The Unknown

Description (in English): 

The Unknown is a collaborative hypertext novel written during the turn of the millennium and principally concerning a book tour that takes on the excesses of a rock tour. Notorious for breaking the "comedy barrier" in electronic literature, The Unknown replaces the pretentious modernism and self-conciousness of previous hypertext works with a pretentious postmodernism and self-absorption that is more satirical in nature. It is an encyclopedic work and a unique record of a particular period in American history, the moment of irrational exuberance that preceded the dawn of the age of terror. With respect to design, The Unknown privileges old-fashioned writing more than fancy graphics, interface doodads, or sophisticated programming of any kind. By including several "lines" of content from a sickeningly decadent hypertext novel, documentary material, metafictional bullshit, correspondence, art projects, documentation of live readings, and a press kit, The Unknown attempts to destroy the contemporary literary culture by making institutions such as publishing houses, publicists, book reviews, and literary critics completely obsolete.

(Source: Authors' description at the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2)

NT2 entry: 
Pull Quotes: 

So now it was the three of us driving to Seattle. Our book tour. We had seen an opportunity and we had made it ours. We had built a literature, crammed it into a van, and we were heading for the Rockies. Laptop in lap, writing our third Unknown anthology—our anthology of travel memoirs, written on the tour of the first two books: The Unknown: An Anthology, and Criticism of The Unknown, a book of essays written by us about our first book. Technological advances had cut out the middleman between writer and readers—in effect eliminating the whole publishing industry. We were a celebration of that.

Here’s the unknown, the real unknown. I smell it, I taste it. It’s dribbling from my tongue. The sweat that this city is giving off, the shit and the piss on the streets and the wine and the pheasants dripping blood in the marketplace and the bread which I tear in hunks and dip in the grease and let run down my chin and the bars I get kicked out of and the smell of her gorgeous blue panties laid out on yellow silk sheets, or hers in my teeth, or hers in the boulangerie. I’m fucking the unknown, boys, fucking it crazy.

But how can we explore the spaces between understandings of things?

How can we know the totality of what we do not think?

There is a problem of scale. To discuss U.S. foreign policy is to avoid discussion of the fact that we are sitting at a table.

We were ashamed, and not just because we had shot the television set the night before, which was immature. We were ashamed because collectively we were a decadent waste of talent, the right train on the wrong track, heading nowhere. We couldn’t even come up with decent metaphors any more.

“Dirk isn’t cut from the same cloth as us,” Scott says sadly. “I mean he’s a poet, an authentic poet. He can go for weeks without eating or writing. Me, if I’m hungry, I’ll charge the shit on my overextended credit cards. And write a story about it.”

A recent MLA study, when cleverly reinterpreted for subtextual codings by expert deconstructionists, revealed that there are no longer, nor for the conceivable future will there be, tenure-track jobs in anything involving language (in English). A committee has been formed to study the potential effects of these findings, and will report at the next Association meeting this December. Ever again. Was.

There was no Yoko to blame, no war that would separate, no employment situation which could pull apart this intrepid band. But the road had taken its toll.

We could feel the madness surge through the tiny room like we were immersed in a rapid flood of adrenaline.

Technical notes: 

Instructions: The Unknown is a Web hypertext authored in XHTML and should work in any browser. Open index.html to begin. It includes audio files in two formats: RealAudio and MP3. The RealAudio files are in an early version of the codex, but work with the current RealAudio player. The MP3 collection directory is accessible from the Green Line index page. The majority of the links are to pages within the hypertext, but some external links may no longer function.

(Instructions related to ELC II publication of the work) Technical notes on the work's mutation affected by the "lability of the electronic device": - According to the code, the cover image should randomly change each time the page is loaded - Mouse-over events in maps.htm do not display as originally coded - the work-related search-database does not work any longer search.htm - a click on "?" reveals an "internal server error" Scott Rettberg on randomness related to the opening (index) page: "The index page of The Unknown varies each time that readers encounter it. When readers go to the work’s “home page,” they see a masthead with one of a dozen images of the work’s authors, chosen at random by a script. If they click on the masthead image, “The Unknown,” they are delivered to a “default” starting point. If they click on the random image, or if they wait for thirty seconds, they are delivered to a random page from the novel" ("Destination Unknown").

Teaching Resource that references this work:

Critical writing that references this work:

Title Author Year
A Literatura Factorial [l!] Álvaro Seiça 2013
A Web Reply to the Post-Web Generation Nick Montfort 2019
All Together Now: Hypertext, Collective Narrative, and Online Collective Knowledge Communities Scott Rettberg 2011
An Emerging Canon? A Preliminary Analysis of All References to Creative Works in Critical Writing Documented in the ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base Scott Rettberg 2013
Blogging Jill Walker Rettberg 2014
Blogging Jill Walker Rettberg 2014
Collaborative Narrative Scott Rettberg 2014
Collective Memory and the Development of a Field: Building the ELMCIP Electronic Literature Knowledge Base Scott Rettberg 2012
Complications of Narrative Time in Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg 2014
Conditions of Presence: Topological Complementarities in The Silent History David M. Meurer 2017
Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature Scott Rettberg 2008
Destination Unknown: Experiments in the Network Novel Scott Rettberg 2003
Developing an Identity for the Field of Electronic Literature: Reflections on the Electronic Literature Organization Archives Scott Rettberg 2012
Drugs, Machines & Friendships: Cybertext, Collaboration, and the Beatles William Gillespie 2003
Electronic Literature Publishing and Distribution in Europe Markku Eskelinen, Giovanna Di Rosario 2012
Electronic Literature: Documenting and Archiving Multimodal Computational Writing Scott Rettberg 2019
Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary N. Katherine Hayles 2010
False Pretenses, Parasites, and Monsters Tom LeClair 2000
Feral Hypertext: When Hypertext Literature Escapes Control Jill Walker Rettberg 2005
First Half-Century of Electronic Literature at Brown Robert Coover, Robert Arellano 2019
Screen shots: 
Screenshot: The Unknown in San Diego
Screenshot: The Unknown, Psychedelic Map
Screenshot: The Unknown People Index


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Record posted by: 
Eric Dean Rasmussen