From Dada to Digital: Experimental Poetry in the Media Age

Critical Writing
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2013
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At least since Mallarme, if not before, poets in the Western tradition have responded to changes in media technologies by reflecting on their own relationship to language, and by reassessing the limits and possibilities of poetry. In the German- speaking world, this tendency has been pronounced in a number of experimental movements: Dada, particularly in Zurich and Berlin between 1916 and 1921; Concrete poetry, especially its Swiss and German variants in the 1950s and '60s; and finally, digital or electronic poetry, a genre that is still developing all around the world, but has roots in Germany dating back to the late 1950s. For each of these movements, the increasing dominance of new media technologies contributes to an understanding of language as something material, quantifiable, and external to its human users, and casts doubt on the function of language as a means of subjective expression, particularly in the context of poetry. However, this poetic engagement with a materialized, quantified language does not only pose a challenge to older conceptions of the lyric subject; rather, a new sort of subjectivity may emerge through the interaction of human authors and technological media. Thus by engaging with new media technologies, the experimental movements considered here have raised fundamental questions about the nature of subjectivity in a media-dominated age. This argument is developed here in the form of critical surveys of all three movements, together with case studies of works that have received relatively little scholarly attention to date. The introduction to the Dadaists' media poetics in Chapter One is followed, in Chapter Two, by a closer look at how print media and advertising fit into the Berlin Dadaists' political program, focusing on the collaboration between George Grosz and John Heartfield in the June 1917 issue of Neue Jugend. Following the survey of Concrete poetry in Chapter Three, Chapter Four focuses on the role of information theory in the works of Max Bense, particularly in his 1963 book Vielleicht zunaechst wirklich nur: Monolog der Terry Jo im Mercey Hospital, as well as the 1968 radio-play adaptation, Der Monolog der Terry Jo. The final chapter pursues this trajectory further, tracing the development of digital poetry in the German-speaking world from its earliest experimental phase in 1959 up to the present day.

(Source: Abstract by the Author)

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Patricia Tomaszek