Remember, remember, the fifth of November.
Hello, my name is Lai-Tze Fan. Today, I make my first post as an Associate Editor of ebr—and for this, I owe much thanks to Davin Heckman (for recommending me) and Joseph Tabbi (for brainstorming with me).
Much has happened since the last public post, including an annual congregation in July at ELO 2017 in Porto, Portugal, as well as our welcoming of Will Luers as our new Managing Editor of the ebr site. As I reflect upon some of the events in these last few months, I am thinking of some of what is to come in the communities of ebr, ELO, as well as the Electronic Literature Directory. The location and theme of ELO 2018 have been announced: hope to see you all in Montréal, Canada, from August 13 — 17, for “Mind the Gap!”
In the world of experimental writing, on Monday, November 6, Rob Wittig and Mark C. Marino are launching their next Netprov (Internet improv narrative) venture, “One-Star Review.” As the name suggests, you can join in on the creative writing online by creating a fictional character and writing one-star reviews in a Reddit forum. A few samples have already been posted, including a gem by Marino (moonlighting as “Paolo Fairhair”) on the board game “Don’t Lose Your Marbles.”
“One-Star Reviews” will run through the month of November; more information can be found here.
Also this month, we publish Theadora Walsh’s review of Jhave Johnston’s Aesthetic Animism: Digital Poetry’s Ontological Implications (MIT Press, 2016). We’re delighted to share that Jhave’s text received the ELO’s N. Katherine Hayles Award for Criticism of Electronic Literature, awarded at the annual ELO meeting.
In her essay, Theadora quickly makes known Jhave’s doubled task of writing as both a digital poet and scholar: where some content resists classic form, writing about content that is itself dynamic may require an especial treatment—a question of representation that many e-literature scholars must consider. Printed book form aside, Jhave’s shift away from anthropocentric notions of language, consciousness, subjectivity, subject-making, and creativity warrants further exploration of its own aesthetic gestures and shapes, which give to it animisms (beauty that imbues life). The judging committee for the N. Katherine Hayles Prize describe that the text “argues persuasively that it is in the convergence of literature and computation that language truly comes alive, proliferates, ‘rolls over’ and wriggles through data space.” The liveliness and life-giving of language is one such theme explored by Jhave, as Theadora describes his sensitivity to articulations that circumlocute towards defining a thing, into what he calls “just-enough suchness—moments where the ‘is’ shines in all its routine richness, and objective precision cultivates a presence that is independent of transcendence.”
Responding to Jhave’s effort to project forward a thing as is, as it becomes, Theadora cleverly offers the example of Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1928). Her reading of the film’s spiralling cycles and text recalls to my mind how Mary Ann Doane describes that the recorded image captures the “thisness” of an original referent. Yet, photography and cinema’s failure to be those referents is shared by poetry’s grasping to become, making techniques of gesturing towards difference (montage, intertextuality, and so forth) relevant in much of twentieth century art and literature. “Suchness” and “thisness,” or, vitality and contingency, come to a head again as we consider how digital renderings—as images, as language—can utter poetically.
And here Jhave’s text finds task: what is this utterance, where does it come from, how does it be or become? If I follow his understanding of a consciousness that is not anthropocentric and of an utterance that is decentralized from human lips, the question follows: why must there be a notion of poetry that expands beyond the binary of self and work? Because poetry straddles this line. Then suddenly the “meta-Anthro” utterance slips against the digital poem, to which Theadora asks, “If we cannot tell that a software is generating writing, how is that writing different from something composed by a human?”
Where Theadora draws upon Lisa Nakamura to restate awareness of the human whenever we ask about inscription (see: Nakamura’s 2003 interview with Donna Haraway in EBR). Rightly, Theadora says that “the world writes upon our bodies”—she necessarily reminds us of the Other. To this, I would suggest an extra step away from binaries: not human and post-human, but also a consideration of the Other in the non-human from the field of media archaeology, which includes the invisible ontologies of plants, parasites, and planet, and which throws off the centre of the pendulum swing. This seems to be Jhave’s point too, noted in his quote that Theadora closes with: “digital work does not confirm selfhood as poetic literacy did. Instead it distends selves towards collectivities that remind it of oblivion.” Jhave sounds hopeful about the oblivion of the one, the swelling of the mirrored face and the burst when it is replaced with a thousand voices.
Associate Editor, ebr