[-empyre-] The E-ject

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Sat Apr 18 18:04:55 EST 2009

Thanks for engaging my comments and questions in such a detailed fashion.  Oddly, while a good deal of my work appears under the guise of e-lit, I have never set about philosophizing about what it meant for me to choose that venue, or for that venue to exist in the first place so that I might have the option of selecting it.  
E-publication does raise particular concerns for the art and literature that trade the physical limits of the page or canvas for the virtual thingness of the Web page or even banner, which in and of its screenic presencing redefines the object in general, causing us to re-think the nature of things themselves much in the way that factory-fabricated kitsch caused a crisis to ripple through representation so many years ago.  Does e-lit highlight the visuality of the text, as in the concrete poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay, revealing words and letters to be artistic entities?  Erté’s sumptuous alphabet looms up before me.  Does the e-text toy with size, spacing and organization, taking the precocious and avant-la-lettre work of a poet like Johanna Drucker to the next level?  Like the DADA preoccupation with orthography, does the e-text call attention to the varied sources it selects in its construction, fonts stolen from multiple sources coming together in the skewed holism of the e-lit objet?  All this and more takes place, I imagine.
The collected, whether it be the object proper or the mutated e-lit object, must exist somewhere between stasis and circulation, since if it does not stay put long enough to be appreciated and contemplated, it is not able to enter into the relevant and appropriate history (for example, a painting attempting to enter the Whitney, or a sickening medical abnormality attempting to enter the Mütter Museum).  Collection is an attempt to contain the object, to store it through an external mechanism of memory, while circulation brings that contained thing to a wider audience so that it, too, might experience the object’s aura.  As a mechanics of attentiveness, circulation puts objects and e-objects into play, alleviating boredom by arresting the gaze, the eardrum, quite possible even the skin.   
Concepts, too, can be commodities, or those mystified objects which motivate and incite non-biological desires which miraculously produce urges filled with the force of biological need: the advertising world is quite adept at achieving this phenomenon, as well as the practitioner of conceptual art (supereminently Marcel Duchamp, whose Readymades would lose their “art coefficient,” as he termed it, outside of any conceptual anchoring).
Temporalities of “viewing” versus “reading” may not be identical, as the time each activity requires can differ according to what exactly it is which must be consumed—which does not preclude the possibility of a viewing that is also a reading (for example, some of the scenes of Peter Greenaway’s “Zoo”) or a reading that is also a viewing (for example, the Ian Hamilton Finlay poem).
The systemics you seem to offer pose the following schema: (1) Viewing—perception,  (2) Discussion—communication, and (3) Reading—located daemonically somewhere between perception and communication, especially when it is “reduced to distractions” emerging from the world outside the text and the scene of its consumption.  Here I recall the interruption posed by The Angel Gabriel in the biblical Annunciation scene, as it is Mary’s reading which is forced to cease upon the intrusion of the heavenly visitor come to reveal her divine destiny.  Between perceiving and sharing the fruits of those perceptions through communicative speech acts, there is the lexical, that which reads the perception of perception, as well as the communal structure or matrix through which the communicative act will transpire.
The general entropy of existence is the battle of all objects, be they physical or electronic.  Al in all, the object has a dissipative structure, an eddy keeping entropy at bay by dissipating it long enough for there to be a thing perceivable, “scrutible,” and sharable through public debate about its contours, its value, its situation.  As Steven Hawking has demonstrated, even a black hole succumbs to entropy, at least a little, and as Ozymandius demonstrates, the hubris of objecthood can come to no good end, as the ravages of time affect all objects, whether we store them in a museum, on a curio shelf, in the sands of the desert or on a bookmarked page on our personal computer.
The greatest value of objects and e-objects lies in their ability to set contemplation in motion: Keats’ Grecian Urn testifies to this, as well as the art-historical tradition of ekphrasis.  For around the object or e-object, discourse circulates, drawn to the gravity of the existent, whose thereness and historical positioning it must account for.
Mutability is a crisis constitutive of all art objects, necessitating a battalion of conservators, curators, and preservationists to ensure that this object which at all moments slips toward oblivion is able to survive for the future of consumption: “Platform incompatibilities” and “text rain” are unique to the e-lit object, whose race with technology raises anew each day the chance that it might get lost in the transition: a domain might be reappropriated, a site might go defunct, the Flash necessary for its full effect to come across might not be supported by a particular computer.  With regard to technology, pace and change, the questions becomes when the e-text becomes canonical—unless it does the unthinkable and obviates questions of the canon through its uncanny alliance with the transitional, the ephemeral, the mutable.  What would a canon-of-no-canon be like?  Only the e-lit masterpiece knows for sure.
The forgetting of words is indispensable for the act of re-reading texts and e-texts, even IMs, tweets and twitters: between l’objet perdu and l’objet trouvé there is the move to recall, retain, rejoin, that same reduplication of pleasure or pain which is at the core of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  Why do we re-read?  Proustian and Heideggerian scholarship seem to demand a constant re-reading, with people competing to see how many times they’ve gotten through the massive works in question.
Aesthetics as the layering of perception, communication and consciousness seems to me to be an innovative approach to many of the problems this e-lit discussion has skirted.  To return to Freud, whom I love, despite his delicious obtuseness, there is that famous Perception-Consciousness system, the one preceding the more popular ego/id/superego schema.  Yet for Freud, again in Beyond the PP, it is consciousness which arises as perceptual scar.  Is this perceptual scar also an aesthetic phenom?  For Freud, the mystery is why we continue to generate these scars, as well as how these scars constitute consciousness proper.  For me, the aesthetic layering you suggest might very well have something to say to Freud’s initial account of how a stimulus might create something like awareness.  
How does the Internet change reading, which, we must admit, is not an a-historical act, but rather one with its own past, present and future: perhaps even its own apocalypse or eclipse on the horizon?  Citizens of the Gutenberg Galaxy, we read differently with all these screens lighting up our respective environments, as Kindle machines place Charles Dickens in a novel format making it possible to read him almost anywhere in the hyper-mobile flux of our capitalist day, while the abbreviated language of the text—or sext—message gives birth to an accelerated language of innuendo and implication.   We can’t underline or make our own marginal marks on any of these devices, nor can we highlight salient portions of the text, etc.: our engagement of them is not one of marginalia, but of storage and memory.
Digitally, the mind stores its outpourings in these multiple e-texts, some of which are e-lit, others of which the satellite texts against which e-lit appears as e-lit.  Systemically, I think of Dorothy Wordsworth as William Wordsworth’s archive, her memories the storage unit for the best of his experience: but where can I go with this idea?  I think I am trying to connect e-literature with some notion of an archive, as it is through the archive that many collections crystallize as collections in the first place.  In some sense, the electronic impulses of Dorothy’s brain comprise an e-lit archive: that may be where I’m going.     
The open-ended nature of all art, kernel of post-structuralism, rings true to me, even outside notions of “the differend,” “le plaisir du texte,” or other seductive catch-phrases spangling the JIT fabric: we are all co-authors in the production of meaning, conspirators in the genesis of truth and falsehood, writers of what we read and readers of what we write.  As Derrida correctly observes, my words leave me through dissemination, and they will never return to me in the same form, if they are even to return at all.  Not to be too jingoistic, but the nom de père and the elegant matheme Lacan invents in order to indicate its transition into phallic function (phi, or φ?) spins off in its own direction once we let it loose: where it goes, we cannot say, the meanings it engenders going far beyond paternal (or maternal) control.  This dimension of the “letting loose” of meaning is highlighted by e-lit, which in and of the speed and scope of its dissemination enlarges the field of textuality for the better.  
Networks facilitate circulation, whether the objects moving about are erythrocytes, Fedex packages, or lethal viruses: but are networks ambivalent/indifferent as to what circulates, or can one network carry multiple passengers?  The search engine is one particular network which supports and sustains e-lit, making various electronic texts localizable in the virtual spacetime of screenic reality; here, meta-tags, keywords, and non-spammable language come into play, as there is the particular and unique problem of “junk” which surrounds e-lit at every turn and corner (much like “junk” haunts human DNA).  True, there is also junk mail—and lord knows, I’ve written it, having been an ad exec for the past decade—but this degraded form does not affect the poem or novella per se in the way that the Viagra pop-up exerts a pernicious influence on the e-text.
The speed of networks connects the human with the inhuman at increasingly faster speeds, fostering that intimacy that Benjamin treasured.  Only here, the thesaurization or laying up of literary treasure does not create the problem of a library which much be packed or unpacked, depending on one’s itinerancy, as e-storage takes up memory, not space (of course here the problem becomes the relation between memory and space in general, a key issue in analyzing Wordsworth’s “spots of time” or even that delectable tea-soaked madeleine which sets the mechanics of Proustian recollection in motion). 
Lastly, the e-object (e-ject?) introduces and exemplifies the problem of digital aura.  If unique, individual and hand-crafted objects are surrounded by a nebula or aura, as Benjamin specified, then it is the technological innovation of mechanical reproducibility which creates a culture industry by making culture maximally mobile, available to even the lowest social strata.  But do these e-jects have an aura, or some kind of halo marking them as genuine, authentic and irreplaceable?  Or is it the challenge that the e-ject poses to the aura which makes its status a source of contention?
Alright—I think I have mused enough for a while!  Your last email really got me thinking, so I went a bit wild.  Please take your time responding—it’s a true honor to have the luxury of speaking directly with you.

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA


> Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 09:07:31 -0500
> From: jtabbi at gmail.com
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Objecthood and Ephemerality
> Thank you, Michael, for the (again) generous responses. Your
> comments/qualifications on collectibility got me thinking.
> On further thought, after claiming that e-lit is nesting with the
> arts, rather than with traditional literary institutions, I have been
> thinking more about how e-lit also distinguishes itself from the arts.
> Because, yes, my friends those several years ago who 'framed' their
> texts recognized that entry in the art world demanded that they
> deliver an 'object,' something you could hang on a wall or present
> through an inteface. Something that could be collected, and circulated
> through networks. That then makes the work commodifiable in so many
> ways, and these days concepts circulate comfortably with commodities.
> Though what actually circulates (verbally) are labels, tags, and
> keywords that can be grasped during the overall period of 'viewing.'
> Once one actually attends to developed concepts, arguments, phrases,
> motifs, narrative developments, or the materiality of written/spoken
> language, then one has stepped out of the system of circulation. The
> time of reading is so much different than the time of viewing. Not
> necessarily slower (a disciplined viewer knows how to pace herself,
> how to take in visual meaning over time, and also 'all over' the space
> of a visual composition).
> Not slower necessarily, and certainly not inferior or superior. But different.
> One way I have tried to describe that difference, is through the
> distinction (in Systems Theory and also in cognitive discourse)
> between perception and communication. Viewing obviously takes place
> during the (relatively instantaneous) time of perception, discussion
> during the time of communication, and reading - that occurs somewhere
> else or in between, when perception and communication are reduced to
> distractions. But these realms aren't separable. We are always
> perceiving, even when we are sitting alone quietly in a room reading.
> Our own thoughts are still occurring (though muted, and unattended)
> even while we are reading the recorded thoughts of an author. That is,
> our thought-track is unattended so long as we're caught up in a
> written narrative. The moment we stop to notice something we've
> perceived (a noise in a room) or something communicated to us (a
> reminder from the person living with us that we need to be somewhere
> else, not here reading) - at this moment we return to the time of
> living perception or active communication.
> The use of a 'collectible' is that, yes, it confers value on the past
> (by retrieving an object that would otherwise be lost to perception or
> communication, in the general entropy of existence). Very
> occasionally, collected objects are available for continued
> contemplation, and continued communication (for example in scholarly
> essays on the object, or in social discussions after a visit to a
> museum, or at the home of a friend who owns works of art). That's how
> writing, perception, and communication connect with art, over the
> extended life of a work that someone, in collaboration with some
> institution, has made an effort to collect.
> But we connect with literary works differently. And the difference
> might be given in what it is we collect, and where the collection
> takes place. In writing, whether e-lit or traditional print, we do
> need a stable material medium, so that the words we encounter at a
> given time and place are the same, as those encountered at other times
> and in other places where the work might be read. We need stability
> and reproduceability, so that we have something to *go back to*, when
> we want to re-read the work. No matter, if the order of the words
> changes, as happens in hypertextual constructions. The words in the
> nodes do not change (unless platform incompatibilities over time have
> rendered the work inaccessible). If the words themselves change by
> design, we're not then capable of reading - what we are doing, is
> observing, or perceiving, the replacement of one verbal installation
> with another (as when a 'text rain' shows some words at a given
> moment, and other words at another time, in differnt postions on a
> screen). (But has the digital artist somewhere secured a canonical
> text, before it gets purposefully washed away by rain? These are
> questions we need to bring to each work of e-lit we encounter, I
> should think.)
> Words need to be collectable, and they need to be collected in the
> mind of a reader, retained, forgotten, and recoverable in re-reading.
> Without this continuity of thought and literary object, one leaves the
> realm of conscious reading and moves into more perceptual or
> communicative realms.
> (Always keeping in mind, that perception, consciousness, and
> communication happen at the same time - even as we can attend to a
> conversation and still have our own thoughts: this layering is very
> important I think to any aesthetic experience, where material and
> mental activities are constantly interacting.)
> Another thing, about literary reading: the things "collected" are
> collected not in rooms, but in our minds. And these collectibles -
> written words - happen to be the same things that are present during
> conscious thought. The things we read are also the things we think
> with. However: over time, we have had other thoughts, our words have
> acquired associations with new experiences, and this means we can
> experience a written work quite differently when we go back to it, at
> another time, for more.
> But the comparison is possible because the words on a page or screen
> are in the same medium as our conscious thought.
> And these (thoughts) are 'collectible' only by an individual, or by
> one person at a time who reads one work at a time. (Even when
> multi-tasking, the memory of patterns and meanings have to assemble
> around *this* work, or another work: otherwise one is not involved in
> reading; one might be collecting hybrid parts for one's own reuse.)
> So I'd revise my remark in the last post about literature
> becoming-a-network. It may be possible for literature to *circulate*
> through networks - and this is being faciliated through the electronic
> markup of works, through the use of metatags and keywords so that
> works can be retrieved according to semantic content (and not just by
> matching character strings).
> That kind of networking is I think essential for the persistence of
> the literary in electronic environments. And it's one reason, over the
> past few years with my colleagues at the ELO, I've been encouraging
> the development of an Electronic Literature Directory.
> But the reading of works - this remains I think an essentially
> individualistic process - one that we can perceive happening in
> others, and we can then communicate to one another our various
> experiences while reading. The material instantiation of literary
> writing in a network can (to deflect Benjamin) bring thought into
> contact with the non-human, and networked literature can do this now
> in a highly nuanced and evolving way.
> But reading as such, and the literary, remain technologies for
> constructing an individual consciousness, not for building networks or
> communities.
> Joseph
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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