Aesthetic Animism: Digital Poetry as Ontological Probe

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“In all poetry words are a presence

before they are a means of communication.”

John Berger. And our faces, my heart, brief as photos (22)

Inscription technology (how we write) has from time immemorial induced changes in what language is and how it is perceived0. As the rate of change of digital inscription increases, we can expect commensurate changes in how language is perceived, what it is internally as structure, and what it is externally as presence.

Tavs are structurally distinct from any other letterforms or literature that preceded them; they are meta-data, generative, kinetic, dimensional, networked and reactive texts. Tavs contain technological accretions of implementations and potentiality. As their potentialities accumulate, a state phase-transition (as when self-organizing criticalities [SOC]0 avalanche into different states) may occur. What language becomes then (after an SOC avalanche) is anyone’s guess. This thesis takes the position that language will be perceived as living. Further I claim that language will be perceived as living because it is living.

Aesthetic animism is the attribution of livingness based on perceived beauty. Digitally-enhanced living language will satisfy the criteria of aesthetic animism. This change is not without precedent; Innes, Ong, Lanham and Mcluhan (among many others cited in this thesis) document how inscription technology provokes powerful transformations in humanity’s relation to and perception of signifiers. Aesthetic animism belongs to that species of argument.

The printing press (in its dominant epoch) modified the means of diffusion of literature and thereby transformed culture. Digital technology does far more than modify the means of transmission. It fuses creation and reception. It fuses sensory modalities. It injects memory into data at several levels of abstraction. It networks cultural objects. It gives letters kinetic skins.

What will this set of rapid ongoing changes entail?

Instead of being read, we will read being. Language, once living and endowed with sensory capabilities (hearing through microphones and seeing through cameras) and a body (of thick doughy 3D spline letterforms mingled with meta-data memory) will respond to us. After a time, the presence of responsive embodied language (the anticipatory quality of its responsive, tactile agility and nuanced sounds) will become normative. At this point an attitude avalanche may occur. Literary discourse will perhaps absorb the terminology of 3D modeling and finite state machines. Literary creation will become multi-faceted multi-modal playing within holistic devices.

What do these changes mean now?

In our era, dimensional language-art in time-based media fuses multiple disciplines. Structural synergy occurs between computation and animation; sensorial synergy occurs across sensory modalities (speech, sound, and vision). This thesis has explored the implications of this synergy through diverse examples drawn primarily from motion graphics, ads, art and digital poetry. In the following section, I deepen and broaden these conclusions and link them into other discourse as I develop a model of word-audio-video as symbiotic aspects of interiority-betweenness-exteriority.

5.1.1A Theory of Multimedia Synergy: in-out-between

In order to understand how synergy works in multimedia, imagine assigning a vector or region of proficiency to each of the major components of a tav: text-audio-visuals. Let these vectors delineate the general directional influences exerted by sounds, images and words in a tav. Imagine, words are interior, sounds are in-between, and images are primarily outward. That is to say, a typical reader will take in words and the dominant strength of words (in comparison to audio or image) is descriptive of psychological interiority, subjectivity, and thought processes. Words convey thoughts and concepts that are extremely difficult to convey with a camera or a sound. Exactly the opposite is true of images, particularly video; these provide a quick instant sense of exterior space; navigational feedback is comprehensive, detailed and simultaneous. And sounds operate in-between, non-locally, moving between objects and subjects, expressing both external orientations and internal processes, emotively resonant.

Under this (admittedly over general) proposed schema, it’s not difficult to conceive how tavs (text, audio and video) function as a synergetic system: amplifying interior subject (word), relational space (audio) and exterior environment (video).

In 1960 the cyberneticist W. Ross Ashby (echoing ideas proposed by Norbert Weiner in 1948) described how the brain was informed by its environment: “…coordination between parts can take place through the environment, communication within the nervous system is not always necessary.”0 In their 1980 work Autopoeiesis, Maturana and Varela postulated a model of the brain extended outward in cyclical connectivity with its environment, the inward cell assemblies of neurons receiving stimulus and provoking external responses which alter stimulus to feedback. Clearly, outwardness and inwardness are aspects of a conjoined system. As in tavs: vision, hearing and language intersect. Each has a clear region of strength that overlaps with, but is non-replicable by, the others. Meaning emerges.

Digital technology fuses communicative modes in a way only previously offered in representational media by films. Films only rarely included text as part of their central media; film credits although key to a history of motion graphics and digital poetics are exiles which exist outside the body of the film, they are appendages or labels not aesthetic ends self-complete to themselves. What they clearly convey, however, is that words, visuals and sounds are not antithetical; there is capacity for their integration.

Tavs challenge readers to absorb semantic concepts and visceral visual sensuality simultaneously.

Directory: conu -> THESIS -> public

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