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Late Review 04
1. Write for skimmers
2. Write for peckers
3. Filter, impose, trespass
4. Include a link to the Code
5. Think hyper
6. Think branding
7. Think icon
8. Tell your visitor where to go
“How to Write for the Internet”
in Human Resources
by Rachel Zolf
Coach House Books, 2007
Human Resources is the third book of poetry by Rachel Zolf, a writer who capitalizes upon her experience as a part-time employee, composing copytexts for a corporate clientele. Influenced by the ideas of George Bataille (who discusses a “general economy” of exchange based, not upon recouped scarcity, but upon wasteful excesses), Zolf provides a political critique of quotidian language under capitalism. She showcases the power of poetry to offer us more radical options for expression.
Zolf recombines readymade fragments of bizspeak from her job, using both online devices and search engines in order to augment mechanically the outcome of these permuations: “given enough input elements, a writing machine can spew about anything: private jets, exquisite gardens, offshore-banking havens….” Out of language pilfered from the boardroom, the author generates nonsensical statements about random, poetic topics, all intersecting at the crossroads of money, waste, and labor.
Zolf notes that “Orwell says[,] freedom and democracy bloom from plain speech,” but she tests the limit of this adage by suggesting that the asemic excess of poetry might complicate such a political principle. In her epigraph, she quotes an editorial from the Harvard Business Review, which avers that, “[b]ecause literature concerns itself with the ambiguities of the human condition, it stands as a threat to the vitality of the business executive”—who must be plainspoken in order to be successful.
Zolf, however, uses these threatening “ambiguities” in order to demonstrate that the argot of such plainspoken capitalists has reduced the “human resources” of identity to nothing more than values upon a spreadsheet. Zolf illustrates her metaphor, for example, by using a gematric calculus in order to correlate words of “equal value”; moreover, she often replaces words in a poem with a number that corresponds to their ranked usages in English (so that, for example, the word “the” might appear as the number “1,” because the word “the” is, of course, the most commonly uttered word in the language).
Zolf peppers her text with these cryptograms based upon “word-rank” (so that the line—1 403 9 4 930 6 ‘2421 510’—translates ironically into the following proposition: “the job is to write in plain language”). Such cryptic numbers call to mind index values or stock prices—or perhaps (because of the Hebraic mystique of gematria), the penal codes at Auschwitz; however, Zolf also suggests that, perhaps, poetry might constitute a kind of encryption that renders us “illegible” to such capitalist mechanisms….