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

Thu May 4 04:42:36 AEST 2017

I would like to add my thanks for the sharing of resources! Babak, yes, poetry apps and poetic games both evoke and challenge the postmodern truism of reader participation in fascinating ways. Alan and Michael, thank you for adding to the second sources list, especially New Directions in Digital Poetry, Writing Under, and Internet Unconscious. I also find very useful Marjorie Perloff's "Screening the Page / Paging the Screen," especially in the discussion of "differential texts" --"texts that exist in different material forms, with no single version being the definitive one." Nick Montfort's writings have been go-to pieces whenever I assign e-literature, and I would like to try teaching longer selections or the entirety of his #!, which again raises basic questions of what constitutes the poem (as Craig Dworkin suggests, familiar questions in Conceptual poetry as well) and what it means to read or run that poetic text/program. But also for MFA students, how does this change ideas of the poetic series or book manuscript?

In my intro to poetry class, I also try to pair texts like "Song of Myself" with excerpts from Automaton Biographies. I send my students to the Whale Cloth press website that generously makes available Robert Grenier's Sentences, asking them to discuss the differences when they explore the original 500 index cards in the blue ivory box from Special Collections at our library--how the material experience, forms of access, and participatory aspects change with each of these versions--what it means, for instance, when the website chooses the card order. 

And yes, Radio Heart is very accessible from a number of pedagogical approaches, interrogating constructions of sexual identity as well as gender and race. A queer theory reading of "This Is How You Make Love to a Robot" would be terrific. I also like the emphasis on obsolescent technology; reminds me of Wershler's argument, paraphrasing Julian Stallabrass, that only when a technology is obsolete or junked do we see its system most clearly and how that system's constraints shaped us. Thanks for the recommendation of the Parker's poem; I had enjoyed her first book, Other People's Comfort but didn't know about robo-Beyonce.   

Margaret, the idea of "patron robot artists and poets" sounds great; how did that work in practice? Did students just research a particular sci-fi poet/artist, or did they get in touch with that person directly? It's exciting how much sci fi and speculative poetry has exploded in the past two decades alone.

As for the question of bio poetry, I usually teach a bio poetry unit at the end of a poetry survey course to extend ongoing discussions about the nature of poetic text and poetic vehicle, issues of a fixed versus mutable poem, and techno-poetry. Eduardo Kac has always been very involved in "telepresence," robotic devices, and new media poetry (his reissued anthology is now titled simply Media Poetry). Christian Bok's corpus, too, has consistently explored meetings of poetry, science, and speculative fiction from Crystallography to the Xenotext. Their biopoetry also raises issues of what a "nonhuman" poetics might look like more generally.


From: Margaret J Rhee [mrhee at uoregon.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:00 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] What is robot poetics? How/why should we teach it?

Hi Susan and all,

Thanks for your responses, and I love this exciting list of works that
Susan offers, alongside others! Many thanks to Davin, Babak, and Murat
for your sharing of poetics, and resources. I'm interested in discussing
further, the emphasis on form/interface as (robopoetics) and cinema. I
also loved teaching Larissa Lai's Automaton Biographies, and it does
pair splendidly with Blade Runner! Brian Kim Stefan's work is always
exciting and generative to me, along with other writing on Electronic
Poetry, such as New Media Poetics etc.

I am also interested in whether you can speak to your work on Eduardo
Kac, and the bio in robo? That intersection is very exciting to me, and
enjoyed engaged with your writing on Kac.

In terms of cinema, I taught a Fembot in Cinema course twice, and while
I didn't include a lot of poetry, students were assigned patron robot
artists and poets. The films we watched, Metropolis, Her, Ex-Machina,
and Blade Runner, all embodied a poetics, but different of course, from
poetry. So Im interested in what is similiar or different in terms of
pedagogy when teaching this work.

What struck me was the literature courses I taught on robots, and the
cinema courses both had a kind of excitement, not only from me, but from
the students. Also a sensibility for those interested in robot poetics..

I think perhaps then, perhaps the science fictional must enter the
conversation, and the pedagogical possibilities of SF when introduced
into the classroom. By nature, robots seem to open up another dimension
of learning for students, to think beyond the binary constructions of
identity, which to me, feel pedagogically purposeful. Perhaps also to
think about the future. It's something I've observed in these courses of
primarily literature, and the other cinema.

I also wonder, is there something particular about robots within poetry?
Perhaps it goes back to thinking of the genre of science fiction poetry?
And how do we tease out electronic literature, as certainly machine
poetics, but may not include robots? I think about the Young Hae Change
Heavy Industries:



Certainly electronic literature, and new media art, but may not include
robots? It is interesting to think of the grounding work that should
happen to help students prepare when encountering electronic
literature/new media art, and poetry of robots, or robopoetics...

I wonder if we think about the grounding work one often does to prepare
students in their engagement with these "texts," or not?

"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 also love that you, bring up "Many Moons," and how Monae utilizes the
cyborg in powerful ways around Black racialization and subjectivity,
which leads us into thinking about gender too.


It leads me into thinking about the pedagogical interventions of
teaching about robots, in the context of civil rights and equality. Do
others find this a generative pedagogical intervention as well? Also,
for those actively creating, another question: when was your first time
writing forms of robopoetics, how did it happen?



On 2017-05-02 12:20, VANDERBORG, SUSAN VANDERBORG wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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...
> Best,
> -Susan
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.

Visiting Assistant Professor
Women's and Gender Studies
University of Oregon

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