Of all the places to start a literary journal, the dark web – the dark corner of the internet known primarily for its illegal activities – seems like an odd choice. For starters, readers might have a hard time tracking it down (“the dark web, as Kaveh Waddell once noted in Atlantic, “is accessible only through Tor, a network of computers that forwards web requests through a random series of servers to preserve the anonymity of visitors”). And most people who frequent the dark web are probably not there to discover new news or poetry.
Nevertheless, last year a new literary publication on the dark web – aptly named The Torist— published its first issue, becoming an unusual landmark in territory usually reserved for the most shady activities. According to its two founders, the anti-surveillance and anti-copyright sentiment of the dark web makes it an ideal creative environment for their publication to thrive.
One of the founders, who did not attach his name to the publication, says The Torist was created to be “a place of positivity and creativity” in a part of the internet that otherwise has a very different tone. (He initially agreed to be interviewed for this story only through encrypted chats. After some discussion, he agreed to correspond via “clear web” email.)
He and his co-founder, University of Utah communications professor Robert Gehl, first met on a now-defunct dark online social network called “Galaxy,” where they met. linked by their common appreciation of literature. The two soon began discussing the idea of a creative space on the dark web; after a year of planning, The Torist published its first issue in 2015. The publication included short stories, poetry and essays, many of which explored issues of surveillance, online identity and privacy in the digital age.
Asked about his motivation to start The Toristhe said he and Gehl wanted a place to interrogate the prevailing portrayal of the dark web as an underground network used only for nefarious purposes.
“The Torist is designed…to curb various attempts to smear anonymity as desirable only to evil people,” he said.
In the preface to their first issue, he and Gehl wrote, “If a magazine publishes through a hidden Tor service, what does creative output look like? How could it stand out from its counterparts in the clear? Who indeed will gravitate towards a literary dark-web?
Some differences : The Torist does not remunerate its contributors and also lives on the fringes of the established literary community. Although The Torist is a literary journal, he says, it is partly inspired by zines, cheap, short-run magazines that are often politically or subculturally slanted. In theory, anyone with access to a photocopier can publish a zine; likewise he and Gehl see The Torist as an attempt to democratize discussion of literature and technology.
The journal is designed to “reflect the community of those interested in anonymity, not to decide what those people write about,” he said. “There is a perspective that journals… no longer occupy the same status as before. But I think the reality is that it just got more decentralized, which can be a good thing.