Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes from the Extreme Contemporary Conference, Part I.

Here are my notes from the excellent conference at Stanford's Center for the Study of the Novel. Much here that is relevant to ongoing discussion about poetry, I think.

Conference: The Extreme Contemporary

Event Date: January 12, 2007

Speakers: Svetlana Boym, Joshua Clover, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Alan Liu, Bill Luoma, Katie Salen
Discussants: Celeste Langan, Tyrus Miller, Sianne Ngai, Anne Wagner
Location: Terrace Room, Margaret Jacks Hall
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Overview (Note: this conference didn't really have much to do with novels)
Samuel Richardson famously called the novel "writing to the moment"; to what degree can this claim make sense of our present set of moments? How does the novel, long considered a pioneering form of modernity, engage the conditions that shape literature and art being produced and consumed today, Jan. 12, 2007, and into the future? What relationship might narrative practices have to a contemporary moment whose extremity is often located around visual regimes and instantaneity, organized by new technology and global communications? Are new media and digital technologies more prepared to find adequate forms for current conditions; does—and should—writing to this moment remain as a possibility?

10 am -11:30 am
Alan Liu, “Burning the Book: ‘Agrippa: A Book of the Dead’ in the Age of Networked Reproduction”

(Italics indicate my thinking and not spoken remarks)

Agrippa, William Gibson's collaborative project (with?).
--An "alien bildung," the bildung of new media. Included a poem on a diskette at the back of the artist's book, a poem which self-deleted after one reading: Agrippa as the metamorphosis of new media, the poem as the fragile, short-lived butterfly, and the disk a husk or chrysalis.
--Liu sets up The Agrippa Files to reconstruct the book and diskette; the tension between 1992-2005, web 1.0 and web 2.0. Book features a genetic sequence (I wish I knew about this before starting my genome project) that the printer had trouble printing--transcription problems everywhere, problem with the materiality of information. Agrippa becomes cult object of new media studies. What's the relationship between the handmade (high-end fine-art book) and technological?
-Agrippa and The Agrippa Files allows for an understanding of the digital event (or non-event). A circuit between new media studies, media archaeology, digital-textual scholarship. Allow us to see the problematic of seeing event as discrete moment--rather a process, a happening, that is in a continual state of redefintition and becoming. Just as it is problematic to see web 2.0 as a thing, as a one. Not network but networking. The fetish or cult object of Agrippa creates a self-sustaining or self-referencing circuit, a hype cycle, but also something that continually exceeds it.

My conclusion: Liu wants to question the thinking of new media and internet events as objects and discrete occurrences. The book becomes in a sense a redherring, the material husk of an underlying informational and social process which always exceeds our ability to think it--as as a one, or as an event, or object.

J. on break: remarks on nostalgia effect: we like capitalism from 20 yrs ago, just not today's capitalism. What is that?

Bill Luoma, “Electronic Arts: Problems with the Peace Server and Other Technologies”

--No thesis, he says. Only a question: are we there yet? Describes the peace server, uses google inputs to collage together content, links, images. "Feed unravels the web." Claims that while occasional moments of aesthetic interest, the result is not overall readable, like tedious Making of Americans (This strikes me as an apt comparison given the emphasis on person and making, back to bildung).
--Describes Jared Carter's indignation at a collage of his name. Flarflist response. Name as property? Describes his intent in setting up the peace server immediately after Sept. 11 by reading a passage about him from Spahr's forthcoming memoir--"to scramble the disinformation, to make sense of it all." Describes flarflist as "a healthy breeding ground for ass-vaginas"
--Dan Hoy's critique of flarf, and by extension the peace server, as "corporate algorithm." Likes phrase: play on notion of corporeal, but also agglomeration.
--Biographical information: Luoma grew up in Santa Clara valley, worked at Lockheed, parents worked at Lockheed. Chemical lab assistant : "mostly I was responsible for contamination." Reads collaborative poetry bus poem describing toxic sites in the Santa Clara valley.
--A short lesson in how computers talk to each other. Works directly on transmission control protocol and internet protocol. Sends Jclo an email. His point is that "ambiguity constrains protocols." Clarity as a value at the level of machine language. Indeed, he says, it's now thought that it is impossible to write a compiler that can handle ambiguity.
--His conclusion is that Flarf and the Peace Server are fundamentally constrained by this base-level attention to clarity and the corporate efficiency rationality that they index. What if ambiguity were written in? Poor John Keats. Describes the work of Jim Campbell who builds his own circuits and writes his own language as an example of a artist who writes ambiguity in.

Conclusion: Luoma's talk is a more attentive and sympathetic version of Hoy's critique, but one that is more compelling in demonstrating the regulatory forces at work in search-engine assisted art. I don't think it's a critique of search-engin Flarf as much as indication that such art forms need an awareness of these foundational clarities. In this he seems to echo Language poets' accounts of their own work as disrupting the efficiency and clarity and obviousness of ideological discourse (Bernstein and Watten and Perelman).

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Discussion:

Somebody brings up the role of comfort and discomfort in Katie Salen's project. Complicity/oppositionality--somebody mentions J. Drucker's book and Bourriaud. Is comfort compensatory? Does it supply something that is lacking, "shorthand for a process of socialization,"museums of socialization , museums of play in a world where play is disappearing. Anne Wagner speaks up for a combination between relational aesthetics and strategies of estrangement. Somebody: "Often on playgrounds you'll see children spend more time discussing the rules than actually playing." Jclo suggests we distinguish between inner rules and outer rules.

Moretti asks if the contemporary can really be identified with a medium. Medium as zeitgeist, medium as philosophy. Have we gone from a situation of the world to medium as definition of contemporary--therefore, end of history, etc. Liu mentions the singularizing of the word media and the way that "medium" drops out of discourse in the 60s. Information as allegory for capitalism, and as allegory for history. Spahr resists this equation of contemporary and internet. Why not resistance to globalization?

More to follow.

1 comment:

With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

I have so enjoyed my trip through this site; as a poet and an avid reader, I found it both enlightening and enriching...Thank You!