Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

"Digital Poetics" by Loss Pequeno Glazier (University of Alabama Press, 2002)

Since this book was published, the basic possibilities for authors have changed little, but much else has

  • Speed and availability has improved. Java and Flash support is common in browsers (Flash is barely mentioned in the book). Streaming video is commonplace. These changes affect the decision as to what's worth producing
  • Mass participation has raised the level of reader-skills that writers can assume, but it has also led to the WWW being swamped by self-published texts
  • The WWW is increasingly seen as a medium connecting people rather than connecting texts.
  • Many web pages are non-static applications nowadays. Many non-web programs use concepts that could be termed "hyper*" - e-books are augmented linear texts; computer games have configurable PoVs and non-linear narratives; some programs have immersion - sensory feedback, etc. In consequence, more research has been done on user interaction, and users expect more from interactive texts.
  • Techniques used in art-house video-shorts are seen in ads and music videos, which makes "new media" consumers more demanding.

When it became easy to add material to the WWW, much old material was faithfully transcribed. A new lease of life was given to Hallmark-card poetry, Oulipo, Concrete poetry, VisPo, and Procedural literature. If you didn't like the paper-based version of these genres, you won't like the WWW ones. I don't care if the author produced their work in the bath with a quill, or whether a painter worked with a brush between their toes. Equally I don't care what procedure Mac Low used. Usually all I care about is the final output. Even links might be considered old-fashioned - "Hypertext is a logical extension - and hardly a revolutionary substitution - of the communication technology that both the Enlightenment and modernist literature is based on" (Aarseth, quoted on p.169). Links seem rather to be tied up with narrative and prose, leaving poetry behind - "Poetry is a field of writing/programming whose alliance to digital practice seems to be generally unacknowledged" (p.153). And poets seem to throw away the baby with the old bath-water - "Though poets who call themselves hypertext poets frequently mention the canonical classic hypertext writers, they rarely seem to mention the tradition of innovative practice that has put poetry in the perfect position to inform digital practice; though they often seem to evoke postmodern theory, postmodern poetry is surprisingly overlooked" (p.93).

At the end of the book his list of traps for future development include fixating on narrative, fixating on links, and separating the author and the programmer (the content and the form). These seem reasonable. His vision of the future was sensibly tentative. I remain unsure how things are developing. I think Flash technology and the ease of video creation is helping to free web-writers from the tyranny of the codex, but Image, Sound and the WWW go so well together that text might get squeezed out of the most interesting developments - Digital Poetics might borrow more from Movies, Games and Edutainment than from Poetry.

He and others seem a little over-excited about poetry and computing

  • "[Unix] can also be seen as highly poetic, employing sparse, condensed syntax for powerful effects. ... It offers possibilities for conceptualising space that are compelling ... These and many similar features suggest that UNIX is a system with intensely compelling poetic features" (p.14)
  • "code resembles classical poetry" (Wilkins) (p.112)

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