Yesterday I wrote that insofar as writing becomes social, it will become less, not more, adventurous. Here’s why: imagine that James Joyce drafts the first episode of Ulysses and posts it online. What sort of feedback will he receive, especially from people who had read his earlier work? Nothing very commendatory, I assure you. By the time he posts the notoriously impenetrable third episode, with its full immersion in the philosophical meditations of a neurotic hyperintellectual near-Jesuit atheist artist-manqué, the few readers who haven’t jumped ship already will surely be drawing out, and employing, their long knives. Then how will they handle the introduction of Leopold Bloom, and all the attention given to the inner life of this seemingly unremarkably and coarse-minded man? And, much later, the nightmare-fantasia in Nighttown? It doesn’t bear thinking of.
Would Joyce be able to resist the immense pressures from readers to give them something they recognize? Of course he would; he’s James Joyce. He doesn’t give a rip about their incomprehension. (Which is why he wouldn’t post drafts online in the first place, but never mind.) But how many other writers could maintain their commitment to experimentation and innovation amidst a cacophony of voices demanding the familiar? — which is, after all, what the great majority of voices always demand.