Aesthetic Animism: Digital Poetry as Ontological Probe

Outside Words, Interior Worlds

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5.1.2Outside Words, Interior Worlds

The yelp of an animal caught in the teeth of a predator impacts physiognomy differently than the cry of orgasm or religious ecstasy. Even using rudimentary 2D typesetting tools, it is possible to represent the rudiments of voice. “HELP!!” is different than “Help?” and “Help”. Hearing a cry for “HELP!!” might activate a cascade of fear-flight hormones. “Help?” might initiate seduction. “Help” might be in a brochure. Graphic novels and comic books have understood the synaesthetic potentiality of visual words very well. In each case, adopting Varela’s view, contextualized sonic appeal evokes a distinct transient cell assembly, a neurological hypergraph, an ad hoc neural network. It is my feeling that there is a deep correlation at the neurological level that can be leveraged between the affective volume of an acoustic cry, the ensuing waveform or neurochemical cascade, and the letterforms used to represent such an incident. Letterforms effect cognition as they mirror its processes.

Cadence expressible by letterform influences the architecture of cognition. In each case, geometric forms in the inscription technology evoke geometry at the physical level that our surface personalities interpret as feelings0. It is these feelings that living language, augmented digitally, enhances by directly speaking to archetypal forms inherent within the body. The rudimentary 2D tools of italics, bold and underline are being superseded by an enriched set of expressive utilities: morphs, tweens, kinematics, etc…. These devices bring voice and temporality, cadence and intonation, emotive structure and animated ambiguity onto the page-screen-skin. The screen is the page by another game.

5.1.3Aesthetic Animism Reconsidered

“You become what you hear so listen closely.”0 Charles Bernstein

Strong proposals about future general collective beliefs based on a nebulous marginal subject like digital poetry are not candidates for verifiability. The structure of human attitudes toward matter --what we conceive of as alive, to what we attribute the status of life – are diverse. Generalizations are generalizations. Yet the society we exist in has characteristics that define it; these defining characteristics modulate as technology modulates. There is a depth to our being that is not plumbed or known by news account or even psychologists report. It is to that depth that poetry speaks, or it is that depth that poetry speaks. And as poetry`s formal tools increase into volumetric kinetic meta-data it seems appropriate to consider how esoteric infinities at the core of interiority have been classified by various thinkers.

5.1.4Lumps, Logarithms & Kristeva’s Chora

“The experience which I am attempting to describe by one tentative approach after another is very precise and is immediately recognizable. But it exists at a level of perception and feeling which is probably preverbal – hence, very much, the difficulty of writing about it…The experience in one form or another is, I believe, a common one. It Is seldom referred to because it is nameless.”

John Berger. 1980. “The Field” in About Looking. Pg. 200-201

With the concept of aesthetic animism what I am searching to express is a nameless preverbal apprehension of the otherness of something. How can language reach that non-other pre-I otherness? And with this thesis I hope to express how that apprehension of otherness is made available to us at the confluence of digital tech and poetry.

Julie Kristeva distinguishes the semiotic trace from the term chora (derived from Plato’s Timaeus); chora is “an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation” (35). In other words, chora describes somewhere deep in the psyche: nebulous, pre-articulate and pre-verbal. Perhaps Eduardo Kac`s “A syntactical carbogram (Biopoetry Proposal #17)”(Kac. 191) for letters created with carbon nanotubes is floating nearby. But the chora Kristeva describes is basically without dimension. It is in that dimensionless space that esoteric topological intersections of sonic-forms and letter-forms are born.

For Kristeva, chora is antecedent to semiotics; it is an interiority that might be shapeless. It is “not yet a position that represents something for someone (i.e. it is not a sign); nor is it a position that represents someone for another position (i.e. it is not yet a signifier either); it is, however, generated in order to attain this signifying position” (Kristeva. 35).

Generated by what? By whom? As an experience, chora evades categorization. In a similar enigmatic way, I try to use the term aesthetic to denote experience antecedent to language, to induce instability at the core of how we perceive words as banal servants, to reintroduce them to their roots as invocation. Embodied but somehow non-accessible to consciousness, aesthetic experiences rupture subjectivity before it emerges. Primordial, concealed beneath and within language, beauty pierces the enclosure necessary for self-formation, it delivers perception over to reception, and evokes an indeterminate situation. This delivery occurs regardless of media.

One of the tasks of poetry is to speak chora, to convey a direct jolt of existence without negating non-existence. At the digital interface between audio-visuals and language, in the malleable palpitating presence of reactive words that emit sound, an opportunity emerges for chora to refine its expression.

Before body delimited itself, amputated off the other and arrived as an identity, the world existed as proximal ooze; this ooze is the chora that digital technology sometimes provokes. This is why digital culture is a returning, a recycling, and a re-fusioning of literate sensibilities onto visceral apprehensions. And it is the textural verisimilitude and tactile irrefutability (conveyed empathically by mirror neurons) of digital typography that accesses both chora and literate consciousness simultaneously.

Eyes read as enteric viscera absorb. The cumulative whoompf of this knot evokes aesthetic animism. This mode of experience expands text into flesh, equalizes the gap between viewers and viewed, and resituates reading as a primal act. And if this process is dependent on technology then probably it will mimic technium’s0 entropic change and occur at a logarithmically accelerating rate.

We are on the curve toward a cusp. At the cusp, a letter contorting in mouth’s eye.

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