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

Sunny Xiang sunnyyxiang at gmail.com
Thu May 4 09:23:54 AEST 2017


As someone who feels far afield from either robots or poetry per se
but who is completely won over by this notion of "robopoetics" (among
other notions that've come up), let me first give my word of thanks
for how much I've learned from you already. I work in narrative,
which, far more so than poetry, has been entrenched in liberal
humanist and anthropomorphic discourses. Which, in the classroom,
means that I'm always working to help my students disarticulate their
values from empathy, voice, la di da. To continue thinking on
Margaret's notion of defying categorization, I'm wondering why and how
poetry (which for most English departments is perhaps the most
categorical and hidebound genre) holds pride of place in expressing a
kind of fugitive robotic ethos. I'm especially curious how the
visuality of, say, film (where we find the fembots of the cultural
imaginary) intersects with the robopoetic.

My own teaching (and research) is more oriented toward the anti-human
than the robotic per se. So I'm glad that Susan and others have
brought "bio poetry" into play -- where, it seems, bio- could
articulate itself in the graphic register of bio-graphy or poses the
species question of bio-logy. I recently taught Bhanu Kapil's
Humanimal alongside Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, which was a way
of helping my students think together human, animal, and machine. Our
conversations ended up landing on a few things that may be pertinent
here:

One was how non-linguistic expression work on and against
literature/literacy and how we must now ask another question than "Can
the Subaltern Speak?" (which we'd read at the beginning of the
course). Perhaps in relation to poetry, I'm wondering how Ian Bogost's
understanding of lists (the Latour litany) as
anti-humanist/anti-hermeneutic gestures (a "bestiary" of
incommensurable "things") might work against the desire for
expressivity. (create your own Latour Litany here:
http://bogost.com/writing/blog/latour_litanizer/)

Our class also contemplated how to bring nonhuman bodies to bear on
race and gender, specifically in relation to corporeality. I'm
intrigued by Anne Cheng's work on racial skin and surfaces, which
explode the demarcations of the body's boundaries altogether and, at
times, suggests that there may not in fact be a body. There's also
something like a techno-body in how Krista Thompson conceives of
"shine" as a way that the black body both registers and resists
technological capture via videography. Somewhat related to Margaret's
Radio Heart, I'd like to forward the questions of touch, intimacy, and
reciprocity/responsiveness. I've been thinking about touch screens
lately, buttons that offer vibrational responses, and am curious about
other ways, both mundane and extraordinary, that structure our
techno-intimacies.

On Wed, May 3, 2017 at 2:42 PM, VANDERBORG, SUSAN VANDERBORG
<SJVANDER at mailbox.sc.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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.
>
>
> -Susan
>
> ________________________________________
> From: Margaret J Rhee [mrhee at uoregon.edu]
> Sent: Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:00 PM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Cc: VANDERBORG, SUSAN VANDERBORG
> 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:
>
> http://www.yhchang.com/THE_STRUGGLE_DANCE_VERSION.html
>
> http://www.yhchang.com/CUNNILINGUS_IN_NORTH_KOREA.html
>
> 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.
>
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHgbzNHVg0c
>
> 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?
>
> best,
>
> Margaret
>
> 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
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu


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