[-empyre-] What is robot poetics? How/why should we teach it?

Wed May 3 05:20:33 AEST 2017

A definition is challenging! Terms such as robot poetry, cyborg poetry, or machine writing might potentially include a huge variety of poetic practices: speculative poems about robots, poetic alterations or palimpsests from texts in robotics, code poetry, hypertext poetry, poetry produced via search engines (such as Darren Wershler and Bill Kennedy's apostrophe) and other digital poetry experiments. Poems using email or tweets. Poems that reenvision collaboration between programmers and poets.

There is already a rich scholarly tradition for many of these robopoetics--Fashionable Noise, New Media Poetics, Digital Poetics, Prehistoric Digital Poetry, and Hayles's Electronic Literature and Writing Machines, and essays by John Cayley, Talan Memmott, Stephanie Strickland, Ian Hatcher, Florian Cramer, Matt Applegate, Steve Tomasula, and others, invaluable for teaching digital, code, and machine poetics in a special topics seminar I'd like to propose. Matthew Kirschenbaum's thoughtful "Machine Visions" details texts whose styles truly enact Haraway's idea of cyborg writing; Gregory Betts, too, discusses cyborg poetics in his article "I Object," and Christian Bok's "The Piecemeal Bard Is Deconstructed" traces "robopoetics" to its roots in RACTER algorithms.

Increasingly, robopoetics doesn't only reflect a world saturated with technology but a forum where print and digital cultures interact productively. In "Noise in the Channel," Wershler talks about prose-poetic print books, including Drucker’s The Word Made Flesh, whose page layouts anticipate digital formats. Writing Machines also juxtaposes experimental artists' books and digital poetry.

I've enjoyed teaching texts from Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl to Brian Kim Stefans's The Dreamlife of Letters and Jason Nelson's Game Game Game and Again Game in grad and undergrad poetry or postmodernism classes; they raise provocative discussions about what constitutes a book or a poetic collage. But I've taught robopoetics most frequently in an undergrad literature survey class called "American Cyborgs." Larissa Lai's "rachel" poems in Automaton Biographies pair magnificently with both Blade Runner and Haraway, Susan Slaviero's "Consider the Dangers of Reconstructing Your Wife as a Cyborg" humorously (and menacingly) complements our cyborgs and gender unit, and Margaret Rhee's ": Trace" from Radio Heart introduces "Race," in the title's wordplay, as a social construction already-already present even when it hasn't been "programmed yet." The "robot" in her book's subtitle pays homage to Asimov stories in which robotic identity is linked to race and discrimination such as "Bicentennial Man" and "Segregationist." And there is the short film for the lyrics of "Many Moons,'" set amid an updated slave auction, where Janelle Monae presses a button at her neck to change the skin color of her android character. Studying robot poetics and robot subjectivity becomes a way of talking about fights for civil rights, human rights--and the interpretation of documents from the Declaration of Independence to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I'm very eager to hear how others in the forum have taught any form of robopoetics, and in what contexts, or with what results...

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