[-empyre-] Emails and Ephemera: Continuing the Conversation

Margaret J Rhee mrhee at uoregon.edu
Wed May 10 06:57:57 AEST 2017

My apologies, I just came back from an opening of an exhibition I juried 
entitled "Shifting Movements: The Legacy of Yuri Kochiyama" in San 
Francisco, which made my messages delayed, and a bit more hastily 
written then I would like. But emails, as Matias Viegener writes on the 
correspondences between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark, can be "hastily 
written, casual, and often indirect," yet, "map the correspondents 
within their literary, critical, and pop cultural eras," and focuses on 
"questions for each other, and on what they are reading..." The email 
correspondences written from 1995 - 1996 is an incredible archive, a 
"tango of reading, recognition, misreading, and self-recognition," and 
reveals the complexity of email as intellectual and intimate form of 

I'm Very into You: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/im-very-you

Earlier this morning, I was working with the lab (research on poetics & 
equality) I lead here, and I tried to explain to my team of research 
assistants on empyre was, as they will help coordinate the "digital 
readings" of the last week by Machine Dreams Zine contributors. They 
were, at first confused, given that they are used to chatrooms, forums, 
and snapchat. I tried to explain that it was an interesting way to hold 
a discussion based on email, and they seemed to understand and were 
excited to think of a forum based on the other possibilities of email.

I think often about technology, and the ways technology can facilitate 
intellectual, and poetic exchange as well. Drawing from Lauren Berlant's 
work on intimacy, and queer feminist interventions, and on the wonderful 
exchanges between Acker and War, I want to reflect on the texture of 
email and the possibilities.

Transgression, and communication.

This week, I am very pleased our correspondence will include 
participants who embody creative transgression within their roles as 
poets, scholars, roboticist, and programmers. In part, to build upon our 
previous forum on robotic poetics and pedagogy, my collection was formed 
and shaped by my scholarship on robotic art, and poetic questions that 
mutually shaped the poems.

As someone who works as a poet and a scholar, I was blessed to have 
models, and mentors who offered that being both, artist and scholar, is 
possible. As mentioned Ken Goldberg was a formative mentor as a 
roboticist and new media artist, and continues to serve as an 
inspiration. There were other individuals at BCNM that were models and 
embody both artist and scholar included dancer, choreographer, and 
scholar Ashley Ferro Murray, performer and scholar Caitlin Marshall, and 
DJ and scholar Reginold A. Royston, to name a few. It was formative to 
be a graduate student surrounded by individuals who worked through 
creative, critical, and scientific lens.

"Improper Informalities :: Strange Writing :: Eclectic Ties"

Reflecting back, creating space for these explorations were important. 
With Martha Kenney, now professor at SFSU, as graduate students in 2012 
we co-organized Mutated Text, a creative writing workshop for graduate 
students in various fields: 

As a workshop that emerged with Donna Haraway and Karen Barad at UCSC, 
it attracted many graduate students who were interested in transgression 
in their academic writing, and for artists interested in including 
theoretical or research in their work.

When thinking about writing Radio Heart, I was informed by the model of 
the love poem, Pablo Neruda, and Shakespeare's sonnets, as much as 
reading robotics theory and history. Yet, the convergence of both in a 
poem felt challenging or impossible. As mentioned earlier, it was only 
until I met Dmitry, and our shaped conversations on poetry at UC 
Berkeley, that helped make possible the exploration of robots in these 
poems, and bringing my theoretical questions on the robot in larger 
culture and labor, into my poetic questions, and practice.

I am grateful to those that inspire these conversations and 
possibilities. In particular, poets who draw from differing fields like 
Dmitry, and others are greatly formative. As a poet and scholar, Tung 
Hui Hu also informed my emerging practice as a scholar of new media, 
along with my poetic practice, given his writing as a poet and scholar. 
Neil Aitken's poetry on Babbage and his own experience as a programmer 
turned poet, and vice versa, also speaks to the symbiotic relationships 
between the two roles. I should mention Hui Hui served as faculty at 
Kundiman, the national Asian American poetry retreat, Neil is one of the 
early founding fellows, which also sparks questions on Asian American 
and ethnic poetry, and robot poetics.

Perhaps more simply, I am interested in a poetry that is not limited to 
Poetry, and the ability to embody various forms of expressions, even if 
larger institutions or culture, may deem it impossible.

Going back to our quote by WCW raised by Mike, it is interesting to 
think about WCW as a doctor and a poet, and how these various visions of 
our work, and world, help form our poetics, and poetic practice, and 
intellectual and human engagement? Perhaps WCS also asks questions on 
diaspora and ethnicity as well, within American poetry.


The Shifting Movements exhibition in San Francisco continues for the 
month, and for those in the Bay Area, I encourage you to check out a 
gorgeous collection of socially engaged art at SOMArts: 

I also attached a photograph of the exhibition and the social justice 
dance (Dnaga Dance), and art in the space: http://dnaga.org

In another way, I wonder about the role of activism and political 
engagement within new media studies, art and how we can be vigilant 
around these questions of justice.  That perhaps when Martha and I 
co-convened Mutated Text, we were centrally interested in feminism, but 
felt the transgression of new media, STS, and creative writing, (strange 
writing, electric dies) also spoke to the ethos of resistance.



Margaret Rhee, Ph.D.

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