Literary Moose Interview

20th March 2004 · Last updated: 5th October 2016

Comments | Japanese translation

The Literary MooseThe Literary Moose is responsible for some of the most inspirational CSS demos on the web. He also runs a mean literature library, book reviews covering an international array of authors and more. In fact there are several fascinating sections of his site to visit - take a look at yourself and see what you can discover. The Moose also holds strong views on web design and CSS, so I decided to see what made him tick. The interview below is the result.

What made you choose the name Literary Moose?
Why moose? I am very fond of the animal; always have been. A free, hyperborean being dwelling in the snowed-in spruce forests of the north. Sounds good to me! Privately, I do not pronounce it as the English language commands; ergo: each single 'o' is an audible and separate entity. If I'm in the mood, I apply a wicked pronunciation from languages I know, or ones I'm still learning. I am very language-aware, of which we'll talk further, too.
My domain is I will briefly explain what motivated my choice. Primo: it expressly states who is behind the curtains: the moose, no less. Secundo, the nature of the content is also embedded: books, literature, literary analyses and musings. Tertio, I chose the .info domain because my site is informational: not commercial, nor is any organization behind it, nor is it primarily about me, myself, and moi — the site is incredibly content-heavy, hence this type was the only logical choice. Lastly, I am very, very fond of the way it sounds, the melody of my domain name. I've received considerable positive feedback about my domain name. In a way, I am the one and only, an instantly recognizable entity in the Internet. The Literary Moose! It is not a coincidence either, that Moose and Muse are similar in pronunciation. Where literature, inspirations and creativity are concerned, the Muse is of almighty power. The domain name reflects very well who I am, as I outlined above, and what my passions are. My site is also very blue, which visitors might have noticed if they are sighted, and if they are not, I'll tell them that I love the touch of snow, the blast of the alpine wind, and the caress of the Muse — all of which are blue. I love my domain name — but I think I've already said that, have I not?
Your website has a sprinkling of languages on it - what is your native country and language if not English?
I am Polish. I am a European, where it is the natural order of things that we pay attention to languages, unlike the mostly insular inhabitants of some places that shall not be named. Language is an essential component of a nation's culture. Languages must be cherished and cared for, otherwise they tend to suffocate, and consequently dwindle. I have chosen to write in English to maximize the audience, although it is a third language for me. I find it incredibly hard to write coherently in a foreign language, and formulate my thoughts on topics like literature, where it is not the raw information that is of importance, but the style, the mood, and the melody of what you write. This alone constitutes a great challenge for me. Think: how many people would decide to go public with a site that is as vast as my own, and write in a foreign language? How many people know a foreign language well enough? I will be the first to admit that I cannot offer my readers as much as I could have offered had I been writing in my native tongue. Familiarity with a foreign language is a spectrum, a continuum. Whilst you can get by with a basic vocabulary, or even understand the speech, it is an altogether different class of a problem when you have to express yourself freely, on the topic of art, the art of the language: literature.
You're openly a supporter of the Opera browser, but why is this?
There are a million and one answers as to why I use Opera. It would have taken forever to list all reasons. I will say this though: Opera is the Rolls-Royce of the browser world. Even if there exist alternatives that offer similar choices, the quality is often appalling. I find your question — as you have phrased it at least — a little amusing. What alternative is there, after all? Should I be a closet supporter? I know that it is en-vogue nowadays to be a Mozilla aficionado; open-source and all that. Yet I said no to Mozilla years ago. Ok, let me answer your question directly. To use Opera means to be on the cutting edge of user interface design, to have strict support for the newest and emerging technologies, to browse faster than anyone else, to have instant access to the tweakable innards of the program, to read newsfeeds as if it were your mail, which you can store and forward, to have the best internet experience in all aspects — and all that within 3 megabytes of download. I am not interested in free second-hand imitations. Neither do I understand this trend where people demand high-technology commodities being delivered for free. I think that absurd.
Recently you've blocked Internet Explorer users from viewing your CSS demos. Why did you make this decision when it is still the most popular browser? Isn't the web all about accessibility for all?
Is the web all about accessibility for all, you ask? My answer is a definite no. It's not what the web is about. Neither is life about that. Alpinism is one area where the disabled have no entry. Literature is another area where not everyone has equal perspectives. If you are blind, you will never direct a movie. How on earth should the web be different? I think accessibility of web design is a misunderstood and abused concept. Universal access is a myth that is very dangerous as accessibility slowly progresses to a status of an enforceable set of rules. I have always believed that equality is for equals, and not for everyone. Claiming that all people are equal is either misjudged, or intentionally provocative, or simply dangerous. For any website, for any area of human activity, there will always be a spectrum of access, a spectrum of ability, a spectrum of talent, and so on. It annoys me to no end, that perception of the world as a binary variable, of the either-or variety. Nothing apart from closed logical subsystems is of either-or nature. So is accessibility a spectrum, too. You cannot say that a given site is or isn't accessible, because such evaluation is meaningless in light of the fact that there are a million issues to be analyzed, and failure in a subset, any subset, does not automatically qualify a site as inaccessible.
From a methodological point of view, you cannot confirm or accept any theory as true, you can only relatively compare theories, and use theories as acceptable in practice if and only if they withstood a series of tests aimed at their rejection. A single rejection of a theoretical prediction must not lead to the rejection of a theory, again, because the world is not a closed system defined on irrefutable axioms. To top it all, accessibility of design on higher levels is a vague notion that is best left to personal judgment. Yet what I observe, more and more, is that yet another noble notion is transformed into something that does not resemble the original. Recognition of individuals with different needs is something that is to be applauded, but it cannot be enforced on any single individual with such vehement aggression as is more and more common today. I am not the first one who observed that trend. Craig Saila, a Canadian, and a man whom I respect for his common sense, nicely said it in his web diary:

Not sure when everything got so nasty… At some point, the idea of supporting Web standards became a black-and-white issue. Too many are willing to vilify the work of others (and sometimes the authors themselves) unless all of the following are done: the page validates, it's sent with the "correct" MIME type, uses CSS for layout, is semantically marked-up, and is accessible. Now with people being publicly ridiculed and insulted for trying to expand on an interesting idea, it's only a matter of time before a someone is murdered with an ice pick in Mexico.

Couldn't have said it better. It is one thing to be as open as possible, and support as many visitors as you can, but the real accessibility has little to do with the so-called accessibility as perceived by equally so-called aggressive web-designers, who are closed-minded fundamentalists I wouldn't shake hands with. They go too far. They are offensive. They misunderstand the concept. They know nothing of liberty; instead they simply take liberties! In summary, I am very fond of the concept itself, but have more than one bone to pick with some of the advocates who do more harm than good.
I didn't block access to my experiments, to answer your second question. They are not password-protected? All of my documents are out there, available to the wide public. If they use technology not on par, then they won't enter — but not because I denied them access, but because their own software will not let them in. These pages were never accessible to begin with, since the vast majority of browsers couldn't render the content, crashed, or destroyed the display in an amazing multitude of ways.
Which is your favourite CSS demo you have produced so far?
The CSS Slideshow. Recently I have been proud of Doublefloat, a marriage of print and web design. Yet I am more fond of the design of my literature pages in particular, and my site in general. I think that they showcase my abilities much better than the experiments themselves, which tend to be mostly academic exercises and nowhere do they approach a coherent design in that they almost always present a technique in isolation.
You're a big fan of 'generated content'. What's so special about it?
Generated content is one of the best tools within CSS that gives us the power to ornament our minimally coded documents without polluting the markup. Years ago, the trend was to use nested tables to achieve simple effects that had nothing to do with structure or content. Nowadays, it is the abominable image replacement techniques, the equally abominable div tag soup abused to the same effect that nested tables were. I see no difference between a nested table and a set of redundant div tags which serve as hooks to create the same ol' stuff (vide: rounded boxen corners or image shadows). Generated content which you can style at will goes against the mindset of the vast majority of designers. To boot, only Opera supports generated content to a satisfactory degree, so there are problems with widespread adaptation that are not related to the common habits.
I am an advocate of generated content because I am in favor of lightweight documents and rich ornamentation. That is why it is my favorite tool of web design. I have nothing in common with nested tables and modern-day div hackery.
How do you see CSS developing?
This question I cannot answer. For a long time I subscribed to the www-style mailing list, but the scope of CSS3 itself is too overwhelming for me to be comfortable with wide-ranging proposals to enlarge the scope of the current CSS3 as it is. Cascading style sheets are in the hands of the specification designers. I doubt they had predicted the way we would have used CSS2, so I have no way of predicting how CSS3 shall be used in the future. I surely hope the fundamentalist mindset will not dominate. I have extended the way people think of CSS, to some degree, and I can only hope that others will do the same to whatever may emerge as the CSS3 standard.
What would you ideally like to see implemented in future CSS specs?
This is a hard question for me to answer, since I haven't put much thought to it since, as I've said before, I felt more than overwhelmed with the scope of CSS3. There is some functionality that I miss — a CSS equivalent of onclick. That alone would allow us all to construct more functional and lightweight pages. Menus come to mind, but the possibilities are many.
How are designers supposed to deal with the frustrating lack of cross-browser support for many advanced CSS features?
I have no answer to those who design for money. Most likely, they have no choice other than to dumb-down the design so that the worst browsers on the market, like Internet Explorer, Netscape, or iCab — can actually display the site. Yet all others? I do not think there is anything that should stop us. I'd say: go the whole hog, create something beautiful, interesting, content-heavy, and use all intellectual powers you have to squeeze as much as you can from the standards, which may appear very prohibitive at first sight, but upon closer inspection are simply a skeleton of consistency rules, and not religious dogmas of any kind. Once the content is readable in Internet Explorer, I think there is nothing else to be bothered with. For example, I use all CSS supported by Opera to deliver the maximum maximorum for its users. After all, I see no point in giving up on a set of techniques simply because other users will not benefit from them. Once again, equality is for equals. My recipe for lack of cross-browser support is to push and press ahead with standards that are already supported by at least one browser. Use them everywhere. Vote early, and vote often!
Who do you admire in the field of experimental CSS?
No one. I seek inspiration in literature, in music, and in the art of painting.
I believe you recently got some negative feedback on one of your demos. What happened?
What happened was that some people didn't know where to stop. Feedback, negative or positive, is always welcome. I got mail which had nothing to do with feedback of any kind.
Do you see CSS as merely a tool or an end in itself?
Both. Likewise, in literature — there is a distinction between the utilitarian prose of the genres, be it romance for kitchenmaids, mysteries, thrillers and the like — and literature, poetry, or even mainstream fiction. I am not surprised that in a field of web design most people are looking for money and turnover. They are deaf to æsthetics. A quote from Trevanian comes to mind:

But he could feel nothing but disdain for the artificial class of the merchant, who sucks up his living through buying and selling things he does not create, who collects power and wealth out of proportion to his discrimination, and who is responsible for all that is kitsch, for all that is change without progress, for all that is consumption without use.

A mercantile mind will never appreciate the work of art, art in itself is lost on him, too, as is any activity which does not return a profit, or is immediately quantifiable, since for such types only the tangible is of value. As any other tool, CSS can be a medium of expression, a way of getting things done, or both.
Should CSS be invisible to the user or not? I'm thinking of early CSS sites which were obvious by their three-column layouts, dotted borders and flat colours.
I'm about the last person to be asked about what should, or must or must-not be with respect to web design. I believe in individual creativity. The more unique the site, the better. I never used templates, or cookie-cutter solutions. I often think of this when I see how people dress, or in what houses they live in. It used to be a point of honor to have a different exterior design, architectural or otherwise, than your neighbor. The end of the XX century and the newborn millennium we live in now is the age of copycats. Yet, to my amusement, our ancestors thought the very same! To quote the wise American writer of two centuries back, Sarah Orne Jewett:

— In these days the young folks is all copy-cats, 'fraid to death they won't be all just alike; as for the old folks, they pray for the advantage o' bein' a little different.

Templates, even if customized, have one thing in common — they are commonplace, by definition. That is why weblogs are so incredibly boring. Nearly all of them. Content with no design is half useless, to me. So, no, I would not say that it is a good thing to be a look-alike, to have a design that is indistinguishable from others'. On the other hand, I would also say that design and æsthetics is just as important as the content, and if you can pull off a good design, this design better be visible, eminent, evident, and heart-wrenchingly attractive. All in all, the more originality, the better.
Tell me about the other major part of your website, aimed at book readers.
I've been writing about literature for years, in a language that is not my own. Yet over the years I have had enormously positive feedback. I have been contacted by authors, publishers, and hundreds of readers. It is evident that sites about literature are needed, for there are not many of us readers, unfortunately. In the age of television and mass media, everyone and their dog can have a blog and write about nothing. Or about pop culture. But I repeat myself. There are only two other sites as vast as my own that are focused strictly on mainstream literature, yet only one of them provides critical commentary of some kind. I have every reason to believe that my own is vastly superior, but what is really sad is that I have no competition. My site is top ranked within literature for more reasons than one, yet this is not a healthy state of the matter. It merely reflects the predominant trend: people read less and less, and literature — as our forefathers understood it — is becoming more and more marginalized. Therefore, as long as I can, I will provide rich content to the like-minded. We are not dead yet, and neither is literature.
What plans for the future do you have for your website?
I could have answered that question better last year, since I had plans. I realized them almost in full as of now, so I have no plans at the moment. The site is better designed than it ever was, it is also modularized and optimized. Literature-wise, I plan to write as many reviews as I can, though this year I have substantially less time than I used to. I will continue to promote high quality literary fiction, small publishers, and great events. Now that my site is a well-oiled, selfmade machine, I can add new content like there is no tomorrow — it's that easy. Increasingly, I find that more and more authors and publishers attempt to contact me, and as of now I don't know how to deal with it. This is a bit of a problem to me. If there has ever been an opinionated guy, I was that person. I prefer to deal with dead authors, and I tend to write about contemporary authors as if they were long dead. I find it highly disturbing that now and then I get a letter from the other side of the grave! — or so my subconscious dictates, at least.
Lastly, when you're not coding CSS, what hobbies take up your spare time?
I read books. I write stories, sometimes, but in my native language most often, so they will not ever be published on Then I read books. My life is full of literature, which is the hobby of my life. Other than that, I free-climb and explore the awesome cenozoic-age mountain range I fell in love with at first sight: Tatry. I've read hundreds of books and monographs about that region. I used to be interested in typography, and one day I will come back this old fascination of mine. I wrote a monograph on bridge bidding systems — used to play bridge voraciously at one time. Nowadays, it's hard to find company. I love the intellectual European cinema more and more, too, but this hasn't become my hobby, yet — though I am close to surrendering! This is an expensive hobby. Other than that — I would say history of Europe. My favorite period, beyond Pax Romana, is the early medieval age: more or less until the XI century. Ethnology used to interest me, but I channeled my interests into literature of specific regions. From time to time I like to read philosophy, methodology, and psychology, my guilty pleasures. I buy Discovery DVDs about wolves, bears, oceans, ancient cultures, and art — topics that interest me, but which I can't properly devote time to, that is — read about these topics in depth! I also read everything I can about polar explorations, and that is a field where many of my interests coincide: literature, alpinism, survival, history, languages and nationalities, plus the incredible imagery — which again brings me to web design. What I create has more to do with icebergs and the halo effect than coding or programming.
On a lighter note, I am not sure that the likes of me should ever be interviewed, yet I would like to thank you for the opportunity!

Comments (4)

Comments are locked on this topic. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment.

  1. J. King:
    If you'll allow me to quote:

    "...the standards, which may appear very prohibitive at first sight, but upon closer inspection are simply a skeleton of consistency rules, and not religious dogmas of any kind."

    This, I think, is a good summary of what the World Wide Consortium's "standards" (which, I might add, are nothing more than recommendations, not standards) aim to be. CSS especially manages to fit this role well, as its error handling rules allow for graceful fallbacks that do not lead to garbage content. You can add anything to your stylesheets that are not defined by a W3C document and will not be penalised for it, but you are guaranteed that some things are at least -likely- to work.

    Also, if I may direct a few words to the interviewer, I would like to know how three-column layout and flat colours distinguish early CSS designs from those that predated CSS or even designs of today. To my knowledge, three-column designs started with nested tables, and are still extremely prevelent today. Granted, every second posting to CSS-discuss is regarding a problem with three-column layouts using floats or some other such technique (which should tell us something about CSS's suitability for achieving such ends), but I nevertheless do not see the connection.

    I also don't see how flat colours were a hallmark of early CSS designs, as we have the very same range of colours now as we did then both in CSS and presentational markup, but I wasn't aware of CSS at the time, so I may simply not have noticed.

    In passing, Moose, I would be very interested to hear specific reasons why you rejected Mozilla. I for years had been using Internet Explorer over Mozilla consciously (until I was directed to Opera), so I would very much like to hear from someone else why they chose something else over Mozilla.

    Posted on 21st March 2004 at 7:00 am
  2. Chris Hester:
    If you look, I actually said "three-column layouts, dotted borders and flat colours". The dotted borders are the key. Before, table-based layouts were basically the full range of colours and styles. Yet somehow there was a definite trend with early CSS sites (which persists today in sites like that used flat colours (due to the ease at which one could add these to divs), dotted borders (ditto) and three-column layouts (which you're right in saying aren't much different from table-based layouts). Because of the div tag, everyone started using boxes with borders. The style used by so many blogs today began, putting a central column in the middle, and smaller ones on the left and right, or sometimes just the left or just the right.

    Now the trend has moved away from basic div colouring to a stronger use of images - witness the CSS Zen Garden.

    My point is that CSS sites were quite obvious in the early days of its use. (That is, on sites which abandoned tables completely.) Put bluntly, they all looked the same!

    Sure, someone can still do a site like that today (indeed this site is currently an example of that, but that will change with my forthcoming redesign). But such sites are getting rarer. Broadband has increased the use of photography and images on CSS-driven sites, while dotted borders look too clichéd to use much anymore.

    Posted on 21st March 2004 at 10:06 pm
  3. Adam:
    "Generated content is one of the best tools within CSS that gives us the power to ornament our minimally coded documents without polluting the markup. Years ago, the trend was to use nested tables to achieve simple effects that had nothing to do with structure or content."

    Generated content is loads of fun and I often wish it would display consistently -- but if it were widely implemented, I'm pretty sure it would be the next tool in the litany of great web-design abuses. One prime argument of css/standards proselytes against table based layouts is the lack of separation between style and substance. I appreciate the Moose's emphasis on using generated content for 'ornamentation' but I see a future where content is shuffled off to the stylesheet. Polluting the content with style changes to polluting the style with content.

    Great interview. While I can't say that I always agree with the Moose, I respect his opinion and am glad that he/it exists. You guys have both been inspirations to me.


    Posted on 30th March 2004 at 8:39 am
  4. Herr Denovitch:
    Not sure if my old friend ever comes back here to check comments, but if he does, I want him to know it is good to see he is as moosey as ever.


    Posted on 2nd October 2004 at 11:33 pm