[-empyre-] Subject: Towards a theory of digital poetics (in process

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Mar 9 12:32:10 EST 2009

[Thanks for this, Simon! - Alan, comments below]

Message: 2
Date: Sun, 08 Mar 2009 16:04:32 +0000
From: "Simon Biggs" <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>
Subject: [-empyre-] Towards a theory of digital poetics (in process
 	and open	to debate - in the bar)
To: <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
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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. Dawkin?s concept of the Meme could be considered a theory of

Turing?s original conception of computation did not involve a computer as we
understand it (a box of electronics). Turing?s early attempts at creating a
computational system, derived from G?del'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 Turing?s 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 Dawkin?s concept of
the Meme and Turing?s 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 Turing?s model of writing it is the
computer that is instrumental, in Dawkin?s the human).

It could be argued that these are actually the same system (writing) in
different modalities. Dawkin?s 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).

[a.s. the meme concept seems somewhat arbitrary to me and a meme itself, 
if such indeed exists. Turing was concerned with exactitude and a strictly 
formal logic; whether or not paper or pencil used wasn't important to the 
model. the fact that both involve the dynamic processing and modification 
of symbols doesn't make them equivalent, even in different modalities. but 
i amy be quibbling here.]

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.

[I find it problematic to say that "poetics is" {x} when, at lest for some 
of us, any definition is always under erasure. we could argue poetics and 
"its" definition for ages; this, like any other, seems somewhat 

Digital poetics is that creative form of poetics that engages, in a profound
manner, the implications of Turing?s 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. Turing?s 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?

[what is the difference between this practice and that of any 

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 it?s own means of modification. It depends on the
interpretation by a human to become modified - little different to a
conventional poem.

[i don't understand this. YCHI seems as open as mez to me. mez modifies by 
writing, as does YCHI; both creates fiels of interpretation; YCHI garners 
a stricter temporality. Rosenberg is another matter altogether since his 
production is related to the intimacies of the software, and one might 
imagine a technoligical intervention into his work.]

However, as has already been argued, it is not in the instrumentality of the
system that the system?s 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.

[can you elaborate on this? is birdsong then writing because it's 
recursive (in starlings) and has the capacity to rewrite even within its 
phrasing? on the other hand, what about the relative permanency of 
cuneiform tablets?]

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 Mez?s work is digitally poetic.

[it depends on what you mean by digital. if you're referencing the turing 
machine or the implicit restrictiveness of any collection of symbols 
within a symbolic system, i'd agree with you to the extent that any 
writing/inscription is a priori in a problematic (sorry for the word 
again) relationship to the digital vis-a-vis the symbolic or indexical; on 
the other hand, i find poetics is "im/precisely" that which _escapes_ the 
digital, which opens on to ...]



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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