We Demand a YouTube "Literature" Category
(NOTE: We have built an underground category for literature videos on reddit called "litvideos" for the time being, to prove there is both plenty of content and plenty of demand for this category.)

(Also, check out these Bruce Lee poetry videos if you want to have the ass of your heart kicked, and to see a good example of the sort of literature videos that we are talking about.)

"Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness."

--Helen Keller

"The decline of literature indicates the decline of a nation."

--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"If I were a writer, how I would enjoy being told the novel is dead. How liberating to work in the margins, outside a central perception. You are the ghoul of literature. Lovely."

--Don Delillo

Fighting for the supremacy of stories and poems on the internet is great fun.

Even if those of us fighting are ultimately doomed, the good part about fighting on behalf of imagination and language is that we can always pretend we are victorious even when we are told, in no uncertain terms, that we have lost the war forever.

Submission to "universally-acknowledged truths" requires a vanquished party who is willing to admit defeat. Mercury heals, mercury poisons, and mercury slips through your fingers. Don Quixote is not sane enough to know that you are humiliating him.

Also, while he fucks around, slashing at dream giants, he is actually learning to use a sword.

Google knows that the first rule of warfare is never to let your opponent control the field of engagement. They don't even want to let their opponents separate themselves so that they may arm themselves and fight. Hence, marriage. Hence, spousal abuse.

I am not advocating conflict. Institutions such as YouTube are already too powerful; we cannot separate from them. They created the battlefield. Places like Google and YouTube are the circulatory and nervous systems of the American internet.

Therefore, YouTube must be infected with the disease of literature.


"Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world."

--John Cheever

Filling YouTube with literature, like filling a head with infected snot, will not be easy.

For instance, right now, if someone makes a literature video for YouTube, they are forced to place their video into one of the following categories:

Film and Animation
News and Politics
People and Blogs
Science and Technology

You will note that while Google has made serious, extremely well-organized attempts to purchase and control all out-of-print literature and create a massive online digital library, they have not bothered to create a "literature" category for YouTube, revealing once again that they would be terrible shepherds for the human inheritance of written knowledge.

Perhaps it can be argued that literature is "entertainment." But aligning literature with "entertainment" is disingenous. Literature is never merely "entertainment."

And isn't precision with language one of literature's only weapons against the semantic flab of music, images, and pointless kinetics?

Literature can be entertaining. All things can be entertaining, especially if you are stoned. But entertainment is not literature's primary purpose.

Writers are terrible at making concrete "pronouncements," but Joyce argued obliquely that literature is never supposed to be merely entertaining: it is supposed to be somewhere between propaganda and porn, with qualities of both, though much more satisfying than either because it doesn't make you "act without thinking" or "get you off prematurely." Good literature paralyzes your orgasm, changing you forever.

Done correctly, literature makes you aware of nothing but the art itself, making you aware of the predilections of your own special consciousness, perhaps even helping you to develop this special consciousness, at least giving you temporary insight into the special consciousness of another human being.

David Foster Wallace suggested that literature is supposed to comfort the depressed and aggravate the complacent. According to Wallace, good literature does both of these things simultaneously. Do "Sports" videos do this? What about "People and Blogs" videos?

All things can be art, especially if you are stoned.

But we demand a place where the goals of literature and the amplifying power of media intersect.


"Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing."

--Thomas Huxley

"Literature is news that stays news."

--Ezra Pound

One might argue that there is neither a supply, nor demand, for literature videos commensurate with the demand for other types of videos, (such as songs about how many ways there are to love a cat (there are one hundred ways to love a cat (one hundred loving ways (one hundred loving way-ay-ay-ays)))).

However, Google's "Science and Technology" category illustrates that Google is more than willing to "dig the ditch first and then fill it with bodies" if the ditch is near a subject that they understand and appreciate.

I agree with this policy.

I feel like there ought to be more educational videos about science and technology on the internet. I feel that scientists and innovators should definitely have a category to call their own, where they can try to come up with new, inventive ways to make science relevant.

But I don't care about science videos.

I care about literature videos. I care about spoken-word videos made from short stories and poems, sometimes with musical accompaniment, put up on the internet to be Seen and Discussed.

I like literature videos. I like watching them. I like listening to short stories and poems that contain minimal imagery, allowing me to focus on the worlds being created by the words of the artist.

I like videos about literature. I like interviews with authors. I like conversations about books. I like fan fiction. I like book trailers and candid, "at-home" communiques from famous writers. I like documentaries about poets. I like documentaries about famous novels.

Finding these videos on YouTube is difficult. Because there is no category for these videos, you must know exactly what you want before you search for it. Literature is marginalized and belittled on YouTube. It is pushed to the side and made to feel clumsy, irrelevant, and attenuated.

The fortunes of literature on YouTube mirror the fortunes of literature in this country, and in our public schools.

I am not worried about "literature" disappearing. I am, however, worried about a society that seeks to remove poetry and fiction from the banquet of life.

What a shitty society! What a boring place to try and live!

I am lucky: I live in New York City. If I want, I can go and see a different brilliant literary show every night of the week and interrogate the writers afterward to get deep into the madness of words.

It is great to do this. But this is not accessible to the rest of America.

Magic must occur. YouTube will be our voodoo doll. By fighting for parity with "Music," "Sports," "Politics," "Science," and "Comedy" on YouTube, literature can begin to fight for parity in the real world.


Here are some examples of the kinds of videos you would see in the YouTube "Literature" Category:

Here are some literature videos that we have made here at the Fiction Circus.

Here is "The Bitter Priest," by Andrew Gabriel Rose:

And here is a poem by Amanda Kimmerly, entitled "Petri Dish Dinner Party":

And here is one of my own stories, "How to Get Laid for Zero Dollars and Zero Cents":

Here are some videos made by the brand new, quarterly video journal "Quartier Rouge," debuting this month, adjunct to the exciting new "Poetry Society of New York."

Here is Lisa Marie Basile's poem, "Science":

Quartier Rouge: Science by Lisa Marie Basile from Quartier Rouge on Vimeo.

Here is Nicholas Adamski's poem, "This night is one of joyful noises":

Quartier Rouge: This night is one of joyful noises by Nicholas Adamski from Quartier Rouge on Vimeo.

Here's an excerpt of an interview with China Mieville by Ed Champion, New York City's finest, most tenacious critic and chronicle:

Here are videos from "Electric Literature," an online literary magazine that turns single sentences into lavish animations, like "pull quotes" from the id.

Here is a single-sentence animation of "Daily Bread," by Steve Edwards:

Here is a single-sentence animation of "The Red Ribbon," by Aimee Bender:

And here is a live reading from "Abe's Penny," a brilliant, weekly micro-magazine that sends you a postcard in the mail every week with a beautiful photograph and a short poem or story:

And here is Henry Miller, ranting in his bathroom about art for half an hour:

Is this entertainment? Is this politics? Is this comedy? What is this?


Because of the board game "Trivial Pursuit," the temptation will be to make this an "Arts and Literature" category. We do not want this. We want a category of our own, to build and curate. Art can have its own category, and obviously it should.



1. Greater visibility and relevance for authors.

2. A place to release new book trailers, a place to see new book trailers.

3. A place for live, spoken-word performance.

4. A place to craft and innovate multimedia poetry and fiction videos.

5. A way for literature to compete against other "far more important" media.

6. Stronger community between writers from all over the world, helping to bridge borders and strengthen translation initiatives.

7. Cataloguing and collating audio books.

8. A place to find avant garde spoken word work for people who do not live in NYC, Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, London, or Austin.

9. A place for literary education: literature classes, creative writing classes, author biographies.

10. A place for lengthy, in-depth author interviews -- since interviews with the actually erudite and intelligent have no place on television.

11. Independent movies made from literary fiction.

12. Independent movies made from genre fiction, seeking a literary audience.

13. Creators are creative. Who knows what sorts of things might catch on, given a literature-themed theater?

14. A place to archive the vast amount of literature-related YouTube documentaries and videos that already exist.


Whenever you make a literature video for YouTube (and you should), put the words "WE DEMAND A YOUTUBE LITERATURE CATEGORY!" in the description of that video.

Write blog posts on your blog about how we need a YouTube literature category.

Twitter about it.

Make some kind of Facebook page about it.

Write angry letters to your favorite novelists.

Write angry letters to publishers.

If you are somebody's "favorite novelist," write an angry letter to YouTube.

If you work for a publisher, try to convince them to advocate for the creation of this category.

All lovers of literature, working in concert for a common goal, ought to be able to at least make the subject come up once in awhile at YouTube meetings. This is all we can do. Make them laugh at us every now and then, but regularly enough so that the idea is always on their minds.


The aim of literature is to increase human empathy and to infect the sociopathic with alien perspectives that may someday cause their fingers to hesitate around the trigger of an assault weapon, or dig some loose change out of their pockets and toss it at homeless person "even though that homeless person is probably just going to buy alcohol."

The internet, as a source of constant instant gratification, never asks you to work very hard or use your imagination. Which is fine.

But that makes the internet's immune system weak.



We must dig into the places where there is weakness. We must attack and multiply. We must feed on the resources meant for film, music, sports, and politics. We must change the DNA of the internet and begin the mutation process if we are going to help the internet grow that most unnatural but precious of vestigial appendages: a soul.

Posted by miracle on Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:42:55 -0500 -- permanent link

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