Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/27143/domains/ on line 36

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/27143/domains/ on line 21

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/27143/domains/ on line 540

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/27143/domains/ in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/27143/domains/ on line 2
Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams a feed-reading of The Capilano Review Tue, 03 Nov 2009 14:53:41 +0000 en Alternate Readings: The “In This Issue” Remix Fri, 30 May 2008 18:06:26 +0000 JRML In his introductory essay to TCR 2-50, Artifice And Intelligence: New Writing, New Technologies, guest-editor Andrew Klobucar outlines the major themes covered in the issue. An annotated version of the “In this issue…” section of his essay functions as a reading tour through Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams:

Klobucar: Kate Armstrong tells us more about the cultural significance of RSS feeds in the issue. The Vancouver artist and writer is one of Canada’s most important theorists and practitioners in the field of new media and technology studies.

Carpenter: Kate Armstrong is also the curator of Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams. When she first approached me about making a new digital artwork out of the texts of TCR 2-50 the only criteria was that the project explore the formal and functional properties of RSS. That sounded great to me but when I try explaining the project to some people, they hear the acronym RSS and their eyes glaze over. For all those people who I have explained this project poorly to, please read this excerpt of Armstrong’s essay - it explains everything AND why it is interesting: What the heck is RSS?

Klobucar: Scholars like Laura Marks show how art forms as seemingly disparate as Islamic writing and new media share an interesting cultural “lineage” via their common deference to the “line” as a visual measure of infinity. In her essay, “Taking a Line for a Walk,”? the spatial design of Islamic script in history presents an alternative, more abstract concept of reasoning closer in structure to digital writing than to prior, more verbally-centred western traditions of representation.

Carpenter: Laura U. Marks uses examples from Islamic art to “show that an immanent Infinite is imaginable in contemporary society,” and suggests a number of ways in which “contemporary works of computer-based art may point toward this infinity.” My favourite example of the performivity of the vector appears in this excerpt: the giant On/Off of mortality

Klobucar: Some of the recent developments in the visual structure and appearance of writing on screen derive, as we see in Jim Andrews’s piece, from new networking technologies. The “network,” for Andrews, functions not just as a structure of information exchange with multiple nodes of input and output, it suggests an actual paradigm of cognition as a continuous, process-driven social activity. The writings and artworks he reviews in his article share a creative interest in exploring these key aspects of the Web as important aesthetic qualities.

Carpenter: Interestingly, in the Client-Server excerpt of of Andrews’ essay, in a discussion of peer-to-peer communication, an intertextual relationship emerges between Andrews’ essay TCR contributer Kevin Magee’s poem, To Write as Speech, in particular in the matrix/chora excerpt.

Klobucar: The network as a model of both cultural creation and organisation retains a growing influence outside the Web, as is evident in both Sandra Seekins’s research into biotech art and Sharla Sava’s review of recent work by this issue’s featured artist, Antonia Hirsch. Hirsch’s inventive reconstructions of cartographic information exemplify the visually abstract nature of modern knowledge, discovering in it a wealth of creative patterns and image relations – many of them as politically informative as they are aesthetically pleasing.

Carpenter: A section of Seekins’ essay that deals with the metaphors and media of biotechnologies led to me to quote a sequence of pre-genetic-technology references made in literature and philosophy to “metaphors” of bodies as “composites of replaceable parts” in this excerpt: Metaphors of Biotechnology. Usage of language, metaphor and meaning come up again in Sharla Sava’s essay, A Language of Cartography

Klobucar: A more critical approach to current artistic interests in networks and digital media appears in Gordon Winiemko’s account of New Media installation art, where he shows how a clearly fetishised response to information networks can result in a too naive appreciation of abstract processes over creative agency and willful design.

Carpenter: In the beyond the binary either/or section of his essay Some Thoughts About “New Media” in Quotes, TCR 2-50 contributor Gordon Winiemko writes:

The artists who make careers out of tackling important issues are ones who often have to resort to a defencive mantra like “all art is political.” If that’s the case, then why do they (why do we) persist in making work nominally pre-classified as “political art”? Perhaps, such a tendency merely mimics common tactics within post-industrial capital, where the best way to make a living seems increasingly dependent upon defining some particular niche market.

Carpenter: TCR 2-50 contributer Sandra Seekins picks up on this issue of art production in a capital, commodity, consumer continuum in her essay: Of Molecules and Matter: The Promises and Perils of Biotech Art. In a section called Brief Encounters with Biotech Art she writes:

Contemporary art practice is being transformed (as art has always been) by technological imperatives, and art has a contribution to make in terms of raising the level of public awareness about the technical, economic, political, and social discourses surrounding biotechnologies. […] In advanced biological science there is, on the one hand, the ideal that scientific inquiry benefits the public good, and, on the other, that a free market drives innovation. Art is equally caught between goals of personal expression, social relevance, and commercial value.

Carpenter: In the Co-opting the Lab section of her essay, Seekins writes extensively on “artists who make careers out of tackling important issues” in biotech art. For many of the artists Seekins mentions, “all art is political” indeed.

Klobucar: Given the arguments presented throughout this issue, the reader will no doubt agree that new information technologies, along with the variety of formats they inspire, have indeed prompted a “crisis” in writing, in the sense that such developments must invoke a formative and not merely utilitarian effect on knowledge and how it is communicated.

Carpenter: In Kevin Magee’s poem, To Write as Speech, he argues:

But others brought in
others brought in from the margins

In the matrix/chora excerpt Magee asks:

“(It is only language, typing, that sticks in your throat?”

And in

Darren Wershler-Henry’s Technologies of Dictation we might find an obliques anser: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group describes Toronto Research Group’s composition process as they (Nichol and McCaffery) portray it in one of their own texts, the fumetto (photo-comic) “Nary-A-Tiff”: at the scene of production, the two men are busy literally putting words in each others’ mouths as they paste word balloons down onto the photographs. Outside of such fleeting moments of elementary school-style craft production, though, typewritten dictation is rarely simple, and it is never innocent.

Klobucar: Perhaps this complex cybernetic intermingling of machine and mind appears clearest in Darren Wershler-Henry’s contribution, an inspired exploration of the typewriter as a device uniquely representative of the historical and epistemological convergence of the dicté and typist into a single dictation apparatus. Wershler-Henry’s typewriter as authoring machine invokes an especially dynamic image of all media technology, one forever fraught with the tension of being part language document, part language system – part artifice, part intelligence.

Andrew Klobucar / Artifice And Intelligence: New Writing, New Technologies

Alternate Readings: Questions Tue, 27 May 2008 00:34:30 +0000 JRML Here is a re-reading TCR 2-50 comprised of one question posed by each author listed in the order their essays appear in TCR 2-50:

It is not unusual to find [Australian poet Komninos] Zervos’s term “crisis” frequently employed in critical comparisons of print to electronic modes of production. If the term is warranted, the dilemma derives, not only from practical difficulties classifying and copyrighting the wide variety of digital art and writing formats in continuous development, but also from more fundamental, traditional humanist questions concerning the relationship between language and knowledge – questions where language tends to resurrect its classical associations with the faculties of reason and human cognition.
Andrew Klobucar / Artifice And Intelligence: New Writing, New Technologies

How might creative writing (or even language use in general) take advantage of digital processing applications to create new and innovative forms of literary art, electronic or otherwise?
Global Telelanguage Resources / LexIcons: The Art of Definition

In terms of a biopolitics of biotech art, is it possible for there to be new fusions of organisms, machines, and systems concerned not with individual self-enhancement, but rather with the proliferation of difference and the creation of innovative systems that can foster cross-cultural and cross-species alliances with the goal of benefiting all matter?
Sandra Seekins / Of Molecules and Matter: The Promises and Perils of Biotech Art

RSS feeds out in an ongoing, dynamic process of perpetual becoming. Once this world has begun, how can it end?
Kate Armstrong / Feeds and Streams: RSS Poetics

Interstitial cognition emerges in the presence of the unknown.
David Jhave Johnston / INTERSTITIAL

In calligraphy, is the line abstract? Is it not in the service of language and required to defer to language’s need to communicate?
Laura U. Marks / Taking a line for a walk, from the Abbasid Caliphate to computer graphics, or, The Performativity of the Vector

How much of our knowledge of nature relies on a process of international data accumulation.
Sharla Sava / Gridlock: Antonia Hirsch’s World Map Project

invasion / penetration / occupation
What is the head not a host to?
Kevin Magee / to write as speech

What funk is there to be accomplished with an internet connection?
Jim Andrews / The < body > of Net Art

I’ve lost count of the number of bells and whistles I’ve triggered by the sounds I make, or my movements in a public space like a gallery or plaza. Nice effects, but what do they do, except fetishize technology and passively recapitulate the paradigm, or the received knowledge, of interactivity?
Gordon Winiemko / Some Thoughts About “New Media” in Quotes

Through some glitch of artificial unintelligence the malfunctioning vcr kept trying to eject nothing for days.
Nancy Paterson / VCR Story

When a writer sits “alone” at their machine, who is dictating?
Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

We’ve always typed. bpNichol

Alternate Readings: Minimalist Sun, 25 May 2008 03:45:02 +0000 JRML In February 2007 The Capilano Review, a literary journal based in North Vancouver, B.C., published an issue dedicated to new writing and new technologies. TCR 2-50 “Artifice & Intelligence” was guest-edited by Andrew Klobucar and included essays by: Andrew Klobucar, Global Telelanguage Resources, Sandra Seekins, Kate Armstrong, David Jhave Johnston, Laura U. Marks, Sharla Sava, Kevin Magee, Jim Andrews, Gordon Winiemko, Nancy Paterson & Darren Wershler-Henry.

TRIBUTARIES & TEXT-FED STREAMS: A FEED-READING OF THE CAPILANO REVIEW is a personal, playful and experimental rereading of and response to these essays by Montreal-based fiction writer and web artist J. R. Carpenter. Here is a re-reading TCR 2-50 comprised of one sentence by each author listed in the order their essays appear in TCR 2-50:

Quandaries concerning language and meaning seem to re-surface each time new print / reproduction technologies emerge.
Andrew Klobucar / Artifice And Intelligence: New Writing, New Technologies

Global Telelanguage Resources maintains a mandate to develop innovative modes of writing via new techniques & concepts of language use.
Global Telelanguage Resources / LexIcons: The Art of Definition

The language of DNA, the metaphors used to describe it, and how this information is “translated” is a concern for biotech artists.
Sandra Seekins / Of Molecules and Matter: The Promises and Perils of Biotech Art

In generative digital literature, it is said that the work has the last word because the author and the reader are suddenly in the same position.
Kate Armstrong / Feeds and Streams: RSS Poetics

Interstitial art is any work of art whose basic nature falls between, rather than within, the familiar boundaries of accepted genres or media.
David Jhave Johnston / INTERSTITIAL

Within an information-capitalist society, there is little room or time for the infinite.
Laura U. Marks / Taking a line for a walk, from the Abbasid Caliphate to computer graphics, or, The Performativity of the Vector

Online technologies have turned us all into potential cartographers.
Sharla Sava / Gridlock: Antonia Hirsch’s World Map Project

Between the lines. Pieces as segments, without beginning or end, something from which to imagine a whole ….
Kevin Magee / to write as speech

It takes longer for the artistic imagination to acclimatize to new media than it does to create the technology behind it.
Jim Andrews / The < body > of Net Art

When considering technology, one need not pit the new against the old, or the rhetoric of liberation against determinism.
Gordon Winiemko / Some Thoughts About “New Media” in Quotes

Bring me your tired, your poor, your broken VCR’s.
Nancy Paterson / VCR Story

What interests me are the conditions and rules under which typewriting emerges from an always-nebulous assemblage of dictators, typists and machines.
Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

We’ve always typed. bpNichol

Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams Vancouver Launch Thu, 22 May 2008 14:35:29 +0000 JRML Join us on Saturday, May 24th at 7:30 pm at the Helen Pitt Gallery in Vancouver, BC, to launch Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams a new work of electronic literature by Montreal-based fiction writer and web artist J.R. Carpenter.

Many books were harmed in the making of this electronic literature project - pictured here are but a few.

Many books were harmed in the making of this electronic literature project. Over the past five months Carpenter has been exploring the formal, functional and poetic properties of RSS syndication, rereading, remixing, annotating, parsing and posting fragments of text from the “Artifice and Intelligence” issue of literary quarterly The Capilano Review. Tributaries & Text-Fed Streams is commissioned by The Capilano Review and curated by Kate Armstrong. The work will be simultaneously launched on

The Vancouver launch event will feature a reading by the artist in addition to a programme of experimental readings by practitioners in disparate fields such as quantum physics, geography, and poetics, arranged to explore ideas of streams, seriality, or flow. Participants include Michael Boyce, Babble Brook, Maria Lantin, Billy Mavreas, Jeremy Venditti, Global Telelanguage Resources, and J.R. Carpenter.

A reception will follow.

Saturday, May 24th, 2008
Helen Pitt Gallery
102-148 Alexander Street
Sliding scale: $5-$10


MICHAEL BOYCE is a writer from the east coast, living on the west coast, writing different kinds of things in different kinds of ways. His first novel, Monkey, was published by Pedlar Press, and he is now finishing a second one, called Anderson. Boyce has also published short stories, poetry, reviews, and critical theory about artists and their work.

J. R. CARPENTER is a two-time winner of the CBC Quebec Short Story Competition and a Web Art Finalist in the Drunken Boat Panliterary Awards 2006. Her electronic literature projects are included in Electronic Literature Collection Volume One, Web Biennial 2007 (Istanbul) and Rhizome ArtBase (New York). Her short fiction has been anthologized in In Other Words, Short Stuff and Lust for Life, and has appeared in journals including: Geist, Matrix, The New Quarterly and Blood & Aphorisms. Her first novel, Words the Dog Knows, is forthcoming from Conundrum Press in 2008. She lives in Montreal where she serves as the President of the Board of Directors of OBORO, an artist run gallery and new media lab.

GLOBAL TELELANGUAGE RESOURCES (GTR) is an ongoing experimental art project directed by two artists/writers (David Ayre and Andrew Klobucar ) who work exclusively in digital media. The primary objective of each GTR work is to explore creatively different theoretical and aesthetic directions in digital technology as both a field of writing and mode of literary production/distribution. Parallel with most western processes of modernisation, technologies of writing or signification remain highly dependent, both politically and culturally, on how particular societies process, produce and distribute knowledge. It is within this context that each GTR project prioritises the creation of new forms of representation, i.e., new instruments of language, over any simulated product or art piece. Through the actual construction and application of different methodologies of writing, GTR hopes to draw its audience’s collective attention to the vital significance of technological formats in the everyday creation of cultural meaning. To understand more fully how concepts of modern culture and social reasoning continue to evolve, one must consider the forms of representation and organisation that inevitably allow these concepts to cohere. At the centre of GTR’s work, accordingly, is the construction of different media platforms able to simulate the various ways writing
organises itself technologically as a mode of representation and thus as a social discipline able to authorise and regulate cultural skills, attitudes and even moral values.

MARIA LANTIN is the Director of the Intersections Digital Studios, a research space at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Prior to coming to Emily Carr, Dr. Lantin led the Visualization Lab within the Advanced Research Technology (ART) Labs at The Banff Centre where she helped produce digital media work with a variety of international artists. Alternating between academia and industry for a number of years, she has worked as a senior developer at Mainframe Entertainment, an assistant professor at the Technical University of British Columbia (now SFU), and the Director of Research at IDELIX Software Inc. Dr. Lantin continues to collaborate with many artists on media works, and also produces and exhibits her own work on language visualization.

BILLY MAVREAS is a Greek-Canadian artist living in Montreal. For almost twenty years, Mavreas has produced rock posters, comics, artist books, visual poetry, installation, mail art, web art, performance, essay writing and guerilla consultancy. His artwork and various projects have been shown and published internationally. He is the author of The Overlords of Glee (conundrum press, 2001), Hell Passport Commentary (Perro Verlag, 2006) and the upcoming Inside Outside Overlap (Timeless Books, 2008) among many others. Mavreas is also the proprietor of his enduring project, Monastiraki, a Mile-End magickal curiosity shoppe and art gallery.

JERMEY VENDITTI is a river geomorphologist who conducts research on geomorphic and sedimentary processes that shape Earth’s surface. Dr. Venditti’s current work focuses on turbulence and sediment dynamics in sand-bedded rivers, sediment delivery to the ocean, scientifically-based stream naturalization, and sediment transport dynamics in gravel-bedded streams. He uses a spectrum of research approaches, including field observation and experimentation, physical modeling in laboratories, development of theoretical models, and numerical simulation. His work covers a range of temporal and spatial scales from detailed examinations of sediment dynamics occurring over fractions of a second in laboratory channels to monitoring annual river and watershed responses to human impacts.

Dr. Venditti holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Guelph, a Masters of Science from the University of Southern California, and a PhD from the University of British Columbia. From 2004-2006 he held a research appointment at the University of California, Berkeley and was a senior scientist at Stillwater Sciences in Berkeley California. Dr. Venditti is currently a faculty member in the Department of Geography and leads the Landscape Dynamics Laboratory at Simon Fraser University.

Ghost Writing: Nary-A-Tiff Wed, 21 May 2008 13:09:03 +0000 JRML What happens when there are (as there frequently are, and as the etymology of “amanuensis” suggests) inequities in the relationship? Foucault notes that all relationships are on some level agonistic – there are always imbalances of power, and there are always struggles, even between the best of friends.

In the descriptions of the Toronto Research Group’s composition process, for example, Nichol and McCaffery always use “enunciator” instead of “dictator,” as if to cosmeticize the inevitability of the power relations that course through their texts. Further, both are straight white men of the same income bracket; gender, class and race, major factors in the description of power relations in the scene of dictation, are not issues here. Nevertheless, at least one of their own texts, the fumetto (photo-comic) “Nary-A-Tiff,” in Rational Geomancy, which deals explicitly with questions of voice and influence, dramatizing the high stakes that accompany the question of who speaks, even under idealized circumstances, and, despite the claims of Rational Geomancy’s “Introduction.”

In the comic, which opens with both poets digging through the library “[i]n the palatial offices of The Toronto Research Group,” [All text in the comic is in capitals] McCaffery quotes a text to Nichol, whose author (Beaumont and Fletcher – a dual author-function, like the TRG itself) “anticipate De Sade.” Nichol initially accuses McCaffery of “justifying moral weakness as ‘excess,’” but after physically attacking McCaffery, he delivers his ultimate accusation: “All you do is plagiarize the French anyway!!” Though Nichol does not articulate a preferential influence of his own, Peter Jaeger writes in his discussion of “Nary-A-Tiff” in The ABC of Reading TRG, his study on the TRG, that “Nichol desires a transcendental figure (the ‘father’ and ‘Lord’ of The Martyrology) who negotiates with but ultimately upholds the inverse of McCaffery’s critique of conventional morality.” McCaffery proceeds to stab Nichol in the heart with a letter opener, disposes of the body and returns to his research … but the comic concludes with a shot of a ghostly Nichol staring in the window, presumably contemplating revenge on the blissfully unaware McCaffery.

Thematically, the text’s concern is with questions of literary influence: not only their moral and philosophical validity, but also the correct manner to incorporate those influences in one’s own writing. From the perspective of the Nichol of “Nary-A-Tiff,” McCaffery, under the metaphorical lash of Fletcher, Beaumont and De Sade, exhibits too much fidelity to his personal dictatorial voices, and slides over the blurry line that divides precise citation from plagiarism.

On the meta-narrative level, “Nary-A-Tiff” is a sophisticated dramatiza-tion of the complexities of dictation. When Nichol, who is, after all, at least sometimes another of McCaffery’s dictating voices, articulates a differing philosophical viewpoint from McCaffery’s continental dictators, “Narry-A-Tiff” paradoxically reifies the influence of McCaffery’s dictators by staging a violent narrative pantomime à la Sade. But even though the Nichol character is murdered, the text still cannot be rid of his influence, which asserts its vengeful presence in the very last pane of the cartoon, staring in through another (window)pane in a manner that evokes one of Nichol’s own comic strips, full of Byzantine arrays of nested frames. [bpNichol Comics] And outside of the work, at the scene of production, the two men are busy literally putting words in each others’ mouths as they paste word balloons down onto the photographs. Outside of such fleeting moments of elementary school-style craft production, though, typewritten dictation is rarely simple, and it is never innocent.

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

A Fragile Contract Tue, 20 May 2008 13:41:33 +0000 JRML In his essay, Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group, Darren Wershler-Henry looks beyond the roles of the individuals - in this case bpNichol and Steve McCaffery - toward a fuller understanding of the nature and outcome of their collaboration:

Because my concern is not to determine with which subject the Toronto Research Group writing “actually” originated, or with the establishment of a hard and fast oeuvre (discursive analysis is interested in neither, except as a function of expression, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language), I’m not particularly concerned with sorting out who occupied which pronominal position at any given time. What interests me instead are the conditions and rules under which typewriting emerges from an always-nebulous assemblage of dictators, typists and machines.

In the Introduction to Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book Machine (the collected reports of the TRG), Steve McCaffery characterizes their typewriting system as a general economy in dialogue. He describes the relationship that makes the TRG composition process possible as a “fragile contract” that binds one person into the role of “enunciator” and the other as “transcriber.” The fragility of this contract stems from “the loss of certainty around independent judgment” In other words, each party assumes that their words will be transcribed faithfully, knowing full well that this is not always the case, but proceeding to dictate nevertheless: “Steve is dictating his thinking, thinking Barrie is typing this dictation. However, Barrie is typing out his own thoughts on the matter and Steve doesn’t know it.” In other cases, this process resulted in a kind of shorthand transcription of what was dictated rather than the verbatim text. As long as the contract receives lip service, it is possible for this relationship to continue producing text.

It’s also worth nothing that the technological component of this assemblage – the typewriter – is not a neutral conduit facilitating the process of dictation. It has its own rules, and requires that the bodies of its users adapt to them to facilitate smooth dictation Failure to comply with these implicit rules results in a change in the process. McCaffery remarks that “Neither Barrie nor myself were touch typists and so dictation resulted in a deceleration in the speed of oral delivery.” McCaffery believes that while the deceleration of dictation brought an overall greater degree of care in terms of the enunciator’s selection of words, that it did not decrease the number of instances where the typist recorded something other than exactly what was spoken, by dint of either error or choice.

From McCaffery’s perspective, the uncertainty surrounding the dictatorial process is a desirable state of affairs, part of an attempt to produce a writing that moves beyond “thought’s proprietary nature.” He describes the whole assemblage – enunciator, machine, typist – as a “synthetic subject based on a We-full, not an I-less paradigm” or a “third ‘ghost’ locator.” The text this synthetic subject produces is never quite the product of one mind; there is always some degree of error, summarization or deliberate deviation at work. At the time of the writing of the introductory material for the TRG book, McCaffery considered his difficulty in assessing which thoughts had originated with which writer as a degree of the project’s overall success.

McCaffery also alludes to nostalgia that is a result of the technological regime change that writing is facing after the demise of the typewriter as the writing tool of choice. “An obvious side effect of the current regime of personal computers has been a quantum leap in material nostalgia. The handwritten manuscript, the hand-corrected typewritten page, the patchwork paste-up, clipped with scissors and Scotch-taped together, are now the valued by-products of an obsolete mode of production, superseded by a mode of writing whose new locus is a hyperspace.” Though bpNichol was an inveterate computer hobbyist,* and produced some of the world’s first animated concrete poems, [including: First Screening: Computer Poems (1984) and The Alchemist (1984)] the TRG never inserted a computer into their compositional process. Had they done so, McCaffery acknowledges, the results of that process would have been entirely different, as the rules governing the text-producing assemblage would have been entirely different.

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

*J. R. Carpenter’s note: Christopher Funkhouser describes bpNichol’s computer animated poems in his 2007 book, Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archeology of Forms, 1959-1965. In the chapter: “Visual and Kinetic Digital Poems,” Funkhouser writes:

Nichol used several approaches to staging language in First Screening. In some works viewers encounter a transposition or interpretation of physical place on which the poetry is conducted. A graphical performance of activity is illustrated in this three-dimensional concept, using language as a visual descriptor as well as verbal data. […] Nichol’s work emphasizes the interplay between the words on the screen and how such play can establish meaning. […] The works presented in First Screening are often ingenious, while maintaining an appealing simplicity. Nichol’s poems are lively, and they clearly influenced others who immediately followed. His death in 1988 unfortunately prevented a second screening of computer poems plotted by Nichol from being developed; it would be interesting to see, hear and experience what - if any - types of verbal-visual-vocal digital poems Nichol would be developing if he were alive.

Shifters: The Structure of Typewritten Dictation Mon, 19 May 2008 15:13:34 +0000 JRML From the relative beginnings of the typewriter, the same major elements appear in any typewriting assemblage. There is a dictator – the source of the words that are being typed. There is a typewriter – that is, an actual writing machine of some sort. And there is an amanuensis. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, an amanuensis is “One who copies or writes from the dictation of another,” from servus a manu “hand servant” + -ensis, “belonging to.” Though “dictator” has some negative connotations and “amanuensis” is an awkwardly latinate and stodgy-sounding word to contemporary ears, my choice of this specific terminology is deliberate. These terms allow for the various possibilities that typewriting creates, while differentiating both roles from the machine itself. When I refer to the “typewriter,” I am specifically referring to the writing machine. When I refer to “typewriting,” I mean the set of discourses, rules and practices that relate to the functioning of the entire assemblage, as opposed to “typing,” the act of using the typewriter to produce text. The need for this degree of specificity will become evident shortly, when all the terms begin to collapse into each other despite all of my best efforts.

the writing machine

As Emile Benveniste famously noted, in Problems in General Linguistics, the act of speaking – and, I would argue, of dictating as well – simultaneously defines the position not only of an individual, but also of their partner in the creation of discourse. These positions, flagged by the pronouns “I” and “you,” are variable empty forms which speakers occupy by turns: when I speak, I’m “I” and you’re “you,” and when you speak, it’s your turn to be “I.” McCaffery deals explicitly with this theoretical notion in Shifters, an early typewritten chapbook published by Nichol’s ganglia/grOnk press:

in us

in us as we

you move out to
where you are

“you are”
in you’re here there
you’re “here”

where i am
where “i am”

There is always an erotics to the poetry of “i” and “you,” but “i” and “you” is also always the basic diagram of a power structure. Erotics + agonism = writing. Typewriting, moreover, creates a situation where which person occupies which position (dictator or amanuensis, top or bottom) is more malleable and fluid than ever. In his analysis of Franz Kafka’s first typed letter, Friedrich Kittler spots twelve typos, over a third of which involved the German equivalents of “I” or “you,” “As if the typing hand could inscribe everything except the two bodies on either end of the … channel.”

So: despite the apparent idiosyncrasies of two avant-garde poets hunched over a typewriter (and I’ll return to the Toronto Research Group’s various typewriter-related performances later), the TRG embodies all of the basic structural elements and exemplifies the rules that are specific to the scene of typewriting.

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

Dictation and Haunted Writing Fri, 16 May 2008 17:15:18 +0000 JRML In her discussion of the relationship between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his friend and assistant, the writer Johann Peter Eckermann (the German Boswell), Avital Ronell develops a theory of dictation which can be expanded to describe several important aspects of the machinic assemblage I’m calling “typewriting.” While the overall tone and focus of Ronell’s writing is more deconstructive than discursive, what interests me is the discursive aspect of her argument – the relationship that is being outlined and the rules under which the process of dictation occurs. Ronell recognizes that what she is describing is outside of the purview of close reading and textual analysis when she writes that “there can be nothing simply and exclusively literary where the parasitical asserts itself.” [Dictations: On Haunted Writing (Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 1993)] Dictation is not speech, not writing, but an assemblage that determines the conditions under which writing takes place.

Every time I wish to write words, visual images come up, images of the fruitful countryside, the open sea. the islands veiled in a haze, the smoking mountain, etc., and I lack the mental organ which could describe them.
Goethe, Naples, March 17, 1787, Italian Journey

One of the questions that arises when considering the applicability of Ronell’s theory of dictation to typewriting is, why begin from a model of dictation based on Goethe? Friedrich Kittler, in his chapter on the typewriter in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, uses the epithet “the age of Goethe” to characterize the period immediately preceding the invention of the typewriter. For Kittler, Goethe’s name serves as a synecdoche for the rules that govern not only German Romanticism, but the production of discourse in general from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century: “authority and authorship, handwriting and rereading, the narcissism of creation and reader obedience.”

It is only a pity that, at the moment, I have nobody with whom I can share my thoughts. Tischbein is with me, to be sure, but, both as a man and an artist, his mind is the shuttlecock of a thousand ideas, and hundreds of people have a claim on his time. His is a curious case: a man who cannot take an unforced interest in the existence of anyone else because he feels so frustrated in his own efforts.
Goethe, Naples, March 17, 1787, Italian Journey

During Goethe’s own lifetime (1749–1832), many new writing-machines were being invented. While, as Kittler observes, many of these machines, especially those based on pantographic principles, only reified the rules governing discourse “in the age of Goethe,” but cumulatively, they were a major factor in the creation of a new discursive formation, one that held sway until the emergence of the computer. Goethe is thus the ideal place to start.

For four weeks Tischbein has been a loyal and useful partner in all my excursions into the realm of nature and art. When we were at Portici [the museum at Herculaneum] yesterday we had a talk and both of us came to the conclusion that his artistic career, his duties at court and in the city, which may lead to a permanent post in Naples, were incompatible with my plans and particular interests. Helpful as ever, he suggested as a possible companion a young man whom I have seen a lot of ever since we arrived, and not without interest and sympathy.

His name is Kniep. […] In Rome I had already often heard that his draftsmanship was admirable, though the same could not be said for his willingness to work. Now that I have got to know him pretty well, I think that this fault for which he is blamed is really a lack of self-confidence which can certainly be overcome if we spend some time together.
Goethe, Naples, March 19, 1787, Italian Journey

Ronell’s Dictations: On Haunted Writing presents dictation as an assemblage that links at least two figures together in a kind of “radical copulation” (Ronell compares it to a DNA double helix) which renders the writing styles of the figures involved as indistinguishable from each other. Citing Derrida, Ronell summarizes the dictatorial relationship as “an experience of quasi-possession” in which one party “is given over to the other, to the extent, indeed, of being prey to the other.” The party that becomes prey – the secretary/amanuensis, or, in our case, the typist – is the more “shadowy” of the two and acts as a “conduit” for the other, dictating party. A kind of death or diminishment is omnipresent. The party taking dictation begins as already subordinate, “double and half-dead or at least presumed dead” – echoes of the opening of William T. Vollmann’s You Bright and Risen Angels: “Oh, my bright and risen angels, you are already in your graves.” However, the dictatorial relationship functions even (especially?) when the dictating party is absent or dead, because the amanuensis incorporates and objectifies it. The question is, which party is possessed and which is doing the possessing?

My relationship with Kniep has been put to a practical test and promises to give great satisfaction to us both. We made an excursion to Paestum together, and he proved himself a most hard-working draughtsman. The fruits of our journey are some superb sketches, and he is very happy because he finds that this exacting busy life stimulates his talent, which he had come to doubt.
Goethe, Naples, March 23, 1787, Italian Journey

Although dictation is a “parasitical” relationship, the parties are obligate parasites – neither can exist without the other. Further, though the dictatorial relationship is dissymmetrical, in the classic mode of Derrida’s logic of the supplement, it is always also reversible. To drive the point home with a labyrinthine series of dictatorial reversals, I cite Ronell’s citation of Eckermann reciting to Goethe a line that Mephistopheles speaks in Goethe’s own Faust: “in the end we do indeed depend on the creatures we have created.”

And all that flows unfixed and undefined
In glimmering phantasy before the mind,
Bid Thought’s enduring chain for ever bind!
Goethe, Faust (der Herr speaking)

This chain of assemblages demonstrates that the dictating party is far from sovereign or singular because it is always an assemblage connected to other assemblages to what Guattari would undoubtedly call its own mad vectors.

Moreover, it is the assemblage that produces the text, rather than the individuals. For both Ronell and Derrida (of whom the former, it should be noted, is implicitly comparing her relationship as the latter’s sometime translator and frequent commentator to that of Eckermann and Goethe), the scene of dictation informs the conditions under which all writing takes place: “writing always comes from elsewhere, at the behest of another, and is, at best, a shorthand transcription of the demand of this Other whose original distance is never altogether surmounted.”

What I propose to insert into this assemblage (Ronell’s model of dictation) is the typewriter, itself another assemblage that functions on a variety of levels to create the conditions under which typing takes place.

First, the typewriter functions as a conduit that joins together the dictator and the amanuensis. The conduit is not necessarily one-way; either party can take turns typing or dictating. Nor is the model binary or even bipartite; multiple parties can dictate, and multiple parties can type, synchronically or asynchronically, centrally spatialized or totally decentralized. The typewriter also links other assemblages into this relationship: tape machines, dictaphones, and broadcast technologies such as intercoms, telegraph, radio, and television; carbon paper and the apparatus of duplication; the office and typing pool, and so on.

The Burroughs 5500

Second, reinforcing its importance in the assemblage of writing, the typewriter-as-machine tends to absorb both the dictator and the amanuensis into itself. The term “typewriter” itself is a metonymy, but a reversible one. At one point, “typewriter” signified the machine’s operator (the amanuensis); the machine itself was the “typewriting machine.” As the machine claimed the name, the amanuensis was seemingly absorbed whole into its operation. On the other side of the circuit, the dictator in the scene of typing is, as is the case in writing/dictating in general, often either absent or internal. When a writer sits “alone” at their machine, who is dictating? Writers who type will repeatedly use the same trope to describe this situation: the writing comes from or through the typewriter itself, indicating that the typewriter – a plural noun – is somehow haunted.

Third, these connections to voices “outside” the typewriting assemblage, point to another aspect, the desiring aspect of the machine: a longing for connection with other typewriters. This is the point at which the logic of typewriting begins to lose sway and the logic of the computer keyboard, a logic of networks, and connectivity, begins to replace it.

Facts dramatized, say, rather - action - plot -
Sentiment, everything the writer’s own,
As it best fits the web-work of his story…
Goethe, Faust (Faust speaking)

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

Authors do not Always Authorize Thu, 15 May 2008 14:48:22 +0000 JRML Toronto Research Group is a collective pseudonym for the Canadian poets bpNichol and Steve McCaffery. In his essay Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group, TCR 2-50 contributor Darren Wershler-Henry argues that the TRG is an author in the sense that Foucault describes in the essay “What Is An Author?” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice – that is, it is a designation for a series of functions rather than a proper name pointing to a particular individual. It is a deliberately constructed means of classifying texts by differentiating them, both from the many other texts that comprise the archive of twentieth-century poetics, and from other works produced either by bpNichol or Steve McCaffery as individual authors. Like all authors, on close examination the TRG proves to be a complex and contradictory entity, an agglomeration of discontinuous elements that perform often contradictory (and sometimes even unsuccessful) functions.

For example, Foucault notes in “What Is An Author?” that one of the primary functions of the author is to serve as an “object of appropriation” that determines the legal status of certain kinds of texts. Yet this is one of the areas where “TRG” has most explicitly failed to do its job. The TRG archives currently reside with the bpNichol archives at Simon Fraser University, yet McCaffery, an equal partner in the TRG, is very much alive and active. Further, one of the two major collections of the TRG’s work, Canadian @Pataphysics, is actually a bootleg reproduction of the “Canadian @Pataphysics” issue of Open Letter magazine, produced by unknown parties in the Coach House Press bindery, without the knowledge of at least McCaffery, probably the press manager, and perhaps of Nichol as well. Authors do not always authorize.

AUTO-MINABINDA at The Coach House Press bindery

The AUTO-MINABINDA at The Coach House Press bindery.

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group

an ostensibly straightforward description of the process of collaborative typewriting Wed, 14 May 2008 15:45:51 +0000 JRML Darren Wershler-Henry opens his essay Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group with an ostensibly straightforward description of the process of collaborative typewriting: Someone dictates; someone types. Sometimes they trade places. Sometimes the typist transcribes the dictation faithfully; sometimes the typist edits and emends the words as he types them. The compositional process the text describes (with each individual taking turns as dictator and amanuensis, and the amanuensis occasionally changing the substance of the dictation) is variable to the point that it begins to affect the grammar itself.

limited font capacity

It is at the level of grammar in this passage and the context in which it appears that things become complex. But it’s worth working through those complications now because they reappear in virtually any description of someone typing. (This discussion will require a short digression into the nature of dictation and authorship, but the status of the author is also something that’s worth scrutinizing because the mechanics of typewriting alter it in interesting ways).

Darren Wershler-Henry / Technologies of Dictation: Typewriting and the Toronto Research Group