Home > Uncategorized > What to do with “I”

What to do with “I”

It just occurred to me as I start to file away the various materials that I collected over the span of this semester, that a good portion of the work we discussed in this class won’t fit, one way or another, into the extra-large manilla file that I labelled “Art & Lit in Dig Dom.”  I don’t have a copy of the Breathing Wall, or the requisite system/accessories to run it; I don’t know how long many of the “assigned” links will remain active; My class notes criss-cross from a composition pad to floating word documents; The final project that Whitney and I produced isn’t in either of our possession. Without dragging out the all-too-obvious allusion to Diana Taylor’s lecture “The Digital as Anti-Archive,” this situation prods me to consider what is to come of our involuntary memory systems, especially with respect to the arts.  Back in August, a friend and fellow poet recommended this class to me, urging me on the grounds that it would introduce to me new ways of thinking about poetic form.  Gesturing to the material conditions of digital poetry, he made a comparison to the popularity of typewriters to modernist writers, how the ability to set your own type relaxed the conception that poetry is smooth on one side and bumpy on the other.  Looking back however, over my errant swaths of notes, it seems that the biggest change that seems intrinsic to the switch from paper-based composition to computer-based is one that is at the heart of generic theories of the lyric.  That being the distance between the speaker of the poem, the figure of the poet, and the flesh-and-blood human who in most cases composes the verse.  Marshall Brown sums this contention up in his essay “Negative Poetics”:

The poem says,” “the speaker says,” “Wordsworth says.” In our everyday critical usage these three assertions become indistinguishable. But they shouldn’t be. Instead, there is a speaker and there is a poet who gives the speaker voice. And there is a poem, which is a combination of the two voices-speaker and poet. The speech and the voice that re-cites the speech operate in tandem to give poems their depth.

To see the “I” personal pronoun in a paper-based poem is to ask the question to whom does that refer.  If the same pronoun shows up in a digital poem, the question of authorship, especially in the case of a randomly-generated recombinable poem, is severely complicated.  Does such a complication compel us to refigure the already muddled discussion of the lyric genre in order to account for this new signification.  Or does it pose the “I” as ineffable and de-emphasize staid notions of subjectivity and authorship?  I leave you/us with a quote from Chistopher Funkhouser (see his essay “Digital Poetry” in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies) on the banal possibilities and marvelous impossibilities that await the poet who longs to make poems that won’t fit, one way or another, into a manilla folder :

Author(s) or programmer(s) of such works presumably have a different sense of authorial control, from which a different sort of result and artistic expectation would arise; consequently, the purpose and production would veer from the historical norm. Because of this shift in psychology and practice, digital poetry’s formal qualities (made through programming, software, and database operations) are not as uniquely pointed and do not compare to highly crafted, singular exhortations composed by historic poets.

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