Decentralized Autonomous Literary Organization: a decentralization of literature

Pando Network, by inaugurating both a protocol and an interface capable of hosting and organizing collaborative creation, also opens great perspectives for literature. More broadly, should we not consider the possibilities opened up by the Ethereum blockchain, Aragon and Pando on the decentralization of literature, understood both as a historical mode for the valorization, diffusion and distribution of works, and as writing activities that govern these works?

To blockchain literature

To speak of a literary blockchain simply means to decentralize literary production; to organize in a different way valuation and diffusion. Inversely, it would not be necessary to literalize the blockchain; although it would be a matter of literalizing it in the sense of concretizing practices that would sometimes seem abstract.

The very term literary blockchain seems incongruous. Probably because it’s a new expression. It would sound almost like a program or a manifesto. However, we cannot be prescribers of literary production; everyone has their own freedom of creation. We are talking here, first of all, about literature as a historical regime for the valorization and diffusion of works of the art of writing. Nevertheless, we will see that the decentralization of this regime could in turn alter production itself; in a word, that blockchain could free creation.

To place the terms blockchain and literature side by side seems doubly bizarre, since the latter has such a latent tendency to switch to technophobia. Whereas blockchain appears to be in fashion, literature itself shapes its own fashion on its profoundly outdated, inactual, intempestive character. For more than a century now, the great autopsy of literature has been going on while the corpse is being sold. To the point that this breathless swan song continues repeatedly. The end of literature. The death of literature. The farewell to literature. The recipe is simple: we record death to try to resurrect it. In conclusion, we believe in the power of literature: we ergote on its solemn capacity to fail, we palaver on the irreducibility of words to the civilization of the image, we defend there its patrimonial value, here its way of ordering new counter-ideologies. For 100 years now, it has been playing its end, literacy, playing the victim string, and ruminating its metaphysics of the unspeakable.

Where fashion seems to be a consensus or hegemony, it also gives the measure of the world — the spirit of the times. After having been frightened by it, literature now welcomes the resistance of paper to digital technology; it is that, basically, we only look at a phenomenon in a purely event-driven way. 1454: invention of printing. 1989: birth of the web. 2008: birth of blockchain. More than the dematerialization of books, it is perhaps ultimately the complete decentralization of the book chain that will bring about a profound change for literature and its industry.

Value criticism of literature

What makes a literary text valuable? We would like to answer: its intrinsic qualities. However, what validates the work as a work resides in a purely vertical set of developers, prescribers: let us call them editorial reading committees, prize juries, literary critics, institutions in charge of scholarships, residencies, scholars. This littérature à l’estomac can certainly produce beautiful works: it responds in its protocol to a set of standards governed by a limited group of specialists. In a word, literature is centralized.

The members of the jury of the Goncourt Prize, the most prestigious French literature prize.

Publishers — or booksellers, for that matter — will rightly protest that they are refining literary production. They are legitimately trying to counter the GAFAM, particularly Amazon. What is the value, indeed, produced by a giant like Amazon? None, since any author can self-edit. A strict economic rationality presides over the distribution of works. A story about this is funny: a pseudonymous author had published a book entitled La Crampe à Gaz, entirely generated by a code, where he boasted of having produced a Borgesian, Oulipian work, all to make fun of the now well-established fact that we publish everything and anything on Amazon.

Between the verticality of traditional publishing and the complete levelling of an Amazon, is it really necessary to choose? Does decentralizing literature mean repeating Amazon’s gesture? No, of course not. It is here that the blockchain opens a third way: to create a network where the value of literary texts would be ensured by an expanding community as a whole; where the functions devolved to the book chain would be decentralized in the hands of the users themselves. In a word, to create a particular kind of DAO, a Decentralized Autonomous Literary Organization (DALO).

It should also be noted that today publishers faced the eternal question of “managing their community”. But we notice that this “management” is most often in the form of a simple management of their facebook page accompanied with the diffusion of a newsletter. If publishing houses operated on the basis of a DAO then each member of it -what we most often call a “fan”- would have the opportunity to vote on the hundreds and thousands of books a publisher receives each year and that they do not read for lack of staff and money, but also and above all for excessive centralization of the selection process. With a DALO the choice to publish a particular book would no longer be delegated to the final decision of the BOSS but built by the community of the publisher. The question of community management would no longer arise because the community would no longer be something away but an active part of the editorial process.

To decentralize literature, to liberate creation

We could make two diagrams about literary centralization. The first, as below, puts the text at the centre of the literary relationship and relegates the reader to a passive stage at the same time as it consecrates the author’s omnipotence.

The second gives the figure of the publisher the role of the text refiner: once selected, it will go through the pre-press, the printing press, then the diffuser-distributor, and finally into the bookshop.

This second scheme obviously leads to several problems. The economic constraint that publishing is undergoing leads to the gradual elimination of a host of tasks, including reading-correction, graphics and communication. Increasingly, it is the generalized figure of the publishing assistant who takes care of all these tasks, leading to the impoverishment of the literary product and the precariousness of the professions related to books.

But the problem is broader: such a scheme clearly shows 1) that the publisher is the central entity for controlling and freezing the text 2) that the author loses the use of his text while retaining his privileged and all-powerful status.

On a blockchain like Ethereum, on a protocol and a platform like Pando , a user, let’s say, deposits a text. His right to this text is recorded on the blockchain register, in the code. Thanks to the IPFS protocol, we then reach a traceability of the literary product which opens it to a whole new series of configurations.

Thanks to a licensing system, that the author will choose and embed in the smart contract code, the text will be able to either follow its traditional relationship and pass through to a reader of the platform; or open up to new sharing and new collaborations. Thanks to a token dedicated to creation, each actor in a literary blockchain will be paid in proportion to the smart contract pre-written between these actors. Also an author may associate with another author, or even with a collective writing; deliver the work of reading-correction, translation or illustration to another actor present on the network, identifiable by a profile.

Let’s dream about a literary DAO-content: a DAO doesn’t concern only companies or cooperatives, but also creative works, for instance a book. There would be, for example, persons A, B and C. A puts one simple good idea on the repository. A, thanks to a malleable mechanism of dedicated license, opens up this very idea. B, a bit of a writer, decides to write a short story from this idea. C, who dedicates his life to writing, chooses to make this short story a novel. This is not just a love triangle : there are 26 letters in our alphabet and endless possibilities to combine them. J could be a good illustrator and I a perfect communicant. And JI, maybe, some kind of graphic designer. In the process, this DALO-content would not exclude even the reader community: the readers would be that community.

The literary blockchain leads to a rhizomatic vision of the text, understood here less as textuality than as textility, the sum of meshes and fibres woven almost to infinity, as in the attached diagram:

In history, creation has been left to people who had the time to create. Under this mindset even a single word or an unique idea can be the traceable echo that a DAO would make resonate.