Approved by ___________________________________________________________
Dr. E. Manning, Graduate Program Director
November 11, 2011 _______________________________________
Dr. B. Lewis, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science
Digital Poetry as Ontological Probe
David (Jhave) Johnston
Concordia University, 2011
This thesis is about the poetic edge of language and technology. It inter-relates both computational creation and poetic reception by analysing typographic animation softwares and meditating (speculatively) on a future malleable language that possesses the quality of being (and is implicitly perceived as) alive. As such it is a composite document: a philosophical and practice-based exploration of how computers are transforming literature, an ontological meditation on life and language, and a contribution to software studies. Digital poetry introduces animation, dimensionality and metadata into literary discourse. This necessitates new terminology; an acronym for Textual Audio-Visual Interactivity is proposed: Tavit. Tavits (malleable digital text) are tactile and responsive in ways that emulate living entities. They can possess dimensionality, memory, flocking, kinematics, surface reflectivity, collision detection, and responsiveness to touch, etc…. Life-like tactile tavits involve information that is not only semantic or syntactic, but also audible, imagistic and interactive. Reading mediated language-art requires an expanded set of critical, practical and discourse tools, and an awareness of the historical continuum that anticipates this expansion. The ontological and temporal design implications of tavits are supported with case-studies of two commercial typographic-animation softwares and one custom software (Mr Softie created at OBX Labs, Concordia) used during a research-creation process.
I am indebted to my thesis advisers for their assistance during this process. I am grateful for their guidance, astute experience and extreme candidness. Errors or excesses remain mine.
Inundated in information, in the age of the internet it is certain that many ideas in this thesis were first expressed elsewhere. I have tried wherever possible to cite all sources, but it is probable that the pioneering work done by many thinkers (among them Jay David Bolter, Richard Lanham, Johanna Drucker, Katherine Hayles, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Bill Seaman, Stephanie Strickland, Eduardo Kac, Eric Vos, Christopher Funkhouser, John Cayley, Francisco Ricardo, Charles Hartman and many many others) has seeped into my mind.
In addition, the following people each at some time proved themselves invaluable in offering encouragement: Rita Raley, Jake Moore, Anke Burger, Chris Funkhouser, Amy Hufnagel, Laura Emelianoff, Vasilios Demetrious, Skawennati, Jessica Pressman, Davin Heckman, Jim Andrews, J.R. Carpenter, Daniel Canty, TBone, Stephanie Beliveau, Bruno Nadeau, Patrice Fortier, Erin Manning and Frances Foster. Big thanks to Lazarus for listening to my doubts and offering good sensible counsel. Bina Freiwald for indefatigable grace and encouragement. And a huge thanks to Stephanie Strickland for her fastidious editorial eye which helped me immeasurably.
During my research work I was given the opportunity to exhibit by Oboro, BNL de Montreal 2011, ELO @ Brown 2010, e-Poetry 2011, Fais Ta Valise, Beluga Studios and NT2. Such opportunities to place online work into physical contexts provide valuable perspective.
I need to thank my family, especially Mom, for continual support. And lastly Sophie Jodoin who saw me through this intellectual rite of passage.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How can this document be read? 9
What is Digital Poetry? 9
CHAPTER 1:INTRODUCTION 12
1.1What is this thesis about 14
1.2What is Software-Studies? 18
1.2.1Practice-Led Software-Studies 18
1.3The Turn toward Living Language 19
1.3.1What I Propose 25
1.3.2Machinic Language is Living Language 27
1.3.3Between Boole and Disney 29
1.3.4Methodological Notes 31
CHAPTER 2:MALLEABLE TYPE: A HISTORY 34
2.1Visual Language 34
2.1.1Pubs, Psychedelia and Illuminated Manuscripts 35
1.1.1Visual Language in Poetry 37
2.2Early History: Malleable/Sculptural Text 38
2.2.1Pre-Historic Malleable Type:Clay 38
2.2.2Cabbalists & Alchemists 39
2.2.3Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema 39
2.3Opacity: an inversion of typographic transparency 41
2.3.1Mary Ellen Solt : sensual concrete 41
2.3.2J. A. Miller’s Dimensional Typography 44
1.2Digital Malleable Precursors 46
220.127.116.11Eduardo Kac: Holo and Bio Poetry 48
1.2.1Poet-Painter Hybrids 50
18.104.22.168Peter Ciccariello : A painter-poet 50
2.3.3Programmer Poets 51
22.214.171.124Knuth Said 52
126.96.36.199Peter Cho : from TypoTypo to Takeluma 52
188.8.131.52Ben Fry’s Tendril 54
184.108.40.206Karsten Schmidt: programmer of dimensional typography 56