Week 5: abstraction, emergence

I just wrote a thank note to Davin for orchestrating epoetica – I haven’t had many opportunities lately to have FUN with thinking, reading, writing but this really has been a pleasure! And I’m completely grateful to those who have taken the time and car to read and respond to posts. If I had any suggestions for future epoeticas, I’d ask: can we do this again?? and perhaps invite more and/or other people to contribute? And of course, it’s also clear that we need to engage with each other more – a strange side-effect of virtual communication is either abundant, easy e-conversations or, as the poetics listserv can sometimes illustrate, a series of individuals talking to themselves, airing their own theories. Epoetica has abundant possibilities for collaboration and conversation and we really have yet to make the most of this forum.


Reading over the posts from the last couple of months, what’s been most fascinating for me is discovering how heliopod, Zephyr, Davin etc. are all thinking about the issues I’m thinking through, but doing so in wonderfully different ways, using different methods, different trajectories. Who would have thought that a comic book project or a digital poem or a series of photographs would have much in common with Williams’ Paterson? That said, this completely unexpected coming-together of disparate interests and approaches is exactly what’s needed, I think, to better/fully understand electronic writing. Now we need to hear from some visual artists!

Also, as a non-blogger (I’m a bit squeamish about broadcasting my thoughts) I’ve learned to feel more comfortable publishing as posting, or posting as publishing, my thinking as it evolves over days and weeks. This forum seems to be a much more truthful way of representing thinking rather than as a finished, polished gem.

What I’ve learned of my own work: how strange it is that every time I set out to write about hypermedia writing, electronic writing, digital poetry, whatever, I end up writing about what I call “bookbound” poets! I spent 90% of my time writing about Williams and only 10% writing about digital poetry. Perhaps this is because I can’t begin to talk about e-writing until I establish a ground – criteria, terminology. Or perhaps this is just indicative of how e-writing insists on a rewriting of the rules of literary scholarship. How does a scholar or thinker or essayist write about writing in the digital medium and not fall back on conventions of reading/writing that were built on hundreds of years of the book? Maybe there’s something revealing about my rootedness in the book.

As a result of this symposium, I’ve managed to work my writing/thinking on Williams into a dissertation chapter I’ve been working on. Here’s how I ended the section on Williams – some conclusions that came out of my epoetica participation: Williams’ significance for this chapter is less that he was very likely the first to write a “poetic manifestation of Einstein as muse” in his 1921 “St. Francis Einstein of the Daffodils” and more that he, as one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, spent the greater part of his poetic career searching for a way to bring a flexible space-time into poetry (Friedman and Donley 68). Despite what can often appear as an unbridgeable gap between digital and bookbound poetry, surely we can now say, looking at Williams through our present moment of electronic literature, that his work stands as a bookbound example of what we now recognize as an emergent, flexible poetics? However, there are always exceptions to the lineage I am advocating with Williams as examplar. While my argument proceeds from the premise that non-euclidean mathematics (that assumes the possibility of multiple and/or shifting, fluid spaces) has made possible digital works by Lori Talley, Judd Morrissey, and John Cayley that make the most of their medium, there is a lineage of poets that departs from Williams’ search for the contours of a relative measure, the variable foot. These poets—for example, the bookbound poet Raymond Queneau and the digital poet Simon Biggs—are engaged in writing with the use of euclidean mathematics (or mathematics that assumes the existence of transcendent realms such as infinity) and they fully embrace a move toward abstraction, one that the digital age makes as available as it does a move toward emergence.

One thought on “Week 5: abstraction, emergence”

  1. I must say that Lori’s insights throughout this process have been brilliant. And I am charmed both by her words, but also her enthusiasm for the topic. If we had more Lori’s out there spinning out works/words
    then e-poetry would be a much bright realm. Can we clone you?

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