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 one."

(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."' (…From "I" 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" (…not 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, literally."

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.

The manifestation-"I" (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 point.

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.