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

Tung-Hui Hu tunghui at gmail.com
Wed May 10 13:36:30 AEST 2017

Hi all,

Thanks to Margaret for inviting me to participate on this forum, which I
feel very humbled by; the collective wisdom here is miles above my head.
I'm a poet and media scholar, working on a new (scholarly) book about
lethargy -- about media art that is passive rather than actively resisting,
doesn't speak out, etc. -- and also, at this moment, finishing up a
manuscript of poetry. I had two off the cuff thoughts in response to
Margaret's email:

First, while flipping through job ads with a friend recently, I was struck
by a position titled, simply, "Creative Writer": the job would be to give
Google's AIs personalities by writing jokes, witticisms, etc. It made me
realize that creative writing and algorithmic capitalism are no longer
particularly separate from each other -- another creative writing grad I
met had a job writing content for Demand Media, the content farm that pays
you $3.50 per web page created to capture trending Google searches. This is
all to say that perhaps the hybrid of programming and poetry is no longer
that unique; more and more of my students do both: maybe 2-3 per class, but
the number is growing. Perhaps it's a chance to ask what happens when
programming is ubiquitous and disposable, to take a page from Ian Bogost.
Maybe we no longer make grand but easy claims about the power of that
hybridity -- challenging paradigms, democratic revolutions, etc. -- but
instead look for more modest claims about what the hybrid can do (as the
art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson suggested about the participatory artwork
Learning to Love You More), as well as keeping a watchful eye on its dreary
effects: e.g. how does it rely on or work with precarity, as the example of
Demand Media might suggest?

Second, and more of an aside: Margaret's robots and this forum's
"soft-skinnned space" were in the back of my head as I read Vievee
Francis's recent book of poems. Francis's poem "Skinned" is about black
skin, the speaker's grandmother skinning raccoons, and so on, but then I
read parts like this:

Mine is mottled. Stress blemished,
but soft as hers and I know it. Easy enough to remove. As a girl I tried
to burn it off. To find the pink I was convinced lay beneath.

and began to connect the poem's speaker to the recurring fantasy on sci-fi
shows about making bodies that are skinnable and reskinnable, moldable,
printable, and about self-discovery when that skin is removed. There's a
way that that the speaker's epidermalization seems to apply to both
positions. "She had been skinned herself (so to speak) / in that her skin
was so often examined and found wanting." Maybe there's something in
Francis's poem that speaks to the strange plasticity and hybridity of
today's user, and the difficulty of being unable to claw one's way to what
is said to "lay beneath".

Anyway, that's all I've got for now. Hope something sticks,


On Tue, May 9, 2017 at 4:57 PM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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 communication.
> 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: http://bcnm.berkeley.edu/2012/
> 05/16/mutated-text-workshop/
> 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:
> http://aawaa.net/programs/exhibitions/shifting-movements/
> 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.
> best,
> Margaret
> --
> 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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