Frequency: You (deliberately)

YOU (deliberately)

you make me think

Howard’s job took him many places he would otherwise deliberately avoid, such as the public transit systems of densely populated cities. Even in the safest of metros, Howard eyed the other passengers in a subway car suspiciously and counted coughs, each one a release of airborne viruses. Whenever it was in the least bit appropriate, Howard opted to wear a face mask.

you give me back my world

Roger appreciates preserved architecture, spaces that stand deliberately opposed to modernity and all its compromises.

you ask me for an answer

Maggie announced her resignation without explaining much of her situation. She deliberately avoided discussing her health issues with her colleagues. Some people retire because they want to spend more time with their families. Maggie loved her family too, but the truth was that at this stage in the game, she simply wanted to spend more time with herself.

you must be kind

Roger deliberately quashed his impulse to actually tell his friend what he really thought of her work (grandiose, pretentious, overreaching). Who was he to judge?

you should study and learn

She went to the woods because she wished to live deliberately, or something like that.

you write no more

Charlie and Helen both deliberately avoided contacting each other for months after the wedding. She could be anywhere. Still he felt a yearning and he knew she felt it too.

you are America

Basking in the sun, bursting with optimism, top-heavy, bloated, indebted, arrogant, deliberately over-reaching, full and wanting more.

you are an oil man

To really protect the infrastructure, they would need to put thousands of rusting sites under constant surveillance. Even with seven dollar an hour rent-a-cops the costs would be staggering. Still, Howard sometimes wondered if some of the companies weren’t deliberately lax on security, hoping that some terrorist would see a soft target and make the insurance companies pay for the costs of necessary overhauls they would otherwise have to pass on to their shareholders.

you play around

They both knew the reason why he had never proposed marriage before the accident, and they had both deliberately avoided the subject.

you are mean and old little more

Dave counseled his clients to deliberately shelve their humanity for the duration of the campaign. “You’re not a human at this point, not until you get elected. You’re a candidate, a name, a face. Your opposition is trying to peel that face right off of your head. And they’ll do just that if you don’t get to them first.”

Frequency: Is (dirty)

IS (dirty)

is it you

Dave sent Jenny a dozen white roses and a note filled with a hundred dirty notions.

is it long before the end

Howard strained to be polite as the local officials took him to their places of pride. He felt bad sometimes. You show me your beautiful gardens and all I have for you in return are my thoughts of dirty bombs.

is this thing on

Dave during a Jenny assignation: I might be dirty, sweetheart, but I’m no old man.

is it my turn

Howard had the sense that if a car bomb were to explode in Tokyo, it would just be swept into the roar of crowd and commerce, disposed of silently between rushing commuters like all the other dirty things on the streets of this metropolis, this giant robot of a place.

is that place different from home

Helen’s California dreams are often more abstract and distant than sentimental or dirty. The idea that one can go no further than this shore appeals to her, and she often walks the beach alone.

is it time for a change

Given the right timing in an area with a high population density, even one dirty bomb could take take out hundreds of people. Shopping malls, commuter trains, places of worship.

is he there with you now

In spite of the now platonic state of their relationship and the fact that he had no leg to stand on, no claims to make, just the thought of Helen with another man made Charlie’s skin crawl, made him feel dirty inside.

is the picture different than before

Howard was no Howard Hughes. He wasn’t the type to cover his furniture in plastic, though he did sometimes use a handkerchief as a prophylactic layer between a doorknob and his hand, and he knew that from the macro lens view, even the cleanest of rooms is crawling with tiny dirty things. As for paranoia, in this day and age, it’s only prudent to feel like you are always being watched.

is it your first time

During a hiatus from Jenny, Dave went to Asia for a bit of sexual tourism, and he felt so dirty that for months afterwards he could only bring himself to work for evangelical Republicans.

is good in there

Howard appreciated the tour of the semiconductor factory very much, every surface of his body covered in hypoallergenic fabric, every instrument secured, every worker silently intent, a cool room that smelled not overpoweringly of disinfectant. Not at all dirty, a very clean room.

Frequency: In (Pacific)

IN (Pacific)

in time will we learn

The salt of the Pacific on her skin the smell of cypress filling her nostrils and the ache of the hike in her thighs made Maggie feel right, just right. It was the perfect place, and the perfect time, to let her family know about the disease and her decision.

in number there were many

How many ports had he been to? How many times had he crossed the Atlantic and Pacific, not as some noble explorer, but as a mere messenger, an expert in regulations concerning shipping containers and the threats that they might pose to us.

in a great place now

“When the Pacific floods California, I’ll be diving down.”
“Don’t bogart that joint, Johnnie.”

in the long sentence of time

“Mostly I moved here to be closer to the Pacific. Just love the ocean breezes. And I have back problems so the medical marijuana doesn’t hurt.”

in America you were different

The infrastructure security in Micronesia is appalling. Some of the softest targets in the Pacific region.

in each line I see you

She sends him a letter from the Pacific coast, and he opens it while looking out over the Atlantic from the Jersey shore.

in answer to your letter

These soothing Pacific nights haven’t changed me bro. I’m hell bent on burning up my inheritance and picking up the pieces when I get back East. Next stop, Vegas.

in no way could they be right

Everywhere he went on that Pacific trip, Howard saw fragility and vulnerability. He felt like a man sent to photograph mansions made of playing cards that someday would, inevitably, fall.

in her will to change again

Helen took in a sunset over the peaceful Pacific, feeling far away from everything that had come before, but still wondering where her hunger might next lead her.

in the old man a boy at play

She was glad that they found time to walk together along the Pacific shore. Her father brought along a couple of gloves and they played catch like they used to. Maggie could tell he wanted to see her smile, and there was no easy way for him to get her to that place, but she tried, for him, tried to feel happy.

Frequency: To (judges)

TO (judges)

to see her again

At the end of that weekend in Chicago, both Charlie and Helen knew that it would have to end. “I can barely look her in the eyes anymore,” he explained. She patted his hand and looked out over the skyline. “No one judges you, Charlie,” she said, “I don’t.”

to ask why

“We’re pretty good together. She never judges me too harshly for what I do, though I can tell that sometimes it turns her stomach that while she’s off saving the world, I’m just greasing the cogs that grind away at it.”

to make it through this

The two weeks in the South of France didn’t really have the desired effect on either of them. Great food, but it often rained and she kept playing Edith Piaf records. Neither one of them could get away from what they were missing, and they were both kind of blue that whole time, and Charlie felt like all of the locals were judges, offended by his poor French and his fucked-up sense of priorities.

to number the day

Dave found himself sipping pinã coladas with five federal judges who were enjoying a junket on the tab of the lobbying firm currently funding him and the remodeling of several of their kitchens. A lovely day with reasonable men, and he was sure that none of them would let some fucking tree frogs get in the way of progress.

to follow it through

In Anna’s dream, even the stones rise up, judges pronouncing the both of them guilty. She keeps a journal that gives her and her therapist something work with. Tragedies of all kinds on the news, torments that relate to her situation. She wept for weeks after the tsunami.

to want to need again

Even the sky judges her.

to be still

Roger inhales deeply, takes a whiff of the place, feels the texture of the stone wall, judges the light, closes his eyes, judges the light.

to call and answer

Even the wisest of judges can’t divide the memory of a child.

to learn why we came

Roger reckons that nature judges no one, in spite of what Darwin wrote.

to learn who we were

No one here judges you, Anna. We just want you to be free of that pain, to recognize it and acknowledge it, and then let go of it.

Frequency: A (nights)

A (nights)

a point should be made

She wondered how many more nights would end this way.

a just people would make another world

Dave spends a lot of nights alone, trying to remember the idealism he felt as a young man, or the taste of a particular bottle of scotch.

a letter to try and end this

Some nights Johnnie will roll himself a joint, get a little high, and reread old breakup letters that ex-girlfriends have sent him, and he will remember their different hairstyles, which matched whatever lifestyle he was trying on that year.

a word most would not say

So many nights Charlie had almost told her that he loved her, but it was always so complicated, her situation or his own. Better just to get through dinner and then reconnect in the hotel room. Enjoy each other just enough without going too far.

a little sound for each of us

Some nights end with a bang, other nights just whimper.

a name to call your own

Some nights Anna wakes up thinking he’s still alive, even though he only made it those few years. She finds herself planning a birthday party they will never celebrate. She feels a whole life still growing in the air around her like an unfinished novel or a phantom limb.

a change of sentence set to page

How many nights had Howard spent at diplomatic functions like this one, trying to avoid being noticed by his superiors, trying to fit like just another square peg. Sometimes he thought about tipping over a vase, or spilling a drink on the ambassador’s wife, or insulting one of the spooks, just to shake things up, break protocol for the sake of it.

a great work should follow

Roger never really enjoyed the nights he went out with his friends in the avant-garde crowd. They always seemed to be trying too hard to say something they didn’t know how to say that mattered in a really obscure way, and none of them could really have their hearts in it, not after punk rock and nine eleven.

a man with no need to ask why

It was one of those nights when he was shocked at the extent his own naïveté. Dave found himself at an ATM at 4AM withdrawing $300, and he hadn’t even realized she was a pro. Worth it, sure, but the outfit should have been a clue.

a different world must follow our own

Some nights when he finds himself out at a club for no particular reason, surrounded by the kind of friends he only sees when he’s holding an eight ball, dancing with some anorexic waif who won’t wake up remembering where she spent the night, Johnnie imagines himself a human sacrifice laid at the altar of some apocalyptic hedonist god. Then he sneaks off to the john for another quick snort from his silver bullet.

Frequency: And (lists)

AND (lists)

and it is you who are many

In his studio, Roger assembles lists of his dreams: free-fall from the skyscraper in Malaysia, horse-farm idyll, circus clown rapture, relief from drowning in a glacial lake, the choir of shrieking gnomes, the ant breakfast.

and one sentence will follow another

Maggie lists the things that make her feel happy: Thanksgiving turkey, board game nights with her nephews, LeCarré thrillers, memories of her teenage boyfriends, spiced rum cake, crisp autumn mornings, fireworks on the fourth of July.

and this time will come back no more

Howard is the type to spend no fewer than two nights packing for a weekend trip. He makes lists and pays strict attention to them as he packs. He has a nervous nature but a carefully arranged life. His suitcase is nothing if not efficient. He travels light but allows for contingencies.

and you need to live

As watches her dance, Charlie silently lists the locations where he and Helen have made love, from the library in Newark to the boiler room at the factory to the hotel room in Paris to that birthday party in Chicago so many years ago. She dances with another, she twirls. She gazes up at him. He smiles and then quickly looks away.

and you read another page

Howard reviews the lists of incident reports, areas of concern ranging from ongoing investigations of sleeper cells to minor demonstrations in front of consulates in Europe. So little love in the world.

and you ask why time is short

When he gets bored, at work or family gatherings, Johnnie will sometimes stare off into space and assemble all-time great lists: concerts he has been to, movies he has watched, meals he has eaten out, even arguments he has had with ex-girlfriends, best make-up sessions.

and you move through the land

Johnnie lists the all-time great parties he has been to: Mardi Gras in New Orleans the year before the flood, Halloween at the Hard Rock in Vegas, Bastille Day in Paris, Carnival in Rio, Butch’s pig roast last year.

and you try your kind hand

Before she accepted the proposal, Anna made lists of pros and cons. He seemed to have changed, but she wasn’t sure, she could never be sure she could trust him completely. It wasn’t that he was unkind. It was just that he had his own vulnerabilities he had never quite figured out how to manage.

and the end may not change a thing

After each election, Dave spends a day making lists of lessons he has learned about the desires of the electorate. His shop has lost a couple more elections than it has won, but it doesn’t seem to matter, there is always someone new waiting in the wings for a new attack ad, and his pitch rarely failed to impress a desperate candidate. Every war needs dogs.

and the day is so long

Johnnie lists and sways to the music, stumbles through the crowd. Someone is feeling him and he is feeling someone. Warm to the touch and distant, full of Ecstasy and still empty.

Frequency: Of (Charlie)

OF (Charlie)

of you I can say so little

Charlie took little interest in the minutiae of the reception, whatever she wanted was good with him. He just wanted to check the guest list, and make sure a few names weren’t on it.

of what came through

Charlie was always attracted to patterns. In spite of all the turmoil in his life, or perhaps because of it, he retained a deep appreciation of symmetry.

of these people what can we say

Charlie liked some of her friends, others he tolerated.

of her spell

Charlie had grown accustomed to the idea that Helen could no longer be a part of even his secret life, but there she was, and her presence was devastating.

of his time picture a long way down

Charlie has still got a lot of life in front of him, but he had seen things and done things and been through things that took a lot out of him. You can see it in his face.

of land take only little

The city spread out below like a glittering empire, and Charlie nearly wept at the sight of it.

of home we ask why here

Charlie’s brother Johnnie was always a moody kid, downcast and shaggy, like a young John Lennon on a rainy day, but with much less talent, and no vision to speak of.

of her on this day

Charlie considered himself lucky that she still had the capacity for so much joy, even after everything. He wasn’t sure he deserved her. He did not.

of what use I will write

Truth be told, Charlie wasn’t big on ceremonies of any kind. Too many people gathered in one place at one time felt risky to him, and flower arrangements inevitably reminded him of funerals.

of my people I should learn more

Charlie was reluctant to introduce her to the shadowy figures from his past, but he had to include them. He was not the type to forget old friendships or old obligations.

Four Brief Observations on the Audiatur Festival

Below is a short piece I wrote on the Audiatur Festival which will be published (in Norwegian) in the next issue of the Scandinavian literary magazine Vagant.

1) The all-grown-up 20th Century avant-garde: Christian Bök kicked off the festival with a virtuoso performance of Kurt Schwitter’s “Ursonate” and later that same evening we heard a remix of the same work in Tomomi Adachi’s “Schwitter Variations.” Over the course of the festival, work by Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Duchamp was also performed and/or reinterpreted. The ghosts of the Dada were present. When Hugo Ball gave birth to sound poetry at the Cabaret Voltaire, he said that he did so to “renounce the language that journalism has abused and corrupted.” It struck me as a curious twist that the creatively destructive impulses of the Dada in the early 20th Century have become codified in the 21st Century to the point that they now form the basis of entire school of poetic practices. The Dadaist impulse to use sound to tear down a corrupted language is now the basis of a developed and sophisticated architecture of non-semantic poetics. Can avant-garde practices that are nearly hundred years old still be considered avant-garde? Does it matter? No matter what else sound poetry is it is no longer a revolution in progress, but rather one that has already occurred, an experiment that has developed a room of its own.

2) The (humor) generating capacity of constraints: Another 20th Century literary movement which has lived far beyond it originary moment in the 1960s, the French ensemble of writers and mathematicians, The Oulipo, was well-represented at Audiatur in the person of Jaques Robaud. While to readers unfamiliar with the Oulipo, a writing practice based on mathematical principles might seem to promise only a dry and cerebral outcome, the constraint-based writing presented at Audiatur demonstrated the ample capacity for humor and play within constraints. Robaud performed a backwards retelling of the creation story in the book of Genesis, in which God successively undoes the layers of his creation, and sees that that undoing is good. In his “Brev” piece, Robaud took us down a cycle in of infinite regression in which a reply that likely will never come is amply addressed. Leevi Lehto read a constrained (N+7) poem that was additionally tortured by the use of all the Finnish vowels. Christian Bök performed selections from Eunoia, probably the most famous recent work of constrained writing, in which we heard hilarious passages about food, writing, and sex, each composed of words using only one vowel. One of the pleasant surprises of the festival for me was not that constrained writing practices generated compelling and complex uses of language, but rather that they were almost universally uproarious. It seems constraints enable poets to shed their high serious gravitas and locate their inner comedians.

3) The tower of Babel might not be so bad after all: Audiatur was truly international with readings in Norwegian, English, Swedish, French, Japanese, Finnish, Russian, among others. Several poems were read, notably a couple of pieces by Caroline Bergvall, which were multilingual. My own petty epiphany was that I found it as engaging to listen to poetry in languages that I absolutely no comprehension of, such as Japanese, Finnish and Russian, as I did when the poems were read in English. The odd middle ground of languages I half-understand, French, Norwegian, and Swedish, was more challenging. The musicality, intonation, body language and other physical performance aspects of poems in languages that I did not understand fascinated me. That is to say, just as one can appreciate sound poetry, perhaps one can appreciate the sound of any poetry, provided the meaning of lines and individual words doesn’t get in the way.

4) The shadows of the digital: The one aspect of the festival I thought was somewhat disappointing was that electronic poetry (forms of poetry that make specific use of properties of the standalone or networked computer) per se was not represented in the mix. As evidenced by works included in the recent electronic literature collection (http://collection.eliterature.org) many of the conceptual threads we saw gathered at Audiatur, from a revivification of 20th Century avant-garde practices to conceptual writing to cross-cultural multilingualism, are also present in recent e-lit. I think it would be revelatory to see these practices presented alongside each other, perhaps at the next festival. While e-lit didn’t rear its head, the influence of digital culture could be seen in many of the pieces presented, such as the bits of video game sound effects in some of Bök’s Cyborg Opera pieces, Martin Larsen’s use of binary code, and Adachi’s theremin-enchanced readings of concrete poetry. Perhaps it no longer makes sense to separate digital culture from culture at large, as computers and networks to some extent pervade all aspects of literary culture.

Frequency: The (frequency)

THE (frequency)

the word will not be said

He thought and rethought the specifics of the proposal with such frequency that he began to fear it would become an unhealthy obsession.

the hand should point to play

Her sister was a new ager who had knit the child a garment she said represented every frequency of harmonic motion, whatever that was supposed to mean.

the water came and went through us

The wedding planning served as a kind of distraction, but the memory of the child haunted each of their dreams with a great deal of frequency.

the time came to part

A simple ceremony at the courthouse with a justice of the peace who every Saturday would marry couples at a frequency of twenty minutes or so per union. In and out and on to the next, no big fuss. They thought it would be simpler that way.

the boy in you should turn back

It wasn’t the ceremony she dreamed of with such frequency when she was a child, but it would do. A big show would have been inappropriate, given everything that had happened.

the house was not a home

She thought with great frequency that whole summer of her child and the life that might have been.

the world must see another end

He couldn’t help but look at Helen with great frequency throughout the party, though he knew he should have been focused on his bride. She came as Johnnie’s date, a cruel joke in itself.

the word we would first write then say

He was there physically, but mentally he was tuned into some other frequency.

the men follow us down

It was a sensation of living on borrowed time. He felt like he was letting it ride in Vegas. A rush while he was still winning, but the laws of probability such that the house will eventually take you down, it’s a matter of trying to defy an almost certainty, a rule of frequency.

the answer is not a number

He saw her smile that day with a frequency he had not seen in years.

My Sloppy Handwriting as a Logo for Vagant

Hey this is the coolest thing that happened to me today. I’ve got a short piece on the recent Audiatur poetry festival coming out in the next issue of the Scandinavian literary magazine Vagant. They translated the piece from English into proper Norsk for me (I could have given them a third-grader Norsk version — “Jeg liker audiatur, audiatur var veldig bra, etc.) which was nice of them. But the cool thing today was that they emailed asking if I could send them a sample of my handwriting within the next hour or so to use as their logo for this issue. My students always complain about my handwriting, crack jokes about how I ought to be a medical doctor with the level of scrawl I work with. So what the heck, why not? I wrote “Vagant” a few times on a piece of paper, took a picture, and emailed it back. Two hours later they sent me a cover layout with my scrawl where a proper logo should be. That’s cool.

vagant cover

Letters that Matter: Review of the Electronic Literature Collection in ebr

John Zuern offers a detailed and insightful review of the Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1 in ebr. Among other aspects of the Collection the review addresses is whether or not the difference between print and electronic literature is anything other than trivial?

In asking this question, I am in no way suggesting that nothing is at stake; on the contrary, I am seeking to underscore the urgency of the multifaceted project, carried on by many different artists and critics and editors, to consolidate something like “electronic literature” as a domain of creation and inquiry that can do justice both to the advancement and investigation of its material culture and to the philosophical, conceptual frameworks that guide that advancement and investigation. At the heart of this project is the relationship between protocols of computation and protocols of human language use, a relationship that despite all the critical attention it has received continues to present itself as vexed and indeterminate.

Guest Lecture Monday: Samuel Weber on Walter Benjamin

Below is a flier (PDF) for Samuel Weber’s upcoming guest lecture on Monday, October 22nd from 14:15-16:00. The LLE Digital Culture Research group is cosponsoring Weber’s lecture along with the Institutt for Informasjons og Vittenskap.

Mandag 22. October. 1415-17
Seminarrom 548, plan 5.
Lauritz Meltzers hus, Fosswinkelgate 6

Samuel Weber: “Origins and relevance of Walter Benjamin’s Media Theory: From Reflexivity to ‘Sobriety’.”

Samuel Weber is professor at Northwestern University. He is a leading authority on the writings of Walter Benjamin. In his book “Mass Mediauras: Form,Technics, Media” (1996) Weber showed the continued importance of aura to the aesthetics of the media age. He has translated Benjamin, as well as Theodor Adorno and Jacques Derrida into English. In Bergen Weber will give a broad historical presentation and assessment of Benjamin’s media theory.

New Aesthetic Technologies Conference at UiB, October 17th

Below is a flier (PDF) for the New Aesthetic Technologies Conference, which will be held at the University of Bergen all day on Wednesday, October 17th, featuring guest speakers Bernard Stiegler and N. Katherine Hayles. The LLE Digital Culture Research group is cosponsoring N. Katherine Hayle’s visit along with the Institutt for Informasjons og Vittenskap. I’d particularly encourage anyone interested in Digital Culture to attend Hayle’s lecture “Electronic Literature and Distributed Cognition: What Happens to Literary Art When the Environment Starts to Think” in Lille auditorium, plan 2, Lauritz Meltzers hus, Fosswinkelgate 6 at 14.00.

N. Katherine Hayles, Distinguished Professor at UCLA, is one of the foremost scholars of the relationship between literature and science. She is the author of “Chaos Bound”, “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics”, “Writing Machines” and “My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts.” Her book, “How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics”, won the Modern Language Association’s Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literary Theory for 1998-1999, and “Writing Machines” won the Media Ecology Association’s Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship.




Getting Translated . . . into Bulgarian

The internet works in mysterious and sometimes wonderful ways. Yesterday I got an email from Reneta Bozhankova of the faculty of Slavic Studies at Sofia University Bulgaria on behalf of a journal called Literaturata (The Literature), asking if they could translate my essay “All Together Now: Collective Knowledge, Collective Narratives, and Architectures of Participation” into Bulgarian. I had to get out a map to remind me where Bulgaria actually is, but I’m pleased as punch that somebody wants to take the effort to translate some of my writing, particularly into a language I have no hope of understanding. A revised version of that essay will also be coming out next year in New Narratives: Theory and Practice, Thomas Browan and Ruth Page, eds. published by University of Nebraska Press, but I’m glad that the Bulgarians will be able to read it in their native tongue first. Now if we could only find some Romanians willing to translate The Unknown . . .

Visionary Landscapes: Electronic Literature Organization 2008 Conference

The ELO has just announced a call for papers and works for a major electronic literature conference next May in Washington state. I have posted the announcement below. The conference website is not yet online, but will be available on eliterature.org in August.

Visionary Landscapes: Electronic Literature Organization 2008 Conference

Thursday, May 29-Sunday, June 1, 2008
Vancouver, Washington
Sponsored by Washington State University Vancouver & the Electronic Literature Organization
Dene Grigar & John Barber, Co-Chairs
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TAGallery

I recently made a contribution to TAGallery, a project of cont3xt.net. The project is an experiment in using del.icio.us to collaboratively tag interesting sites related to new media art and literature. Each curator/participant is contributing a short “exhibition” of ten links on a theme. Predictably, I suppose, I contributed a collection of electronic literature links.

The Kiss

Jill and I Kissing at our Wedding

Jill and I got married on Saturday. It was a wonderful ceremony and a great party afterwards. We couldn’t be happier. Thanks to everyone who was a part of it, and thanks to Charley for getting this pic.