Jumping to Occlusions

Critical Writing
Journal volume and issue: 
7(3) May 1997 (PMC)
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

"Jumping to Occlusions" is perhaps the first thorough statement of a poetics of online space. In the present hypertextual trickster edition, a lively investigative language of the link is employed helping to develop this essay's written argument through its own hypertextuality -- its jumps, sidebars, graphics, embedded sound files, misleadings, and other features. This essay explores electronic technology's opportunities for the production, archiving, distribution, and promotion of poetic texts but most importantly, argues that electronic space is a space of writing. For previous excursions into this a written terrain of links and jumps one need only look to the language experiments of certain poets writing in this century. Such poets include Gertrude Stein, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Language-related experimentalists such as Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, and Susan Howe. Electronic writing, like previous instances of writing, engages the double "mission" of writing evident in some of this experimental poetry: to varying degrees, writing is about a subject, but also about the medium through which it is transmitted. If relevant previous poetic experiments involved the exploration of language as physical, what are the physical parameters of webbed online space? Texts move not only within themselves but into socially-charged externalities, "a webbed interference of junk mail, 'frets' of information, systemic failures, ephemera, disunion. There is no resting place -- only the incessantly reconstituted links dissolving each time the reading is entered." The physical features most up for grabs? These include online hypertext itself, a mass of fits and starts. Links are at the center of an electronic hypertextual writing and links introduce disjunction. This post-typographic and non-linear disunion is no news to poetics. It is through a poetics of experimental poetries that a framework is sketched and progress is made towards the building of an electronic poetics, one where experiments that changed poetic language may inform the electronic air we breathe.

(Author's abstract in PMC)

Pull Quotes: 

Hypertext allows sequences throughout sequences. However, a serious point of difference must be taken with some Web utopianists: despite tendencies in this direction, the point is not that everything is linked through these sequences The constitution of any such whole could only be a misrepresentation of stability, the futile pursuit of yet another encyclopedia. The insistences of the internal orders of texts do not add stability to the text, rather they add a perplexing layer of instability; it is the "failure" of the links, whether they connect or not, that gives them their activity and it is through this activity that electronic writing departs irreversibly from the world of print.

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Scott Rettberg