The Failure of Digital – Mix Conference in Untweeted Tweets

I’ve just returned from two days at Mix – a conference exploring transmedia writing and digital creativity organised by Bath Spa University. Predictably the conference venue, the beautiful Jacobean mansion Corsham Court, had no public Wifi and even 3G coverage was incredibly patchy (although the cakes were plentiful). Not one to be deterred from emitting hot air via the Twittersphere, I reached for my trusty A4 notebook and started Tweeting, by hand.

Old trusty

I propose, then, the following – an accummulative, one-sided, unnetworked, uni-authored, anti-interactive, solipsistic, hyperunlinked, retrograde, pre-digital, nostalgic, parodic, carboniferous, vernacular, non-academic, sardonic, anti-spontaneous commentary on two days listening, talking and thinking about future literatures.

Day One

Mark Amerika kicks off with Beckett on failure, storytelling, remixology, Debord & the digital derive #MixDigital

I find Amerika’s claiming of transmedia by what he calls, paradoxically, ‘the historical avant-garde’, problematic #MixDigital

Amerika setting up opposition b/wn avant-garde/arthouse vs commercial/Hollywood entertainment industry #MixDigital

Surely most digital developments are implicated in commercial interests & powered by creative entrepreneurs #MixDigital

Amerika’s Immobilite looks interesting – voice distortions & haunting drones #MixDigital

Amerika now talking about his Museum of Glitch Aesthetics #MixDigital #MOGA

The Artist 2.0 – nice pun from Amerika #MixDigital #MOGA

Awesome glitch video of some fucked up landscapes (I dream like this) #MixDigital #MOGA

Pixelated waterfalls. Cut-up cliffs. #MixDigital #MOGA @nathmercy @rossgsutherland @borispasterlike wd love

Audience member questioning Amerika on convergence #MixDigital

Amerika promoting resistance to convergence & ‘false consciousness of commercial production’ hmmm this is so passé #MixDigital

Amerika on defamiliarising voice & sound #MixDigital

I asked Amerika how we comes to terms with using commercial tools eg Google Maps, Nokia #MixDigital

His answer was intoxicating if evasive. For him transmedia about creative sabotage of commercial software #MixDigital

2nd keynote coming up. Maria Mencia. Strange hieroglyph grid projecting behind her. Introducer promising translations from/into birdsong #MixDigital

Sense/nonsense, legible/illegible. The language edge of media. Texture, sound, phonetic landscapes #MixDigital

Mencia showing us Steve McCaffrey poem from 1974. Her deconstruction of it reminds me why I dislike most concrete poetry #MixDigital

Breaking grammatical/ syntactical rules is so radical, man. Smash the system! #MixDigital

Sorry, but I’m really not getting much out of Mencia’s keynote or the tedious conceptual language art she’s showing #MixDigital

‘Textual surfaces as transparent & opaque’ – reading as visual/image-based process #MixDigital

Mencia using ‘Java-made-simple’ programming to make artwork #MixDigital #CodeisPoetry

‘Avant-garde’ academics are often so bad at talking about work. I want a way in, not more theory #MixDigital

Howard Carter on discovering Tutunkhamun’s tomb: “Wow, check out those hieroglyphs, they really speak to notions of the materiality of textual surfaces” #MixDigital

At the back of my #MixDigital delegate pack is a wodge of A4 lined paper. OLD SCHOOL.

Mencia’s last poem is an interactive code-based rendition of a C16th Spanish poem w/ use of webcam. Quite interesting #MixDigital

A thought: code requires perfect syntax, poetry celebrates imperfection & breakdown of linguistic rules #MixDigital

.@hollypest on Caroline Bergvall’s Meddle English & @christianbok’s Xenotext now! #MixDigital

.@hollypest ‘languaging’ / foreignness / fluency #MixDigital

Funny how everyone’s terminology differs: transmedia, multimedia, intermedial, interdisciplinary etc #MixDigital

.@hollypest introducing Bergvall’s Chaucerian mash-ups – intriguing the medievalist in me #MixDigital

.@hollypest struggling to pronounce the bacterium onto which @christianbok is inscribing a poem LOL #MixDigital

Bergvall & Bok setting up laboratories, collaborating, ‘meddling’ with process @hollypest #MixDigital

In media res translates as *into* the middle of things, ie. dynamic middle … interesting @hollypest #MixDigital

Bergvall – wire sculpture as language, ‘a tissue of lines’ @hollypest #MixDigital

Bergvall on lines echoed in Capability Brown’s landscaping of Corsham Court, w/ sightlines across meadows to distant A Road @hollypest #MixDigital

‘The site of language spawning & deforming’ @hollypest #MixDigital

‘soupy mix of corrupted Chaucerian language’ @hollypest on Bergvall #MixDigital

History is a complex layering of time like a baker’s dough (Stephen Connor via @hollypest) #MixDigital

‘Bergvall is feeding from Chaucer and feeding the text that is spawned by it’ @hollypest #MixDigital

Now @hollypest turns to @christianbok – removing the human from the poetic process #MixDigital

.@christianbok’s poem is a split masculine/feminine text about creation/destructing, according to @hollypest #MixDigital

.@christianbok’s Xenotext proj is being developed in a lab, but out of hours – interesting ‘oscillation’ there @hollypest #MixDigital

And now, a move to the barn for the wondrously named Dick Swart on digital narration #MixDigital

Swart on new reading strategies, eg. WWILFING & narrativity in gaming #MixDigital

Funny how reading online is becoming more fractured, more incoherent, whilst gaming is becoming more narrative-based. What are we losing #MixDigital

Swart imagining literature that is responsive to the reader, eg. Minimise/expand bits of the text to suit your taste #MixDigital

It’s a fascinating idea but works against the wonder of surprise & serendipity #MixDigital

Some of Swart’s ideas about personalisation & adaptive literature worry me cos they reduce role of imagination #MixDigital

The Ambient Novel. The Puffpastry Novel. The Spaghetti Novel. (Dick Swart) #MixDigital

Swart’s transmedial novel ‘Tiret’ has a spooky animated cover. Cool! #MixDigital

‘Tiret’ also has minimisable text, animations, translation, commenting via social nets. Incredible #MixDigital

It has embedded audio and illustration too #MixDigital

Massively Multiplayer Online Networking Story Books, cf. Balzac’s Comedia Humaine (Dick Swart is ace) #MixDigital

Swart: Star Trek was the first multi-writer network story environment #MixDigital

Swart on the Spaghetti Novel with multiple routes thru narrative. @npenlington is taking notes #MixDigital

‘Let’s make some money and write the MMONSB’ Dick Swart #MixDigital

After good sandwiches and light ale at Methuen Arms I’m back at #MixDigital for roundtable discussion. Feeling sleepy.

Prof Martin Riesner on augmented & hybrid realities #MixDigital

Riesner – city moving away from a series of fixed nodes into a fluid, amorphous, staccastic space #MixDigital

Mapping is an important trope in augmented reality #MixDigital

Aboriginal songlines – summoning the ancestors thru walking a landscape. Embodiment in the landscape #MixDigital

Mobile tech bringing back embodiment in landscape #MixDigital

Magic moments where hybrid reality converges #MixDigital

Locative media, lost histories of the word #MixDigital

Claire Reddington brings energetic patter to #MixDigital & played a clip from Minority Report

V interesting discussion ranging from optics, locative media, experimental theatre & Victorian magic tricks #MixDigital

Day Two

Mornin’ #MixDigital. @katepullinger kicks things off w/ clear & engaging talk on disinformation & publishing

Oops – meant to say DISINTERMEDIATION #MixDigital #FreudianSlip

If yr work doesn’t circulate freely it has no currency – Pullinger #MixDigital

Digital Rights Management stops circulation dead – Pullinger #MixDigital

Inanimate Alice uses multimedia to tells stories – didn’t realise it wd become pedagogical phenomenon – Pullinger #MixDigital

Inanimate Alice distributed free but has generated income in other ways. Where are the new business models? – Pullinger #MixDigital

A Million Penguins – can a community write a novel? Wiki-fiction – Pullinger #MixDigital

80k views, 1500 contributors, lots of vandalism, eg. Fuck Penguin – Pullinger #MixDigital

Answer to her question: no! But a fascinating process which has generated further research projects – Pullinger #MixDigital

.@jsamlarose has just made a face #MixDigital

Can books be spreadable media? – Pullinger #MixDigital

Ref Cory Doctorow giving away ebooks free to fuel print sales (IMO outliers do not create workable business models) #MixDigital

Hey let’s talk about to enable change in publishing but save the really good bits #MixDigital

Writer as artisan, w/out need for publishing industry – attractive idea but remember artisans formed guilds #MixDigital

Guilds to develop communities, skills, audiences & protect interests #MixDigital

Giving stuff away for free has always been for privileged/lucky/famous few – it’s not a sufficient business model in C21st IMO #MixDigital

What do we give away – what do we decide to retain for sale #MixDigital

I am so digital I’ve just drawn a cartoon of a C14th bible leaf #MixDigital

Video poetry next with Tom Konyves #MixDigital

We are watching black & white silent film of Robert Browning poem from 1909 – the first ever video poem #MixDigital

Jean Epstein predicting videopoetry in 1923 #MixDigital

I don’t get what #videopoetry actually is – if it contains no text/speech/language can it be a poem? #MixDigital

Konyves just showed a witty 1982 videopoem w/ one word per shot. Great rhythm like a good spoken poem or a joke #MixDigital

Konyves showing some v interestin videopoems – wd like to get a complete list so I can watch them again online #MixDigital

‘The poetry in videopoetry is the result of the judicious juxtaposition of text w/ image & sound’ Konyves Manifesto #MixDigital

Tom Phillips Humument getting a check now re appropriation of existing material. Wicked #MixDigital

Watched the brilliant & famous Bob Dylan music video of Subterranean Homesick Blues as a ‘videopoem’ #MixDigital

I think all of Konyves examples of videopoetry have been by men #MixDigital

Next up: Phd student Andy Atherton on archaeology of digital writing. We are sitting in a converted stable block #MixDigital

From TS Eliot to Kenneth Goldsmith thru the prism of hypertext – Atherton #MixDigital

Print vs digital as Wiley Coyote spluttering in the wake of Roadrunner – Atherton #MixDigital

The reader of The Waste Land becomes a user (Eliot’s endnotes as hypertext) – Atherton #MixDigital

‘Multi-user dungeons’ – Atherton #MixDigital

I find Atherton’s notion of a ‘successful reader’ problematic #MixDigital

Bohdan Piasecki talking on mixed media, translation & performance poetry #MixDigital

One of unique qualities of performance poetry is the strong link b/wn the poem & its author #MixDigital

German poet Bas Bottcher has created custom-made software to generate translations for his performances #MixDigital

Oh god Bohdan’s 1st questioner is incredibly patronising – accuses him of sexism & racism by only showing egs of white male poets #MixDigital

Switching back to Stable for Richard Stamp’s Philosopher of a Gadgeteer #MixDigital

John Whitney, Hitchcock, Buckminster-Fuller, Foucault’s Pendulum & military surplus, so far from Stamp #MixDigital

.@npenlington @hollypest & I skived off #MixDigital to go book-hunting in Corsham

Extraordinary peacocks! #MixDigital

Final presentation of day is Lance Dann on radio, broadcasting & sound #MixDigital

Dann’s work explores edges of radio with ARG, socialnetworking & viral #MixDigital

Augmented narratives. Layered experience #MixDigital

New media needs old media to validate it – Dann #MixDigital

Interaction (eg. Commenting & phone ins) – 1 in 1,000 rule #MixDigital

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Go, litel book!

Go, litel book, go litel myn tragedie,
Ther god thy maker yet, er that he dye,
So sende might to make in som comedie!
But litel book, no making thou nenvye,
But subgit be to alle poesye;
And kis the steppes, wher-as thou seest pace
Virgile, Ovyde, Omer, Lucan, and Stace.

And for ther is so greet diversitee
In English and in wryting of our tonge,
So preye I god that noon miswryte thee,
Ne thee mismetre for defaute of tonge.
And red wher-so thou be, or elles songe,
That thou be understonde I god beseche!
But yet to purpos of my rather speche.

At the end of his long poem Troilus & Criseyde, Geoffrey Chaucer commends his work to readers with these two verses and, particularly, the famous line ‘Go, litel book, go litel myn tragedie’. This is a classic example of what I identify elsewhere as authorial anxiety in late medieval texts, both literary and non-literary. On the one hand, Chaucer hopes that his poem will be worthy of his Classical heroes (‘subgit be to alle poesye’); in other words, that Troilus will join a perceived ‘canon’ of literature. On the other hand, he expresses concern that his work might be misunderstood, misread or mistranslated by contemporary readers. Like many pre-print writers, whose works were distributed in manuscript form only and would have to be copied out by hand, Chaucer is anxious to maintain some form of authorial intention, to normalise potentially diverse and divergent readings of his work. To create a stable, guaranteed text.

[I might, with more time and space, argue that this particular authorial statement is in fact heavily laced with Chaucer’s distinctive brand of irony. In particular, the rollcall of Classical poets characterises the narrator as pompous rather than genuinely anxious; another one of Chaucer’s authorial personas perhaps. But whether this passage is satirical or not, it certainly reflects a universal concern, one which affects all writers and artists.]

I’m interested in the shift from manuscript to print and how that period might inform the current transition from print to digital. I always thought ‘Go, litel book’ was a great statement for the internet age. It expresses the anxious excitement of distributing material to a potential audience of millions in the click of a button. Posting a blog. Uploading a website. Sending a mass email. That sense of your work entering the digital ether, an anonymous space over which you have no control, and from which you cannot withdraw. You can pulp a paperback, but you can never guarantee that a blog post or email or webpage is not still cached somewhere deep inside a server thousands of miles away. Now, the logical extension of the open-field nature of online communication is the collaborative text, the Wiki novel. The simple one-to-many process of traditional publishing is being exploded by digital technology and, it seems, the natural compulsion of readers to ‘get stuck in’.

*

A recent experience of online social networking made me think of this. I uploaded a new poem, ‘I, Citizen’, to Facebook – something I’d seen other writers in my ‘Friends’ Network’ do. I posted the poem as a note and ‘tagged’ a number of my friends as an encouragement for them to read it. I had no grand expectations of feedback beyond, perhaps, a handful of brief positive comments. But within a few hours I already had two or three extended comments suggesting minor edits, including one from a small press publisher. Soon after, another contributor – this time, more forceful – suggested I rewrite the poem’s conclusion, partly on the basis that I could not ‘get away with’ a particular turn of phrase whilst another poet (who also commented, later) ‘*could* get away with using it’. As another friend came to the defence of the last verse, I suddenly found my poem being deconstructed in some detail. It was, I noted, a ‘feedback frenzy’ (as I write, there are 27 comments in total, including my own).

Now, I should say now that I’m not precious about my writing. Well, no more precious than any writer, at least. I enjoy receiving feedback and try to use constructive criticism to inform the editing/rewriting process. On the whole, the comments on ‘I, Citizen’ identified areas of the poem I was already anxious about, or brought up new and interesting interpretations. But I was a bit surprised by how readily people would offer detailed criticisms of my work in an essentially public forum such as Facebook. You might say I was asking for it, but when I posted the poem I only expected a few short comments. And as an editor myself, I’m aware of the sensitivity with which you should approach critical feedback. I have never contributed in-depth analysis of poems posted on MySpace or Facebook, although I am often engaged in doing just that in more private channels.

Despite my initial gut reaction to criticism, I’m pleased that ‘I, Citizen’ attracted so much feedback. The criticism was useful and made in good faith, and frankly it’s great that people actually engaged with my work in some detail. The internet is not an endless ether; online audiences are no anonymous mass. In fact Web 2.0 offers opportunities for writers to establish quite intimate and worthwhile connections with readers. It also gives them the right to reply. There are risks and sometimes you will get burnt, but the benefits of engaging with a potential readership are worth it, I reckon. Publishing in the digital age is about opening a two-way conversation. I think Chaucer knew that all literature is about reciprocity, that one man’s story will be taken, tweaked, retuned and returned; that the stability of his ‘litel book’, his ‘litel tragedie’, could never be guaranteed, but would shift and slide with every reading. For there is ‘greet diversitee / … in wryting of our tonge’.