this research proposal was awarded a Reid cross-disciplinary scholarship from Royal Holloway University of London, and I am due to complete the research in June 2017.
a blogroll of my research notes can be viewed here: http://glitchpoetics.tumblr.com/
Glitch Poetics: an ontology of post-digital writing practices
– Nathan Jones
How are contemporary writers making use of error and noise in ways which newly connect performance, creativity, economics and technology?
This interdisciplinary project identifies and charts an emerging genre in contemporary writing, characterized by the use of ‘glitch’ techniques – the artistic exploitation of failure or error in a given system, with specific reference to digital media. It examines the rise of this new form in the context of the increasing dominance of digital culture, and the vastly revised theories of labour in ‘semiocapitalism’ – a late-capitalist condition characterised by cognitive labour and excessive financialisation (Berardi, 2006).
I will propose that Glitch Poetics tactics – as practiced by writers as diverse as lyric poet Keston Sutherland, film maker Ryan Trecartin and novelist Tao Lin – have developed specifically as responses to the ‘semiocapitalist’ context described by autonomist theories such as Berardi’s, illustrating an important and widespread contemporary mode for interrogating digital culture’s infinite ‘informational flows’ (Guattari, 1995). This will be connected to a number of timely contemporary cultural debates informing digital and media studies – such as the notion of the ‘post-digital’ (Crammer, 2013), ‘digital disavowal’ (Bishop 2012) and ‘materiality’ (Kittler 1997).
A thesis will explore the idea that resistance to interpretation and codification (Baudrillard, 1977; Deleuze and Guattari, 1981), is a continuity connecting given contemporary writing and experimental literature to the historical avant-garde and contemporary new media arts. In doing so, it will newly address the dialectic between the material experience of digital media, and their production in algorithmic forms.
An accompanying practical element will draw on and inform the theory, resulting in a portfolio of performance documentation and scores as ebook. This publication will seek to fill gaps between experimental poetry, art writing and contemporaneous experiments with technological noise, failure and error in media art fields.
The research emerging from this project will therefore have implications in interdisciplinarity – allowing for a closer proximity of new media and literary theory – giving explicit new routes into thinking the relationship of experimental language practice to politics and informational flows.
Digital media is associated with the noiseless transmission of a signal. However, since the 1990s, a set of artists – including Curt Cloninger, JODI and Jon Cates – have been exploiting errors and failure in artistic practice. The increasing influence of ‘Glitch Art’ sets the stage for rethinking error in literature also, especially in the field of contemporary ‘poetics’ whose practitioners often blur disciplinary boundaries, leading many contemporary language-led practitioners into the ‘expanded field’ (Watten, 2006) of digital and interdisciplinary practice. Curt Cloninger himself has led discussions into the ‘linguistic glitch’ which is a potentially rich way of thinking about ‘code’ (Cox, 2012) in relation to literature and language use.
The movement of poetics into different media has been accelerated in recent years – throughout, and now ‘post-’, the emergence of digital as dominant form. The term ‘post-digital’ (Cramer, 2013) can be used to describe a context whereby the digital has lost the disruptive force of emergence. Cramer has observed that the ‘post-digital’, characterized in the arts by a return to analogue modes as a response to digitization, is a term which can be applied to disciplines at different times. He identifies the mass migration of books to digital publication – and, I will add, the migration of literature into digital film, sound and code-poetry – as an occasion wherein writers exhibit a ‘post-digital’ response. The notion of historicizing the digital in relation to a possible post-digitality is, I will argue, a useful way of thinking about changes in digital culture and its massification throughout everyday life. Glitch Art’s appropriation of systematic error is a well-documented example of a post-digital response in the arts, but little work has been done to chart similar tactics as they occur in contemporary writerly practice – an important area, given the privileged role of language in relation to ‘codification’ and finance (Berardi, 2012).
Berardi (2012) has helpfully outlined the notion of the irreconcilably ‘sensuous’ and ‘affective’ use of language by poetry, and the forms of abstraction in ‘semio-capitalism’. Berardi links semiois and capitalism explicitly through an understanding of the subjection of language to automation – diagnosing the contemporary socio-political context as one in which ‘signs produce signs without passing through the flesh’ and ‘Monetary value produces monetary value without first being realised through the production of goods’. Berardi’s call for a poetry as the ‘voice of language’, and its resonance with the ‘post-digital’, will be the starting mandate for my creative work, and a basis from which to explore the socio-economic context of Glitch Poetics’ emergence.
My research will also link Berardi’s notion of a writerly response from within a dominant form – in this case, the form of ‘the digital’ – and Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of Kafka and Samuel Beckett (Kafka, 1981), as writers of a ‘minority’ (Czech and Irish respectively) whose works escape the interpretation, or codification of meaning in their work by the major, by ‘stammering’ in their adopted language. The thesis will adopt this notion of a ‘minor literature’ to develop an analysis framed in terms of how contemporary writing participates in the ‘major language’ of digital media, in order to respond to and diverge the ‘techno-linguistic’ context of semiocapitalism.
- How do tactics of error, noise and failure critically connect contemporary writing and experimental literature to the historical avant-garde and contemporary new media arts?
- How do these tactics relate to their socio-economic, technological and cultural contexts?
My creative practice will explore ways of vocalizing, and otherwise performing, texts which have been composed in human-machine collaborative processes. I will use live contexts for text-to-voice, and text and voice manipulation, for example, to experiment with the complex relationships of computation and automation to the human body, addressing binaristic oppositions such as that between the ‘grain’ of the voice (Barthes, 1975) and the ‘clean’ transmission of digital information. The practice will form a site where the theoretical elements of my project can be critiqued among the pragmatic issues of contemporary cultural production.
In a theoretical strand, a discrete set of contemporary writers will be analysed through close readings, supplemented by interviews. The emergence of the digital, I will argue, can be usefully mapped over the work of a ‘first generation’ of writers, such as Kenneth Goldsmith and Caroline Bergvall, and those of a ‘second generation’, whose own emergence has taken place entirely in a ‘post-digital’ interdisciplinary context, and whose work may reflect specifically on ‘semio-capitalism’ – such as film-maker Ryan Trecartin, novelist Tao Lin, and performance writer Erica Scourti.
These analyses will be contextualized by comparative study with the historical avant garde such as Samuel Beckett and Antonin Artaud, their theorization as artists who have resisted interpretation and codification of their work, and an exploration of how an evolution of these tactics can be attributed to the vastly revised theories of labour, economics and media proposed by the post-digital, and autonomist theories such as Berardi’s.
Linking these strands, I will draw on my links to visual and performance art platforms, such as FACT, ICA, Rhizome and Liverpool Biennial, to present my work publically, and host a public symposium and online forum on the themes of the research.
- A series of academic texts, presented as chapters of analyses, interpretation and interviews.
- A body of performance work and a summative symposium.
- An ebook documenting and contextualising the above as image and text.
The ontology I will produce is intended to introduce new theoretical terms to literary studies and to examine the contemporary meanings offered by these diffuse writerly practices. The terms ‘glitch’ and ‘post-digital’, while central to media theory, have not undergone a thorough analysis in relation to writing – and as a result there is a gap in the way some contemporary writing practices can be contextualized.
Along with this contribution to the interdisciplinarity of writing, it will also be proposed that an ontological discussion of Glitch Poetics offers an important intervention from within contemporary poetics discourse, circumventing stalemates between divergent work emerging from lyric, art and performance traditions – such as that between conceptual writing and the politicized lyric of the Cambridge School (Queyras 2012; Abrahamson 2014).
Outside of Higher Education, my research will inform a curatorial practice, informing my own programming work for Liverpool Biennial, for example, and conversations with leading new media organisations with whom I have connections such as Furtherfield and Rhizome, and the literary field.
I plan to publish commentary resulting from my research on websites I already contribute to as reviewer, such as Furtherfield, and also build on my academic publishing history with Performance Research Journal, with articles including close studies of cutting edge practitioners appearing in journals in a wide range of disciplines, from film and new media, to literature and visual arts. In addition, I will be working on a creative practice parallel to the research project, and a publication of a portfolio of creative work, with Mapp Editions (with whom I have two different book forthcoming in Spring and Winter 2014) will form part of the submission and its dissemination into the public realm.
As a practitioner, my work regularly features on major platforms, including Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, and Institute for Contemporary Art, London. This is a network I will build on throughout the research project, disseminating practical outcomes of the project internationally.
Leading up to this research, my achievements have been consistently recognized and awarded at superlative level, having secured significant competitive funding from agencies, such as Arts Council England, totalling more than £150,000 in the last three years. I was a recipient of the British Council’s highly competitive Artist International Development Fund in 2012, I have curated performance and writing for Liverpool Biennials 2008-12, and I am co-editor of two upcoming ebook publications with Link Editions on art and performance – Torque 1: language brain technology and Torque 2: the act of reading.
Berardi, F. The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e), 2006
Berardi, F. The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, Semiotext(e), 2012
Bishop, C. Digital Divide, Artforum, September 2012, accessed 08/07/2013, http://hybridge.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/bishop-digital-divide-artforum-sep-2012.pdf , 2012
Cox, G. and Alex McLean, Speaking Code, MIT Press, 2012
Cramer, F. (2013) Post-digital: a term that sucks but is useful (draft 2), accessed 30/12/2013, http://post-digital.projects.cavi.dk/?p=295
Deleuze, G. & Felix Guattari, Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature, University of Minnesota Press, 1986
Derrida, J., Of Grammatology, John Hopkins University Press, 1974
Guattari, F. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Indiana University Press, 1995
Hainge, G., Noise Matters: Towards and Ontology of Noise, Bloomsbury, 2013
Kittler, F. Literature, Media, Information Systems, Routledge, 1997.
Kittler, F. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Stanford University Press, 1999
Menkman, R. The Glitch Moment(um), Institute of Network Cultures, 2012
Morris, A. and Thomas Swiss, New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts and Theories, MIT Press, 2006