Literature: Lift this End
The Internet epistemologist Richard Rodgers describes the latest evolution of digital culture as “the end of the virtual,” a moment at which attention can no longer be confined primarily to integration, encapsulation, or remediation, but must turn instead to natively computational questions and methods. The meaning of this periodic shift is clear enough for the social and information sciences, but less so for the humanities: especially for literature, a field recently split into core and periphery, a home ground of literature-proper set against a hazier outline or outland that has come to be called “the literary.”
This talk begins by subverting the all-too-familiar topos of end-times or elegiac criticism (the end
of some world as we know it), by insisting that end may as easily refer to contour or wrapping as
termination or extinction. That is, an end may also be an edge, a line along which a structure becomes ready-to-hand, or available for manipulation. An end in this sense is an affordance for engagement: commonly, for lifting and carrying.
Equipped with this metaphor, I turn to an interestingly problematic set of digitally native productions,
three examples of Internet-mediated, found composition:
-- Michael Joyce’s “novel of internet,” Was: annales nomadiques
-- K.C. Mohammad’s “flarf” poems collected in The Front
-- Andrei Georghe’s programming project, “The Longest Poem in the World”
Each of these texts involves lifting in two senses: most literally, they use words and phrases lifted or
appropriated from Google, Twitter, and other online sources; at the same time, this light-fingered
procedure lifts and repositions “the literary” at various angles with respect to literature, prompting
serious thinking about their ongoing relationship. Does “the literary” have any use for self-described
writers? What is the nature of language in “the literary?” Joyce locates himself within modern and
postmodern traditions, which have familiar responses to these questions. The same seems at least
partly true for Mohammad, though flarfists seem as anxious about poetry as a profession as they do
about flarf as a program or movement. By contrast, Andrei Gheorghe does not identify as a creative
writer, seems to think of writing as primarily a formal process, and describes his project as purely
technical, even though it meets at least some specifications of verse.
These three texts (admittedly a small and arbitrary sample of a digitally-native literary) may suggest
a trajectory, alignment, or figure, which I will attempt to use as a defining contour of post-virtual literature, especially with regard to certain neo-parodic or reverberative practices they may inspire, or require.
(Source: Author's abstract, 2012 ELO Conference site)