In this in memoriam, Patrick Lichty remembers community member and artist, the late Jeremy Hight. We at EBR remember Jeremy fondly. His creative works will continue to be respected for the contributions they make to e-literature.
In the creative arts, far too many people pass far too fast. Jeremy Hight was one of those people. A prolific author, interactive artist, E-literature maven, and supporter of numerous organizations around the globe at the intersection of art and technology. His death is a sublime matter for the global electronic cultural community, especially for those in Electronic Literature. His wit, candor, generosity, and enthusiasm are already deeply missed.
Jeremy earned an MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts, but these are merely his academic credentials. In this writer's (and friend's) opinion, it is reductive to let this define his life and work, as his interests were incredibly broad. These included AI, Meteorology, Information Design, Electronic Literature, meme culture, and far, far more. Jeremy was like so many others in this realm of technology, literature, and the arts in that he was an insatiable polymath, constantly seeking the novel.
This love of exploration led him to many places, including being a collaborator in the creation of an early geolocative literature work, 34 north, 118 West, with Jeff Knowlton and Naomi Spelling in 2002. The work delivered text and audio based on the user's GPS location and was exhibited at the LA Freewaves Festival and the Art in Motion festival. His essay
Narrative Archaeology, is still a fundamental text of Geolocative literature.
To know Jeremy was to experience a human rhizome. Ever since meeting him in the early 2000s, his ubiquity in the new media scene made him a force to be reckoned with. Frequently, Jeremy was a reader for MIT Press, or ISEA, or one of the other festivals, giving an interview, exhibiting a work - or even popping up in a traveling circus or similar, depending on your definition of such a venue. He was amazing in the suppleness of his mind and the array of subjects he engaged, This just illustrates the breadth of Jeremy's interests and his prolific output in many different genres. As Laurie Anderson once said, each one of us is a library, and Jeremy’s passing was akin to the burning of Alexandria.
Through reading online notes about his classes and meeting his students, there is a stream of evidence that Jeremy was also a notable teacher. His sociability and generosity were evident in his open office hours on Zoom, where anybody from scholars to previous/current students could come online and discuss academic matters, or any issues of the day. He reminded me of the theorist Neil Postman: either might be in the “office” grading or reading, but would be very welcoming to anyone wanting to chew over some interesting concepts, or talk baseball (Jeremy himself would talk memes, not baseball). It is shameful that for most of his career, he remained mainly employed in the adjunct realm, as happens at times with exceptional people. Within academia, there are far too many who emanate as exceptions in the margins, who deserve to be exemplars.
For this reason, some considered him a person in the fringes. But it is also important to consider the nature of the fringe as a form of frontier. In areas such as new media festivals, critical commentary, and public intellectualism in New Media and Electronic Literature, he was anything but a marginal figure. Jeremy Hight was a pioneer of the intersection of theory and praxis, as seen from 34 north to Biomimetics and Shifting Language, one of his last theoretical texts written for the NeMeArt Center in Cyprus (2021). His work and texts constantly broke expectations and mixed speculation with emerging technology and culture.
As with many writers, Jeremy had a fierce soul. This is understandable, considering that there were occasional health problems, like losing a toe to diabetes, impacting the work situation, which could make anyone a little
cranky. This would manifest itself in several ways. Most notably, if I am permitted a tiny bit of levity, there was his latest incursion in
Facebook Jail after Jeremy had let off steam online and got kicked off the platform for three days. If Jeremy was not seen posting, it was assumed that Facebook, Twitter, or some other platform took notice of Jeremy’s comments. Conversely, there would be points where he would get tired of
the idiots online and take his cyber–scythe to people on his friends list, myself included, only to be reinstated three or four days later. He was a cybernetic Byron in this respect.
Jeremy was also not infrequently a conference wingman, and this brings to light other tragic events within our community. Quite frequently, Jeremy, Erik Zepka, Damon Loren Baker, and I in a bit of a pack. The nature of this clustering is something mysterious; perhaps there was some shared sensibility, like a gathering of eccentric “Super Friends” that would happen frequently. This makes it particularly hard to write this obituary, considering Damon Baker's passing only a couple of years ago, which adds to the poignancy of losing Jeremy. Such phenomena recall the trope of Memento Mori, and these drown life's other dramas through the intense blessings of merely taking breath.
Much of this memorial has been about Jeremy as a person and his early achievements. As a writer, I felt he was a kind of an LA mix between Moshfegh, Murakami, and Edward Hopper. Although Edward Hopper was a New Yorker, many of the aspects of loneliness and desolation In American culture evident in his paintings also emerge in Jeremy's work, written in Los Angeles. In many ways, his characters, for example in his later work like The Ghost in You, were rather abject individuals who had either missed a chance, were waiting for an opportunity, or were essentially alone. However, there would be a simultaneous possibility of a magical happenstance. The often elegiac nature of Jeremy's characters was a source of magic. He was also extraordinarily open with his work and was always anxious to get feedback as he would announce that he was nearing the completion of something, and would ask you to DM him if you wanted to read his latest prose.
Jeremy's sense of humor was also singular. His use of Facebook for finding the most banal, outré Internet memes possible was almost always hysterical, sometimes inviting an eye roll, and occasionally even annoying. His mix of urbanity, absurdity, and banality just spoke truth to the ontology of the Internet. The fact that people still post absurd net memes to his profile is a testament to his presence, like in the case of “Pop Tarts: StarKist tuna-flavored.” This is about as accurate as anything you could say about the Internet; perhaps it does taste like tuna-flavored Pop-Tarts.
An additional shock to Jeremy's passing is that it happened merely days after the completion of his last set of stories, easy and clear. A piece in the collection,Salt, is a story of a child of a wealthy industrialist’s family, now perpetually living on a train. Without giving away all the details of the story, Jeremy's focused on the child interacting with their mother’s salt shaker, offering a metaphor for time, being poignant given the situation. In many ways, grains or even flakes of salt lazily falling and dissolving in water are like so many days passing. The story somehow reminds us of the hypothesis of the recent movie
Everything Everywhere All at Once. In the film, the husband Waymond Wang aptly suggests, and Jeremy would likely agree, that in the end perhaps nothing matters, and that kindness is essential, no matter how hard or imperfect that may be.
Theoretically, Jeremy was a prime example of McLuhan's
cultural whiskers. In his 2020 essay
Sentient Text for neme.org, he talks about AI in a piece much more like a Tamagotchi, but his descriptions sound far more like 2022's AI text engines, like GPT–3. It is a shame that he isn't on the recently created
AI Literature listserv. Or maybe he is. In his essay, he said:
Text can live and die. A story or novel online can be a companion over time and grow or fade based on levels of active engagement. The story can even live a longer life than the reader, and that story can say its goodbyes when it is time (or in other modes, it can live on).
Maybe this is true, and perhaps should be left without further commentary.
Jeremy was a person of discontinuity and contradiction, and I hope this text honors that legacy.
And when I heard of his passing, I wrote, “My heart feels like Cole Slaw.”
It might have been Jeff Knowlton who said,
That sounds like Jeremy…
When I was first approached to write this memorial to Jeremy, I was indexed to a memorial to the philosopher Bernard Stiegler, which in itself seemed more academic than I felt suited a memorial to Jeremy Hight. Vilem Flusser's eponymously titled
Essays, came to mind, in which Flusser argued for the use of the subjective as a tool to address the subject, while maintaining rigor in scholarly writing. It destroyed my writing for six months, but also gave it back its humanity. This anecdote applies to this remembrance of Jeremy: breaking the rules is where the light of our souls enters the conversation, paralleling Gibran’s axiom of the wound being the place “where the light comes in”. Although “humanity”(sic) gets a bad reputation, there's still something to be said for all its foibles, messiness, and memes. The dancer Bill T. Jones once said that artists are driven by the head, heart, and passions. In Jeremy’s case, that was truly the case.
However, right now, I know this: I want a Jeremy Hight chatbot.