[-empyre-] Towards (noh) theory of digital poetics

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Mar 17 15:44:34 EST 2009

> From: davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Towards [no] theory of digital poetics
> In response to Alan and Juan's exchange:
> Criticism does accomplish a number of things...
> 1) For artists, the work of critics can provide challenges to work
> against or models to strive for.  Whether or not they are "valid,"
> some of these strange critical flourishes are useful, especially if
> treated as axioms (to touch on what Jim pointed out).
there are no "valid" or "invalid" criticisms - this is a matter of 
convention. as far as I know there are no verification procedures
in critique vis-a-vis literature and the arts

> 2) Criticism, while it does weigh down the work of art, serves a
> practical purpose for the field in the sense that it is a sign of an
> engaged readership, willing to take works into serious consideration
> (and have really long-running debates about all the old literary
> questions as well as some new ones.)
yes. art, artworks, artworlds, are discursive formations - the ontology is 


> 4) Criticism maintains the literary framework.  I'm sure a lot of
> people don't like this idea.  But I think it is important to have this
> category of things called "Literature" which we can use to sequester
> an object for a particular set of operations and diagnostics.  It
> doesn't have to stay in this simulated environment forever, but for a
> period of time it lets people explore a particular object of desire
> through a filter, or genre of cognition.  It's like taking your
> partner to the fantasy suites for the weekend, and see what it would
> be like if we were pirates.  Except in this case, we are playing at
> reading literature.
why not just play at reading? why not learn reading, writing, breathing? 
as soon as "literature" comes into play, genre and canon aren't far 
behind, as your phrase "literary framework" suggests. I'm more than wary 
of this - it's precisely this framework that excluded, say, Chaucer for so 
long - just to take a classical example. and who did the canon exclude in 
Greek/Latin literature? some of the most interesting writers - Ausonius, 
Diogenes Laertius, Lucan, for examples. it strangled and continues to 

> Having said all that, I do wonder about the role of artist as
> theorist, and theorist as artist.  Philosophy tends to be obsessed
> with trying to nail down definitions of things, while also professing
> a certain amount of skepticism about those ideas that you are
> personally attached to.

this is only one field (so to speak) of philosophy.

> Art, on the other hand, seems to be about
> actualizing some idea that is put forward by the artist, while being
> disloyal to the formal restrictions placed around art.

same. beyond it being a discursive field - I couldn't go farther. this 
might be true for Hokusai for example, but I would think of it in 
relation, say, to Susan Rothenberg.

> (Although
> there are "theories" which really seem like art, and there is "art"
> that is really just a theory.)

only if you have restricted definitions of both.

> So, theory and practice lack each
> other.  Which doesn't mean that they are separate, rather they are in
> dynamic tension, and that it is a singular moment when the point of
> synthesis comes, is recognized, achieved, passes, or however you'd
> want to describe that moment.  And, that moment is probably going to
> be one of those sublime, uncanny things, that is as familiar as it is
> estranging.

theory _is_ practic is praxis, for example Art and Language, Victor 
Burgin, some of Vito Acconci, for that matter some of my own work; you're 
overlooking the performative aspects of theoretical language I think.

> To look on the bright side.  I have read a great deal of criticism,
> both professional and amateur, on Frankenstein.  I make my students
> write a paper on it every other year.  (I have probably read the book
> 12-14 times).  But each time I read, no matter how much criticism I
> carry around in my head, it always has something new for me.  And, I'm
> quite certain that without all that criticism, I probably wouldn't
> keep reading it.

I love Frankenstein, haven't read it as much as you can, but perhaps to my 
detriment have avoided criticism in favor of auto/biography related to the 
Shelleys, circumstances of production, etc. I haven't taught it, but I've 
taught Gulliver's Travels, another favorite of mine, and I've tended to 
bypass critical writing. I know what this opens me up to, but there are 
other approaches - looking at GT through Kristeva for example...

Thanks, Alan
Please let me know if I'm out of place replying to this extent. Thanks

> Peace!
> Davin
> ------------------------------

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