversation between people, a dialogue between the e-book and the print book.” While I suspect a dialog existed in the online version at the time, no subsequent editions were published with updated commentary at the time when the project was alive and this dialog never made it to the printed version of the work. The absence of the online open-source version left the remaining printed editions, Exit Strategy and Bull, fairly stable, unchanging, and closed any dialog that may have occurred previously.

One must also recognize that the notion of serialization is vastly different in contemporary times than the time in which Sterne lived. Nowadays, time and money constraints necessitate that stories be completed before they are serialized in any medium. Print fiction, for example, is mostly written before the publication of the story begins,; entire seasons of reality television and other shows are shot in advance prior to their premiere date, allowing for minor changes once the season starts. Unpredictability and improvisation is now left mostly to the activities that occur online and are limited to certain genres. No matter how much the audience suspects, it is impossible to state for certain that Lonelygirl15 is staged or how any Alternate Reality Game (ARG) will unfold simply because these works are cheaper to produce and thus can metamorphose much easily according to the user feedback than works of other media. To achieve this flexibility, most television shows now have online fan sites through which the engagement of their audiences with the shows are extended.

Accordingly, as a print fiction serialized online, the primary text of Exit Strategy was completed and published in print before its open-source edition was ever launched online; in other words, its target audience could not initiate any changes in the primary text. By limiting the target audience, or what he refers to as the “amateur” or what Eco would characterize as the Model Reader, to the ancillary text, i.e. the commentary, Rushkoff is implicitly reinforcing his status as the author. The true nature of open-sourcing would require that the entire project, the primary text included, be developed collaboratively by peers who have some kind of expertise on the topic. Although Linux is an open-source programming language, the stubborn fact remains that not just anyone is able to build on it or modify it effectively. In a similar fashion, it would be naïve to assume that anyone can write a good novel that will be published. Novel writing requires not only expertise of story-telling (not to mention talent), but also necessitates extensive knowledge of maneuvering the publishing market, i.e. having a well-established name in the publishing business (which translates into having a name that will bring in the revenue) that can mobilize the right connections who can find the right market. Acknowledging this fact, Rushkoff admits in an interview with Christopher Shulgan that:

I don’t know that my novel really, in current terminology—in software terminology—whether it counts as open source. There’s a central document that remains unchanged. The thing that’s open source is the experiment around it, this almost talmudic conversation between people posing as anthropologists 200 years in the future. So it’s really more of a game, pretty much a free for all. I don’t really care so much about the text, and making the book good. It’s really more about the footnotes.

One wonders, in all likelihood, if it were a truly open-source novel produced as a “free for all” text, no guidance from the author, would it ever have found its way to print.

The idea of multiple voices in the novel, which forms the backbone of the concept of open-sourcing, is hardly new. Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian theorist who lived in the early 20th century and who is primarily associated with the Russian Formalists, investigates polyphony in the novel. In his influential analysis of Dostoevsky’s and Rabelais’s works, he introduces the concept of heteroglossia to explain the interaction among disparate discourses (i.e. ideas or points of view). In this model, this interaction may be harmonious, belligerent, or parodic, as each discourse fights to become the dominant discourse through heteroglossia. While heteroglossia, which he defines as the diversity of speech styles in a language, is characteristic of most novels, polyphony, which has to do with the position of the author in the text, exist in few works such as those of Dostoevsky. Though no where does he clearly define polyphony, it is clear that it has two main characteristics: a dialogic sense of truth (meaning the plurality of different points of view) and a special positioning of the author necessary for visualizing and conveying that truth. Polyphony is not an absence of authorial point of view as the polyphonic author neither lacks nor fails to express his ideas or values, but rather it is a radical change in author’s position. Nor does polyphonic work lack unity. Polyphony requires a work in which several consciousness meet as equals and engage in a dialogue that is in principle unfinalizable (Morson and Emerson 231-240). In many ways Rushkoff’s open-source novel substantiates what Bahktin had already established as the defining characteristic of the polyphonic novel even when analyzing the classical works that emerged in the print medium.

Unfortunately, the project of open-sourcing the novel is rendered less effective, once again, by the author’s existence without whom the print publication could ever have occurred. Rushkoff, as the author of the novel and the project, uses his invitation to the Internet community and his comments to his own text under the pen name of Sabina Samuels to implicitly delineate what he wants his Model Reader to do or what type of performative activities she must engage in if she wants to be included in the print edition of the work and get invited to the party that the author is throwing in New York upon completion of the project. In other words in Exit Strategy, the Model Reader is defined both inside and outside of the work: from the inside with Rushkoff’s own comments as Sabina Samuels, from the outside with his e-mail invitation to the Internet community and the interviews that he conducts in the media publicizing the project and informing the public about what he wants to get out of it. Put simply, like the a chess player that Nabokov talks about in his autobiography, Speak, Memory, Rushkoff sets the ground rules for the game that he and his readers will play during the creation of the open-source edition of Exit Strategy, a fact which, while ensuring the quality of the work that is being collaboratively produced, reinforces the role of the author as a centralizing power.

Accordingly, he explains in his invitation the circumstances of the work: the manuscript is written now and hidden online only to be discovered two hundred year later by a society who is beyond our current obsession with venture capital and advertising, much less Microsoft or NASDAQ. It is up to the reader to imagine such a world. What would it be like if Microsoft ceased to exist? Or no one knew who Oprah was? Or people were no longer obsessed with property rights? Rushkoff sets useful guidelines in the actual work under the pen name, Sabina Samuels, who assumes the role of one such reader and annotates the text as he would want his readers to. These annotations envision a future in which most of the concepts of the 21st century are comically defamiliarized. Following are some annotations by Sabina Samuels:

MTV: A corporate effort at the commodification of youth culture, which used advertising as content. (273)
Adidas: A brand of sports shoe, presumably popular with African-American youth, if the advertisements for the corporation’s products are an accurate reflection of their use. (257)
Somewhere along the way, I’d lost my perspective, and the game had become real: It was a classic error of early hi-tech-era businesspeople. They didn’t realize that the computer was simply a modeling tool—that it could model anything…They chose to model commerce, the economy, and the flow of capital. Perhaps the reason they descended into psychosis was that money was already a metaphor. Or, conversely, psychologists hypothesized it was because money seemed so very real to people, and remained so closely tied to their instinct for survival. (268)
I’ll say a mishaberach for you, anyway: A Jewish healing prayer, based on the words uttered by their prophet Moses when his sister contracted leprosy after making a racial slur about his wife. It was thought that reciting these words would convince God to use his omnipotence to arrest infirmities. (289)

Most of Sabina’s comments center around emphasizing that civilization in the 23rd century has moved beyond our current obsession of market economy and advertising (which is the whole point of the novel to begin with), both of which are symptomatic of the capitalistic society in which we live. Accordingly, following the lead of the author (who assumes the role of the 23rd century reader), his readers come up with the most entertaining and comparable annotations that offer an interesting commentary on a wide array of issues that are characteristic of our contemporary society:

Union: “Union” as in “Labor Union.” Unable to fend for themselves in the vicious and unfriendly workplace into which they willingly traipsed, human workers (droids, employees) within like industries banded together in an effort to extort higher sums of money from their employers (masters). MSCHLICKMAN (269)
Rationality and Conscience: Around 2000, philosophy still was dominated by a religion called “psychoanalysis.” Note these men [Jamie and his business friend Alec] only discuss on pre-rational and rational frames. Another religion called “new age” taught trans-rational frames. According to Ken Wilbur (a boring philosopher/guru of that age) most people calling themselves “spiritual” were trapped by a “pre/trans fallacy.” COSMODELIA (231)
It went all afternoon: Social Security was a system that redistributed wealth from the young and able-bodied to the elderly and disabled. It is a curiosity of 20th century America, which was usually disdainful of social welfare programs. It’s survival into the 22nd century is widely attributed to the fact that it benefited primary the old and that the old, more than any other population cohort, voted…There have been a number of attempts in recent years to discontinue the now completely meaningless program, but they have always met with strong resistance by centarian and bi-centarian citizens’ groups, who have been convinced by hysterical Talk Space hosts that they will no longer receive their gerontological treatments if Social Security is abolished. SHANKEL (199)

Acknowledging that the core of the text of the novel remained the same to provide a “bit of a continuity and structure to the work” (this was a necessity to ensure its publication too), Rushkoff correctly argues that each new commentary has the ability to recontextualize the entire story (viii). In this sense, these annotations, however regulated they may be by the guidelines set by the author, serve to dialogize the primary text in the Bakhtinian sense. To emphasize the important role these commentaries play within the work, Rushkoff notes in the introduction that “Ultimately, the commentaries themselves became their own book—an open-source inspired, community riff on our bizarre age” (viii).

Curiously, annotations become scarce or even die out, during sections in which Judaism comes to the foreground in the plot, thus halting the process of dialogizing or the recontextualization during those times. Judaism, as a discourse, plays an unmistakably important role in the novel both in terms of the subject-matter and the ideology it presents. In an interview with Christopher Shulgan, Rushkoff explains how Judaism used to be an open-source religion before it was institutionalized:

What I’m really interested in now is open-source religion—the idea that religions are projects. Only what happens is that institutions arise to protect the code of religions, and then people no longer have access and the religions die. When religions are open and people are participating in their evolution, they stay alive and real. And once an institution is erected, the impulse is to keep it the same. Things get locked down as sacred and there’s no more room for discussion. Well, in theory, Judaism was constructed as an open-source religion. The idea was that a bunch of rabbis would sit around a table and argue about stuff. And that’s kind of changed over the last century or so. People are starting to look at it as a much more closed-source religion.

In other words, for Rushkoff, Judaism in its original state presents an appropriate model to open up religions that have become institutionalized, therefore hopelessly closed. Moreover, his choice of weaving the ideology of Judaism into Exit Strategy also suggests that it also presents a suitable model for any project that aspires to be fluid, organic, and changing. As a preferred discourse of the work, the final printed edition presents but a few annotations (mostly from Sabina himself) that serve primarily to explain the intricacies of the religion not just to 23rd century readers, but to contemporary audience as well.
Various media outlets and the author himself note in his introduction to the open-source edition that the work presents a hypertext labyrinth of references and cross-references (Rushkoff viii). Calling it a massively hyperlinked text, Dave Roos notes that the first word “I” has five footnotes. While this may have been true for the online open-source edition of the work, which is now long lost, the printed edition is quite limited in this respect. Nabokov’s Pale Fire, for example, successfully integrates four different stories into the work by letting each story perpetually interrupt one another to the extent that Charles Kinbote’s (the so-called editor) suggestion of purchasing two copies of the same book and cutting pages to shuffle sections around seems almost required if one wants to maintain one’s sanity. In Exit Strategy, even if the reader is diligently following the footnotes as she is reading the novel, she never strays away from the primary text too far, physically or mentally. Unlike in Pale Fire, the annotations of Exit Strategy are located next to the appropriate word cluster, not after the primary text, and these annotations are short enough not to distract the reader’s mind too far away from the main plot.

Finally, the comments inserted in the text by most of the readers, although they help describe the 23rd century in which this manuscript was allegedly found in (in accordance with the game rules set by the author), do not exactly formulate a consistent alternative plot to the main story, nor do they reveal additional aspects of the story that are skipped in the primary text. Unlike Pale Fire in which a single comment expands into twenty pages that advances one of the stories in the novel, thereby dropping the previous thread at the drop of a hat, most of the annotations in Exit Strategy are merely definitions of what are supposedly unknown to the future reader and explain the historical transformations that our society went through in the interim. Of the comments that offer extensions to the main plot, most are entered, again, by Samuels, the alternative authorial voice of the text. One reveals the transcript of Ezra Birnbaum’s videotaped Senate testimony in which he cautions against the prevailing perception of online trading as a substitute for cash savings and technological securities as a de facto Social Security system (198). While the other, notes the existence of a fictional work, Morehouse Legacy, which reveals how and why Tobias Morehouse, Jamie’s boss, aborted his suicide attempt as he himself was piloting the military plane that he purchased as Jamie was on board (284).

Although Rushkoff implements digital technologies to overcome the limitations of the print medium and redefine the novel by opening up his work to collaborative writing, his e-xperiment is fundamentally flawed because Exit Strategy was initially born within the print medium and then open-sourced in an online platform. As such, the work exhibits the novelistic conventions that emerge in print. Although the comments are generated by the readers, they have no influence on the direction of the central story and the comments themselves do not generate an alternative plot within the work. The authorial presence is acutely felt underneath the rhetoric of open-sourcing, because, in order to protect the integrity of his work, the author takes care in defining the type of comments he would like his users to add both through his invitation to the internet community and through his comments as Sabina Samuels. Although it is safe to claim that the primary text is fairly stable because it was published in various formats prior to it being open-sourced, its publication history demonstrates that the work has a multi-form existence across different platforms, some of which have long disappeared due to the ephemeral nature of the digital platform.

One important question remains: Is Rushkoff’s e-xperiment unprecedented in its treatment of the novel or is it an extension of a long-standing novelistic tradition? As we have seen throughout this chapter, Exit Strategy presents nothing out of the ordinary for the novel, because, although this genre has become institutionalized throughout the centuries, it was originally born as the bastard child of literature with its unconventional, elusive format. It is with good reason that in Pale Fire Charles Kinbote is accused of transforming John Shade’s poem into “the monstrous semblance of a novel.” The authors for centuries have understood that the novel was notoriously obsessed with itself and played with this tendency to experiment with the structure of the genre by pushing the boundaries of the print medium.

One thought on “The Problems of Open-Sourcing the Novel: The Case of Exit Strategy

  1. Why should novelistic convention or origins in print make something “flawed” as an experiment in open source? And how does the establishment of a static kernel (like in the Linux version of open source) make it a ‘failure?’

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