[-empyre-] Towards [no] theory of digital poetics

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Sun Mar 15 14:55:22 EST 2009

> Message: 6
> Date: Sat, 14 Mar 2009 09:45:06 -0400
> From: Juan Gutierrez <jgutierrez at caviiar.org>
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Towards a theory of digital poetics [Re:
> 	empyre	Digest, Vol 52, Issue 10 (fwd)]
> To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
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> 	<e571c28c0903140645u2deb0250x9b986da6631f29c6 at mail.gmail.com>
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> 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).

Alan: Only if essence itself exists and is applicable to poetics - which I
doubt. Even your stone example has to be qualified (i.e. "unless it is" -
and this "unless" can be indefinitely extended - what if the stone is
virtual, what if it's illuminated by a lamp, what if it is a lamp, etc.
etc.) Your saying the essence exists doesn't make it so; look at Wittgen-
stein on games as a counterexample - the word is used conventionally in
numerous ways/occasions without essence but with conceivably overlapping 
families of usages...
> The quest for a theory of digital poetics is well founded and much needed.

Alan: The quest is well-founded? What makes it so? Why is it needed?

> We see at every event of electronic literature that the experts of the field
> are still asking what the object of study is.

Alan: Who is an expert? I've published extensively on electronic 
literature - does that make me an expert? (I can send you a bibliography 
here.) I don't think there are experts - I don't think there is a field.I 
think there are collocations of usages, that's all, and that what you call 
a field, experts, poetics, etc. is much more anarchic than you give credit 
for. (For that matter, there is no "is" re: "is" much more anarchic.)

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?

Alan: One can say this of course about economics as well.

> This is not trivial, and even the best minds have been
> tricked.

Alan: What is a "best mind" and howso "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.

Alan: No, I don't remember that, but then I read newsgroups, say, as 
digital literature, and that far outweighted quantitively the critique of 
the same. And I don't see "unfulfilled promises" for that matter - people 
use hypertext when they want for whatever literary or other purpose, and 
that's about it. I don't see any notion of "dictating the future of the 
field" anywhere except maybe in someone's misguided attempt to turn hyper- 
text or whatever into a necessary steering mechanism for future e-lit or 
whatever. I think this must be resisted. More recently, e-lit has been 
defined as requiring a computer and/or requiring interaction and/or 
requiring software or programming and/or requiring protocols, whatever - 
again I think these things must be resisted. I hate the academicism that 
these sorts of things imply - drawing with a scalpel what should be a 
welcome invitation to wonder.
> 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
> class.

Alan: Why are these dangers? I think there's no class at all. I'm not even 
sure we have to "try to understand what digital poetics is"? - Does that 
help us appreciate e-literature or literature in any way? If, as I 
believe, digital poetics is a collocations, there's no "is" involved at 
all - and given the enormous variety of cultures, protocols, media, 
energies, histories, languages, instantiations, networks, inscriptions, 
interactions, etc. existing - I doubt there ever will be.

Thanks for the discussion -


> Regards,
> Juan
> -- 
> Juan B. Gutierrez
> Research Fellow
> +1.850.459.4274

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