[-empyre-] ephemera, napkins, and zines

saba razvi saba.razvi at gmail.com
Sat May 27 01:20:35 AEST 2017

Hi, everyone! 

Margaret, these questions about creative and critical explorations are great! Thanks for bringing up the larger context.

In your message, you wrote, “i wanted to start a question about the Zine, and wondered if you both could talk more about your contributions, and reflect on your experience of writing creative work about bots? does it differ from the scholarly.”

The two poems of mine in the new zine are part of a longer project that I have been working on since 2003, called WAKING GALATEA, one that has evolved and changed in a number of ways and which is finally complete and ready to circulate and seek a press (it’s so hard to decide when something is done, to let go of something that has become part of you, but that’s where the project is now). The earlier version of the zine had an additional poem from this manuscript as well as these two, and I read others still at the Machine Dreams Symposium alongside a discussion the critical engagement that accompanied this project’s development. It was really delightful to share the poems in this particular event and talk about them in this way, given how the poems and my scholarly work are related. For me, the creative and critical work in this particular project have always been intertwined. 

Let me talk a bit about the two related projects and how they are connected:
	My creative project WAKING GALATEA is ostensibly a sci-fi, cyberpunk, epic poem centering around an anti-hero and a mechanical heroine. The narrative of Giger, robotics engineer gone sociopathically awry after the ambiguous death of his wife, and Galatea, his project meant to commemorate her in artificially sentient humanoid form, centers not on the consequences of artificial intelligence but on the actual establishment of a framework for that intelligence. The poem, told through a multiplicity of voice, scene, and context, explores the line between the sublime and the grotesque as it traces our collective desire to create and sustain mechanical life. Employing a hypermediacy of form, it examines the similitude between the monstrous and the human, focusing not on difference, but on the likeness that is approximately but not exactly the reflection of the intended self impressed into the creation. Seeking to explore the ways in which our consciousness is programmed into a being, and therefore the ways in which gender, sexuality, and ambition are inscribed into our ways of being, the poem focuses solely on the act of Giger’s creation of Galatea and the landscapes of his internal and external worlds as they become manifest in her framework. Taking up issues presented by George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Villier, Philip K Dick, and Gibson in a form that rarely employes science fiction -- poetry -- the poem explores the ethical and artistic implications of a world infused with a technology whose use-value surpasses its understood dimensions and the responsibilities we have to the experiments we create. Its experimental use of form invites readers, too, to consider the balance between techne and poiesis in the writing of poetry itself. By bringing us into Mori’s theory of the Uncanny Valley at the precise point of becoming a grotesque other, the poem seeks the unconscious impressions that we leave within our artifacts and artworks in order to understand what they might mean about ourselves.
	WAKING GALATEA is the project I began at the start of graduate school, and which grew as I grew in academia and as a writer into part of who I am today, I think. I started exploring the ideas in my poetry project when I happened to read about David Hanson’s work at RISD on K-Bot in a magazine, and then, soon after, the idea of the Uncanny Valley. I can safely say that an obsession was born! I read just about everything I could get my hands on that related to the figure of the robot or the android, and a narrative began to emerge as I reveled in the sci-fi and fantasy elements I encountered. As I explored these characters and their motivations, I found some really surprising connections. I started to think about the nature of transgression, and found myself reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Marquis de Sade. I found myself fascinated by issues of gender and power, ideas about how people come to know things about the world in which they live and how it might be related to our “social programming”, which brought me into Eliot’s Middlemarch and both the bildungsroman and the kunstlerroman. And, of course, relationships, how they change or shape us. As the book manuscript developed, I became more and more interested in the mechanics of building and creating, of the idea of programming a consciousness, realizing that this where I wanted the book to be focused — not on just the monstrosity of the other, but upon how deeply connected are the things we consider other and their roots in us, our responsibility to our ideologies and technologies and their influence on the world. So, I started reading about artificial intelligence and cognitive theory. As I spent time building an engagement with these interdisciplinary fields, I began to think about the role that theory, form, poetics, and philosophy might play in shaping a language to contain these ideas. I began searching for forms to inspire me as I build the structures of the poems/poem sections. So, the projects themselves became incredibly rich and connected for me, in my experience as a writer and scholar. 
	My critical project, which is comprises the bulk of my dissertation work, and which is now being developed into a book, emerged as I began to seek a language, a shape, a form for my creative work. I found myself looking into not only what contemporary poetry was doing but how it engaged scientific concepts and ideas in our time that have taken a dominant position in the cultural narrative, which include “robots” but are not limited to them, though culture allegedly often sees art and science as divergent modes — something which I discovered is not really an accurate depiction of their relationship.  SYNTHETIC FORMS & DEVIANT TRANSCENDENCE: INTERFACES BETWEEN SCIENCE & 21ST CENTURY POETRY is a collection of essays on contemporary writers whose particular engagement with science in their poems transcends the topical or superficial approach. This trend toward the structural use of science, in radically artificial ways, has created poems that enact synthetic rather than organic experiences by cleaving form from content. In my project, I examine how poetry and science have historically interacted, in order to demonstrate that their connection in the works of poets I am exploring is of a different nature, that it is synthetic, that it is structural rather than topical and derived from science’s now tertiary degree of removal from the world it studies. I examine how discussions of poetry and theories of poetics have interacted to allow a difference between form and content to enable this interplay of science in poetry, exploring ideas of form and of lyrical content to establish that they are separate, but connected, concepts. I examine how the digital age and the role of science and technology in our society have affected our cultural consciousness, enabled this distinction between form and content and its alliance with poetry and science to emerge, or at least, welcomed it into our reading experience. And finally, I explore how a number of poets writing for the page and a selection of some poets writing for new media have composed works affected by the interplay of these diverse ideas. 
I do work both in my creative projects and my scholarly ones on other concepts and ideas as well, but I tend to find that my creative and critical projects are linked in general, that they nourish each other, overall. That’s, perhaps, a subject for another time, though. 

You’ve raised some interesting points about ephemera, as well. In our increasingly digitized world, I think that ephemera becomes important or special — not just its use as part of a work product or process, but as a means to reinforce/encourage an active rather than passive experiential mode, by its existence as something material and temporally relevant.
As for ephemera, I sometimes wonder is all things are ephemera. Nothing is truly lasting, and the notes, ideas, and experiences we have are always changing. And the act of quickly jotting down an idea or two somewhere to connect to later, which is a big part of my own creative process and which makes drafting feel, at times, like a mechanical assemblage of ideas in particular as these notes are woven into some larger whole (or maybe like archaeology), enables us to take risks that we wouldn’t otherwise take, perhaps. It is far less risky to jot down a radically fascinating idea on a napkin than in a formal paper because it feels very much like play. In this way, using ephemeral in creative, critical, or discursive practices enables, in my opinion, a deeper engagement with topics that might be elusive or emotionally hostile or otherwise intimidating. Let’s be honest — talking about difference, otherness, and race isn’t always an easy thing, though it is important! So, the use of ephemera to bridge these gaps, intellectually, in individually creative or critical or collaborative ways can be incredibly productive, both in terms of the artistic process and in terms of the social one.  I find the notion of quick and lost and broken elements exciting because they create a fascinating sense of engagement, much like research when chasing down an idea, like clues. What began as an incredibly individual response to a personal interest became something that invited collaborative thought and connection. Again, this is what I so loved about the Machine Dreams Symposium, the ability to connect with things that were at once so incredibly individual and so incredibly relevant to larger collectives at the same time; everyone was grappling with related ideas, and they made everyone feel connected or enlivened in totally different ways. Seeing the new zine now brings that sense back into awareness for me, as I find myself wanted to look into each other larger projects of those who contributed to the zine, too! 

I see more emails, here, about the topic we’re exploring. So, I’ll end here and take up one of the other threads, next!


> On May 24, 2017, at 11:19 AM, Margaret J Rhee <mrhee at uoregon.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> hi all,
> i wanted to start a question about the Zine, and wondered if you both could talk more about your contributions, and reflect on your experience of writing creative work about bots? does it differ from the scholarly.
> additionally, how about ephemera?
> i think often about the digital, and those that work in new media, how our work is often grappling with broken links, the obsolete archives, and other forms of ephemera.
> in particular, going back to machine dreams, and the subsequent Zine collection, how napkins started much of our creative collaborations. why wouldn't it be any other way?
> Xxo,
> m
> -- 
> 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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