Friday, December 05, 2008

Perhaps I am rounding the bend on completing my third full-length manuscript, called Consequence.

This is the picture that I've been using as a front piece for the document, from Andre Leroi-Gourhan's Gesture & Speech:

These are the epigraphs I've used as I've written the manuscript, though it's never certain whether they'll remain:

Between a culture of touch and a culture of thought is the culture of symbolic connection.


Appearances do not deceive if there are enough of them.


We always say more than we know.


And here are the names of the poems and sequences that make of the guts of Consequence:

Table of Contents












Kept, 1001 Sentences, & Jacques Marsal's Coat are still in progress.

Elephant & Obelisk is for David Need. Night Song is for Leigh & Simon. Orpheus' Needle has a line from Ronald Johnson at its start ("await composer Sword"). Jacques Marsal's Coat is after Clayton Eshleman & Guy Davenport. Near Thee, Reconciled is after Alice Meynall. There Are Words, There Are Stars Above You is for Brian, Dennis & Carl Wilson.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tony Tost's Winter Soundz 2008




1. Yes, "Beyond and Before"
2. Daryl Hall, "The Farther Away I Am"
3. Fleetwood Mac, "Sentimental Lady"
4. Dennis Wilson, "River Song"
5. Bee Gees, "Melody Fair"
6. Buddy Miles, "That's the Way Life Is"
7. Kevin Coyne, "Marlene"
8. The Beau Brummels, "Jessica"
9. Bob Dylan, "Gospel Plow"
10. Tom T. Hall, "That's How I Got to Memphis"
11. Guy Clark, "Instant Coffee Blues"
12. Gene Clark, "From a Silver Phial"
13. Link Wray, "God Out West"
14. Tir Na Nog, "Free Ride"
15. Richard & Linda Thompson, "Dark End of the Street"
16. Delaney & Bonnie, "God Knows I Love You"
17. Yoko Ono, "Mum's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow"
18. Warren Zevon, "Desperadoes Under the Eaves"
19. Thunderclap Newman, "Something in the Air"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I scrolled through some of my posts from '04, fer shits and grins.

What the hell happened to that guy? I kind of dig that guy.

Who replaced him with the twirling academic gargoyle that sporadically pops up on here these days?

Duke, where have you hidden my soul sauce?

What else of I have you bent over in your politically responsible gloom?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My dissertation is centered on the poetry and poetics of Ezra Pound (1885-1972), that troubling impresario of what we now call Modernism. His profiles are manifold: poet, translator and critic; composer, editor and discoverer of geniuses; gadfly, Fascist and would-be whisperer to kings. Although Pound – who lived most of his life in exile, and who was tried for treason after WWII and committed to St. Elizabeth’s for over a decade before being released so to return to Italy to live out his remaining years in a self-imposed silence – may be a familiar specter haunting the conscience of English Departments, literary critics and poets of the last century, it is my view that his relevance to our contemporary moment has yet to be fully grasped. In the most general sense, my dissertation views Pound with questions concerning technology, myth, and cultural memory in mind, connecting him with various poets, musicians, filmmakers, artists and philosophers of the 20th century.

When Pound becomes the locus of inquiry, even simple questions disperse into concurrently widening and tightening gyres. The most gaping gyre is, perhaps, existential: a distinction between a technological and a mythological mode of being. If we follow thinkers such as the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Gianni Vattimo, we begin to see the modern proliferation of intertwined technological systems – made visible early in the last century by telephones, assembly lines, telegraphs, and so forth – as the inevitable product of rationality. In this view, the essence of modern technology (the aspect of technology that is present in all its instances, regardless of era or location) is nothing technical but is rather metaphysical. That is, it is not any particular mechanism, device or action that is consistent from technology to technology; rather, it is a particular view of the human that is consistent, a framing of Being as a resource, as something to be made more efficient.

This is a view of the human that Pound saw creeping into modern society; to his eyes, emblems of this reduction of being were present everywhere, from the classroom to the concert hall to the vast bureaucracies of the US government. One repercussion of this model of being is the complete alienation of individuals from understanding history, a vital force that had become (in schools and elsewhere) a mere set of dates and places to memorize, no longer something felt to be emotionally and tangibly present. A kind of default mode of apathy and helplessness, therefore, is one repercussion of this distancing from the forces and forms of history, a sensation reinforced by what has been called the “culture industry,” the mass production of distracting and passively consumed entertainment products. Many of Pound’s projects, including his innovative translations and his massive life-poem The Cantos, were aimed at sloughing off the received ideas and practices that led to such a predicament. His ambition was to make all eras felt as simultaneous, to render otherwise “exotic” cultures – such as China in the era of Confucius, or Occitania in the period of the Troubadours – as immediately relevant to contemporary practice.

When discussing the entirety of The Cantos, a massive poem of history organized by juxtaposition and collage via a method that would come to be called ideogrammic (after the Chinese written character), Pound offers just two general “plots” for his epic: the metamorphoses of Ovid’s poetry, and the descent of Odysseus to the underworld in Homer. Both of these plots not only find their source in ancient Greek myth but also posit what I am calling a mythological mode of being. In Ovid, all strata of existence, whether human, animal, plant or divine, connect to one another through change: a human and a tree are intimately related to one another because, at any instant, each can suddenly become the other, a view of the world at profound odds to the disparate categorization of the more rational worldview that Heidegger places as the essence of technology. The descent of Odysseus to the underworld – offering blood to the dead so to gain prophecies of his future – likewise binds the past, present and future together into a relationship more complex and rich than mere linear progression. In addition to weaving together varying strands of existence and time, a mythological mode of being also frames the human as always potentially on the cusp of some great expansion or transformation of ability even as it also teeters on the edge of some tragic fall, a conception at great odds to the efficiently pre-arranged systems of perpetual sanitized activity emerging in a technologically-oriented society.

But Pound’s project can’t be reduced to a mere confrontation between these proposed mythological and technological modes of being. Pound, to a degree unique amongst his peers, enthusiastically applied and explored new technologies to his myth-historical poetic projects, whether it was his innovative use of the typewriter as a compositional instrument or his proposed orchestration of a working factory or his embrace of the radio as an artistic and polemical medium. This enthusiasm for new technologies places Pound’s sense of the mythological not in some space outside of the common social realm, or as a blank refusal of it, but rather embeds this sensibility within the most modern aspect of modern society. In this spirit, my first three chapters will stage an immersion into Pound’s poetry, poetics and historical context under three signs: sound, image, polis. I will explore the tensions in Pound’s work between his myth-historical poetics, the increasingly rational-technological context of his engagement, and his imaginative uses of new technologies, all with the notion of cultural memory in the foreground. Pound is insistently, and occasionally unbearably, pedagogical in his intent: he is convinced that modern educational models succeed only in separating knowledge from instinct. One consequence of modern pedagogies is a thinning out of available intellectual and artistic materials – the triumphs, failures and practices of other civilization – a consequence compounded by the narrowing of culture into entertainment and of work into repetitive toil. Pound’s intent is to expand the reach of culture’s memory beyond its immediate bounds, and to present his own texts as an alternative educational institution.

In my chapter on sound, I excavate not only Pound’s overlooked writings on music and his musical projects, but also the technological and musical atmosphere in which he was working. This includes his collaborations with the composer George Antheil, his scoring of poems for musical performance, his day job as controversial music critic “William Atheling,” his peculiarly hostile view of the piano and imaginative conception of the player piano, and his placement within an intellectual climate that included theorists and composers such as Antheil, Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and others. Perhaps most importantly, this chapter will also explore the formation of Pound’s poetic-musical sensibility in his study of the Troubadours, especially in terms of the medial shift from a song to a book based musical culture that occurred in the same period as the Troubadours’ rise and fall. Brought into this context, many of Pound’s supposedly inscrutable musical theories and terminologies sing with new clarity, bringing a whole new light to the organizational logics and emotional resonance of his poetry, an art Pound believed to be inexplicable from music. In the chapters on image and on polis, I will similarly bring critical literatures on technology and myth together with the material situation of Pound’s practice to construct a fresh reading of Pound’s poetry and poetics and of our contemporary, technologically dominated moment. My final chapter will be on Pound himself as a figure of culture memory, how her persists in various personae in the writings of Charles Olson, John Cage, Guy Davenport and others.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I hope Rod Smith doesn't mind that suddenly I have a vague urge to play a game of chess with him. Rod used to play chess with John Cage, who cut his teeth on the game by playing with Marcel Duchamp. I don't know how to play chess. And thus this parable on genealogy and tradition comes to an end.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Great, generous, warm-spirited look at three recent North Carolina, Lucifer Poetics Group poetry titles by fellow Lucipoer Brian Howe -- he takes a long dip into Chris Vitiello's Irresponsibility, Ken Rumble's Key Bridge, and my Complex Sleep. It's over here, at Fanzine.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tony Tost's Summer Soundz 2008

(Update: I recommend clipping the Roches song off of the mix: it works better w/o it. )

1) Maria Sabina, "Na Ai - Ni Tso"
2) Dennis Wilson, "Thoughts of You"
3) John Phillips, "Topanga Canyon"
4) Nicky Hopkins, "Waiting for the Band"
5) The Everly Brothers, "Ventura Boulevard"
6) Dion, "(He's Got) The Whole World In His Hands"
7) Tom T. Hall, "I Hope It Rains at My Funeral"
8) Link Wray, "Georgia Pines"
9) Charlie Feathers, "Don't Let Me Cross Over"
10) Elvis Presley, "Blue Moon"
11) Dolly Parton, "My Heart Started Breaking"
12) John Martyn, "Just Now"
13) Gene Clark, "The True One"
14) The Beau Brummels, "I'm a Sleeper"
15) Spider John Koerner, "I Ain't Blue"
16) Dion, "Born To Be With You"
17) The Beach Boys, "Be With Me"
18) The Roches, "Ing"
19) David Crosby, "Walking In The Mountains 3"
20) Johnny Cash, "The West"
21) Rose Maddox, "George Carter"
22) The Beach Boys, "Take A Load Off Your Feet"
23) David Crosby, "I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here"
24) Pearls Before Swine, "The Surrealist Waltz"
25) The Everly Brothers, "Cuckoo"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A few selections from my longer "Elephant & Obelisk" sequence are available now here at Front Porch Journal. Thanks to Trey Moody and the other folks at the journal.

More selections appear at Typo and in a forthcoming Third Coast.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

One thing I think I was trying to do in my "System Says" piece (a couple posts below) is to think through some things bugging me and to think through them using Kenneth Goldsmith's words as quoted and linked to by Linh and to combine them with thoughts about embodiment as Linh had quoted Reginald Shepherd. I'm not a fan at all of the way Goldsmith talks about poetry or the arts: he does what I now feel I'm always about a half-step away from doing: utilizing just enough theory to get things really, really wrong. But I'm not completely anti-Goldsmith -- Ubu is one of the five most important web sites I can think of, and I think his brand of quote-unquote hijinx will be useful in helping undergraduates open up their notions of poetry or art.

But anyway, the whole distributed selves thing I think is poorly thought out by a lot of folks who seem to be selling the concept -- Goldsmith's statements just seemed highly representative of the limits of such a sell.

I don't have an extensive knowledge of Merleau-Ponty's work and most of what I do know has arrived through Mark BN Hansen's writing. But I've found a couple of helpfully simple concepts through Merleau-Ponty that I arrive at again and again in my thinking. He distinguishes between a body image and a body schema -- for Hansen, body image “characterizes and is generated from a primarily visual apprehension of the body as an external object”; this is to be contrasted with body schema; “we would do well to follow Alphonso Lingis when he conceives of the body image (in a well-nigh Bergsonian manner) as an ‘emanation’ from the postural (body) schema, rather than a separate and distinct representation of the body.”

Body schema, however, is “a flexible, plastic, systemic form of distributed agency encompassing what takes place within the boundaries of embodied motility. In so doing . . . Merleau-Ponty opens the possibility of categorically distinguishing the body schema from the body image and thus of putting the former—hitherto a mere object of scientific exploration—to properly philosophical work”; “the body schema emerges from what, with autopoietic theory, we have called the operational perspective of the embodied organism”; three consequences of the body schema’s “preobjective process of world constitution”: 1) “the body is always in excess over itself”; 2) “this excess involves the body’s coupling to an external environment”; 3) “because such coupling is increasingly accomplished through technical means, this excess (which has certainly always been potentially technical) can increasingly be actualized only with the explicit aid of technics.”

Okay, so the body image is an apprehension or view of the body while the body schema is an operational perspective that emerges outwards from the embodied self to include technical and environmental components (thus it is distributed).

The distinction I want to make in terms of my strawman Goldsmith: I think he is mistaking multiple body (or self) images for multiple body (or self) schema. Let me bring in one more thing from Hansen/Merleau-Ponty, the blind man's stick, which is used by Merleau-Ponty to show the intertwining of technics and proprioception, of the centrality of technics to one’s body schema; “the stick does not function as an explicit, cognitively assessable enhancement of the body image, but rather as an immediately practical, unthematizable expansion of the body schema.”

The notion here, through the example of the blind man's stick, is that, in terms of the operational perspective, one doesn't feel the stick so much as one feels the world through it.

And that is largely what I think my point is: we are being told and sold that what we are getting is a multiplicity of selves but what we're really getting is a multiplicity of sticks. And these sticks are programmed so as to have one feel the world in a certain way. I read one of the bigshots at Facebook recently contrasting themselves to Google: Google is in the business of satisfying desires, he says, while Facebook is in the business of generating new ones.

So, sticks not selves. But they can also be tools. I'm not living in the woods eating berries after all.

My sense is this: a new technology does two things: 1) it introduces material, 2) it projects an idealized user. Usually, the pitch is to have both 1 and 2 appear to be indistinguishable from one another: this new technology will allow this new self. I see that as the Goldsmith et al pitch. I think the interesting work occurs when the differences and distances between 1 and 2 are explored -- and I think that is where artists come in (whether the technology is film, new media, language, etc). Lots of acreage there. But these things are always in flux and the terms always reveal themselves in new ways, which is why I don't think a simplistic prescription couched in familiar binaries--like "let go of authenticity" or "reject tradition"--is very useful or interesting right now.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My third list:

Minor Field (genre)

Re-Imagining Language: Poetry in English
{North America; 1950 – present}


Jed Rasula & Steve McCaffery | Imagining Language: An Anthology (1998)

{Some Precursors, North American & Otherwise}

Hugo Ball (Germany) | Flight Out of Time: a Dada Diary (1920-21)
William Blake (England) | The Marriage of Heaven & Hell (1793)
Benjamin Paul Blood (US) | The Anaesthetic Revolution (1874)
Bob Brown (US) | Gems (1931)
Harry Crosby (US) | Chariot of the Sun (1927)
Marcel Duchamp (France) | Writings of Marcel Duchamp (posthumous, 1973)
Else von Freytag- Loringhoven (US) | Subjoyride: Selected Poems (posthumous, 2005)
Ernest Fenollosa (US) | The Chinese Character as a Medium for Poetry (1908) (ed.Ezra Pound)
Abraham Lincoln Gillespie (US) | The Syntactic Revolution (posthumous, 1980)
Vicente Huidobro (Chile) | Altazor (1919)
Eugene Jolas (France) | transition, ed (1927-1938) | transition anthology, ed (1949)
James Joyce (Ireland) | Finnegans Wake (1939)
Velimer Khlebnikov (Russia) | from Collected Works (selected theoretical writings & poems)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (Russia) | Listen! The Early Poems | My Discovery of America
Fernando Pessoa (Portugal) | The Book of Disquiet (posthumous, 1992)
Jerome Rothenberg (US) | Revolution of the Word: a New Gathering of American Avant-Garde Poetry 1914-1945, ed
Kurt Schwitters (Germany) | Pppppp: Poems, Performance, Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics (posthumous, 1994)
W. B.Yeats (Ireland) | A Vision (1925)


David Antin (US) | Talking at the Boundaries (1976) | What It Means to Be Avant-Garde (1993)
Amiri Baraka (US) | The Amiri Baraka/Leroi Jones Reader (1999)
Christian Bok (Can.) | [sound recordings at PennSound]
Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados) | Black + Blues (1979) | Conversations with Nathaniel Mackey (1999) | Born to Slow Horses (2005)
Robert Creeley (US) | Words (1967) | Pieces (1969) | A Quick Graph, essays (1981)
Clark Coolidge (US) | Heart of the Breath, Poems 1979-1992 | Now It’s Jazz: Writing on Kerouac & the Sounds (1999)
Bob Dylan (US) | Tarantula (1966)
Four Horsemen (Can.) | [sound recordings at PennSound]
Allen Ginsberg (US) | Howl (1956) | Kaddish (1961) | “Wichita Vortex Sutra” (1966)
John Giorno (US) | Dial-a-Poem, ed (1968)
Jack Kerouac (US) | Visions of Cody (1973)
Nathaniel Mackey (US) | Bedouin Hornbook (1987) | School of Udhra (1993) | Strick [cd] (1995)
Jackson Mac Low & Anne Tardos (US/France) | Open Secrets [cd] (1993)
Steve McCaffery (Can.) | [sound recordings at Pennsound]
Tracie Morris (US) | [sound recordings at Pennsound]
Charles Olson (US) | “Projective Verse” (1950) | “Human Universe” (1951) | Proprioception (1962)
Jerome Rothenberg (US) | Technicians of the Sacred (anthology, 1969) | That Dada Strain (1983)
Maria Sabina (Mexico) | Selections (2003)
Carolee Schneeman (US) | More Than Meat Joy (1977) | Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (2001)
Jack Spicer (US) | The Collected Books (1980) | The House that Jack Built: the Collected Lectures (1998)
Rod Smith (US) | Fear the Sky [cd] (2006)
Toronto Research Group (McCaffery & Nichol) (Can.) | Rational Geomancy (1973-82)
Anne Waldman (US) | Fast Speaking Woman (1975)

{Secondary Lit}

Charles Benstein, ed. | Close Listening: Poetry & the Performed Word (2002)
Nathaniel Mackey | Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality & Experimental Writing (1993)
Fred Moten | In the Break: the Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003)
Jonathan Sterne | The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2002)


Vito Acconci (US) | Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings (2006)
Vito Acconci & Bernadette Mayer (US) | 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine 1967-1969 (2006)
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (US) | Dictee (1982)
Clayton Eshleman (US) | Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld (2003) | Reciprocal Distillations (2007)
Robert Grenier (US) | Sentences (1978)
Barbara Guest (US) | Selected Poems (1995)
Susan Howe (US) | Singularities (1990)
Ronald Johnson (US) | Songs of the Earth (1970) | ARK (1996)
Steve McCaffery (Can) | Carnival (1967-75)
Tom Phillips (Eng) | A Humument: a Treated Victorian Novel (1987)
Lisa Robertson (Canada) | The Weather (2001) | Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (2003)
Brian Kim Stefans (US) | Free Space Comix (1998) | Fashionable Noise: on Digital Poetics (2003)
Anne Tardos (France/US) | The Dik-Dik’s Solitude (2002)
Hannah Weiner (US) | Clairvoyent Journal (1978)
Marjorie Welish (US) | The Windows Flew Open (1991)
Emmett Williams (US) | Anthology of Concrete Poetry, ed (1967) | The Last French Fried Potato & Other Poems (1967)

{Secondary Lit}

Johanna Drucker | Experimental – Visual – Concrete: Avant-Garde Poetry Since the 1960s (1996) [edited] | The Visible Word: Experimental Typography & Modern Art, 1909-1923 (1997) | Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing & Visual Poetics (1998)
Craig Dworkin | Reading the Illegible (2003)
Dick Higgins | A Dialectic of Centuries: Towards a New Theory of the Arts (1964)
Marjorie Perloff | Poetry On & Off the Page: Essays for Emergent Occasions (1998)


AR Ammons (US) | Tape for the Turn of the Year (1972)
John Ashbery (US) | The Tennis Court Oath (1962)
Dodie Bellamy (US) | Cunt-Ups (2001)
Ted Berrigan (US) | The Sonnets (1964)
Christian Bok (Can.) | Crystallography (1994) | Eunoia (2001)
Bob Brown (US) | 1450-1950 (1959)
Lee Ann Brown (US) | Polyverse (1999)
William S. Burroughs | Naked Lunch (1959)
John Cage (US) | Silence: Lectures & Writings (1961) | A Year from Monday: New Lectures & Writings (1967)
Katie Degentesh (US) | The Anger Scale (2006)
Robert Fitterman (US) | This Window Makes Me Feel (2004)
Benjamin Friedlander (US) | Simulcast: Four Experiments in Criticism (2004)
Drew Gardner (US) | Petroleum Hat (2005)
Kenneth Goldsmith (US) | Fidget (2001) | Soliloquy (2001)
Lyn Hejinian (US) | My Life (2002) | The Fatalist (2003)
Ronald Johnson (US) | Radi Os (2005 reprint)
Jackson Mac Low (US) | 22 Light Poems (1968) | Representative Works: 1938-1983 (1986) | Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces, 1955-2002 (2001) | Wrds & Ends for Ez (1989)
Harry Mathews | OuLiPo Compendium (2005)
Bernadette Mayer (US) | Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992) | Midwinter Day (1999) | The 3:15 Experiment (w/ Brown, Hofer, Dinsmore) (2001)
Steve McCaffery (Canada) | Black Debt (1989) | Theory of Sediment (1991)
K. Silem Mohammad (US) | Deer Head Nation (2003) | Hanging Out With Pablo & Jennifer (2004)
Harryette Mullen (US) | Sleeping With the Dictionary (2002)
Ron Silliman (US) | The New Sentence, essays (1987) | The Age of Huts (compleat) (2007)
Rosmarie Waldrop (US) | Curves to the Apple (2006)

{translation as procedure}

{theory & practice}

Clayton Eshleman (US) | Antiphonal Swing, essays (1989) | Companion Spider, essays (rep. 2007)
Cesar Vallejo | Trilce (1992)
Aime Cesaire | Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (tr. w/ A. Smith) (rep. 2001)
Artaud, Holan, etc | Conductors of the Pit (rep. 2005)
Kenneth Rexroth (US) | One Hundred Poems from the Japanese (1956)
David Rosenberg (US) | See What You Think: Critical Essays for the Next Avant-Garde (2003)
Jerome Rothenberg (US) | Pre-Faces & Other Writings (1981) | A Paradise of Poets: New Poems & Translations (1999)
Pablo Picasso | The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & Other Poems (2004)
Armand Schwerner (US) | The Tablets (1999)
Jack Spicer (US) | After Lorca (1957)
Rosmarie Waldrop (US) | Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Jabes (2003)
Edmond Jabes | The Book of Questions (1976)
Eliot Weinberger (US) | Karmic Trace, essays (2000)
Octavio Paz | Collected Poems (1987)
Araki Yasusada (“Japan”) | Doubled Flowering: from the Notebooks (1997)
Louis & Celia Zukofsky (US) | Catullus (1969)


Minor Field, Question 4: Post-1950 Poetry and/or Criticism and/or Theory

In his extremely idiosyncratic extended study Bottom: on Shakespeare, Louis Zukofsky asserts that Shakespeare’s works should be read as one entire work, sometimes compelling, sometimes not, but always deliberating and dramatizing the essential thesis that the seeing eye (and not the spectral mind) is the instrument of love. If I were to sketch forth a brief genealogy of founding figures claimed by many post-1950 experimental poets in North America, it would highlight just how poetry and theory/criticism are co-extensive in these traditions: Pound is not Pound unless both The Cantos and Guide to Kulchur are considered, Williams is not Williams unless both Paterson and In the American Grain are considered, Stein is not Stein without both Tender Buttons and Lectures in America, Charles Olson is not fully Olson unless The Maximus Poems, Call Me Ishmael, “Human Universe” and “Projective Verse” are all included as his accomplishment. What I would like to address is how critical and poetic projects for many post-1950 poets in a sense write one another; that is, they not only cross-influence, but make each other possible and legible by performing together, often under the same title, a speculative (always transitory) totality.

In a dialogue with William Spanos included in his Pre-Faces book, Jerome Rothenberg writes “It seems to me that since the 1950s (in some ways for several decades before), we have been working increasingly with a performance model of the poem, for which the written versions serve as the notation or the score.” What Rothenberg is directly addressing is the movement towards an “oral poetics” that could be seen manifesting itself with a wild range in the works of Jackson Mac Low and John Cage (where aleatory and non-intentional processes are invoked as compositional guides), or in the poems of Robert Creeley and Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka (where the spoken voice not only registers as formal guide but as the palpable intelligence of the poetry), or in works by Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg (where a shamanic repetition and insistence on the transformational qualities of poetic materials prevails)—in this dialogue, Rothenberg is speaking to a self-separation of the above poets away from any “normative” New Critical principle in which a poem realizes itself on the page in isolation from any personal or historical particulars or energies, and where criticism is a separate enterprise. In particular, Rothenberg is discussing a poetic model in which a bound or written version of a poem is understood to have a (perhaps always perpetually/potentially) performed equivalent, sometimes performed by the poet him or her self but also (as in the case of a writer like Mac Low) to be performed by the reader(s) in collaboration. Such a poetics is an attempted corrective of the American cultural tendencies noted by Charles Olson in 1951 in his “Human Universe” essay: “The notion of fun comes to displace work as what we are here for. Spectatorism crowds out participation as the condition of culture.”

A clear ramification of such a stance towards the text—in which the poem must be completed or realized not by a cultivated, parsing intelligence but the full-throated human animal—is an argument for the appropriate place of poetry: for the above poets, and most explicitly for Rothenberg, that place is often not in the parlor or classroom but in the midst of ritual: this being (for Rothenberg and chosen others) the heart of culture and/or human life. Rothenberg’s statement on a “performance model” can therefore be read doubly: a poem is a score for a literal individual performance, but it is also a score for a more holistic performance, of a more inclusive sense of being. That is, the poem is not only the score for a past or future or perpetually potential occasion, but also for an entire stance towards/as the poem’s place in the world, which moves one towards the importance of critical and/or theoretical work by poets: to advocate and re-invent a world (it may or may not resemble “this” one) with poetry at its center. Two statements by David Antin help illustrate this: 1) his definition of Ethnopoetics as “the structure of those linguistic acts of invention and discovery through which the mind explores the transformational power of language and discovers and invents the world and itself” and 2) from his book of poem-talks, Talking at the Boundaries:

i had suggested that i had always had mixed feelings

about being considered a poet “if robert lowell is a

poet i dont want to be a poet if robert frost was a

poet i dont want to be a poet if socrates was a poet

ill consider it”

It is not the abstractions or values voiced by a Socrates that causes Antin to consider him as a permissible poetic forebear, but rather his vocal placement as interrogator of norms; read alongside an advocacy of an Ethnopoetics—which is most often read (in a too-limited manner) as an emphasis only upon a tribal sense of the social, with poet functioning as master of ceremonies/healer/rememberer—Antin’s invocation of Socrates (in contrast to culturally sanctioned and recognizably poetic figures such as Frost and Lowell) is a shorthand manner of arguing for interrogation and questioning as belonging at the ritual heart of contemporary culture.

Elsewhere in his dialogue with Spanos, Rothenberg notes Gershom Scholem’s religious categories of Revelation and Tradition, which I’d like to apply here as a dialectical notion: for many post-1950 poets, their recourse to the immediacy of, say, performance is firmly rooted in a mytho-poetical-historical feeling. They turn to Tradition, in other words, to the extent that it is Revelation. Under this heading, then, of tradition-as-revelation, the poet and reader may participate as instruments of discovery and recovery—what I mean is that for many poets, the relation of tradition and the individual talent does not rest at Eliot’s stopping point where, to paraphrase his famous essay, the Tradition has already prepared for us what it is we know, and what we make in turn influences the Tradition. Rather, as notions of “the” tradition begin to officially unravel in academia following feminist and cross-culture interventions, academics begin to embark on a project that resembles one that Rothenberg would argue experimental poets always perform: taking the present as the occasion by which both an individual talent and a tradition can reveal themselves.

This points towards a marked tendency in the poets on my list, which is a perpetual recovery and rediscovery and reinvention of the past and of literary forms. We can read this impulse in many of the critical engagements of the late 70s in the journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, in which the poets associated with that magazine argue theoretically for new considerations of poetry and writing as they reckon with the emergence and ramifications of deconstruction and post-structuralism. For instance, the second issue, edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews, opens with an extended selection from Barthes’ Writing Degree Zero and then moves to Bob Perelman’s “review” of a new book by Barrett Watten, a review which is in actuality a collage of fragments from Watten and from Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria:

Olson wanted to let the dream back in. Okay. There is no difference between waking and sleeping. That sentence makes even more sense when you’re asleep. A century can thus be condensed into a collective mask. The outer man is attached to a man inside. The poetics of the situation are beginning to be found out. Forget sleep / and be there.

As Ron Silliman has noted, the Language writers often turn to Robert Grenier’s anti-Projective Verse statement “I HATE SPEECH” as a seminal inscription of their development, a movement away from the politics/poetics of presence—of an embodied (ritualized) stance—and towards a more textualized condition. Perelman (whose poem “China” Jameson famously symptomizes in his “Postmodernism” essay) in the above paragraph performs a kind of criticism that is very much of his moment with an emphasis on the “always already” structures of thought: the assertion that “there is no difference between waking and sleeping” is considered as an exclusively linguistic event, one that can “make sense” in any physical situation (asleep or awake) because the conditions for its sense-making are pre-fixed syntactically and are not dependent upon the individual. And yet, in another manner, Perelman’s critical text is a very Modernist performance as it conjures both Zukofsky’s critical works on Shakespeare and Henry Adams, which overwhelmingly consisted of quotation and juxtaposition (in the case of Shakespeare, juxtaposition of quotations from plays with quotations from Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Aristotle and others, and in the case of Henry Adams, quotations that track Adams’s development as a poet-in-prose), as it also is reminiscent of Pound’s five categories of criticism: discussion, translation, exercise in the style of a given period, setting to music, and creation of a new composition. Perelman’s critical performance-collage seems to be performing several of Pound’s categories at once as it discusses Watten’s text by translating its actual materials into a new collaboration with Coleridge, as a kind of poetical-critical improvisation.

In this way, I read it as totemic of two post-1950s experimental-critical tendencies: 1) to work in a hybrid form of what previously were announced to be separate categories, forms or impulses, and 2) to continually reinvent what a previous period or tendency, such as Modernism, may have been or may be at the present moment. That is, when a poet such as Perelman evokes a Modernist mode, it is a selective and creative and often very “new” notion of what that mode may be. This can be gestured to more fully in considering the Language writers’ relationship with a Modernist such as Gertrude Stein, who in their criticism and theory becomes perhaps the most prominent representative of what was, in the 1970s and 80s, still revelatory about that particular period of their claimed tradition. An entire early issue of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, for instance, was devoted to a consideration of and response to Stein, especially the Stein of Tender Buttons. Lyn Hejinian I think is the most compelling critical voice on Stein among the Language poets, and her “Two Stein Talks” are among the richer post-1950 critical performances. Stein’s relevance to a poetic project that privileges textuality is clearly stated by Hejinian, who discusses Stein’s “discovery that language is an order of reality itself and not a mere mediating medium—that it is possible and even likely that one can have a confrontation with a phrase that is as significant as a confrontation with a tree, chair, cone, dog, bishop, piano, vineyard, door, or penny.” It is in this sense that Hejinian reads Stein’s works—which were so often read as either bewildering and aggravating experiments or pathological expulsions in her own moment—as a kind of realism to be set in a tradition with Zola and Flaubert: she is a realist of the textual human condition in which “language is an order of reality itself,” a condition very ably evoked by Silliman in the Close Listening anthology of essays edited by Bernstein:

Who speaks? The trash containers in the cafeteria of a firm for which I used to work were not freestanding but were set directly into the walls. In the bland, corporate pastels of the room, the containers were almost invisible. Such invisibility is important to a society that feels squeamish about its waste products, even if they are only napkins, styrofoam cups, and plastic spoons. Functionally, each trashcan, lined with a dark nonbiodegradable bag, hid behind a small locked door. The top portion of the door was a hinged panel through which to shove your garbage. On each panel appeared the words THANK YOU.

Who speaks?

Here, the “voice” speaking thank you is not to be traced back to a figure but is rather an emanation of a pre-existing social structure of expectation and compulsion, reminiscent of Deleuze and Guattari’s assertion in A Thousand Plateaus that language is not life but rather inscribes onto life pre-existing social orders.

An extremely relevant development along these lines, and corresponding to Antin’s evocation of the interrogating Socrates as possible poetic model, is the pursuit of poetry as criticism and/or theory. A notable instance of this is Jackson Mac Low’s Words nd Ends from Ez, about which Mac Low writes:

When I wrote Words nd Ends from Ez in the early 1980s, I was fully aware of Pound's fascism & antisemitism, but I still found much of his poetry—the nonfascist parts—inspiring. I think many of us—especially my younger friends who are called "language poets"—learned a great deal from Pound. The whole process of juxtaposing disparate elements within the space (in all senses) of a poem was given to us primarily by him and his bete noir Stein! How he'd gnash at that sentence! [ . . .]

The way I chose in the early 80s was to read through the Cantos by a deterministic (nonchance) nonintentional method--the "diastic reading-through text-selection method"-- which gleaned whole words & "ends" of words--everything from the last letter of a word to all the letters except the first--that successively had the letters of "Ezra Pound" in corresponding places (e.g., E'z and P's in the first place, Z's & O's in the second place etc). I spelled out the name diastically over and over until I found no more z's. (Thus the last section of the poem is a silence.)

What Mac Low describes, and what this project creates, is a form of criticism that is (like Perelman’s critical essay quoted earlier) inextricable from the materials of the object of criticism. I would argue that, like Olson and Zukofsky before him, Mac Low is utilizing methods and conceits first articulated by Pound as a means of moving away from a Poundian political and authorial stance, a complicated theoretical and critical position concerning intention and tradition in and of itself. In Words nd Ends, Mac Low is not only re-writing the Cantos in such a manner as to rehabilitate the spirit of Pound—extricating the poet from the fascist—but Mac Low also literally re-writes Pound himself: Pound’s name and identity is staged in its textual condition:

Ers aZe"

deRstood xplAins,
cOndemning foUnd,
I caN they Dug Ed iZed 's)
thAn pResidents tOgether"

n BUren.

er iN bank"


As a criticism and celebration of Pound, Mac Low’s work re-writes the Cantos and the poet’s name at the same time, setting Pound to his own music, one that evokes his famed ear even as it cracks open his ideological fixations. In addition to refashioning Pound’s life-work as a kind of autobiography (Pound’s famously “silent” last years echoed in Mac Low’s silent ending), the text also seems to allow Pound to critique his own notions of social credit and American history in the above excerpt: “van BUren” + “err iN bank” + “Damned” makes for a powerful ideogram, where Pound’s ear critiques his erring mind.

Finally, I’d like to mention three instances in which post-1950 experimental poets pursue literary projects that function as critical and/or theoretical engagements: Nathaniel Mackey’s multi-volume epistolary novel From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery’s Imagining Language anthology, and the Araki Yasusada project of “translation.” In Bedouin Hornbook, the first volume of Mackey’s prose work consisting of the multiplying digressions of N.’s letters to Angel of Dust, letters that are both actually and ostensibly concerned with the compositions and listening-life of their author and his collaborative work with the Mystic Horn Society, Mackey explores one of the earliest novelistic forms as an occasion for theoretically savvy poetry criticism, made all the more palpable for its unprecedented register. At one point, the Mystic Horn Society find themselves in San Francisco for a gig when they are collectively entranced by what is literally the writing on the wall: “Mr. Slick and Mister Brother are one of the two most baddest dude in town, and Sutter Street.” In this episode, various participants vacillate between reading the statement as an “enabling confusion concerning the singular and the plural” or “the sign of a deep-seated upheaval in the consciousness of the folk, an insistent interrogation of the bounds between individual and collective identities” or “a summons, a call-to-arms as it were, an invitation into an area of uncommon sense, and that the dislocations they visited upon so-called proper English were manifestly of an invasive, mediumistic order.”

Here, Mackey utilizes novelistic devices to stage a multi-voiced form of literary theory (that is at the same time a musical poetics) that one can read as (among other things) a condensed possible treatise on a disagreement between the Modernist modes of, say, Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God and James Weldon Johnson in God’s Trombone: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, in which the former embraces the vernacular as the appropriate medium for emotional and intellectual complexity while the latter work translates what would be considered a folk form (the Negro Sermon) into a properly elevated form (in Verse). Mackey’s Aunt Nancy character, with some humor, characterizes the statement concerning Mr. Slick and Mister Brother as an instance of “bad schooling” even as the other characters read it as both symptom and diagnosis, which is their pointing towards a sensibility in which the incorrect or inarticulate can be read as being, in actuality, the most forcefully correct and articulate available forms in terms of cultivating a feel for contemporary conditions and situations; such “bad schooling” also comes to be realized as a case of technical re-invention, as when N. writes to Angel of Dust that “I broke the silence by remarking that the apparent redundancy of the words ‘most baddest’ seemed to me what was really of compelling interest. I harped on the advisedness of my use of the term ‘apparent,’ pointing out that instead of redundant I heard ‘most baddest’ as a novel, rule-abandoning technique for intensification.” In this insistence, N. creates an echo with the Language writers’ re-appraisal of Modernism as predominantly Steinian with his focus on “most baddest” as a use of (apparent) repetition or redundancy that is in fact a means for intensification and insistence (as he also seems to evoke Ornette Coleman’s statement of playing only mistakes). In this way, Mackey also seems to anticipate a contemporary version of this debate, the controversies about what has been called Flarf poetry, the work of K. Silem Mohammad, Katie Degentesh and others who utilize mostly “Google-sculpted” material from chatrooms, blogs and web sites to create poems that seem to both enact and critique the contemporary vernaculars of Internet culture, a practice that has been critiqued (sometimes rightly) as a kind of elitist slumming of unacceptable or apparently inarticulate symptoms of linguistic misuse, but which also holds the potential for functioning as an ever-generative archive of “rule-abandoning techniques” for intensification and expression.

Rasula and McCaffery’s Imagining Language anthology served as a cornerstone text for my sense of this list, and it functions I think as a profound work of criticism, the exploration of tradition-as-revelation that I see as being most fully accomplished in the anthology projects of Jerome Rothenberg, including his Technicians of the Sacred (an inter-continental compilation of tribal poetics that also posits contemporary Dadaist and performance based poetics as being, in the deepest sense, the most “traditional”), Revolution of the Word (his recovery of important lost modernists such as Harry Crosby, Else von Freytag- Loringhoven, Abraham Lincoln Gillespie and others as being essential to a Modernist sensibility), and America a Prophecy (a reading of “American poetry from pre-Columbian times to the present” that reveals “the hidden unity and power of America’s poetry” as a poetry of changes). In this spirit, Imagining Language—like the critical work of Zukofsky, Perelman and Mac Low—performs criticism largely through presentation and selection, working together an assemblage of texts that completely reinvents the Western canon in its 600 pages by working from the presupposition of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake as the central text of the canon and then working in all directions from there. Though punctuated with commentary from the editors (“The modernist ‘revolution of the word’ was, among other things, a liberation of letters from subservience to correct speech and proper spelling, decorum, and taste”), the anthology is largely an extended collage in which, for instance, the folkloric work on black slang of Zora Neale Hurston is set in correspondence (Spicer: “Things do not connect; they correspond”) with an excerpt from Aristophanes that enacts “bird talk” as well as Erasmus Darwin’s “Pronunciation Machine” and Walt Whitman’s extended mediation on “Slang in America” and John Bulwer’s 17th century treatise on “the Natural Language of the Hand.” What Imagining Language performs, then, is a continually implicit criticism of canonical and critical and periodizing norms, its abundances (like Rothenberg’s anthologies) continually voicing the “other side” of narrow disciplinary assumptions.

There is finally the ongoing Araki Yasusada project, which first began to appear in the late 1990s in American Poetry Review and other leading journals, as poems and assorted literary detritus from Yasusada’s “notebooks” were published (always) along with information concerning his recently discovered identity as a survivor of Hiroshima as well as a devotee of American experimental poets such as Jack Spicer (whose After Lorca now clearly stands as an important precursor for the Yasusada project). Eventually, word began to spread that what various anachronisms in the material only suggested, that Yasusada was a fiction. As holder of the copyright and lead spokesman on behalf of Tosa Motokiyu, the pen name of the now-deceased and supposed Yasusada writer (himself likely a fiction), the American poet, translator and anthologist Kent Johnson has become popularly identified as the perpetrator of what one of the editors of American Poetry Review refer to as “essentially a criminal act.” But Johnson’s refusal to claim authorship of one of the more notorious and critically-engaged poetry projects of contemporary times, as well as his continual criticism of the monolithic authorial assumptions of the supposedly radical Language writers, point towards something more extensive and serious than a mere literary stunt along the lines of the Ern Malley hoax at mid-century. The Yasusada affair, and the very likelihood that Yasusada is in fact a heteronym under which multiple parties are engaged in a poetic engagement with pre- and post-Hiroshima orientalism, stands as another instance whereby literary criticism, genealogy and theory (Yasusada reading Barthes, for instance) become reinvented as one another. Clayton Eshleman has written incisively and movingly about his lifetime engagements translating and re-translating the works of Cesar Vallejo and Aime Cesaire, among others, in which, through them, he comes to profoundly influence himself, but always in the voice of an other, evocative of both Sartre’s notion of Cesaire as the “Black Orpheus” (he who descends into himself as opposed to an underworld) and Rimbaud’s famous “I is Other.” The Yasusada author(s) seem(s) to be performing not a decisive break from this notion, but rather a troubling continuation of such a sensibility, and Yasusada himself may stand as a difficult and perhaps unsatisfactory emblem for the ambitions of post-1950 experimental poets to not only compose theoretical and critical works that explicate their poetic projects but to more often construct life-spanning theoretical/critical/poetic assemblages that are an attempt to compose a speculative and temporary totality that diverges from their pre-understood and inherited one: to invent a proper world for poems.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

System Says

(for Linh Dinh)

I thought to myself, wow, writing is so far behind other art forms in this regard. . .

Twenty five years after Baudrillard, these poetry students were still prioritizing Romantic notions of authenticity -- "truth", "individuality" and "honesty" -- over any other form of expression. My god! Is it a case of naivety, amnesia or just plain ignorance?. . .

Now is the time of possibility we can be everyone and no one at all. With digital fragmentation any notions of authenticity and coherence have long been wiped. When we're everywhere and nowhere at once -- pulling RSS feeds from one server, server-side includes from another, downloading distributed byte-size torrents from hundreds of other shifting identities -- such naïve sentiments are even further from what it means to be a contemporary writer. Identity politics no longer have to do with the definition of a coherent self, rather it has to do with the reconstructed distributed, fragmented, multiple and often anonymous selves that we are today. We're infinitely adaptable and changeable minute-to-minute. Shouldn't our notions of art expand once again to include these as well?

-- Kenneth Goldsmith

System says: my recent technological-discursive updates (user input utility sites such as blogs and facebook) help make clear what has been the case for some time: that contemporary assumptions of work, identity and knowledge succeed in becoming alternate signs for one another.

System says: under the rubric of possibility or choice you can enjoy the consumption of your multiple selves.

System says: the profile of each self will just happen to exquisitely match the pre-existing codes and structures of the outlets I have prepared for it.

System says: your shifting identities’ desires and needs can be satisfied by, or momentarily expressed as, byte-size torrents and RSS feeds.

System says: I in my varying intersections can create and satisfy and express in perpetuity a multitude of reconstructed, distributed, fragmented, multiple and often anonymous selves.

System says: these networks and these selves, which may very well now be indistinguishable from one another, stand together as versions of Heidegger’s standing-reserve.

System says: instead of a calling-forth of an organized reserve of energy or power (damming up a river to challenge it forth as energy and only energy, as opposed to entering the ‘field’ of the river as it reveals what properties it may offer), these networks and these networked selves face each other as pre-agreed-upon terms: as data or information or distributed pre-containments.

System says: these distributed pre-containments circulate under a number of names: amusement, fun, possibility, the new.

System says: you are allowed to wear a number of bowler hats for fun, or as a parody of those who are naïve enough to either produce bowler hats or to wear one to protect their heads from the elements.

System says: a version of how the dialectic of parody is revealed—you become a parody of the parodying impulse by mocking that which (I will allow you to behave as though) you have no stake in: a life of toil and vulnerability.

System says: even if a self-positioning of legitimacy or authority is no longer gathered under the signs of authenticity and coherency in a digitally fragmented regime, authority and legitimacy will still gather under a different sign.

System says: here is the sign of access: it is not to be confused with that of revelation.

System says: access means being configured to host the maximum number of interfaces and networks.

System says: authority is always up to date.

System says: its logo is my cutting edge.

System says: instead of it being rationalized or industrialized, you are encouraged to believe that the world is now perpetually rearranged so as to become continually networked and updated (for your use and pleasure).

System says: you shall remain networked so I may update your needs and desires.

System says: part of the intoxication you may feel in this arrangement is the liberating unburdening of obligation or implication on a collective level.

System says: you are no longer implicated or obligated in my activities because you are now everyone and no one at all.

System says: you can regard my emerging networks and the material conditions that occasion and support them as another aspect of your inheritance and entitlement, which, because you are now anonymous, is actually no inheritance or entitlement at all but rather another instance of potentiality.

System says: my digital networks resemble my other gifts, such as the railway and highway networks that cross the land, as well as the land itself, each giving themselves up to you (like Baudrillard did!), of their own will it seems, always already there, prepared for your enjoyment.

System says: you can be everyone.

System says: “you” is to be understood to mean a member of the adequately educated and privileged up-to-date consumer class who can enjoy these technologies that are always waiting there for them, gifts from somebody (who knows who—maybe distant, exotic magi?), waiting for their enjoyment.

System says: the rest of you need to get back to work.

System says: to be a contemporary writer, do this: stay up-to-date enough to mark this, your utopia, down.

System says: all your desires will be satisfied because the same networks that produce those desires will also (temporarily) satiate them.

System says: you are permitted to be a symptom of me.

System says: naïveté should always be dramatized in a pejorative manner, as being so-far-behind, say, self-fragmentation, which I would like you to frame as being a more up-to-date and thereby more legitimate symptom.

System says: authority is always updating us both.

System says: “naïveté-of-the-real” in my digitally fragmented regime must be updated to the reality-of-the-dispersed, also known as having good taste.

System says: to linger too far behind the update is to inch too close to grasping the material conditions and expressions of those updates.

System says: the conditions of those updates are to remain perpetual and veiled, in their glory.

System says: the writer’s role is to simply keep up with those updates.

System says: system maintenance.

System says: the really naïve are always on the wrong side of my cutting edge.

System says: writing, like all the other art forms, must stay in compliance with the newest updates.

System says: let us unify it all, as the newest update.

System says: amnesia and ignorance only gum up the works.

System says: naïveté or ignorance or amnesia, however, will be permitted into the system if performed as a ritual of exaggeration.

System says: you are permitted to make a performance of being a 19th century dandy.

System says: it is because “you” don’t have to toil like a 19th century laborer.

System says: the rest of you need to get back to work.

System says: the performance of a dandy ignorance is a kind of exorcism whereby previous real conditions can be played out as an already transcended (thanks to my newest updates) bad taste—you can be everyone and no one at all.

System says: the signs of a previous regime are permitted to circulate as parodies of that regime: you now live in the time of possibility.

System says: to behave too convincingly as if you believe in authenticity or coherence is to demonstrate that your systems have not been updated.

System says: to believe in authenticity is to behave as though those previous material conditions still persist, but only under a different name or at a new location.

System says: instead of a split between a body and a soul—where the soul is pacified to better utilize the body for its laboring potential—you will now have a split between body and identity.

System says: your sense of identity is to be pacified (by the simulation of its endless distribution: we're infinitely adaptable and changeable minute-to-minute) to better utilize your body for its producing/consuming potential.

System says: the assumed updating loop of promise-and-satisfaction is how you transform yourself into a multitude of digital selves, each self linking up with the appropriate system of desire production and satisfaction.

System says: each created identity helps open one’s physical body so I may apply its newest desire and satisfaction updates.

System says: the plural identity “you” is free to disperse itself in a multiplicity so the bodily “you” can get back to work.

System says: the status quo is always one step ahead.
To risk making a fool of myself, I think I'm gonna post one of my four exam answers; this particular question concerned the relation of new media as a theoretical field and my interest in poetry and poetics. My third exam field was experimental poetry in North America post-1950, emphasizing three strains: the oral/musical; the visual; the procedural. In this exam answer I try to sketch out one of the ways I think new media as a theory field offers some useful tools for writing about poetry. My dissertation will be focused on the modernist period and a media-inflected analytic will be part of that project, I'm sure. Anyway, one of my answers, before I come to my senses and erase this post . . .

Question 2: New Media & the Author/Reader Continuum: Writing/Speech/Gesture

In his influential foreword to Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, David Wellbery enthusiastically constructs some ramifications for Kittler’s emphasis upon the relation of corporeality and media and the pall it casts upon traditional notions of intention and interpretation for “the notion of society itself is abandoned in favor of an investigation of interacting subsystems endowed with their particular technologies and protocols” and therefore “the sufferance of the body, its essential pathos, becomes a privileged locus for the analysis of discourse networks in terms of both their systematic character and their effectivity.” While it seems that Wellbery overstates Kittler’s actual stance, his enthusiasm stands as indexical for me for the most excessive claims made for the emerging new media theoretical field as a complete re-consideration of literary and critical norms. While my current critical stance doesn’t follow Wellbery into the replacement of contemporary discursive systems of analysis (whether ideologically and/or historically inflected) with a new discourse system of an exclusively physiological grounding for textuality (and its seemingly always attendant discursive collapse of human and suffering), I do see the work of critics and theorists such as Kittler, Bernard Stiegler, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, N. Katherine Hayles, Brian Rotman, Mark B.N. Hansen and others as opening new lines of inquiry into questions of literary production and expression.

N. Katherine Hayles’ call for a media-specific analysis I find to be both extremely timely and self-limiting—while she rightly admonishes fellow critic Jerome McGann for a tendency to read media texts and projects through the critical norms of the previous, traditionally page-bound regime, it seems that her call stops short of fully comprehending the extents to which media condition literary production. That is, Hayles’ call limits itself exclusively to analyzing the means by which the presentation of a work is media-specific; quite rightly, she describes the limits of applying willy-nilly conceptions of expressiveness or accomplishment of one media (the traditionally bound book) to works created in a differing media (works composed for the computer, whether hyper-text or flash media or otherwise): a new media cultivates new norms and traditions. I see part of my project as extending this insight to questions of production. That is, the regime of the book is not a regime of a singular logic of production or signification. As Hayles herself writes elsewhere, “The materiality of an embodied text is the interaction of its physical characteristics with its signifying strategies.” And yet, two texts embodied in the same printed format may suggest counter signifying strategies; this much is clear, as it is clear that even a single text may suggest counter signifying strategies to a Marxist or a feminist or a deconstructionist heuristic, or even suggest differing strategies to a singular reader in the duration of its unfolding. What I would like to explore though is the extent that even a traditionally bound literary text may suggest its own discursive network(s) and therefore signifying strategies, and that emerging theories concerning media may help an analysis of how varying media-inflected properties may condition (and describe the limits of) the reading and writing acts as well as help create and describe the operational perspectives involved.

One path of inquiry is the consideration of writing as a storage and retrieval system, a means by which memory is externalized (or always maintained as already external) as a kind of technics, and that access to this system presupposes a set of norms about how that system is maintained. In “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter,” Kittler addresses the influence of modern technologies upon notions of absolute knowledge, a realm of knowing registered at its own plane of persistence: “Instead of hooking up technologies to people, absolute knowledge can run as an endless loop.” That is, writing is a technical endeavor, and writing in particular in which the typewriter and keyboard maintain the linguistic materials as external is an entrance to a pre-existing array of signs from which the person selects the appropriate sequence; this Kittler opposes to the previous, Romantic regime that posited the alphabet as internal and “natural” and is only pushed outwards through the speaking mouth or moving hand. In this manner, one may come to realize, in any discourse network, “Writing can store only writing, no more, no less” and “writing stores only the fact of its authorization.” The key historical project, then, is to read how technologies of writing and communication underwrite what, at any moment, writing is. Kittler is at his most interesting when framing these questions: “Since 1865 (in Europe) or 1868 (in America) writing has no longer consisted of those ink or pencil traces of a body, whose optical or acoustical signals were irretrievably abandoned in order that the readers, at least, might flee into the surrogate sensuality of handwriting. In order to allow for a series of sounds and sights to be stored, the old European storage technique had first of all to be mechanized.” For Kittler, it is the twin occurrence of Nietschze’s early embrace of the typewriter and the failure of his eyesight (he begins to write books without recourse to reading) that allows him access to the primal scene of the new discourse network in which writing is completely mechanized: the primal scene of the writer is that of a blind man crouched above a machine with the white noise of memory and a mechanized alphabet harmonizing with one another: “Mnemonic inscription is, like mechanical inscription, always invisible at the decisive moment.” Each simply proffers its “blindly chosen victims” to the reader and writer both.

Addressing our contemporary moment, Hayles works to delineate an emerging discourse network: “with electronic texts there is a conceptual distinction—and often an actualized one—between storage and delivery vehicles, whereas with print the storage and delivery vehicles are one and the same.” Here, Hayles is delving into a close reading of the conceptual and structural importance of a new materiality to a textual experience, of the significance that adheres to a written word that is stored as byte and yet read as a flickering of light. This she contrasts with the regime of the book, which functions more statically as vehicle for both storage and presentation. “Although print readers perform sophisticated cognitive operations when they read a book,” Hayles writes, “the printed lines exist as such before the book is opened, read, or understood. An electronic text does not have this kind of prior existence. It does not exist anywhere in the computer, or in the networked system, in the same form it acquires when displayed on screen.” Here, I believe, within Hayles’ insightful analysis, are the seeds of the limits of her approach: the historically conditioned imposition of understanding as the telos of reading. The implicit scene in Hayles’ aside is of a familiar loop of open-read-understand played in static continuity; more interesting questions arise, perhaps, when reading is not linked exclusively to a system of perpetual and pre-existing understandings but rather is linked to other systems, including actions, curses, rituals, hallucinations, or seductions: in this sense, the pre-arrangement of lines that Hayles claims is symptomatic of book culture is less constrictive when not pre-linked to the loop of understanding. Similarly, an electronic text currently has a potentially disruptive and troubling character not simply because it has a different form in storage than in presentation, but because it hasn’t yet been brought completely into the loop: it can link itself to its own systems with or without the reader’s assent: one can open and read a spam email or attachment and it can be well on its own way to its own system of activation regardless of one’s understanding. In fact, the most insidious of electronic texts would seem to prey upon a previous open-read-understanding assumption to textuality. Kittler links the technics of modernity to such a reading habit that I claim underwrites Hayles’ analysis: “Not until the emergence of a technical storage capacity, such as that which shaped the discourse network of 1900, would hallucinatory sensuousness be abandoned to the entertainment industry and serious literature renew its commitment to the ascesis that knows only black letters on white paper.” It is the ascetic regime of understanding (usually colored as a kind of repressive Victorianism), in fact, that many of the poets and writers of my previous response attempt to move their work away from: their tendency is to hew closer to a written poetry that suggests oral properties, sensualities, and networks of interaction.

This is precisely where questions concerning author-reader lines of communication and questions concerning writing, speech and gesture intersect for me. Perhaps an explication of a single Greek term and its relevance to my notion of a media-specific analysis of textual production will be useful. In his Preface to Plato, a book of monumental importance to the post-Modernist poet Charles Olson, Eric Havelock reconstructs the Greek culture at the moment before the instantiation of logos as being privileged to muthos, a moment he aligns with the development of writing as a technical system. That is, prior to this moment both logos and muthos signified as being spoken, from the mouth, with both having equal claim on what could be taken as “the truth”; after this moment, however, logos signifies as fact or truth, while muthos signifies as myth in the (still) contemporary sense of a fiction or fancy. Within this context, Havelock elucidates the complex term mousike, which may suggest a notion of “music” but is better understood as a technique within Greek oral culture, “a complicated convention designed to set up motions and reflexes which would assist the recording and recalling of significant speech.” The structures and systems that allow for this complicated convention for perpetuating “significant speech” suggests an approach to language and poetry extremely discordant with Kittler’s suggestion of quote-unquote serious literature’s “ascesis that knows only black letters on white paper.” Havelock sketches the seven principles of the technique: 1) that speech is created physically; 2) that once preserved, significant speech is created the same way; 3) that speech can be preserved only if repeated; 4) that the motions of the mouth are organized so as to ease repetition; 5) that organized motions of the mouth are to be grouped rhythmically; 6) that these rhythms and motions can become automatic reflexes; 7) that the body parallels the mouth’s reflex with ear and limbic reflexes. It follows, then, that the poet, as central memorizer of cultural stories, genealogies and norms, would weave together previous instantiations of the tribe’s tale with current conditions and transmit it to his fellow citizens who, entranced by the musical repetitions and rhythmic groupings of the words and lyre, would repeat and conjure the poem-song back to him, thereby setting in motion a discourse network that, for Havelock, stood as the interrelation of education, pleasure and experience.

What Havelock’s invocation of mousike suggests is a completely different technical system than the supposedly normative open-read-understand loop, a technical system with poetry (and the poet) at its center and with a “readership” of participants involved in its construction and transmission. Such a model has proven a seductive one for American poets such as Olson, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and others—setting aside for now the long and complicated question concerning whether such a “discourse network” that the mousike convention illustrates is intelligible outside of the geographical, technical and economic situation of pre-Platonic Greeks, the importance of this orally grounded situation (and others like it) as an overt or implicit model for 20th century writing is of interest to a media-specific analytic. When Rothenberg claims that the written poem should be read as a notation for a performative equivalent, he is discussing competing medialities at the core of his experimental poetics, for his claim is not (only) nostalgia for a previous (irretrievable) situation but also an interjection and complication of assumed norms, including norms of what it means to read and write as well as the limits of those terminologies in describing the event of the poem and its participants.

Brian Rotman’s forthcoming Becoming Beside Ourselves, his book on “the alphabet, ghosts, and distributed human being” is among the most relevant new media texts in this regard, especially in his deliberation on varying “ghost-effects” of media. His sense of the separation between the spoken and written mediations of "I" can be glimpsed by his location of that “I” inside a sequence of four distinct media in which some kind of declared reflexivity or self-referential indication occurs:

1) A pre-linguistic "I" in the medium of gesture. “A proprioceptively continuous ‘me’, experienced haptically and manifest as reflexive touching and pointing [. . .] the precursor of the currently observable human gestures which co-evolved with language, and is close perhaps to contemporary gestural forms of primate signaling of self presence.”

2) An uttered "I" in the medium of speech. “Here the self-pointing body has been assimilated into the voice, its gestural affect present as vocal gestures, that is, as prosody or tone, joined seamlessly within utterance to the words uttered.”

3) A written "I" in the medium of alphabetic inscription. “Here, within ‘speech at a distance’ or virtual speech the vocal gestures are eliminated and the body of the spoken ‘I’ is transduced into a floating agency.”

4) A digital or networked "I" in the medium of communicational technologies. “Here the written ‘I’ is assimilated into and overtaken by a digitally enabled form of self-reference, an enunciation intrinsic to and only possible within interactive and distributed electronic networks.”

For Rotman, the latter three media—speech, alphabetic inscription, communication technologies—each project their own ghost-effect. Speech’s ghost-effect arises from the ability to refer to non-present or transcendent entities, thereby incorporating the ghostly presence of this non-present “other” into the speaking “I.” Alphabetic writing’s ghost-effect is derived from the ability “to signify across space and time in the absence of a speaker" and it is the presence of "a transcendental agency, the hypostatizations of God, Mind and the Infinite Agent." Digital writing’s ghost-effect is yet to be determined, but Rotman feels it will be related to the ability to “range over the characteristic abstractions and processes of the alphabetic, pre-digital, pre-information age”—that is, it seems, a certain repeatable ghostly-presence will be the effect of a subjectivity couched in a medium that claims and re-mediates previous communication regimes. My understanding of Rotman’s speculation is also tied to his distinction between notational and capture media. For Rotman, notational media operate with the logic of metaphor: alphabetical writing notates some of the signifying sounds of speech: that is, an equivalence is set forth, as in the manipulation of shape and color to form a landscape painting. Capture media, for Rotman, operate with the logic of metonymy: “the movement or duration of an entity” is described or recorded by a medium, as in the action paintings of Jackson Pollock.

Although capture media are discussed by Rotman (and a similar notion occurs in Mark Hansen’s work) mostly in terms of the capture of bodily gestures (as in Pollock), such a concept also suggests a literary precedence: collage. Such a precedence may be masked, however, by an overemphasis on understanding as the inherent or desired end-game of a text: a system of understood equivalence presupposes a singular, intentional agent communicating to a singular, understanding reader, all along a singular signifying or semiotic plane. To evoke Peirce’s distinction between iconic, symbolic and indexical signs (and in which the reader’s mind also functions as a virtual sign) the aesthetics of collage (often claimed to be the aesthetic principle of the 20th century) suggest the means by which the symbolic or iconic can be read as indexical: a reading not of a particular meaning or intention but rather of these subsumed under the heading of a situation. Or, to use Rotman’s terminologies, the inscriptions of a notational media (which have a material, endured basis of their own) can be arranged as a captured media by which “the movement or duration of an entity”—both an entity’s physically and socially proprioceptive oscillations—may be read. It is also in this way that a traditionally bound text suggests a multiplicity of medial properties; a collage or montage of notations, read as index or as captured media, also may suggest a collage or montage of technical systems, as it may also be a collage of the ghost-effects of a media.

In the case of alphabetic writing, for Rotman, the ghost is the transcendental agency, the now-absent speaker communicating across time and space. Robert Fitterman’s This Window Makes Me Feel, published in 2004 and constructed out of material found online and dedicated to “to those who were lost in The World Trade Center bombing” strikes a different note from the work of Flarf poets who utilize a similar technique. The following is a representative sampling from Fitterman’s extended piece:

This window makes me feel like I have been taking care of myself since I was 12 years old when I got the boot from mom and dad. This window makes me feel sad for many reasons, but I don’t want people to think I’m going to hell—that’s between me and God. This window makes me feel out-raged… after all, I don’t need the credit card… my track record has proved that I’m a poor manager of credit, okay? This window makes me feel nervous because he has been on medication lately but he hasn’t been getting any professional help. This window makes me feel like I don’t have my head on straight—I don’t know, the idea kind of appeals/appealed to me which I suppose is strange. This window makes me feel like I need a summer job to hold me over until the Fall. This window makes me feel like reflecting on the mountain bike community and the ripple effect… for me, I never had a problem with hunters or trappers. This window makes me feel like I’m having some strange mental problem. This window makes me feel uncomfortable and I know he’s uncomfortable too because of his age he cannot be moved to another division. This window makes me feel like what a bubble we all live in and what is the world coming to. This window makes me feel like a wrench has been shoved into my chest and turned around and around.

Playing off of the sense of “window” as screen to the outer world of a city (one imagines a series of individuals gazing out of their windows towards the World Trade Center) and as screen into a multitude of electronic discourse networks (Windows 2001-2004, perhaps), Fitterman plays off of the metaphorical implications of the “This window makes me feel” refrain to stage a metonymic assemblage. In our searchable and cut-and-paste discursive regime, one may extend Rotman’s claim for a written ghost-effect not only for the “speaker” of the written text but for the addressee; that is, the occasion itself communicates across time and space even after its participants move on. The windows of the text, therefore, become a rotation of interfaces by which one may read the “lost” as they communicate from the other side of a darkened glass, and the poem serves as a series of indexical signs for the ordinary situations and concerns that come to be lost. Alternately, “this window” can be read as a singular frame—the 9/11 attacks themselves a momentary spot of time—through which Fitterman stages the captured movement or duration of a polis caught within history. While neither reading grants Fitterman nor his text the privileged placement of Havelock’s poet or a poetic mastery of a contemporary mousike, I believe such a text does move what it is uttered or expressed, the muthos of a historical moment, closer to the heart of the matter, and demonstrates why the presentation of a text in book or on screen cannot adequately address its medial properties. Texts such as This Window Makes Me Fell introduce us to a seemingly endless series of questions, as do previous texts that initiate Fitterman’s techniques even before the onset of electronic writing, works such as Lyn Hejinian’s My Life or Ron Silliman’s “Sunset Debris,” itself being (it seems) literally an endless series of questions that assemble a multitude of their own:

What are you heating the water for? Why is it that painters now are so obsessed with the elimination of space, that composers want to obliterate time, that writers feel compelled to remove the referential? Are you tired to the point of being dizzy? Why does the old man trill his rs? What are you going to do? How will you get there? How will you handle it? Will it worry you? Has it changed you? How could it be that our knowledge is limited, not by the state of the universe (existence, whatever), but by cognitive capacity, that we should only know what we can know, which is not what there is, the whole story? Are you certain? Are you sure? What if you removed the words from your work? How can you say that this poem would have existed, even had it never been written down, because it would have been “logical” for it, at a certain point, to exist? What is Bo Diddley’s hair like underneath that hat? Did you make out the rent check? Do you know the difference between speech and writing? Would you sincerely like to be rich? Does each potholder strewn about this honey-caked, crumb-ridden table articulate a separate story? Do you use oregano? How many systems do we involve just to name one thing? If we lie on the mattress in the closed-off old back porch at 90 degree angles, your legs lifted so that, lying on my side, I enter from behind, the fingertips of my right hand stroking your clitoris, and we go about this slowly, almost lazily, does it make for better understanding? Have you noticed how there are no fathers in the park playing ball with their daughters? Do the words fold, fold back? Is it time to think time? Do the words time?