This is a short extract from a poem that I wrote in the late 1970s. It demonstrates two basic features of my method that remain relevant today, although I scarcely ever write poetry any more. First, the poem was typed. I have always been interested in the passage beyond the self that the engagement with mechanical processes represent. Second, the poem is informed by a strict logical procedure. I wrote one poem, then another one, then interleaved the lines to create the final poem. I can’t remember precisely what led me to this method. I had read William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, so perhaps I had picked up on his strategy of cut-up composition. For me it was a way of discovering conjunctions, abrupt breaks and curious affinities that I could never have come up with myself through straightforward linear composition. This logically articulated method became a way of shifting to another imaginative register. Its essential form is that of an algorithm – it constitutes a set of deliberate, neutrally applied steps. Here then, well before my initial engagement with computers, a fundamental interest in mechanical mediation and the poetic potential of impersonal procedure is evident. My aim is not to lay claim to any dimension of prescience or originality. The interest in mechanism and algorithmic procedure is clearly a common trope within modernist avant-garde practice. Rather my aim is to suggest that computation is only a particular form of a more general space of creative inquiry. Why is this significant? Because it indicates that a concern with mechanical agency and algorithmic process is not specific to computational digital media. However much the computer facilitates a literal engagement with machine processes and algorithmic composition, it is informed by a wider cultural imaginary.
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