Aesthetic Animism: Digital Poetry as Ontological Probe

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In this era of compressed attention, the following information might prove useful.
Chapter 1 outlines the general argument: it provides an overview of the subject of digital poetry and the approach. The terms tavs and tavits are defined.
Chapter 2 presents a history of precedents, typographic explorers, previous movements and parallel practitioners: it presents an in-depth contextualizing continuum. It also creates a foundation for what follows by proposing that, in some computational contexts, images assimilate text.
Chapter 3 contains central arguments. These concern the plausibility of living language as an outcome of the convergence of literature and computation, the volumetric possibility that archetypal letterforms relate to internal physiognomy, and discourse on how these archetypal forms might be attained in ways that are both synaesthetic and synergetic.
Chapter 4 concentrates on software-studies. Three software use-case studies explore the temporal implications of timelines on the literary imagination.
Chapter 5 concludes by linking the software-studies (temporal arguments) to the animism arguments and places both within the context of preverbal apprehensions and the roots of semantics. It also proposes a vectoral model for conceiving of

text-sound-image synthesis in terms of interior-between-exterior.

What is Digital Poetry?

  • a compression utility (it converts paragraphs into tiny enigmatic phrases)

  • a Memory Resource Unit (inducing long-term potentiation from the cruft and spam of experience)

  • GPU accelerated lyricism (lamentations & celebrations with some multimedia)

  • a translation algorithm (converting the cultural heritage of bards into interactive & generative formats)


“The first who likened painting and poetry to each other must have been a man of delicate perception, who found that both arts affected him in a similar manner. Both, he realized, present to us appearance as reality, absent things as present; both deceive, and the deceit of either is pleasing.

A second sought to penetrate to the essence of the pleasure and discovered that in both it flows from one source. Beauty, the conception of which we at first derive from bodily objects, has general rules which can be applied to various things: to actions, to thoughts, as well as to forms.

A third, who reflected on the value and the application of these general rules, observed that some of them were predominant rather in painting, others rather in poetry; that, therefore, in the latter poetry could help out painting, in the former painting help out poetry, with illustrations and examples.

The first was the amateur; the second the philosopher; the third the critic.”

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766)1

The relationship between poetry and painting is ancient. Digital poetry compounds the relative complexity of this relation by adding sound and interactivity to the situation. Digital media introduces a fourth perspective not listed by Lessing (quotation above): the perspective of an artist involved in the creation of works that are hybrid entities: poetry + painting + soundscapes + programming.

In spite of the longevity of the arts, I am an artist-taking-refuge-in-academia who is in agreement with the sentiment of Alan Sondheim’s casual proclamation at ELO 2010, “Everything we do here will be irrelevant in a few years.”2The reasons for this irrelevance are so well-known they scarcely bear iteration. Nonetheless, I will briefly state a few. Humans are a tiny species on a tiny planet in a vast universe. Collectively knowledge is growing at unprecedented logarithmically-accelerating rates. Distribution technology and softwares modulate as swiftly as weather. Skills that might have been absorbed as a journeyman apprentice and passed down through generations are now eclipsed in less than decades. Definitions and cultural practices fluctuate like seaweed in a hurricane. Certainties are uprooted.

What remains to be said? Hurricane navigation involves an awareness of where the storm is, and an ability to keep the ship pointed into the wind. This thesis attempts to do a bit of both: it looks at the current state of contemporary digital poetry and extrapolates toward the future. It also offers satellite imagery of specific aspects of the cyclone afflicting/uplifting painting(video) and poetry(programming). And it explores transformations within literary creative practice that occur as it hybridizes. It also gives an account of an ongoing transformation in the tools and technology of poetry, a storm that has thrown together formerly disparate disciplines into a tumbled heap of fertile wrack. From this confusion, very few certainties can be offered but many provocative possibilities, fractures and tangents, emerge: language-art is recursive and resilient even as it mutates.


AESTHETIC ANIMISM This thesis addresses the relation between animation and animism in digital poetry that utilizes malleable typography. It introduces the term aesthetic animism to describe attribution of aliveness based on perceived beauty: a combination of motion, belonging, intention and appropriateness. And it explores the ontological implications of malleable typography for creative practitioners and viewer-readers of digital poetry. Through empirical software case-studies it argues for software instruments that permit digital-poets to manipulate typography sculpturally and directly.

DIGITAL POETRY is a multimedia hybrid language-art-form. It is a subset of visual language that is now fusing with digital technology and is increasingly mediated by networks. Contemporary poems are animated within GUIs and interfaces; and they often utilize dynamic interactive typography superimposed over video, generative or 3D environments. A brief list of the disciplines involved in the creation of digital poetry includes visual art, sound composition, literature, media studies and computer programming.

NEW TERMINOLOGY The multimedia aspect of digital poetry means that the term ‘text’ is insufficient. Future theorists will require terminology specific to the domain. I suggest tav (text-audio-visual), tavt (a tav in a 3D territory), and tavit (an interactive tavt). I have no illusions or expectations that these terms will achieve widespread adoption, but am certain that some terms like these will of necessity emerge to concisely and accurately convey the difference between text, tav, tavt and tavit.

TAVIT entails a proto-embodiment for letterforms; abstract language made into digital entities, typography given rudimentary metabolism. The technical methods of working with language have changed radically in the last few decades. Digital poetry offers insights and implications into this rapidly accelerating transition.

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