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

Margaret J Rhee mrhee at uoregon.edu
Sat May 6 03:47:26 AEST 2017

Hi Alan, Susan, and all,

this is very generative, and excited for this thread of thinking, and 
hope we continue it. When Renate kindly asked me to curate this month of 
empyre, she asked to organize a discussion around Radio Heart. While 
there are formal experimentalism within the poems, the collection is a 
traditional chapbook format, and the full length collection will be 
published this Fall by The Operating System, a very neat experimental 
publishing house based out of Brooklyn and lead by Lynne 

I also work in electronic literature, my piece The Kimchi Poetry Machine 
included in ELO3, and currently I'm working on new electronic literature 
work MOSAIC, which is drawn from a social practice workshop at the 
University of Wisconsin when I was invited as the keynote artist for the 
Midwest Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference earlier this year.

The piece, was invited to be published? exhibited? placed? (other 
questions to consider with new media poetics) at the Cream City Review's 
very neat section of E-Lit, I/O, with pieces by artists mentioned here, 
Nick Montforth etc.: http://uwm.edu/creamcityreview/io/

I write this post because I think my concerns around robot poetics in 
terms of E-Lit, include concerns raised here such as digital and analog 
engagement, physical textures, haptic, participation, and poetics... 
while my concerns on robot poetry on the page, and as books, include 
formal questions around the canon yes, but also enjambments, senses, 
structure, narrative, lyric etc.

Most of the participants will be talking across these divides, and while 
not to adhere to strict distinctions, I wonder if it may be productive 
to tease out these lines of differences?

I find these examples fascinating, and appreciate this description:

"All of this work has been documented (there were hundreds of thousands
of groups by the way); the group mores, activities, codes, codework,
etc. were amazingly creative; things ranged from bots to texts to
messing with the software itself to poetries and poetics; there were
also cross- postings etc."

I want then to also push our thinking of poetics or robopoetics down to 
bits, and the non tangible engagement and interaction as poetics? As 
someone developing my practice, I consider the social practice part (the 
access and how it happens) of electronic literature/new media art as 

This being said, I think often that questions of cannon and genre shapes 
"traditional" poetry, "robot poetry," as it is not typically accepted in 
mainstream literary venues, it is oftentimes considered within the genre 
of science fiction poetry. At the same time, I wonder how technological 
access limits participation within e-literature from marginalized groups 
around class, race, gender, etc.

On 2017-05-04 05:00, Alan Sondheim wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi, some thoughts on the topic - and thanks, SUSAN! -
> Like many others on empyre, I've been following this discussion with
> interest. I want to point out that digital poetics in any form is part
> of a field, and at least for me, both canon and genre obstruct our
> view and thinking. So here are a number of counter-examples; these are
> legion.
> Newsgroups: News groups were incredibly creative, both passively and
> actively in their audiences and participants. In 1996 for example,
> there was a group alt.adjective.noun.verb.verb.verb; in order to post,
> one had to present one's writing in this format. The FAQ is at
> http://www.faqs.org/faqs/verb-verb-verb/ . The FAQ begins:
> alt.wonderful.aanvvv.introduce.present.demystify
> alt.new.readers.welcome.welcome.welcome!
> alt.updated.faq.proffer.offer.enlighten
> alt.personal.copies.get.obtain.read
> alt.responsible.<robert at astro.su.se>.email.request.send
> alt.delay-free.posting.note.impress.chuff
> (1) alt.curious.format.originate.begin.enquire?
> alt.other.newsgroups.name.name.dub
> alt.single.example.present.present.present:
> 'alt.beneficent.daemons.bless.curse.bless'
> alt.revered.original.persists.thrives.name
> 'alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork':
> (alt.venerable.Jeff-Vogel.invented.created.newgrouped
> alt.local.distribution.failed.escaped.spread
> alt.amused.Vogel.watched.chuckled.laughed
> alt.lasting.fame.enjoys.enjoys.enjoys)
> There were groups such as alt.society.neutopia that led to FAQs in the
> form of "Neutopian FAQ-like Substance" - see
> https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.society.neutopia/jDzEAs_fVlA
> which is part of a complex pseudo-religious mythology written across
> list posts and groupings.
> There were newsgroups you couldn't post in, unless you literally could
> hack your way into them; in other words, you had to engage the groups
> on the level of protocol in order to access.
> All of this work has been documented (there were hundreds of thousands
> of groups by the way); the group mores, activities, codes, codework,
> etc. were amazingly creative; things ranged from bots to texts to
> messing with the software itself to poetries and poetics; there were
> also cross- postings etc.
> IRC - Internet Relay Chat - was an excellent platform based on UDP
> (which created netsplits that could be used for poetics as well);
> again the creativity was amazing. But the creativity here rolled
> across your screen at highspeed; it wasn't archived, but was always on
> the fly. You could do (and I did) intrusions into various channels and
> record them of course; in a sense you creative a kind of running
> interference within the social body of the channel (or you open up
> your own channel) that could lead to amazing imminent results.
> Zen-like, most of what occurred lived only on the edge of memory. IRC
> still works. Much of what went on was sexual, but there was also a
> great deal of 'hackerese' at work as if Mez were speaking at high
> speed.
> Speaking of which, there was Integer/Antiorp/Netochka Nezvanova - see
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netochka_Nezvanova_(author) for more
> information; she/they should be at the top of anyone's list here.
> Florian Cramer created a perl program I've (and others) have used
> based on her leet - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet ; we should all
> know about this (Sandy Baldwin has written on it).
> There were and still are, mostly unused, MOOs, MUDs, talkers, and
> other live forms of programmable environments; I (and others) haven
> written into these, creating spaces for conversation/building/botting,
> etc. You can find a lot of information on Wikipedia. These relate to
> scripting in virtual worlds - and scripting itself becomes a kind of
> ro/botics; Second Life objects can perform, spew texts, etc.; Garrett
> Lynch had a program which allows live conversation to be mapped onto
> objects.
> EMACs, the linux text editor, has one of the earliest implementations
> of the Eliza bot program; it's not all that difficult to go into the
> lisp code and modify Eliza to do just about anything - literatures
> emerge and others can create within the framework.
> It's also easy to go into interactive fiction such as Adventure itself
> - see https://nickm.com/twisty/ for Nick Montfort's book - and modify
> the fiction in any number of ways. The programming has some
> interesting philosophical implications (check out the dungeons for
> example).
> Again, I want to stress, that all of this has been used by, creative
> by, described by, etc. by, people who for the most part are
> _non-canonic,_ _genre-bending,_ etc. etc. So when we go back over and
> over again to the canon, we do a disservice to the fact that we're
> dealing with field phenomena, not stars and particular work. We need
> in other words something like a literary field theory, not the usual
> classical physics with its emphasis on well-defined particulate
> mechanisms.
> To continue - there's also griefing in virtual worlds; my favorite in
> Second Life is a 'magic pencil' that, as its moved through space,
> leaves behind a trail of objects (all of which is programmable of
> course, including the objects); make a big enough 'structure,' and
> you're going to bring the sim to a halt as the number of generated
> prims goes sky-high. The result is astonishing.
> There are somatic aspects to all of this as well; you might design a
> bot for example to imitate Emily Dickinson on one or another level -
> but she was a mind and body writing, and that connects her poetry in
> an imminent way to the poetics of chant, speech, song, phenomenology
> of meaning, flesh, tissue, neuron, habitus, etc. I'd argue it's that
> which gives it meaning - which brings up Wikileaks etc. - because
> hacking is, in a way, an inversion of the body - a poetics of
> penetration from the outside (I don't necessarily mean this in any
> sense as a sexual metaphor btw) - an inverted bot retrieving its
> dictionary and semantics to the surface. I argue this should be
> included in any course on robopoetics, digital poetics, etc. (As
> should the rules, written and unwritten, for Facebook and other social
> media - rules which shape, censor, expand dialog and so forth.)
> Along with this, I'd bring issues of email lists themselves, with
> their trolls, fabrications, splits, coalescences, etc.; the best
> accounting I've seen in Jon Marshall's Living on Cybermind,
> https://www.amazon.com/Living-Cybermind-Categories-Communication-Epistemologies/dp/082049514X
> , which is an ethnographic description of an email list started (still
> running) in 1994 by Michael Current and myself; he died shortly after
> the list was launched, and the book covers that, as well as trolling
> by a number of people/groups. Again, there are somatic issues at work
> here.
> Finally, from my viewpoint, there's a general field of codework -
> which can I think be traced back to 19th-century telegraph operators,
> and their codings/decodings, subversions during spare-time at the
> keys. A lot has been written about this of course.
> A lot has been written about all of this; the amount of information is
> overwhelming - just take, for example LambdaMOO,
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LambdaMOO - which would need a course by
> itself just to cover the basics and history.
> The problem is that all of the above goes way back (I've known people
> who were hacking online around 1972 for example); the practices are
> fields of practice, the audiences are dispersed, and, for me, the very
> use of genre and canon as a viable pedagogical approach is
> problematic. There has to be another way to deal with all of this,
> without going through the usual star system. It's interesting that
> Furtherfield/Netbehaviour - in their approach to blockchain work for
> example - seems, to me, broad in this sense.
> And I do want to emphasize I'm not writing about the 'good old days'
> but about a revolution of writing/speaking/somatic approaches itself.
> First, thinking about fields creates a whole different kind of
> approach (reminds me of Dwarf Fortress for example); and second,
> pretty much all of the above continues today in one or another form;
> these formats haven't gone away.
> (I do realize I'm just touching the surface here; that most empyreans
> already know this, etc.; I'm just trying to think, for myself at
> least, across object-lessons into waves and shape-riding, where the
> shapes themselves are riders.)
> Thanks for your patience, Alan
> _______________________________________________
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Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.

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

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