Beyond the Googlization of Literature: Writing Other Networks

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

It's true, poets have been experimenting with producing writing (or simply writing, just writing of a sort not familiar to us - writing as input and writing as choosing) with the aid of digital computer algorithms since Max Bense and Theo Lutz first experimented with computer-generated writing in 1959. What is new and particular to the 21st century literary landscape is a revived interest in the underlying workings of algorithms, not just a concern with the surface-level effects and results that characterized much of the fascination in the 1970s and 1980s with computer-generated writing. With the ever-increasing power of algorithms, especially search engine algorithms that attempt not just to "know" us but to in fact anticipate and so shape our every desire, our passive acceptance of these algorithms necessarily means we cannot have any sense of the shape and scope of how they determine our access to information, let alone shape our sense of self which is increasingly driven by autocomplete, autocorrect, automata.

The "Googlization of Poetry," then, describes conceptual writing as an often overlooked aspect of electronic literature - my paper contends that the crucial contribution of conceptual writing as e-literature to contemporary poetry, poetics, and even media studies is an articulation of a 21st century media poetics. Building on the 20th century's computer-generated texts, conceptual writing gives us a poetics perfectly appropriate for our current cultural moment in that it implicitly acknowledges we are living not just in an era of the search engine algorithm but in an era of what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls "The Googlization of Everything." "Google has permeated our culture. That's what I mean by Googlization. It is a ubiquitous brand: Google is used as a noun and a verb everywhere from adolescent conversations to scripts for Sex and the City." (2) In other words, when we search for data on the Web we are no longer "searching" - instead, we are "Googling." But Conceptual writers such as Bill Kennedy, Darren Wershler, and Tan Lin who experiment with/on Google are not simply pointing to its ubiquity - they are also implicitly questioning how it works, how it generates the results it does, and so how it sells ourselves back to us. Such writing is an acknowledgement of the materiality of language in the digital that goes deeper than a mere acknowledgement of the material size, shape, sound, texture of letters and words that characterizes much of twentieth-century bookbound, experimental poetry practices. Otherwise put, these writers take us beyond the 20th century avant garde's interest in the verbal/vocal/visual aspect of materiality to instead urge us to attend to the materiality of 21st century digital language production. They ask, what happens when we appropriate the role of Google for our own purposes rather than Google's? What happens when we wrest Google from itself and instead use it not only to find out things about us as a culture but to find out what Google is finding out about us?

In this sense, this cluster of Conceptual writing which both probes and is driven by the search engine in fact enacts a kind of study of software. Lev Manovich writes in Software Takes Command, "Software Studies has to investigate both the role of software in forming contemporary culture, and cultural, social, and economic forces that are shaping development of software itself." (5) And so if the search engine is currently one of the most powerful pieces of "cultural software," then, again, it's my sense that Conceptual writing's critique of Google ideally positions such writing as a mode of 21st century media poetics.

(Source: Author's Abstract)

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Daniela Ørvik