Ron Silliman, a stalwart champion of what he calls "post-avant" writing, nevertheless has problems with what he calls in an equally colorful way "retro-avant-gardism," particularly the sort of poetry "that tends to employ new technology in order to generate post-rational texts, ranging from tossing dice to the latest in flash technology. I often feel that such writing is too in love with techné & not with the text, sort of an avant-gardism at all costs strategy. . . ." To put it another way, this kind of writing takes the "experimental" writer's concern with technique and reduces it to an expression of technology. This kind of approach, Silliman suggests, "is best practiced in moderation, for what it can teach about the limits of meaning & intention, not as the central project of anyone’s work."
I am and have long been myself a partisan of "experimental" or "innovative" fiction (choose your adjective), but, like Silliman, have always been less enamored of work that literally "exceeds the page," that takes the search for new forms of literary expression over the borders of literature itself into new media altogether. ("Multi-media," this endeavor was once called.) It is for this reason that I have never really been able to see the point of "hypertext" fiction--except, perhaps, as Silliman has it, as a way of instructing oneself about the "limits" of literary experiment, something that can be brought back to "the text" as a refreshment of purpose.
Even when a writer I greatly admire, Robert Coover, became rather a champion of hypertext, I just couldn't bring myself to take the thing seriously as literature because clearly enough it was no longer literature but something else, a new form of expression entirely, with it own separate, newly developing conventions and ambitions. I had no problem with the idea that this new form might coalesce into a new artistic mode of its own, in the same way cinema had done this, eventually, but since works of literature are aesthetic constructions of language, the spatial and visual qualities added by hypertext just seemed a different kind of practice. (After his initial experiments in hypertext, Coover himself came back with two of his best print fictions, Ghost Town and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, so perhaps the kind of reinvigoration I mentioned did occur in his case.)
Perhaps this is the bedrock of tradition that still underlies my more overt enthusiasms for experimental fiction. Once you abandon that tradition completely, you're no longer experimenting with the forms that interested you in the first place. There's not even anything left to challenge. John Barth once wrote that he was "of the temper that chooses to rebel along traditional lines." He preferred "the kind of art. . .that requires expertise and artistry as well as bright aesthetic ideas and/or inspiration." This Barthian kind of experimental fiction in turn could invoke a number of oxymoronic descriptions: "conservative radical"; "cautious iconoclast"; "pragamatic revolutionary." (I especially like the last one.) But in some ways it's only in the contradictions between these terms that actual experiment with literary form can take place. Or at least that's a way of thinking about it.