Essay


Here’s a paper I wrote at Bard in 1990 or so for no reason at all concerning artificial intelligence. Surprisingly, it’s not entirely wrong, just not very scientific. Lots of spelling errors, too, but as you can see, it was written on a primitive, by our standards, computer.

BKS-artificial intelligence cover_Page_01

 

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My Third Hand Plays column at the SFMoma blog Open Space is chugging along. I’ve been granted an extension, which means two new works in addition to the nine already posted. I’ll cap it with a new piece by yours truly if I ever find time to create it.

The artists so far, from something like six countries: Daniel C. Howe, Alan Bigelow, joerg piringer, Alison Clifford, Erik Loyer, Benjamin Moreno Ortiz, Jhave, Christine Wilks and a certain sleepless dynamo named Jason Nelson. Forthcoming are new works by J.R. Carpenter and David Clark. It’s a great, eclectic bunch and it’s been great to work with them! I think this method of doing “career recaps” could be a model for future writing about e-lit artists, especially as there are so many now with large bodies of work.

The texts that I post on Tuesdays concerns something I call the “Comedies of Separation,” which are basically varieties of text/code interaction that I see as the “simples” underlying much of what we do in electronic literature. You’ll have to read my introduction to get a better idea of what I mean. I’m basically looking for a rudimentary vocabulary with which to discuss properties that exist in larger, “cumulative” works (such as Stuart Moulthrop’s “Pax: An Instrument,” which has many components).

Underlying the series is an attempt to link works of e-lit to art and literature that either predated the explosion of new media art in the past decade or that respond to the ubiquity of digitization in our culture. I’m hoping that these writings, along with a longish essay that will appear somewhere if the editor ever gets back to me, will form the outline of a sexy book project that I will propose, oh, somewhere, maybe MIT or your mama. It would be much expanded, less chatty, more based on theory and philosophy, but accessible and, I hope, illustrated in color.

These are in reverse chronological order, the latest first. I’ll post the next offerings as they appear on the blog. In the meantime, read and enjoy:

The Posts

The Works


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I’ve been working on a project based on my courses on electronic literature. I’ve been teaching it for over five years now, and am getting a sense of the texts that I use. However, I always feel like I’m building the class from the ground up every time, so I thought it would be cool to collect my materials into some sort of “anthology” to have on hand.

I also wanted to create a user-friendly, brief introduction to the field for people not in school, or who have no access to such a class. There are numerous places to find criticism and writing related to electronic literature, but they often contain such a huge amount of text that the newbie would not know where to start. Consequently, they are often very academic in discourse level, which is alienating to someone unfamiliar with the jargon.

This collection is intended to be for students, not my fellow artists and academics, but I hope there is something interesting to find in here for you as well. I’m sure we all have different approaches — for instance, I assign exercises in Scratch and Wix, which won’t be reflected in this list, and I tend to stay away from historical readings or computer science — but I’ve prowled several of your syllabi and websites in the creation of this list. So this can be seen as a continuing conversation.

This is a “freeware” anthology in that I only limited myself to works that were already available on the web. In a few cases, this might be in the form of bootlegs — sometimes it’s hard to tell what has been approved, since not everyone uses a Creative Commons license — but I limited myself to pieces that don’t require special privileges or subscription costs. (In one case, the essay works on my iPad but not laptop; in another, I thought it was freely available but it was not, but I’ve kept it in anyway since the author’s a friend of mine.)

I hope to edit a book to sell on Lulu for cost that will include primarily excerpts from the works, along with editorial glosses. The model is the “Documents in Contemporary Art” series, which are readable in a few days, as opposed to the often mammoth books on digital culture published by MIT (much as I like them).

The website that I am creating for this anthology will contain the essays in .pdf form (reset, since many of these pages are nearly illegible), a .pdf of the edited book with my editorial commentary, a page of videos I often use when teaching, a “ten week course” that is a series of essays, links and assignments based on my course, and other materials such as a bibliography, via Amazon’s “listmania” feature, of electronic literature books.

This is not a complete overview of the state of the field, or an attempt to create a “canon.” If the image here is skewed or flawed, it’s only because it’s meant to be a launching pad for an independent investigation of the genre, either as a scholar or artist. The fact of the matter is, there isn’t a whole lot of great writing on the works themselves — more of the e-lit writing is about its theory and potential — so I tried to include what I could. If you know of better deep readings of a particular e-literature piece, please let me know.

Inspired by the New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, this selection is a mixture of theoretical texts, creative works, manifestos, critical readings, interviews, Wikipedia articles, encyclopedia entries, lists, blog posts, and other miscellany. It only includes work that can be included in a book (or a .pdf). Any feedback you have is welcome!

Foundations

  1. F. T. Marinetti, “Words in Freedom” (1913), “Geometric and Mechanical Splendor and the Numerical Sensibility” (1917?)
  2. Wassily Kandinsky, “Concerning the Spiritual In Art” (1913)
  3. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936)
  4. Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths” (1941), “The Library of Babel” (1941) and “Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote” (1941)
  5. Eugen Gomringer, “From Line to Constellation” (1954); “The Poem as Functional Object” (1968)
  6. Noigandres (Augusto de Campos, Decio Pignatari and Haroldo de Campos), “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry” (1958)
  7. Susan Sontag, “Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition” (1966)
  8. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Turing Test” (2008)
  9. Larry Hauser, “Chinese Room Argument” (2001)
  10. Güven Güzeldere and Stefano Franchi, “Dialogues With Colorful Personalities of Early AI” (1995)
  11. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: : Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” (1991)
  12. N. Katherine Hayles, “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers” (1993)
  13. Espen Aarseth, “Ergodic Literature” (1997)
  14. Lev Manovich, “Database as Symbolic Form” (1999)
  15. John Cage, album notes to “Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music” (1959)
  16. Jackson MacLow, “The Twin Plays” (1966)
  17. Sol Lewitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967), “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1969)
  18. Hakim Bey, “The Temporary Autonomous Zone” (1991)
  19. Charles Bernstein, “Poetics of the Americas” (1996)
  20. Ted Nelson and Tim Berners-Lee, “The Best Summary of My Work” (1999)

Writing Making Stealing

  1. Douglas Englebert, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” (1962)
  2. William S. Burroughs, “The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin” (1978)
  3. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “A Thousand Plateaus” (1987)
  4. Shelley Jackson, “Stitch Bitch” (1997); Mark Amerika, “Stitch-Bitch: An Interview with Shelley Jackson” (1998)
  5. Aram Saroyan, “Pages” (1969)
  6. mez, “_The Art of M[ez]ang.elle.ing: Constructing Polysemic & Neology Fic/Factions Online_
  7. Rita Raley, “Interferences: [Net.Writing] and the Practice of Codework” (2002)
  8. John Cayley, “Writing on Complex Surfaces” (2005)
  9. Cox, Geoff, Alex McLean and Adrian Ward, “The Aesthetics of Generative Code” (2006)
  10. Marjorie Perloff, “Conceptualisms Old and New” (2007)
  11. Charles Bernstein, “Experiments” (1996-2010)
  12. Darren Wershler, “The Tapeworm Foundry, andor, the dangerous prevalence of imagination” (2000)
  13. Nick Montfort and William Gillespie, “2002: A Palindrome Story” (2002)
  14. Toadex Hobogrammathon, “Name: A Novel” (1995?)
  15. Bill Seaman, “Approaches to Interactive Text and Recombinant Poetics” (2004)
  16. Encyclopedia Britannica, “The Influence of Erwin Piscator” (2010)
  17. Edward Tufte, “PowerPoint Does Rocket Science–and Better Techniques for Technical Reports” (2005)
  18. Lawrence Lessig, “What Orrin Understands” (2001); Wikipedia, “Creative Commons Licenses” (2010)
  19. Kenneth Goldsmith, “A Week of Posts to The Poetry Foundation Blog” (2007)
  20. Mike Magee, Kasey Mohammed and Gary Sullivan, “The Flarf Files” (2003); Dan Hoy, “The Virtual Dependency of the Post-Avant and the Problematics of Flarf: What Happens when Poets Spend Too Much Time Fucking Around on the Internet” (2006)

Text Image Sound

  1. Situationist International, “Detournement as Negation and Prelude” (1959)
  2. Alice Becker-Ho, “The Language of Those in the Know” (1995)
  3. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Bakhtin Circle” (2010)
  4. Keith Obadike, “Blackness for Sale” (2001)
  5. Giselle Beiguelman, “Hacktivism? I didn’t know the term existed before I did it: An Interview with Brian Kim Stefans” (2003)
  6. Josh On, “From They Rule to We Rule: Art and Activism” (2002)
  7. Noah Wardrip-Fruin, “Regime Change & News Reader” (2004)
  8. Paul Chan, “The text you write must desire me: fonts as the penultimate interactive artform, second only to sex” (2001)
  9. John Cage, “Experimental Music” (1957)
  10. Brian Eno, “Generative Music” (1996)
  11. John Oswald, “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” (1985)
  12. Charles Bernstein, “Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word” (1998)
  13. Kurt Schwitters, “Ursonate,” score (1922-32)
  14. John Cayley, “Bass Resonance” (2005)
  15. Johanna Drucker, “The Art of the Written Image” (1998)
  16. Elaine Equi, “The Poetry of Ed Ruscha” (2004)
  17. Marjorie Perloff, “Screening the Page / Paging the Screen” (2006)
  18. Thom Swiss, “An Interview With Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries” (1922); Jessica Pressman, “Reading the Code between the Words: The Role of Translation in Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries’s Nippon” (2007)
  19. Josh Spear, “Interview with Jason Nelson” (2010)
  20. Brian Kim Stefans, “An Interview with William Poundstone” (2002)

Reading Looking Doing

  1. Braulio Taveres, “Raymond Queneau” (1999); Raymond Queneau, “Yours for the Telling” (1967)
  2. Guy Debord, “Theory of the Derive” (1958)
  3. Roland Barthes, from “S/Z” (1973)
  4. Catherine Burgass, “A Brief Story of Postmodern Plot” (2000)
  5. Harry Mathews, “Histoire” (1988)
  6. Jill Walker, “Piecing Together and Tearing Apart: Finding the Story in afternoon” (1999)
  7. Shayna Ingram, “Reconsidering the Walls of Literature through Hypertext” (2008)
  8. Mikhail Epstein, “Hyper-Authorship: The Case of Araki Yasusada” (2000)
  9. Wikipedia, “mouchette.org” (2010)
  10. Nick Montfort, “Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction” (2003)
  11. Roberto Simanowski, “‘Reading “Text Rain’” (2005)
  12. Stuart Moulthrop, “Pax, Writing and Change” (2008)
  13. David Rokeby, “The Computer as a Prosthetic Organ of Philosophy” (2003)
  14. Jesper Juul, “Games Telling Stories” (2001)
  15. Henry Jenkins, “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” (1999)
  16. Alex Galloway, “Social Realism in Gaming” (2004)
  17. David Young, “Interview with Erik Loyer” (2010)
  18. Alexandra Saemmer, “Ephemeral passages—La Série des U and Passage by Philippe Bootz: a close reading” (2009)
  19. Marjorie Perloff, “The Music of Verbal Space: John Cage’s ‘What You Say’” (2004)
  20. Peter Lunenfeld, “Towards Visual Intellectuality: The Mediawork Pamphlet Series” (2010)

Genre Jams

  1. Ulisses Carrion, “The New Art of Making Books” (1975)
  2. Robert Coover, “The Babysitter” (1969); “The End of Books” (1992)
  3. Bruce Andrews, “Electronic Poetics” (2002)
  4. Stephanie Strickland, “Born Digital” (2009)
  5. Christian Bök, “The Piecemeal Bard Is Deconstructed: Notes Towards a Robopoetics” (2001)
  6. Daniel C. Howe, “The RiTa Library” (2007?)
  7. Noah Wardip-Fruin, “Playable Media and Textual Instruments” (2005)
  8. Lev Manovich, “Understanding Hybrid Media” (2007)
  9. Michael Mateas, “A Preliminary Poetics for Interactive Drama and Games” (2005)
  10. Nicholas Bourriaud, “Relational Form” (1998)
  11. Kanarinka, “Interview with Giselle Bieguelman” (2003)
  12. Jill Walker, “Distributed Narratives: Telling Stories Across Networks” (2004)
  13. Danny Snelson, “Heath: prelude to tracing the actor as network” (2007)
  14. Andrew Lawless, “Identity correction – Yes Men style. Interview with Andy Bichlbaum.” (2005)
  15. Anonymous, “Rules of the Internet” (2010); Julian Dibbell, “The Assclown Offensive: How to Enrage the Church of Scientology” (2009)
  16. Paul Virilio, “The Information Bomb” (2000)
  17. Matthew Fuller, “Software Studies: A Lexicon” (2008)
  18. Nick Montfort, “ppg256 (Perl Poetry Generator in 256 characters)” (2008)
  19. Eduardo Kac, “Biopoetry” (2003)
  20. Steven Voyce, “The Xenotext Experiment: An Interview With Christian Bök” (2007); Christian Bök, “The Xenotext Experiment” (2008)
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I much prefer this one:

to this one:

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I’m sure this will be greeted with some consternation by some! But, alas, what can I do. Here is a draft of my course description for an undgraduate class called “American Poetry Since 1945.” It’s one of the standard “on the books” classes here at UCLA, and has been taught in the past, in very different ways, by Cal Bedient, Harryette Mullen, Stephen Yenser and Kenneth Lincoln. (And others, I’m sure.)

I’m really glad they’ve let me take a stab at it. Clearly I’m trying to hit as many bases as I can — it’s a bit overstuffed (none of my predecessors assigned two books a week), but even so, misses a lot of points. Hence the final paragraph, which invites the interested student to pursue their own independent course of study within the context of the class.

One or two “contemporary” poets (whose names I’ll omit) I might have listed had I had any idea at all how to teach them. This isn’t to say that I’ve only included very “teachable” poetry, just that I felt compelled to omit one or two who I don’t think I understand enough to feel qualified to impart any knowledge about, or insight into, how to write about them (since, in the end, the students will be writing papers about one or a group of these poets). I also tended toward poets I thought would be appealing to the young.

I thought it was important to include a section of Los Angeles poets, since I don’t think (as I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog) anyone has any idea of the depth (not to mention strangeness) of the work that is being done, and has been done, out here. UCLA (the campus) feels quite far away from what one could call “Los Angeles” proper (you know, the dirty, urban parts), and of course I would want to encourage any of my young students, especially if they are writers, to think of this city as a place where writing can be done.

So, this is a draft. Many of my adjectives are a little funky (where’s Michael Scharf when you need him?), and there might be some switch-outs of names or titles in the next week or so. But I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and so I think it’s quite solid. I wanted to assign Donald Allen’s anthology along with the Norton but that seemed overkill and they duplicate a lot of material. The “Vintage” anthology is the one edited by J. D. McClatchy.

I’ll probably make a better go of this one than I did “American Poetry Before 1900,” which I taught last year, given my long acquaintance with a lot of these poets, not to mention personal interactions and friendships with many of them. I mean, I did pee next to John Greenleaf Whittier once at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project (1845 or so), but it didn’t help me understand his poetry.

American Poetry Since 1945

The Modernist Period in American poetry was marked by an incredible number of advances in poetics: the polyglot, metrically intricate work of Ezra Pound, the “Cubist,” nearly abstract work of Gertrude Stein, the word-centered “variable foot” of William Carlos Williams, the philosophically nuanced, European-inflected work of Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, the typographical experiments of E.E. Cummings, the complex syllabic stanzas of Marianne Moore and the collective efforts of Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen (along with prose writers such as Zora Neal Hurston) to create a distinctly African American voice in literature. More formally conservative, but no less vital, poets, such as Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost and the Southern Agrarians (John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate), were equally active during these years.

This course attempts to provide a map to the large number of important, engaging American poets who started their careers in the period following World War II, during which time many of the above writers were still very active and being accepted into the mainstream, and continues to consider several poets who are at present in mid-career.

The course starts with a consideration of the first major generation of poets to follow the Modernists, usually classed under the title of “Confessional” poets due to their tendency to reveal in their writing aspects of their personal lives that would not have been considered suitable material for poetry mere decades earlier: Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and John Berryman. Other important poets writing around this time – most notably Elizabeth Bishop – rarely were so candid in their work, but maintained strong ties with this group. A slightly younger group of writers, such as A.R Ammons, James Merrill and James Wright, will also be considered in these sessions.

The course will then move on to various other groupings of poets – such as the “New York School” (Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, James Schuyler), Beat Poetry (Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso), Projective Verse (Charles Olson , Robert Creeley) and poets associated with the “San Francisco Renaissance” (Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer) – all of whom first reached a wider audience through publication in Donald Allen’s seminal anthology “The New American Poetry” in 1960. These poets generally challenged not only the ways that poetry could be written, but also the types of content – openly non-conformist, sexually “liberated,” anti-academic, at times vulgar and often very funny – that could be included in poetry, setting the stage for what would become the widespread cultural revolution of the Sixties.

The course then moves on to poets in the spirit (though often actively contradicting the tenets) of the New Americans, such as the Language School – writers who sought to synthesize the most recalcitrant strands of Modernism with a Leftist critique of capitalist culture (Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, Lyn Hejinian, etc.) – and poets of color who, inspired both by the Harlem Renaissance and various more revolutionary strands in American culture, sought to create a poetry that disturbed the normality of poetic discourse by including all sorts of elements in the language to signify their (and language’s) “otherness” (Amirki Baraka and other poets of the Black Art Movement, Victor Hernandex Cruz, Jessica Hagedorn, etc.). These poets could, collectively, be called poets of the “Americas,” not acknowledging that there is something called a “standard English” that poetry has to be written in but several different “Americas” existing in (and troubling) the whole.

It is, of course, nearly impossible to give a complete picture of the wilds of American poetry as it is developing today. With this in mind, the last 4 weeks of the course are devoted to 8 younger poets who are in mid-career.

One week will be spent reading two important Canadian poets who have made a huge impact on American poetry in the past decade and a half, the experimental, craftsman-like Christian Bok and the prolific classicist Ann Carson. We will then move to on to look at how lyric poetry is being employed in the philosophically nuanced sonnets of Ben Lerner and the hilarious, subversive serial poetry of CA Conrad. Next, we will look at “conceptual” poetry (poetry of process) as it is practiced, to very different ends, by politically-engaged poet/critic Juliana Spahr and the New York impresario avant-gardist Kenneth Goldsmith. Last , we will read two books by poets from East L.A., the imagistic, often satirical prose poems of Japanese American Sesshu Foster and the visionary surrealist work of the increasingly-esteemed Black poet Will Alexander.

This course is designed so that students – using the two large anthologies that they will be purchasing along with books they can purchase on their own – can trace their own thematic, formal, even geographical lineages, traditions and trajectories through the period covered and to write a final paper on them. Such alternative groupings include feminist poets, gay poets, California poets, visual poets, formal poets, etc. To this end, several “alternative” suggested readings will be provided, though, of course, each student is required to do all of the assigned reading and secondary assignments as well.

00. Introduction: A review of Modernism
01. Vintage Contemporary Poetry – Robert Lowell & “Confessional” Poetry
02. Vintage Contemporary Poetry – Bishop/Ammons/Merrill, etc.
03. Postmodern American Poetry –The Beats & the San Francisco Renaissance
04. Postmodern American Poetry – The New York School & Projective Verse
05. Postmodern American Poetry – Language Poetry
06. Postmodern American Poetry – The “Poetics of the Americas”
07. Two Canadians: Christian Bok & Anne Carson
08. Versions of the Lyric: Ben Lerner & CA Conrad
09. Conceptual Poets: Juliana Spahr & Kenneth Goldsmith
10. Los Angeles Poetry: Sesshu Foster & Will Alexander

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As some of you know, I’ve been researching the history of poetry in Los Angeles for the past two months or so. I haven’t done much more than take out a bunch of poetry books and anthologies from the library and do some web research, but in fact there isn’t much critical writing about the “history” of L.A. Poetry available. I did find a very useful dissertation by the poet and anthologist Bill Mohr which covers a large portion of this story, but it’s quite rough at the moment (I don’t know if he’ll publish it as a book, but it needs revision).

One book, Venice West, by John Arthur Maynard, was very useful for the Beat Era. And in general, my project was inspired by a wonderful art book called Catalogue L.A.: The Making of an Art Capital 1955-1985, which is a documentary chronology of the birth of the visual art culture out here.

I was hoping to publish capsule biographies of these poets with this initial post, but I think that’s going to take longer than I thought. Some of these poets, like Thomas McGrath, are better known for their work elsewhere, but McGrath was important for his time as organizer, editor, and general cultural force for the ten years he lived in Los Angeles. Like many poets in L.A. at the time, he was called to testify before HUAC and lost his job as a result.

Nora May French (the link is to a website that has several bios and all of her poems) will be a new name to most of you. She moved here at the age of seven, in 1888, when the population was roughly 50,000 people. As if in anticipation of the transformations the city would undergo when the movie industry took over, French was very beautiful and a little imbalanced, finally killing herself by ingesting cyanide (after, I think, trying to kill an ex-lover of hers).

Indeed, many poets in Los Angeles died prematurely (especially among the group who hung around Wallace Berman in Venice, as documented in the beautiful book Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle), due to heroin, alchohol abuse, suicide and freak accidents. Our most widely-read poet was, of course, a raging alcoholic.

Probably the most famous death of a poet in Los Angeles was that of Bob Flanagan, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, and who documented his long decline (he did, in fact, live much longer than his doctors had predicted) in his book The Pain Journal and in the film SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. It doesn’t appear that he wrote (or at least published) all that many poems, but I’m still looking into this. I’ve found a few chapbooks and anthology appearances. My favorite writing by him is the great collaboration he did with David Trinidad called A Taste of Honey.

Another figure who is not often considered a “poet” but whose work clearly skids over in that direction is the artist Guy de Cointet (born in France). A recent issue of Artforum contained a large tribute to him by artists such as Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, much of which can be read online. Most of his writing was of plays or performances (he might be the most representative figure of experimental theater out here, for all I know), but many of his art books are clearly some form of cryptographic poetry. Here are some of the hand-drawn ones in a seemingly Lettrist tradition; most of what I’ve seen in the library has been typeset. (He kind of reminds me of Gaudier-Brzeska in this photograph.)

This list is primarily geared toward “experimental” poets, but of course, such a category is fluid, and I somehow find poets like Nora May French “experimental” to the degree that no one was probably writing poetry in Los Angeles at the time (and she was so weird). As the list moves toward more contemporary figures, it is spotty, as I’m really concerned with poets of the past. But I’m posting this specifically to get some feedback, especially concerning names that I’ve overlooked and possible places I could go to find information about some of the more elusive ones (such as de Cointet, whose books are incredibly expensive and have never been reprinted).

I have yet to go through back issues of Coastlines, Invisible City, etc., but that is next on my agenda. I haven’t gotten my hands on a few anthologies yet, such as Specimen 73, edited by Paul Vangelisti.

Tacked on to the end of this list is a group of writers and artists who I somehow want to claim as Los Angeles poets, either because they lived here for several years (such as Brecht, who can be seen as a sort of analogue for Duchamp in New York, though Brecht really didn’t like it out here for the most part), use a lot of text in their work (such as Ruscha, Pettibon and Ruppersberg, the latter of whom could almost be called a “conceptual writer,” which is useful since much poetry out here now is “conceptual” in nature), or have collaborated with poets and published their own poems, such as Simone Forti, the legendary choreographer.

David Antin, of course, doesn’t live in Los Angeles, but his wife is often considered part of the continuum of the arts up here (at least in Catalogue L.A.), and I can’t help but think his turn toward conceptual performance was influenced by the L.A. art scene. William Poundstone, a digital artist and writer, is kind of the unifiying figure of all the diverse genres represented here, as his work is as influenced by artists like Ruscha as it is by the Oulipo and concrete poetry (as he states in this interview I did with him several years ago).

(Of course, I’d like to claim Morrissey for this list, but that’s really stretching it. But if any of you know of any other Latin American poets who wrote in Los Angeles, let me know!)

Poets
Nora May French (1881-1907)
James Boyer May (1904-1981)
Edwin Rolfe (1909-1954)
Thomas McGrath (1916-1990)
Josephine Ain (1916-2004)
Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)
Henri Coulette (1927-1988)
Bert Meyers (1928-1979)
Robert Crosson (1929-2001)
Stuart Perkoff (1930-1973)
John Thomas (1930-2002)
Jack Hirschman (1933-)
Lewis MacAdams
Leland Hickman (1934-1991)
Guy de Cointet (1934-1983)
Aram Saroyan (1943-)
Paul Vangelisti (1945-)
Wanda Coleman (1946-)
William Poundstone
Will Alexander (1948-)
Douglas Messerli (1946-)
Calvin Bedient
Michelle T. Clinton
Dennis Philips (1951-)
Bob Flanagan (1952-)
Dennis Cooper (1953-)
David Trinidad (1953-)
Harryette Mullen (1953-)
Diane Ward (1956-)
Amy Gerstler (1956-)
Sesshu Foster (1957-)

Figures on the Periphery
Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
George Open (1908-1984)
Gil Orlovitz (1918-1973)
David Antin (1932-)
Simone Forti (1935-)
Ed Ruscha (1937-)
Allen Ruppersberg (1944-)
Raymond Pettibon (1957-)

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More from the paper files… this is the hand-out I created for a talk at UCLA last February. I’d like to develop these ideas into a fuller paper that creates a basic, very basic, set of critical principles by which to discuss the widely divergent forms of digital literature out there.

The pieces I discussed were Talan Memmott’s Self Portrait(s) [as Other(s)], Christian Bök’s Eunoia, Stuart Moulthrop’s Pax: An Instrument, and Judd Morrissey’s The Jew’s Daughter. Eunoia was included primarily because it was highly informed by information aesthetics without having any of the classic features that one associates with print works that play on tropes from electronic literature (the novels of Mark Danielewski, for example).

I created a blog for the talk which elaborates on many of these principles in more detail, though none of the literary analysis is up there. (There is a much weaker, earlier form of this talk available online in audio form, but I won’t point you there as I don’t quite endorse it — it was just a bare sketch of the later talk, which itself did not have all of its terms settled. But in case you’ve heard it already, here’s me telling you that I’m not entirely behind it.)

The “Holy Grails” that start off the talk are really my thinking through, and simplifying, the vast array of tropes that I see appear in various works of criticism about electronic writing. If there is a “telos” in the development of electronic writing — these are often alluded to in the criticism — it seems to be toward a few horizons, usually using as a departure point some notion of the “author” and the “page” (or book). The third “grail” is a more recent addition, due to the greater visibility of video games as possible forms of art (see my previous post).

My notion of “crisis” comes out of Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, so to this degree I was observing these works as “fiction.” Basically, Kermode reads narrative fiction, particularly novels, as setting up moments of anticipated “apocalypse,” which it can either satisfy or betray during the course of the narrative. It is during these crises that one can situate oneself on the narrative timeline, knowing where one is in relation to the “arc” of the story. (I am oversimplifying, of course.)

Since, indeed, most of the works I discuss are not narratives in a conventional sense — and do not have the sort of teleological drive that narrative fictions have — these crises must be replaced by something else. I took a few shots at what these could be, though I’m quite sure these seven categories are not the right ones (a few are, a few not). I was being a bit superstitious with my numbers here — 3, 7, then 1 — and might have fudged in trying to get everything all Pythagorean.

I introduced a new genre of writing for object-based environments, the “Surrealist Fortune Cookie.” It’s briefer than a “lexia,” something that could be reshuffled and reconfigured endlessly without losing its charge. I quoted a few lines from John Ashbery’s 37 Haiku as examples. My contention was that databased bits of text that are to be reconfigured algorithmically are most successful when they have elements of the surrealist haiku (or fortune cookie) as they are fragmentary (but can stand alone), enigmatic (more question than statement), and narrative (but without a closure).

After introducing these basic concepts, I then went through the four works (actually, only two works, as I ran out of time) and tried to evaluate how they operated in terms of the grails, the crises, and finally, in terms of the “surrealist fortune cookie.” Of course, the relationship of each of these works to the concepts varied greatly.

Language as Gameplay: From ‘The Oulipo to the Jew’s Daughter

Brian Kim Stefans, 2/12/08

The Holy Grails of Electronic Literature

Writing Without the “Author”: To write a piece that can be read several different ways – none predetermined by the “author” – which will provide distinctive, compelling reading experiences each time – that is, displacement of the “author” onto the algorithm.

Reading Beyond the “Page”: To write text for an environment that serves a textual function at nearly all times while maintaining the illusion of a dynamic, three-dimensional, processed space that is moving as far away from the “page” as possible.

Writing/Reading as Gameplay: To create a programmed object that serves equally as a piece of literature and which also serves as a “game” with all the “fun” implied in such a title — that is, to in­corporate the user completely into the world of algorithm and the world of the screenspace.

Seven Varieties of Crisis

1. Crisis of ESCHATOLOGY — we are not sure where, in the standard narrative paradigm, poetic paradigm, or essayistic (syllogistic) paradigm, we are located nor can we, for the mo­ment, imagine the end.

2. Crisis of SIGNIFICATION — something has occurred in our understanding of conventional relationships between word and thing, or even letter and word; language seems to be becom­ing pure inscription and “non-referential.”

3. Crisis of SYMBOLISM — something seen to have a merely contingent value is seen to have a role in a symbolic universe.

4. Crisis of SUBJECTIVITY – the narratological “I,” whether of third or first person, has shifted.

5. Crisis of GENRE – we have slipped from a narrative event to a poetic one, or more criti­cally, from a non-fictional, documentary mode to one that seems colored by the imagination of an “author.”

6. Crisis of MORALITY – something in the flow of words has forced us to question our own place in the social network due to the “danger” of assimilating these words into our experi­ence – i.e., will I choose to “own” this reading experience or not?

7. Crisis of AUTHORSHIP – something in our reading has suggested a shift from a largely au­thored universe – hence a conversation with another responsible individual – to a largely al­gorithmic one — a conversation with a (“schizophrenic”) robot.

What is a Surrealist Fortune Cookie?

A “Surrealist fortune cookie” is a single sentence that would touch off same element of the various “crises” noted above — a non-trivial reading experience that is brief, open-ended, and yet acquires the enigmatic (permanently “revolutionary”) quality of a Surrealist object – straight out of the world of the Comte de Lautreamont, who wrote of the beauty of “the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella.”

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Ok, well that’s a pretty heady title. I wrote this short document up about a year ago in preparation for my “Video Game Narrative Studies” class in Richard Stockton College. It was an odd and very experimental class, but I think I came up with some interesting ideas on how to teach such a thing.

Anyway, unrevised, here is the “manifesto,” which — frankly — I completely forgot about after I wrote it (it was never given to the class, I believe). I simply rediscovered it in my papers (luckily, I had printed it out, as my computer was stolen in late July and I didn’t have a back-up of this file).

Here’s the website for the class, Video Game Narrative Studies. I asked one of my students to contribute his paper — discussing architectural conceits in Oblivion and Second Life via Barthes’ Empire of Signs — to the arts website I created at Stockton, Richard Stockton Overdrive, which you can read here.

I realize writers like McKenzie Wark and Ian Bogast have answered, or at least discussed, many of the following questions and issues in great detail, and with more nuance than I could ever muster, but I think there are a few interesting, original nuggets in the following.

A Manifesto For Video Game Developers

Much has been made about the possibilities of video games to “tell stories” with the same impact of films and novels. Though much game development has been moving in this direction, the directions game designers have taken have gener­ally been two-fold: pushing for greater detail in the simulated gameworld (rang­ing from light effects to facial expressions), and greater complexity to the back story of the game (much of which is mistaken for the actual “embedded” content of the narrative).

There are several approaches that game developers can take to enrich their narra­tives without sacrificing gameplay. The present offering, by a person who has never designed a video game*, is intended to encourage game developers — many of whom are independents with resources on a par with the industry — to take the risks that dramatists, novelists, filmmakers and, yes, poets have taken with their arts for centuries.

*Not entirely true — I designed tons for the Vic-20 back in the day.

1. Story

The novel and the feature film have less to do with each other than one might initially think. Feature films, in fact, might bear a stronger relationship to the lyric poem than the novel, given the rigidity of a movie’s 3-act narrative structure and the awareness that the reader of the poem has of the poem’s duration.

Complicating components include the variable time factor between narrative “events,” the structure of databased information versus the linearity of sequen­tial events deemed necessary for a “story,” and the perspective of the “player” as character within game worlds.

Two issues that will be discussed will be that of the variably placed “plot point” that suggests the narrative structure to the viewer, and the issue of “telos” in a game world predicated on the reproducibility of effect, looped narrative struc­tures, as well as mods by which the user extends the game world.

Tying “story” to “character” will be a consideration of the monomyth, including questions of reversals of characters, the shape of the narrative as visible to the “first person” player, and the descent into hell.

2. Character

Characters who, like Peter Lorre in M, start as highly unsympathetic but who turn out to have human dimensions that make us question our entire moral universe. The Golem — and his enslavement and hence humanization by the Hobbits — is another example.

Can the user be forced to occupy this morally ambiguous space of a character without, on the one hand, putting an estranging irony between oneself and one’s avatar so much that the connection lacks urgency, and on the other identifying so strongly with the moral ambiguity — and growing so uncomfortable with it — that the game ceases to be “fun”?

The “otherness” of NPC characters is not often appreciated. Characters are either human puppets (on either end of the good/bad binary) or are monsters which might have a greater chance at occupying this morally ambiguous space, but who are nonetheless “monsters” and hence overtly “other.”

Also to be considered will be the issue of a “fluid” consciousness — an experienc­ing consciousness not bound by time constraints, or if by time constraints, ones that are as variable as “frames per second.” How is a player to understand and read the important “plot points” without the obviousness of a cut-scene? Can a player be expected to engage in an interior monologue of some emotional com­plexity while also engaged in play?

3. Art

Games are a form of “task-based” interactive art. The distance between interac­tive paintings such as those by Camille Utterbeck and the Austrian artist tu­rux.org and the “synaesthetic” games such as Rez and Everday Shooter has shrunk, such that one must look video game visuals as more than dressing up the play of other­wise anonymous algorithms.

Prior discussions of the visual aspect of games have concerned itself with model­ing and mise-en-scene i.e. those aspects of video games that most resemble movies. However, at any given moment on a screen, the trajectory of objects, the abstract clouds of detritus and fire that characterizes an explosion, or the swoop­ing in an out of the camera, gives us a for more abstract “beauty” to deal with, akin to the fetishization of speed and. motion that the Futurists and Constructiv­ists (informed by the writing of philosopher Henri Bergson) exploited.

The success of games like Geometry Wars — a fairly unadventurous shooter in terms of gameplay — demonstrates the gamer’s interest in becoming part of a world that, for all of its obvious sensual offerings, is primarily abstract. The coll­pasing of the grid into the trail of the player’s spaceship is suggestive of some sort of expansion of the subjective experience of play into the underlying grid-work of the algoriths — or is it?

Is there a philosophical perspective being articulated here? Is this a questioning of the stranglehold of societally sanctioned “time” and “space” on an individual? Is there an economics of waste being explored here?

5. Spaces

Henry Jenkins writes of “embedded narrative” and various sub-genres affiliated with it, claiming that video games tell a large part of their stories in the very spaces that are to be explored. However, most of the narrative that is revealed via these processes can still be folded under the concept of “backstory” ele­ments of narrative that pre-date the parts that compose a “strong” narrative that could provide for such elements as catharsis and character reversals. What Jen­kins doesn’t consider, however, is the sense of the gameworld being “othered.”

Consequently, how does the Situationist concept of the “derive” play out in video games? Is the exploration of a game space truly akin to the Surrealist-inspired interactions with “chance” that they are often valorized as? How does the revival of interest in psychogeography – in a user friendly kind that relies on absent narrators communicating through cellphones – relate to the open-ended structures of the Situationists? Is there really possibility for the “chance encoun­ter” or “chance juxtaposition” in a video game?

Games that we can consider range from the compacted image of New York pre­sented in The Godfather to the very realistic architecture of JFK Reloaded. Archi­tecture might, in fact, be our closes approximation to “reality,” and hence the presence of the auteur — that one who is enslaved by corporate structures and ideology but who must nonetheless find expression between the cracks (or edits) — might best be found here.

Are video game spaces — the empty parts — the primary architecture of video games, and what we actually see the “empty” parts?

5. Architecture

The “beautiful ruin” has been a staple of several architects of the last century, primarily by Louis Kahn, but also the Nazi Albert Speer. Not surprisingly, many video games seem to valorize these same principles, opting for the evocative post-apocalyptic tenor over the clean-structured, fully operational modern, pro­fessional note.

We also understand the unfolding of representational elements in video games, either through cut scenes or otherwise, as reliant on the sorts of strategies com­mon to comics, not to mention the gestalt-switch conundrums of an artist like M.C. Escher. The key issue is to determine how images unfold through time, how it is that we perceive these images, many of which will be unique but then again pre­determined by algorithm, and thus our appreciation as well of “chance” in a con­trolled environment.

Lastly, we will explore the relationship of video game architecture to the “American vernacular” as explored in Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas. Is it pos­sible that architects have something to learn with the way game worlds are de­signed — in terms of the perspectives they offer, for example, on ruined portions of their creations. How is power conveyed through perspective?

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[More writing for my class blog that I thought to share with you...]

Keep in mind that very little is entirely “new” in “new media writing.” There are often examples from the analog world that explain certain principles of electronic writing even better than the electronic writing available.

Some of the following terminology might sound INCREDIBLY PRETENTIOUS. At least I think it does, but I also think these concepts are pretty handy to keep in mind when reading (and playing) the work assigned for this semester. They are not concepts you would be dealing with too often in other arts or literature classes.

Recombinant poetics is the aesthetics of treating words and letters like digital objects. “Collage poetics,” like what the Dada and Surrealist artists explored in their games, or “cut up” methods explored by William S. Burroughs, treated words like physical objects, and used chance to create new combinations that were startling to the reader and not governed by an “author.” Oulipo writing practices, in which formulas were used as constraints on the writing – a simple one being the non-use of the letter “e” in George Perec’s novel A Void – treated language as something mathematical, almost like numbers, though never to the degree of being illegible.

“Recombinant poetics” is something like both of these, but in the digital realm, hence opening the possibilities of 1) incredibly complex writing algorithms, and 2) access to a possibly infinite world of texts, either through the internet or one’s own files.

The above is closely related to something I call database aesthetics, which is a phrase that I accidentally stole from the critic and theorist Lev Manovich. Works predicated on a database aesthetics explore organizing texts in ways that haven’t arisen in literary history in the genres we are familiar with (lyric poetry, drama, epic poetry, and narrative fiction) but rather have arisen through our working with databases, sorting alphabetically, by length, by occurrence of certain elements, by keywords, etc. Works like Lyn Hejinian’s poem My Life, which, in the version she wrote when she was 37, had 37 chapters of 37 sentences each, is a version of this.

Text/image complex are those moments when the text and image of in a piece (or even the image of text itself) interact in a way that moves beyond illustration, and beyond what either element are doing on their own. A good, basic example of this is your standard New Yorker cartoon – neither the drawing or the caption are very funny on their own, but the caption makes you see something different in the drawing, or vice versa. Advertisements play on this principle quite often – the phrase “Think different.” attached to a picture of Mahatma Gandhi creates a little “a ha” moment in the brain, much like when reading a haiku.

There can also be a sound element, but since we won’t be dealing with sound in this class, it’s better to keep in mind the use of text/image in works. The image of a text comes into play in works such as the books of Kenneth Goldsmith, which are predicated on giving physical mass to collections of words, or in pieces such as “Cedars Estate,” where the words are design elements. The text/image complex usually has some element of paradox or contradiction to it; the text and image are working against each other as much as for.

I also occasionally use the phrase visual pun. By that, I mean any instance in which the visual image appears to be one thing, but then, after the application of a caption, or maybe with a “pullback,” as in a movie, the image is revealed to be something quite different than what you thought it was. William Poundstone’s New Media Emblems are examples of visual puns, as is Bembo’s Zoo or the New Yorker Cartoons. Another well-known example is that game where you think you are either looking at an old hag or a young woman, though this might be classed more as an optical illusion.

The interface of a piece is pretty easy to describe: it is the way the piece functions as something you operate. The dashboard of a car is an interface, and even a book – its cover, the binding, the size – is an interface. All websites have an interface, and some incredibly simple interfaces, like that for Google, or ugly interfaces, like that for craigslist, have been the most successful on the web. Many works of electronic writing have experimental interfaces that have to be learned and practiced a little before the piece is truly enjoyable. Others simply have terrible interfaces.

Generative art and generative text are pieces in which the visual or textual image are created live, in real-time, either with the influence of a user’s input – moving the mouse around the screen, typing keywords in, etc. – or simply create themselves on their own, in ways determined by an algorithm, usually with some random elements.

The visual pieces of “dextro.org” or beautiful examples of generative art that almost look like highly complex, abstract pencil sketches, while “News Reader” and “Regime Change” are pieces that generate new texts from internet new sources. In these pieces, the artistry is often contained entirely in the programming, though of course none of these pieces can be deemed successful unless the output of the work is pleasurable, perhaps a match for human, non-computer creativity. (There is also something called generative music, which is actually the oldest of the three.)

There are more themes that I’d like to add to this list as the semester continues, but for now, these are the ones that come to mind as important for starting our class.

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Here’s an essay that went online in my time between blogs. It began as a response to Chapter Six of First Person, “The Pixel/The Line,” which Noah Wardrip-Fruin invited me to contribute to electronic book review’s version of that text.

http://www.electronicbookreview.com/thread/firstperson/databased

First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game, edited by Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, was published in January 2004. Here is the blurb intro thingie from their website:

Electronic games have established a huge international market, significantly outselling non-digital games; people spend more money on The Sims than on “Monopoly” or even on “Magic: the Gathering.” Yet it is widely believed that the market for electronic literature — predicted by some to be the future of the written word — languishes. Even bestselling author Stephen King achieved disappointing results with his online publication of “Riding the Bullet” and “The Plant.”

Isn’t it possible, though, that many hugely successful computer games — those that depend on or at least utilize storytelling conventions of narrative, character, and theme — can be seen as examples of electronic literature? And isn’t it likely that the truly significant new forms of electronic literature will prove to be (like games) so deeply interactive and procedural that it would be impossible to present them as paper-like “e-books”? The editors of First Person have gathered a remarkably diverse group of new media theorists and practitioners to consider the relationship between “story” and “game,” as well as the new kinds of artistic creation (literary, performative, playful) that have become possible in the digital environment.

This landmark collection is organized as a series of discussions among creators and theorists; each section includes three presentations, with each presentation followed by two responses. Topics considered range from “Cyberdrama” to “Ludology” (the study of games), to “The Pixel/The Line” to “Beyond Chat.” The conversational structure inspired contributors to revise, update, and expand their presentations as they prepared them for the book, and the panel discussions have overflowed into a First Person web site (created in conjunction with the online journal Electronic Book Review).

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