Thu, 21 Feb 2002
Subject: Digital Poetics
What I "had trouble
with" in Digital Poetics [by Loss Pequeno Glazier]
was not the New Media treatment, which seems fair, as much as a more
fundamental sort of ontological or metaphysical distinction he makes
about "multiple "I's"': that becomes the basis for not
just the following New Media assumptions, but for poetics both on-line
and on-page. He calls it the "key feature." I'll present his
position and then my disagreement. I quote at length (with commentary)
for those who haven't bought the book:
'The position of the "I"
is a crucial distinction between non-innovative and innovative literature.
How the "I" is constituted in a text says much about that
text's writing practice. Does the "I" assert forms of authority?
Is it unquestionably a nonpermeable (or semipermeable) filter between
the ego and the world?"
----But how does Loss hair-splits
between ego and "I" above? They're synonyms.
He passingly cites William
Carlos Williams ('Whenever I say, 'I' I mean also, 'you'"),
Arthur Rimbaud's "Je, c'est l'autre," Jack
Spicer's Martian radio, Hannah Weiner's audiohallucination-dictations,
Robert Creeley ("As soon as / I speak, I / speaks"),
and Jackson Mac Low's eventual post-chance defeatism "that
there is no such thing as nonegoiac art".
Against the "I,"
Glazier poses the collective, . . . but perhaps oddly: 'The notion of
our nation as multicultural . . . insists that a "nation"
can be made of a plurality of identities rather than a sole stereotypical
(Further slippage of terms:
from "I" to ego and then on to "identities." ---
Although identity is also true of the non-"I" subconscious.)
'Such a perspective can
be socially beneficial in a heterogeneous society as it obviates, for
one thing, the need for one "I" to be more valid than others,'---
although he then flipflops the collective into a proven evil: 'holocausts,
acts of genocide, and interpersonal violence'.
No dispute with his points
about the fallaciousness of the autonomous "I" (or subject).
It's just that the "I" can be de-coupled from its false autonomy
and remain a contingent "I"
(rather than throwing baby
out, bathwater, etc). Then the subsequent Web talk is predicated upon
these 'multiple "I's"':
'Such examples of the possiblity
of multiple or "distributed" identity lead us to consider
the text as not singular and isolated but more like the "I"
of the Internet. The web can be seen as such a multiple text, being
composed of endless varying pages or "I's."' (
to ego to identity to--- pages, although pages are no more the
"I" than, conversely, ID cards are.) 'Its pages are like the
cells that fall off the "I" of the human body" (
to belabor the ongoing slippage with Descartes' accomplishment
of retaining "I" without body,--- or the haywire syllogism:
pages are "I's" are like cells of the body but the body is
"I," where the whole becomes a part and then re-emerges out
of that part as a different part that is the whole, etc).
Comically, he then dashes
the whole "distribution" with the normal colloquialism: "In
this vein, I published a volume of poetry . . ."
So, that's Glazier.
I sketched out some of
my botherment in a letter to Geoffrey Gatza on January 27th,
so I'll just quote that, for now:
I used to say the same
thing as Glazier, that the "I"s have it, and that that's the
distinguishing feature between innovation and non-innovative, the heart
of the battle. I might still have agreed and let it slip by, except
that I'm at the moment very much under the influence of also reading
Deleuze's Logic of Sense (in English; I've read it in
French before, and didn't catch what I'm getting this round).
Deleuze introduces the
"I"-dimension in a very special and technical semiotic way.
First, there's the level
of denotation, where there's a pure statement, and that statement is
either true/false, or absurd: "It is snowing outside"/"It
is raining cats and dogs, literally".
(There is a veterinarian's
kennel on the second story of a building where there's a fire, and orderlies
toss the animals out the windows into the arms of firemen and people
below: "It is raining cats and dogs, literally.")
But in order for it be
uttered, there has to be a second level, which he calls manifestation:
"I heard on the radio that it is snowing outside"/"Whenever
I fall asleep during the day, I dream that it is raining cats and dogs,
Even where that manifestation-"I"
isn't present, it's implicit. Your mother looks out the window and says,
"It is raining outside," which is to say, she is implicitly
stating: I just saw that it is raining outside.
(or "I"s, if Glazier and Buffalo are right) is an absolutely
necessary precondition for the statement's denotation. If the "I"
who makes the statement about it snowing is a known liar (Cretan paradox)
or practical joker, the denotation is recast in light of that, and the
T/F value is suspended until further confirmation due to the unreliability
of the narrator. Etc.
What Glazier is calling
multiple "I"s is really School of Buffalo. Most of that writing
(asyntactical) doesn't have multiple "I"s and it doesn't have
a single "I": it has no "I".
So,--- that's the base
out of which my "contention" precedes: the divisions of personality
and identity that we harbor as individuals, mainly due to the work/leisure
office/home split, do not radically alter our manifestation of propositions.
("When I said, 'It is snowing outside,' and I was mistaken, you
have to understand, I was just speaking informally, not in my capacity
as a professional weather man.")
Of course, Glazier shuffles
the bean game a little by slipping between Mac Low's Buddhist pursuit
of "non-egoic" writing, to single-authored "multiple
I" writing, to communities and society in general where of course
there are multiple I's because each I is a surrogate for an individual
person or person's name: "Geoffrey in Buffalo says it is snowing",
"mez in Australia says it is snowing" (where it cannot
be snowing, since it is summer).
In the case of community,
though, he's muddying his terminology, because he really means perspectives.
...Which is similar to
my next gripe with him:
I think he's using "multiple
Is" to refer to what otherwise could be called "voices"
or "characters". Lon Cheney Sr. "The Man with
a Thousand Faces" was not a case of "multiple Is": those
were characters; it was still clear when T.S. Eliot first titled
"The Waste Land" as "He Do The Police in Many Voices".
Multiple Is is actually
a pathological condition: Multiple Personality, or its lesser version
Disassociation Syndrome. And while I'd agree that the incidence of Disassociation
Syndrome has become tremendously on the rise in America, that's not
what Glazier is talking about.
My third disagreement is
that he's talking about "I" as a starting point of
communication (despite the scientist whom he quotes about our receptivity
and passivity to perceptual stimuli): "I'm the one talking now
and this is what I have to say---".
The "I" remains
intact, though, as a reception point. Glazier, as "receptor"
or reader of different poetries, will consistently class some as innovative
and some as non-innovative. That's because he is single-I'ed, as a reception
The singularity of "I"
is absolutely necessary as the target or end point of a communication,
even if the "I" of the sender were debateable.
And my last and fourth
disagreement is about the internal/external function of "I"
or ego. (Now I'll switch to calling "I" ego.) Ego is a mediation
between id and super-ego, that is, between sprawling polymorphous perverse
desire and the controlling authorities (including fate and necessity)
that interfere with the gratification of that id. Without an "I",
the personality just rocks back and forth between impulsive craving
and fantasy, and neutralizing agencies of authority that deny those
impulses. "I" is a mechanism that learns to compromise between
fantasy and authority (reality), that learns to delay and to work in
order to fulfill desires.
I don't see where there's
room for Glazierian multiplicity in ego function. Competing egos within
the same person do not help maintain any distance between id and super-ego,
... although, to a certain extent, I could understand and acknowledge
that we possess auxiliary "I"s which, when the disappointment
to one ego-zone becomes too crushingly disappointing and the id is either
threatened with starvation or at risk of rebellion, can be called into
play: "He couldn't marry his mother, so he became a priest devoted
to the Virgin Mary." But there any "I" is serving as
the "I" at the moment it's in operation. It doesn't
matter who the batter is for there to be a baseball game, but
there must be a batter. Likewise, "I".
I guess I do have a fifth
(and maybe "multiple," down the road!) objection.
Despite the loose use of
the word "ego", conversationally, when we mean pride, greed,
or ambition, the risk of our times is not from the "I" or
egomania (the Me Generation is over). The danger of our times is the
transformation of individuals, of people, into statistics, into enumeration.
There are no longer faces in an audience; there's the number of "hits"
for a site. The stock market graph line, of course, epitomizes that
tendency: the labor of hundreds of thousands, the symbolic exchange
that motivates and accrues out of that labor, and the lives of tens
of thousands of finance industry service sector workers who contribute
to building the symbolism that culminates in the Dow Jones average,
are all atomized, smaller than a hundredth of a pixel, and the non-"I"
graph line prevails. (I'm not aiming for simple "anti-capitalism"
by putting it this way. The same is true of any graph representation
of people,--- or even of an individual, when the abstractions are DNA
and chromosomes.) It's not a good time for The Left to abandon the "I".
The "I" has more effectively been jettisoned by the cultures
associated with The Right: the "I"-subordination to an imaginary
Christ in fundamentalism, Super Bowl Sunday, . . .
The age of the masses
needs to hold onto the "I", even where that "I"
has many voices and is versatile and changeable.