[-empyre-] Towards a theory of digital poetics [Re: empyre Digest, Vol 52, Issue 10 (fwd)]

Juan Gutierrez jgutierrez at caviiar.org
Sun Mar 15 00:45:06 EST 2009

Alan says: «poetics need not have any essence whatsoever»

The essence of poetics exists; even if can only reduce it to existence, i.e.
presence and absence. It is easier to use negative definitions, but it is
clear that at some point a construct is poetic and at some point it is not.
For instance, a stone randomly found in a riverbed is not poetic; however,
the speech of a person about the stone could be. If we plug the stone to an
electric outlet, so that electrons flow (albeit slowly) and we write the
letters "STONE" on it, this does not make of it a piece of electronic
literature even though electrons and letters are involved  (unless it is
accompanied by an author's statement, in which case the statement, not the
object would be the piece of interest).

The quest for a theory of digital poetics is well founded and much needed.
We see at every event of electronic literature that the experts of the field
are still asking what the object of study is. Looking into the past,
categories of human craftsmanship (including literature and art) are social
constructs that reveal themselves though tradition and history. The
underlying question becomes: Can we gain perspective about ourselves ahead
of our demise? This is not trivial, and even the best minds have been
tricked. Look what happened with the early development of hypertext and the
constellation of unfulfilled promises. There were prospective attempts
--mostly failed-- to grasp the poetics of electronic literature and dictate
the future of the field. Do you remember in the recent past when there were
more critique pieces than creative works? We can look back now and decide
what was overstretched and what was right on target.

The point is that heavy theoretical apparatuses developed for traditional
forms are insufficient to grasp all dimensions of digital media. Therefore,
we need to develop new concepts to try to understand what digital poetics is
(or at the very least what is not). The most evident present dangers are
absolute relativism and the natural inclination to take the instance for the

Juan B. Gutierrez
Research Fellow

On Sat, Mar 14, 2009 at 2:19 AM, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote:

> From: "Juan B. Gutierrez" <jgutierrez at caviiar.org>
> In response to the very provocative discussion about digital poetics:
> We do not need to define what Poetics is. Aristotle failed I his
> Poetics. Berthold Brecht failed in his Little Organon for the Theatre.
> All others --who are in between-- also failed. Simon defined poetics as
> "the creative practice of association". That is, a process with multiple
> outcomes; it is thus irrelevant to try to define poetics as a function
> of what is poetic. In that respect both Simon (definition as process)
> and Alan (impossibility of "poetics is") are correct.
> The problem becomes a little bit hairy with the suggestion of comparing
> the experience of language (Meme) to a Turing system. While compelling
> in principle, the analogy does not survive close inspection. The concept
> of the Meme has to do with human language. Turing computational theory
> has to do with computational language. Both languages are conventional,
> but while Turing language is formal, human language is not. This
> deserves further explanation: human language is comprised of a set of
> conventional signs, i.e. signs that are understood by all parties,
> including bodily language, sounds, symbols, etc. A Turing machine also
> requires a set of conventions so that a machine can interpret a specific
> sequence. They are different, however, in that a Turing machine cannot
> deviate from the rules set by the sequence of symbols, while human
> machines can (and often do) deviate from formalities.
> Alan: I've always found the "meme" concept somewhat sloppy; it quickly
> becomes reified as if it were a well-defined token. A Turing machine
> might break down and return anomalous reading - in other words, error is
> exact. This doesn't apply to the meme concept.
> A possible analogy between computation and the Meme is the distinction,
> in German idealism terms, between knowledge and belief. The classic
> example is Kant, whom tried to express the conditions for knowledge in
> his Critique of Pure Reason (what we *know* and how we know it, e.g. the
> temperature of the room), and the conditions for beliefs in his Critique
> of Practical Reason (we cannot *know* a god, but we can choose to
> believe in it). In this analogy, a Turing machine corresponds to the
> pure reason, and human language to the practical reason. That is to say,
> human language depends on non-formal choice, while Turing machines have
> no choice at all. Where does it leave us? Well, the vomitrocius
> dialectic of a person is another person's literary treasure, i.e. it is
> a matter of opinion.
> Alan: It depends on how "practical reason" is defined - I tend to
> associate it with Piagetian analysis (and Piaget's mathematics for that
> matter). Practical reason and language need have no relationship to each
> other whatsoever.
> The automated production of a machine is not poetic if there is no
> intentionality? this is precisely the window of opportunity to define
> digital poetics. Recently I went to an illuminating art exhibition. A
> piece was in the center of the room. It was a sturdy and ordinary wood
> base for cargo storage painted in white? or so it seemed. The tag read
> "No Title". I succumbed to the temptation of garbage art: "These modern
> artists think they can get way with anything, this is outrageous, I can
> do it too, and worse which is better? etc." Then I read the fine print:
> "Bone China". Suddenly, this piece became a masterpiece. How was it
> possible? Bone china is the most delicate material to work with. How
> could this artist create such perfect texture? But? was it really bone
> china? Verification would mean destruction of the piece. I smiled. I
> noticed that other people were looking at me. At that moment is when I
> realized that the artist was a genius. The piece was an installation,
> and the performer was the public. I stepped aside, and became a
> spectator for the next victim. And I saw her, the artist. She was
> looking at those of us who were looking at the onlookers. We were her
> secondary installation. In a second of distraction I dreamed that if we
> plugged that piece into an electric outlet, this could perfectly be a
> piece of electronic literature. What differentiates this piece from any
> object thrown into an exhibit with the bombastic claim "this is art"?
> Intentionality is the essence of poetics, along with directionality and
> craftsmanship. That is why there cannot be such thing as machine art, or
> art "found" in nature.
> Alan: I love your description here; I do question intentionality. As has
> been pointed out, I can walk around and declare anything is art or poetics
> - there's a fallacy here which is fairly complex. I also think, getting
> back to the above, that poetics need not have any essence whatsoever.
> Kind regards,
> Juan
> --
> Juan B. Gutierrez
> Research Fellow
> +1.850.459.4274
> From: "Simon Biggs" <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk>
> I am arguing that all language, being a discrete system, is effectively
> digital, using an expanded definition of language here, including all human
> languages as well as other phenomena.
> I am not employing the word digital here limited to its use in computing
> but
> in the sense that any discrete system or phenomena can be described as
> digital.
> Alan: I doubt that human language is discrete in this sense; it's
> problematic whether one can even isolate syntactic units. A good example
> might be cuneiform and its apparent limited number of strokes; beyond
> that, pretty much everything is up for grabs and somewhat irregular. If
> you talk about "effectively digital" and you want to expand it, then
> you're effacing the very nature of the digital, that is binary outcomes
> within classical information matrices - and it's this (what someone calls
> "updating" here) that deeply distinguishes human language from the
> digital. On a related matter, I'm not even sure what "discrete" means -
> once one is beyond thinking about potential wells.
> The question remains whether it is possible to signify without or beyond or
> prior to language. It is unclear if this is possible, but there are
> certainly cases where it is unclear where the significatory origin of an
> event lies. There is probable value in taking a relational approach to
> this,
> considering all signification to be a function of the relationships between
> things and that meaning cannot arise where there are no relationships (can
> anything be situated without a set of relationships?). These relationships
> (which may themselves be divisible) are discrete (this is probably a
> tautology) and so are functionally digital systems. Similarly, poetics
> indicate the dynamics of these relationships. Poetry is a very specific
> case
> which I am not addressing here.
> Alan: Kristeva has a lot to say here; I think the chora is implicated in
> non-linguistic or pre-linguistic phenomena.
> .....
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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