[-empyre-] Towards a theory of digital poetics (in process and open to debate - in the bar)

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Mon Mar 9 03:04:32 EST 2009

Towards a theory of digital poetics (open to debate - in the bar)

Dawkins has argued that people are the carrier of and reproductive
instrument for genetic code. He has also sought to conflate genetics and
human language, with his concept of the Meme - the proposal that an idea can
reproduce itself through the code of language and its exchange between
humans. Dawkin¹s concept of the Meme could be considered a theory of

Turing¹s original conception of computation did not involve a computer as we
understand it (a box of electronics). Turing¹s early attempts at creating a
computational system, derived from Gödel's theoretical work with number
systems, focused on a symbolic notational system where the symbols carried
meaning that not only could be processed, leading to an outcome, but also
carried the directions for that processing, including their own
modification. This was a writing system that explicitly carried within it
the capacity to re-write itself. In Turing¹s first experiments the
instrumentality of this was himself (with a pen and paper). Electronic
calculators were soon developed to a sufficient complexity that this
instrumentality could be transferred from human to machine.

To some degree there seems to be a congruence between Dawkin¹s concept of
the Meme and Turing¹s of computation. The geometry of the conceptual models
involved are very similar. It is in the instrumentality of the systems where
the primary differences are apparent (in Turing¹s model of writing it is the
computer that is instrumental, in Dawkin¹s the human).

It could be argued that these are actually the same system (writing) in
different modalities. Dawkin¹s model of the Meme places the human as the
means by which language can reproduce itself whilst the approach initiated
by Turing seeks to automate this process, in the form of the computer (in
the sense we understand it today).

What has this to do with digital poetics?

Poetics is the creative practice of association. That is, the relationships
between things are creatively evoked in a dynamic and often unstable manner
such that new relational dynamics can be revealed. This practice can be
applied to many media and through diverse disciplines. Conventional poetry
(text poems) is just one instance of poetic creativity.

Digital poetics is that creative form of poetics that engages, in a profound
manner, the implications of Turing¹s theoretical work. It is a practice that
seeks to bring poetics and a certain conception of language, of writing (in
the expanded sense), together ­ a conception of language which explicitly
evokes both content and the means of self-modification. Digital poetics is
an approach to poetics where the self-reproductive character of language is
made explicit in every instantiation of writing. This often involves the use
of a computer, but it need not. Turing¹s concept of computation does not
have to involve a (electronic) computer ­ it does not need a machine to
assure its instrumentality. It can also employ the human. Perhaps other
forms of instrumentality also exist?

A text by Mez can be regarded as digital as it contains within it the
explicit directions for how the reader, as the instrument of the text, can
evoke all the instances it might assume. A Jim Rosenberg diagram also has
this capacity, although they are more typically executed by machines.
However, a Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries digital-text-video does not
appear to share these characteristics. It could be argued that a YHCHI work
does not carry within it it¹s own means of modification. It depends on the
interpretation by a human to become modified - little different to a
conventional poem.

However, as has already been argued, it is not in the instrumentality of the
system that the system¹s definition lies. It could be that the process of
interpretation, as executed by a human, is another example of
instrumentality. Returning to the initial point made above, writing is
writing because it has the capacity to re-write itself, or be re-written,
regardless of instrumentality. Whether it is enacted by humans or through
the automation of machines would not seem to change anything about language
and writing.

This raises the question whether poetics has always been digital? In the
process of automating writing, and re-defining the technology of what it is
to be human, the outcome has not been the invention of the computer but a
new apprehension of and relationship with language. If so, then the work of
YHCHI is as poetically digital as Mez¹s work is digitally poetic.



Simon Biggs
Research Professor
edinburgh college of art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk

simon at littlepig.org.uk
AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk

Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201

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