Archive for February 2011


2012: Against Against

February 18th, 2011 — 09:25 pm

Lev Manovich inverts the conventional way of looking at how photography forced a change on painting: “Thus, rather than thinking of modern art as a liberation (from representation and documentation), we can see it as a kind of psychosis – an intense, often torturous examination of the contents of its psyche, the memories of its glamorous past lives, and the very possibilities of speaking. At first this psychosis produced brilliant insights and inspired visions but eventually, as the mental illness progressed, it degenerated into endless repetitions. ” (pg 282. 2008 draft of Software Takes Command)

A parallel observation also holds true for contemporary poetry. With the rise of the printing press, it lost its base as the deliverer of news. As novels and stories and journalism arrived direct, poetry sought new terrain in which to establish continued relevance. In the same way that painting turned to the subject of painting, poetry turned to the subject of its substrate: language. Contemporary poems are about language. This truism is stated often: poetry is about language..

Character, story, and observations of nature are already comprehensively covered by many other media. The poetic avant garde along with philosophy is now in the business of investigating the tropes and turns of language: it investigates how things are said; and it investigates these issues sonically, culturally and procedurally with an eye to destabilize how we receive what is said. Unfortunately, where this focus, at the birth of several movements such as Dada or LANGUAGE, led to superlative works which activated levels of unprecedented discourse; now, perhaps there is the sense (I have it) that poetry has reached a strange impasse.

Burroughs and Gysin spawned a revolution. OULIPO cemented its cerebral appeal. In response to the commodification of creativity and the stable narrative voice (i.e. the repressed voice), poetry adopted a cut and paste collage methodology of hallucinatory deflections. Subsequently, appropriation became a key methodology of the conceptual elite. I agree with Kenneth Goldsmith only partially when he says (in the intro to Against Expression a new ubuweb anthology of conceptual lit) : “With the rise of the Web, writing has met its photography. By that, I mean that writing has encountered a situation similar to that of painting upon the invention of photography, a technology so much better at doing  what the art form had been trying to do that, to survive, the field had to alter its course radically. If photography was striving for sharp focus, painting was forced to go soft, hence impressionism. Faced with an unprecedented amount of available digital text, writing needs to redefine itself to adapt to the new environment of textual abundance.” (pg. xvii, Against Expression.)

As I said, I partially agree, here’s why: The printing press and typewriter were already poetry’s photography. The web is yet another animal entirely.

Isn’t the dilemma now that we are all inundated in a massive onslaught of word spew every day? Do we need to construct more of it?  Is the only space left for poetry a narrow ledge of irony, and a ctrl+c ctrl+v heartbeat? Conceptual approaches of writing will continue on their own path, finding solutions to their own lines of inquiry.

In the next few posts, I will be exploring other paths, challenges and difficult potentialities digital literature has before it. These are basic changes occurring in the operating system of how we write at the root level. Specifically, the development of a living language, assimilated into motion graphics and code embodied. Word as spime. What I will be proposing here is very specific to those so inclined to this approach. To paraphrase Sol LeWitt: “I do not advocate a digital form of poetry for all poets. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making poetry; other ways suit other poets. Nor do I think all digital poetry merits the viewers attention. Digital poetry is only good when both programming and poetry are good”

Comments Off | conceptual, thesis

2000 – ? : Dreaming Methods

February 13th, 2011 — 09:12 pm

Like the tentacles or root system of a macabre plant, Dreaming Methods (a website developed by programmer-poet Andy Campbell often with primary collaborator/partner videographer Judi Alston) distributes audacious and sensual digital fiction thru multiple media: browsers, apps and pdfs. Its vision is disturbing yet never horrific: conspiracy theories, incest, suicides, rape, dreams, runaways, amnesiacs. Brooding soundscapes. Destabilizing (often impeccable) interactivity. Dreaming Methods provokes a gliding psychotic trance.

Info dribbles thru the stale air of decaying flats, the polluted breezes of derelict rail-lands, infected with casual malice, ripe with stories. Each work sutures vignettes of eerie tranquility with implied violence, trauma scenes. Its like being paralyzed and a bit stoned. There is always a story about someone who might have`done something, but no one is ever seen. No faces appear. Time shatters into melancholic shards. Psychosis is just off-screen.

Words seep out of furniture. Their meanings as fragmentary and ephemeral as dust. Chapter readings often require fulfillment of goals. Readers become players as they are played (sustained and engaged, drawn in and drawn upon). Scale shifts frequently: rooms zoom into details. The edge of a decaying mattress. An old calculator. Text is swimming everywhere. Memories saturate space, as if molecules were tongues. The system is permeated with stories all the way down. Yet even proximity cannot resolve the palpable abiding sense of alienation.

Dreaming Methods is a creepy excursion into the hypnagogic trenches: part waking, part wonder, part abyss. It is also an exercise in sustained stylistic grace and a profound engagement with digital literature. Over a decades`work, Andy Campbell has succeeded in developing a signature that combines sophisticated coding, narrative torque and aesthetic fastidiousness. It has a bit of the glitch of hi-res.net during their donnie darko days before they got totally branded. On Dreaming Methods, the work aims not to sell or to shock but to shelter in homage, lost memories, latent dreams, bits and bandwidth, esoteric audio-visuals and intricate code. Swaying between being lost and feeling loss, it iterates (and exits) loops both computationally and emotionally.

Comments Off | 3D, kinetic, multimedia

1926 Marcel Duchamp – Anemic Cinema

February 5th, 2011 — 02:28 pm

The spinning wheel[1] is fundamental to both hard-drives and to Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 film Anemic Cinema, an early example of animated text. In Anemic Cinema[2] phrases painted in spirals onto a flat disk  rotate at constant speed. The reader reads inward from the edge to the phrase’s end near the spinning centre. This process evokes algorithmic alchemists with circular charts and simultaneously anticipates the mobility and motility of digitally animated text pulled along curved paths and extruded on MTV. In Duchamp’s film the eye slips in or out along a serpentine labyrinth. Vinyl LP grooves existent in phonograph recordings (viewed when drunk) may have been the inspiration. Certainly the vortices of Hitchcock emulators and Brio Gysin’s Dream Machine are descendants. Reader flexibility is necessary: the poetic line is not flat, it is curved and on the move. Semantic impact emerges in spasms as legibility unravels like a snake.

Anemic Cinema is an engine that derives visual energy from mechanical rotation. This echoes the origin of malleable language: the clay potter’s wheel spinning so that fingers dragged from the centre to the edge form patterns. In Anemic Cinema, patterns function as visual punctuation between each of the text segments. They also provide time for the text’s complex puns and aphorisms to be digested.

The over-exposure strobes of the early film-stock date it to contemporary eyes as an antiquarian project; yet, this is a project that for its era must have required the use of technically advanced equipment combined with idiosyncratic vision. In this sense, it is close in practice to digital poets who extend software and work with new media: it leverages the edge of tech. Anemic Cinema places Duchamp[3] at the origin of animated text and visual poetry in high art and forms a useful link between ancient clay glyphs, potter’s wheels and petroglyphs, and current motion graphics and spinning digital media: disk drive, laser disk, CD-ROM, DVD.


[1] The spinning wheel is a motif that travels through technology in ways that connect to the activity of reading: from potter’s wheel, alchemists charts, phonographs, vinyl LPs, disk drives, cd-roms and dvds. Reading migrates from finger to ear to eye to laser.

[2] The title Anemic Cinema foreshadows a central credibility dilemma for visual animated poems. Seemingly lacking in the enriched healthy visual stimulus of imagery, visual poems are the anemic stunted cousins of real poems and real cinema.. Duchamp’s sardonic title diagnosed this credibility gap early.

[3] The work is signed by a pseudonym of Duchamp: Rrose Selavy

Comments Off | 3D, conceptual, kinetic, prehistoric