This fall I am co-organizing a symposium through the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington called “Affect and Audience in the Digital Age.” A collaboration between researchers in poetics from the Bothell and Seattle campuses of UW, our event explores the impact of digital mediation on contemporary poetry. Here is how my co-organizers Sarah Dowling, Brian Reed, and Gregory Laynor and I describe it on the conference website:
Audience in the Digital Age is a one-day symposium exploring emergent modes of creative public scholarship. Specifically, we are interested in scholarly, pedagogical, curatorial, and creative practices that attend to the digitally mediated character of contemporary poetry.
Since the advent of the internet, advocates and critics alike have heralded the end of the book. And yet, despite the worst efforts of the publishing industry, not only has the book persisted, it has proven to be a particularly elastic form, adept at adapting to remarkable changes in the way we read, write and interpolate narrative.
For centuries the printed book operated as a closed system, invested in concealing the structural processes of writing from the reader. In his now infamous 1992 New York Times article, "The End of Books," Robert Coover observed, “much of the novel's alleged power is embedded in the line, that compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last.” And yet, as Vannevar Bush astutely commented nearly 50 years earlier in "As We May Think," published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic, "the human mind does not work that way. It operates by association.
Internet-based writing and art works emerge from, refer to, and thus must be understood within the complex context of the internet, which is in fact a conglomeration of contexts operating in concert (or not). For their function and for their intelligibility internet-based works are dependant upon the internet and all its vagaries, from the constraints of its physical infrastructure to the menace of its crawling bots, from the Babel babble of its code languages to the competing messages of its surface contents. How can works created for and within this highly provisional, seemingly immaterial, endlessly re-combinatory context be read, watched or understood in any other?
This is precisely the question that the Vienna-based collective CONT3XT.NET has been relentlessly asking of itself and of others over the past five years. Co-foundes Sabine Hochrieser, Michael Kargl, Birgit Rinagl, and Franz Thalmair take a translation approach to curatorial practice, exploring new creative territories and practices oscillating between the virtual and the real by reformulating the immateriality of the internet into the physicality of paper, space, performance or other public presentations. On their website they state: “Always starting from the idea of the context as the most indecisive and variable but relevant constraint of any situation, the collective analyses the spatial, temporal, discursive as well as the institutional framework that conceptual artistic practices are rooted in today.” Over the past five years they have collaborated with a wide range of media artists, theorists, curators and writers working at the nexus of contemporary visual, textual and networked practices to develop networked projects, exhibitions, publications, lectures and public presentations.