About the Author
Loss Pequeño Glazier is Director of the Electronic Poetry Center and Professor of Media Study at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.
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The Making of E-Poetries
By Loss Pequeño Glazier
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 2002 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Jumping to Occlusions
A Manifesto for Digital Poetics
fret which is whirled / out of some sort of information —Charles Bernstein, The Sophist
Precipitation: violent passages: from which we each emerge: rending: stuffed: awkwardly shaped by the heat of such and such a system —Caroline Bergvall, "Fourth Tableau"
How does transcription have a cross-purpose? The language you are breathing becomes the language you think. Take for example in UNIX (and UNIX is the wellspring from which the World Wide Web was drawn) to "grep" or "chmod," things done daily, possibly hundreds of times a day. When you grep ("global/regular expression/print") a given target, you search across files for instances of a string of characters, a word. To chmod ("change mode") is to use a numeric code to grant, in an augenblick, permission to read, write, and/or execute a given file to yourself, your community, and your world. These are not mere metaphors but new procedures for writing. How could it be simpler? Why don't we all think in UNIX? If we do, these ideas are a file: I am chmoding this file for all of you to have read, write, and execute permission—and please grep what you need from this! What I am saying is that innovative poetry itself is best suited to grep how technology factors language and how this technology, writing, and production, are as inseparable as Larry, Moe, and Curly Java.
Why poets? Numerous poets working within innovative practice have explored language as a procedure to reveal the working of writing. Poets endeavor, as Emily Dickinson has written, to "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" because "Success in Circuit lies" (506). That is, rather than focusing on the information of the text, poetic practice has explored the conditions that determine that information, the procedures, processes, and crossed paths of meaning-making, meaning-making as constituting the "meaning." Unlike information itself, which can vary limitlessly, such mechanisms often reveal something about writing that might not otherwise be apparent. Innovative writing in electronic media has for its charge the processes of meaning-making, hoping to extend Dickinson's success from "in Circuit" to the circuit board, exploring the procedures, loops, and processes of digital writing. Such a focus on making's relation to the machine has been a preoccupation of poetry throughout the past century, present in numerous engagements.
How can materiality influence the meaning transmitted by a text? If one looks at works from the Mimeo Revolution, for example, one can see the intrinsic relation between text and its means of transmission. There were several features that seemed to typify mimeo: rough textured, elementary-school-thick pages, pages printed on one side, and uneven and faded courier or gothic type. These are not merely incidental facts about this publishing means, but are facts related to the content that is transmitted by such texts. Specific works from this movement illustrate this point. If one looks at Adventures in Poetry 3, one gets a sense, from the black-and-white graphic on the cover, the 8½-by-11-inch size, and the signature three staples at the left margin, that a particular spirit defines the magazine. This spirit is reinforced by some of the snappy, direct works, such as Berrigan's "Black Shoe Face" presented in its pages. Many of the magazine's details, such as its unnumbered pages, its inclusion of poetry, line drawings, and short, colloquial prose, bespeak a sense of mission for this mimeo production. (Similar details can be seen in magazines such as Tom Veitch Magazine, which also includes the use of multicolored pages, the use of underlining instead of italics, blocky iconographic images, and contents such as "The Hippy Termites.") Such a mission seems to be characterized by a literary spirit that calls for a directness, an urgency, and a nonacademic posture toward literature. What I argue for is an approach that looks at the writing on the screen. Just as the mimeo brought its "style" of writing, and the perfect-bound offset book brought its typical page size and length of text—factors which influenced the writing of texts for these technologies—the World Wide Web factors its texts.
On the Web, the actual language (HTML) and scripts that enable the circulation of texts are writing, and the way texts are displayed is an activity of writing. Further, the Web we read is the Web we write on. Writing enters the Web not only as technique but as "transmission." This fusion is unavoidable. Charles Bernstein has commented that "language is the material of both thinking and writing. We think and write in language, which sets up an intrinsic connection between the two" (Content's 62). This same kinship applies to writing and the computer.
Recent poetic theory is particularly relevant to electronic space. Robert Duncan, writing about Charles Olson, suggests that one of Olson's messages was adjusting the scale of the poem's activity to new contexts. This has particular relevance to an electronic poetics, where assumptions about specific formal qualities must be converted from assumptions about the print medium. The breakthrough? As with any development in technology, writing does not stay the same, but the writing technology becomes an expanded way to perceive under the aegis of the writing activity. This scale, Olson suggested, extended "from Folsom cave to now—the waves of pre-glacial and post-glacial migrations out of Asia, the adventuring voyages out from the Phoenician world, the Norse world, and then the Renaissance, as coming 'home,' 'back' to their origins. 'SPACE': I spell it large because it comes large here.... Large, and without mercy" (Duncan, "Introduction" 80).
Olson's historicizing of poetic space suggests movement into larger scenes of activity. This movement can also be seen as extending into electronic space. The sense of "home" here resonant with a home page that can be fragile, fleeting, "historic," obnoxious, pretentious, or revelatory but that stands as a point of application juxtaposed against the merciless immensity of online space. With Olson's work, Duncan writes, "the opening up of great spaces in consciousness had begun, and in the very beginning, it its origins, he moves in, as he knows he must, to redirect the ideas of language and of the body, of Man, of commune, and of history" ("Introduction" 80). This "consciousness" includes a consciousness of the space of the page, and writers of Olson's circle, Duncan and Robert Creeley among them, addressed the physical space of the page.
The question then becomes how, on the Net, writing intersects with its materials. What specifically is the difference between a paper poetry and an electronic one? The paper press certainly offers parallels. The avatar of small circulation, fine press, has clearly been concerned with its materials. Those who work in fine printing can speak of sensuous relations between text and materials. (The "press" in fine press insists on "impression"; the act of physical impression carries through to tactile qualities in the printed object.) Thus fine press also engages transmission; what is transmitted is the tactile record of the act of impression. The term "small press," in contradistinction, more clearly insists on transmission. "Press" here refers to the machinery of reproduction and the social institution of disseminating information. It is small, non-corporate, a pequeñismo, privileging content over profit. Its machinery becomes a part of the materiality of the text, grepping writing through such called for material facts as 81/2-by-11-inch paper, black-and-white reproduction, and (before the microcomputer revolution) a fairly standardized set of fonts.
Electronic texts also have material propertìes—the size of the electronic "page," the structural tropes (frames, tables, layout), the quality of HTML mark-up, the factors of plug-ins and file formats, the action of programming—and the materials of this technology have a direct effect on the actual path of writing. In the electronic environment, the materials shift into a different grid of properties, propensities, and resistances. In addition, as fonts rage wistful or out of control and the writing "canvas" becomes unlimited, texts become constituted as physical pieces of a never complete and constantly reconstituting whole (the network).
Ron Silliman introduced his influential anthology of new writing, In the American Tree, citing a statement by Robert Grenier that "'PROJECTIVE VERSE' IS PIECES ON" ("Language" xv). Silliman was suggesting that his anthology extended Olson's theory of Projective Verse as realized in Creeley's breakthrough collection of poems Pieces (New York: Scribner's, 1969). (Pieces also insisted on poetry's possibilities, as pieces of text, outside externally mandated form.) This statement has resonance in new terrain and might be re-stated: electronic verse is pieces online. Thinking of Creeley's "form is never more than an extension of content" (Charles 79), what avenues of content have been opened by such vastly different possibilities for "form"? The medium gives the poem added potential for "making"; hence electronic poetries are positioned to enter and extend a number of investigations of language into a new poetic terrain where words are mutable and embody transmission. These are words that do not merely name; they approach an added potential for "activity." As Charles Bernstein has written, speaking of visual poetry: "For words are no more labels of things than the sky is a styrofoam wrap of some Divine carryout shop. And letters are no more tied to words or words to sentences than a mule is tied to its burden. Letters in liberty. Words freed from the tyranny of horizontality, or sequence" ("Response" 3).
These words have equal significance in the electronic realm. Bernstein's allusion to Marinetti's great Futurist declaration, gestures toward the advancement of writing's physicality. Electronic texts provide the subsequent step, projecting writing into charged space, where words themselves extend beyond sequentiality. From context to "dystext," pieces or fragments of text. This is a Texas-sized shift in potentiality, a dance outside the linear, outside the line, an interesting and real place for writing; as they say in Texas, "real cowboys don't line dance." Analogously, the real poem extends beyond the line.
Thus we look at online hypertext. (Here we investigate link-node hypertext that is generic and Net disseminated, as opposed to proprietary "closed" hypertext or other hypertext systems.) Importantly, electronic poetics are not tied to the linearity of the page; this is not an end of linearity but an emergence of multiple linearities. The connection between these multiples is the link, a signal word or conjunction of letters, Bernstein's mule unharnessed, free to jump into a lateral or completely irreverent context or medium (graphical, sound, video).
Links bring to the text the riddle of discovery experienced by the anthropologist stepping onto the soil of a previously undiscovered culture: once the imprint of such a footstep is on the sand, the culture is no longer "native." Once a link has been taken, it is no longer a link but a constituted part of the already traveled narrative; the link loses its potentiality, but in doing so, it opens up the possibility of other links. And what if some of these links fail? What we have is not a failure of the internal system but a triumph of internal workings over any possibility of external order. As Gregory Ulmer puts it: "There is no 'central processor' in hyperrhetoric, no set of rules, but a distributed memory, a memory triggered by a cue that spreads through the encyclopedia, the library, the data base (connectionism suggests that the hardware itself should be designed to support the spread of memory through an associational network)" (346).
Hypertext allows sequences beyond sequence; however, a serious point of difference must be taken with some Web utopianists: despite tendencies in this direction, the point is not that everything is linked through these sequences. The constitution of any such whole could only be a misrepresentation of stability—another pursuit of the mirage known as the encyclopedia. The arrangements of the internal orders of texts do not add stability to the text, rather they add a perplexing layer of instability; it is the "failure" of the links, whether they connect or not, that gives them their activity. It is through this activity that electronic writing departs irreversibly from the world of print.
This post-typographic and nonlinear disunion is no news to poetics. The argument that "Pound's significance lies in his having anticipated the end of 'the Gutenberg era,' the age of print" (Davie 5), rings true in works of many experimental movements and authors who problematized the medium in which their work appeared or the act of writing itself. These include such movements and authors as the following: Futurism, Gertrude Stein, and Dada; the textual webs of Jorge Luis Borges; Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar; following World War II, the exploration of system in Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Robin Blaser's serial works; Larry Eigner's articulation; Robert Creeley's numeric determinations; Jack Spicer and Ed Roberson's split pages; Charles Bernstein, Steve McCaffery, Ron Silliman, Robert Grenier, Alan Fisher, Robert Sheppard, Emmanuel Hocquard, and Claude Royet-Journoud; the radical typographies of Susan Howe and Johanna Drucker, David Antin's improvisations, Jerome Rothenberg's ethnopoetics; redeployments of language by Maggie O'Sullivan, Caroline Bergvall, Karen MacCormack, Nicole Brossard, Michele Leggott, Lyn Hejinian, Joan Retallack, and Hannah Weiner; and the procedures of Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, all which point in different ways to various forms of nonlinearity.
It is the play of pieces that forms the tropes of an electronic web. Speaking of Charles Bernstein's work, Marjorie Perloff writes that it "playfully exploits such rhetorical figures as pun, anaphora, epiphora, metathesis, epigram, anagram, and neologism to create a seamless web of reconstituted words" (Dance 231). Bernstein has called this weaving "dysraphism." "'Raph' ... means 'seam,'" Bernstein explains, "so for me dysraphism is mis-seaming—a prosodic device!" (Sophist 44). (John Cage's mesostics, with their key words running through the middle of a poem, seem to dramatize this because they have an almost literal central "stitch" threading text along a vertical axis.) Bernstein's "sensitivity to etymologies and latent meanings is reflected in the poem itself," Perloff writes, "which is an elaborate 'dysfunctional fusion of embryonic parts' [and] a 'disturbance of stress, pitch, and rhythm of speech' in the interest of a new kind of urban 'rhapsody'" (Dance 230).
Excerpted from Digital Poetics by Loss Pequeño Glazier. Copyright © 2002 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of ContentsContents
Introduction: Language as Transmission
Sidebar: On Techne
1. Jumping to Occlusions: A Manifesto for Digital Poetics
2. Our Words
Sidebar: The “I” in “Internet”
3. Home, Haunt, Page
4. The Intermedial: A Treatise
6. Coding Writing, Reading Code
Sidebar: On Mouseover
7. E-poetries: A Lab Book of Digital Practice, 1970–2001
8. Future Tenses/Present Tensions: A Prospectus for E-poetry
Sidebar: Tin Man Weeps Straw Break
Epilogue. Between the Academy and a Hard Drive: An E-cology of Innovative Practice