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Posted early in 2005:
In 2004, I rather grandly announced in this space that a multimedia personal website was on the way. The contraption took so much work to prepare - most of it done by young helpers talking a language I don't pretend to understand - that I never had time to ask myself whether it would be of any actual use. Now it's here, and I could well find out the hard way that nobody needs it. But in the event that somebody wants to try it out, here's how it is meant to work. Selecting from the four square buttons grouped around my nervously smiling face at top left, you will be able to see what the Text, Audio, Gallery and Video sections have in store. Later on, I hope, there will be more available in each section, and perhaps there will even be other sections as well, not necessarily featuring myself. It might seem strange to say so, in the face of the evidence, but this project is not meant entirely as an ego trip, although I suppose the Pharaohs said the same when they were approving the designs for their individual pyramids. It would be tactically unwise, at such an early stage, to say how excited I am by this new venture. Equally unwise, perhaps, to say that it will need a lot of time to organize, and probably too much money to maintain, and I might easily run out of both. Death and destitution aside, however, this note will be updated as the project develops.
Addendum as of August 2005: Since the site went to air, it has been subject to the same sort of unannounced expansion that eventually became familiar to Professor Quatermass. The Audio section has increased from one set of dialogues to four, and the Text section has expanded in the same proportion, with the new sub-section Guest Poets presaging an era when the proprietor will retreat to the status of an incidental player in his own establishment, thereby demonstrating his essential humility. (A note to journalists: irony was employed in the previous sentence.) Additions to the Video section are contemplated for next year, now that the final technical bugs are being worked out of the system and the costs of streaming have been brought under control. Until these matters were cleared up I took care not to publicise the venture as anything more serious than a new toy. With due discretion, it might now be time to dial up the power on the homing beacon, if only because there is now audited evidence that people have been looking for it. Compared with words, figures have never been my thing, but one statistic relating to this enterprise impresses even me. It has already had visitors from more than fifty separate countries.
Addendum as of February 2006: Since late January, major reconstruction has been under way in the Text section, with various sub-sections being shifted to different levels so that this part of Gizmo City can go on propagating without bumping into itself. As a spokesman for the Acropolis once told the world: excuse the chisels and the marble chips, we never expected to get this big. The development programme is designed so that no component needs to be closed down: all the material should be continuously available. Meanwhile, despite the noise and rising dust, individual precincts such as Pieces from the Past continue to expand inexorably. While Nicholas Watts and Simon Larcey of Welcome Stranger, and Cécile Menon, omnicompetent CEO of this website, supervise these operations, high above them all, on his glittering balcony in space, the Proprietor, intoxicated by the smell of his burning money, gazes out over the busy fulfilment of his dream. Music by Vangelis.
Posted in December 2006:
When this website took to the air under my name in 2004, it was the first personal multimedia extravaganza of its type anywhere in the world. Now everybody's doing it, so the topic arises of what exactly is being done. In other words, running such an airborne emporium is no longer a miracle. The question is about what it sells. The first answer, where this site is concerned, is that it doesn't really sell anything. Eventually it might sell a few books, and even then most of them might not be mine. Even the television shows cost nothing to view.
At the moment, the contraption, built in a garden shed and first tested off the tops of small hills, is more like a free university having a love affair with a space station. Another useful analogy might be with a clearing in the jungle. The web is certainly a jungle, and without a few clearings it is hard to see how the innocent can stay sane in there, and it might soon be hard to see anything at all. There have to be at least a few areas that unashamedly represent civilized achievement, if only because there are so many that represent the exact opposite, all fangs bared. So the serious proprietor can persuade himself he is doing good, even as he seems to be concentrating on his own preservation with a whole new kind of embalming fluid. Since a successful liberal democracy pretty well depends on enlisting human weaknesses on behalf of the general welfare, I can do something to exculpate the vaulting effrontery of my own ego by emphasising the altruistic form of its expression.
But somewhere underneath those fine feelings there undeniably bubbles a desire to assemble everything of mine that I want to keep and get it safely into permanent orbit. That might seem like a glory ride. To help offset this last suspicion, I continue, with the invaluable help of my second-in-command Cécile Menon, to bring in contributions from guest writers, guest artists, and guests generally, in the hope that those combined contributions might outweigh mine when the time comes for my physical demise. The aim could be defined as throwing a party in my own tomb, with a turn at the microphone for everybody present. But the only way I can prove it is to invite the visitor to take a look. The major areas of the project can be reached through the squares at the top left. There will be more to come, I hope, but I also hope that a first-time visitor will find more than enough for now.
Posted in July 2007:
This website began as an airborne library in which I planned to preserve my written work. The airborne library lifted towards orbit when I realised that it could carry audio and video material as well. Orbit was achieved when I finally got wise to the possibility of expanding the increasingly elaborate vehicle's cargo hold so as to take in the work of other people. Somewhere between a space station and a free university campus, the machine is now embarked on its true voyage, dedicated to the premise that values can be stable and permanent, even when they are packed into a dot in the middle of nowhere, where nothing weighs anything and all the signals move at the speed of light.
The squares at the top left of the screen lead to the website's separate departments, and every department leads to shelves, galleries and studios in a building made of corridors whose walls are made of doors. Nobody who builds a thing like this should be suspected of suffering from self-effacement, but I should say at the outset, and before you press the button to gain entry, that the day is already gone when I thought this invention belonged to me. By now I belong to it: an edifice that weighs nothing, and can disappear at the tap of a key. But that was how it appeared in the first place. Feel free to wander.
Posted in December 2007:
If only the web were the work of a single giant spider, we might teach it to behave. But the web is more like a jungle, and the most we can hope to do is make the occasional clearing, in which a civilized form of safety may be found. The visitor needs a refuge not just from nihilism, prurience and insanity, but from the meaningless, which is practically the web’s binding force even when it is providing necessary information. There have to be places where coherent expression can be found. After five years of work, I am at last ready to claim that this website might be one of them.
I would be less ready to say so if I were speaking only on my own behalf. I admit that the project started its career as a personal archive. But such has been the generosity of my guests in all media – a truly international cast, with more to come – that the steadily expanding principality would be of interest even if its instigator were to disappear from it tomorrow. So at last I can begin to be proud of it instead of apologetic.
Since the beginning, I have written and rewritten this opening paragraph several times, and it might have been thought from some of my terminology that I wasn’t being apologetic at all about what we were building. As well as a gizmo, a gadget and a contraption, I called it a bespoke pyramid, a space station, a free university campus, a café in Atlantis, an outpost of Arcadia, a crystal palace, a song of lights. But I was whistling to keep my courage up while the work went on. Now that the clearing’s outlines are harder to mistake, I can adopt the more modest tone that should be the true mark of confidence. Thousands of people from all over the world are coming to visit. I can give up saying that this is something new, and simply be glad that it feels new to them.
Posted in September 2008:
This website started out as a personal archive, but after five years of steady work I hope it now stands revealed as something more useful. A click on any of the square buttons grouped around my mug-shot at upper left should soon reveal that I have a bigger aim in mind than mere self-perpetuation. In times gone by, when a ruling megalomaniac got the urge to immortalise himself by building a personal mausoleum on the grand scale, there were obvious drawbacks. A pyramid, for example, took up a lot of lateral space and carved a large triangular piece out of the skyline, thereby ensuring that it would defeat the proprietor’s initial purpose. It might as well have carried a large neon sign saying “Treasure Buried Here”. This multi-media website gets bigger by the month but it takes up no room whatsoever. It all unfolds from a single dot in cyberspace, and positively invites tomb-robbers to visit its every chamber, the idea being not to guard the treasure but to give it away for free. Once you get inside, you will find that the inmates include a lot of other people besides myself, and most of them are very much alive. They, too, have brought their treasure with them. Then you will notice that the pyramid is made of glass, like the one at the Louvre. And then you will notice, by the stars streaming past outside, that the whole thing is flying. Where to, I still have no idea, but anyone in the world is welcome to climb in and take a look around. Feel free to wander, perhaps starting with NEW, which gives a quick guide to the latest postings month by month, and thus a history of how the site grows.
Posted in January 2009:
To mark the opening of the year 2009, my latest BBC Radio 4 series of A Point of View is complete and the final programmes are now available permanently in the Audio section. In the Video section, the fifth series of “Talking in the Library”, produced in collaboration with SkyArts in Spring 2007, is also being made available. The first programme features Alexei Sayle, and the other eight programmes in the series – including Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons and Stephen Fry – will follow month by month. Meanwhile a fifth series, featuring Germaine Greer, Tom Stoppard, Will Self, Salman Rushdie, Melvyn Bragg, and Patrick Stewart, is being streamed on TimesOnline.
Other new features, such as podcasts of a selection of radio and video programmes, and improvements to the website’s user-friendliness, are in the works, under the supervision of digital media specialist Ariadne Zanella, and of my web master Dawn Mancer. With a total of 1000 pages, this website gets bigger by the month. Feel free to wander, perhaps starting with NEW, which gives a quick guide to the latest postings, and thus a history of how the site grows. For other details concerning the site’s evolution over the past five years, including the site’s manifesto and previous homepages, see the About section.
— London, January 2009
Posted in July 2009:
More than half way through 2009, this website is in yet another transitional stage as our web-master Dawn Mancer copes with the intricacies of loading the last two series of interviews in the Video section. Meanwhile the complete first 2009 series of the BBC Radio 4 "A Point of View" programme is up and running permanently in the Audio section, with accompanying texts. So there are now a full fifty of the broadcasts available here. In the Text section, new material is being added all the time, and my long-cherished project for adding pictures to the work of the Guest Poets is now complete.
With more than 1,000 pages, this website gets bigger by the month. Feel free to wander, perhaps starting with NEW, which gives a quick guide to the latest postings, and thus a history of how the site grows. For other details concerning the site’s evolution over the past five years, including the site’s manifesto and previous homepages, see the About section, which also now includes the full text of a gratifying acknowledgment from the Good Web Guide.
Posted in December 2009:
Newcomers to this site will soon discover, I hope, that it is meant to be rather more than an archive of my own work. It started out that way, but merciful Providence intervened to remind me that my belated brain-wave might be more useful if I could put a lifetime’s experience as a cultural critic to a new use, and so offer a critical guide, through the next medium, to works of thought and art by other people, and sometimes in other eras. The only criterion for inclusion would be intensity of expression, with the aim of creating, in this latterday Babelic flux we call the web, an island of quality where every word is meant, and every image meaningful. Where there was music, it would be music I responded to because I couldn’t help it, and not because I thought I should. Clearly such a scope, even allowing for my prejudices, is without theoretical limit, so I shall be a doddering cot-case before the thing barely gets started, but I am very glad to have been in on its beginnings.
Regular visitors might like to know that there has been a large-scale building programme going on in the basement during the later part of 2009, and as we enter a new decade the modifications are ready to be unveiled. The Text section had been getting so extensive that its miles of corridors slowed up the work of making additions, threatening to return the site to its bad old early days when I had to wait for a month to change a comma. The Text section has now become four sections (Essays, Poetry, Books and Author), each of which, I think, has a better interior logic, and anyway allows much more room for expansion. This intricate task of reconstruction has been carried out by my webmaster Dawn Mancer, who understands how the machines work. What that must be like, I can’t even begin to imagine. All I knew, when I first saw them in action twenty years ago, was they might be persuaded to build something that would go on unfolding as it flew, powered by nothing except the spirit of curiosity.
— London, December 2009