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

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Mar 18 01:31:41 EST 2009

Personally, I prefer detailed replies. It's exactly what I need to
open up my thinking.

I do wonder if a canon is such a horrible thing.  In a sense, things
get canonized anyways.  Right now, Amazon is building a canon.  The
New York Times bestseller list is building a canon.  Google is
building a canon.  The canons are based on consumption patterns, which
are easily skewed by PR techniques.  Also, scholars pick and choose
what we teach, and, unfortunately, this is often just based on who is
the "hot" theorist or which subjects are prioritized in current
criticism.  And, while this idea of a poorly formed canon is appealing
to me.  I also think it allows other priorities, unnamed priorities,
to drive the formation of taste.  So, you have canons that are formed
by who can generate better press, how much space there is in the
marketplace, which cultural leaders have embraced it, and whether or
not you can make money off it.

But more importantly, having a canon, knowing what we know about
language and the value of such things, just makes critics more
accountable.    Then you can actually hold someone responsible, if
they write a book and it comes out of U of Chicago Press, and as a
consequence, everybody starts focusing on their idea, and neglecting
something else important, you can point to this as a weakness in our
system of knowledge.  If you are going to make a statement as a
critic, then you have to first admit that you are engaging in power,
and the idea of a canon provides a nice tidy node to hang these
discursive threads so that other people can worship them or curse
them.  It means that people can and should take more care when they
select texts.  I have been fairly happy with the Norton Anthology,
which creates a canon, but then I can also give my students things
that are NOT in the book.  (The ELO Collections also serve this
function).  This usually generates a pretty fantastic discussion about
the canon.  The same with electronic literature, we start with a
definition of literature, but after they look at a few pieces, they
start getting uncomfortable with the definition of literature they
created on the first day of class.  Then, eventually, as they look for
their own works, they get unhappy with my syllabus.

In this way, definitions, especially those which are held in earnest,
can be a really good tool.  They might not be what the artist needs,
but they certainly seem helpful for more general readers.  And, as a
critic, I find them useful--in the same way that Derrida uses
definitions.  You jump off of them, head out into strange territory,
and then circle back.  (I'm just not as smart....  imagine if Derrida
spent a significant portion of his life huffing gas and watching
demolition derbies...  that's about where I am at intellectually.)


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