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Journal, Day Three
I am a word processor. I sympathize with the protagonist of a cartoon claiming to have transferred x amount of megabytes, physically exhausted after a day of downloading. The simple act of moving information from one place to another today constitutes a significant cultural act in and of itself. I think it’s fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. Some of us call this writing.
In 1969, the conceptual artist Douglas Huebler wrote, “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.” I’ve come to embrace Huebler’s ideas, though it might be retooled as, “The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.” It seems an appropriate response to a new condition in writing today: faced with an unprecedented amount of available text, the problem is not needing to write more of it; instead, we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists.
Contemporary writing requires the expertise of a secretary crossed with the attitude of a pirate: replicating, organizing, mirroring, archiving, and reprinting, along with a more clandestine proclivity for bootlegging, plundering, hoarding, and file-sharing. We’ve needed to acquire a whole new skill set: we’ve become master typists, exacting cut-and-pasters, and OCR demons. There’s nothing we love more than transcription; we find few things more satisfying than collation.
There is no museum or bookstore in the world better than our local Staples.
The writer’s solitary lair is transformed into a networked alchemical laboratory, dedicated to the brute physicality of textual transference. The sensuality of copying gigabytes from one drive to another: the whirr of the drive, intellectual matter manifested as sound. The carnal excitement from supercomputing heat generated in the service of poetry.
The weight of holding a book’s worth of language in the clipboard waiting to be dumped: the magic is in the suspension.
The grind of the scanner as it peels language off the page, thawing it, liberating it. The endless cycle of textual fluidity: from imprisonment to emancipation, back to imprisonment, then freed once more. The balance between dormant text warehoused locally and active text in play on the Web. Language in play. Language out of play. Language frozen. Language melted.
The text of a newspaper is released from its paper prison of fonts and columns, its thousands of designs, corporate, political decisions, now flattened into a nonhierarchical expanse of sheer potentiality as a generic text document begging to be repurposed, dumped into a reconditioning machine and cast into a new form.
A radio broadcast is captured and materialized, rendered into text. The ephemeral made permanent; every utterance made by the broadcaster—every um and uh—goes onto the ever-increasing textual record. The gradual accumulation of words; a blizzard of the evanescent.
Cruising the Web for new language. The sexiness of the cursor as it sucks up words from anonymous Web pages, like a stealth encounter. The dumping of those words, sticky with residual junk, back into the local environment; scrubbed with text soap, returned to their virginal state, filed away, ready to be reemployed.
Sculpting with text.
Sucking on words.
Our task is to simply mind the machines.
Andy Warhol: I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.
Interviewer: Is that what Pop Art is all about?
Warhol: Yes. It’s liking things.
Interviewer: And liking things is like being a machine?
Warhol: Yes, because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again.
Interviewer: And you approve of that?
Warhol: Yes, because it’s all fantasy. 1a
Writing is finally catching up to Warhol. And it’s just the beginning. Soon we will not have to be bothered minding the machines for they will mind themselves. As poet Christian Bök states:
We are probably the first generation of poets who can reasonably expect to write literature for a machinic audience of artificially intellectual peers. Is it not already evident by our presence at conferences on digital poetics that the poets of tomorrow are likely to resemble programmers, exalted, not because they can write great poems, but because they can build a small drone out of words to write great poems for us? If poetry already lacks any meaningful readership among our own anthropoid population, what have we to lose by writing poetry for a robotic culture that must inevitably succeed our own? If we want to commit an act of poetic innovation in an era of formal exhaustion, we may have to consider this heretofore unimagined, but nevertheless prohibited, option: writing poetry for inhuman readers, who do not yet exist, because such aliens, clones, or robots have not yet evolved to read it. 2a
1a G. R. Swenson, “What is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters, Part I”, ARTnews, November 1963.
2a Christian Bök, “The Piecemeal Bard Is Deconstructed: Notes Toward a Potential Robopoetics,” Object 10: Cyber Poetics, Kenneth Goldsmith, ed (2001), http://www.ubu.com/papers/object/03_bok.pdf.