Mobilizing the Poli

Critical Writing
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

A detailed review of Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery’s The Precession. Published July 14, 2011.


Judd Morrissey’s newest work, is a website that redefines the act of reading literature on the internet in order to draw attention to the ways that reading is changing in our world. The website truly functions as the new book, with chapters that organize his intentions within the project into discrete capitulations of his ideas. My paper is mostly an analysis of the centerpiece of the website, POLI, because of its time-based nature: it uses real-time data capture and provides an extended period of time for the reading of the piece itself. POLI is a significant piece of contemporary literature because of its consciousness becomes political comment through the uses of our various languages.

My primary concerns with this paper are outlining the ways that Morrisey’s work fuses the language of popular media and that of poetry on the platform of web technologies, creating new forms and new standards for writing in contemporary contexts, both electronically and traditionally. Media, according to McLuhan’s definition, has always served large populations of people in ways beyond the content that it provides. Most importantly, media creates modes of reception that utilize the most current technologies and ultimately define demographics and ideologies. Poetry, on the other hand, has always had the reputation of using language that exists outside common usage in order to provide critical reflection for society. Modern forms of poetry seek to create a more ironic commentary that necessarily brings these genres closer together. Poetry that recognizes its proximity to other kinds of media is much more useful in our contemporary age of overlapping modes of perception and increasingly layered information. Key to this insight is the use of form. Morrissey’s work engages with multiple aspects of social forms: he examines new web-based social contexts in which language emerges, and incorporates those same modes into his work. He samples live examples of language that are then integrated into the ongoing fabric of the poem’s structure. What emerges is a piece of work that includes an ironic commentary on the state of and our use of language itself, as well as how we choose and voice our concerns with it to each other.

The play with the term POLI that Morrissey engages with the central poem demonstrates his fascination with larger social structures (polis is a Greek root meaning both city and its citizens) as well as the most basic units of life (poli is the human gene responsible for the production of a DNA enzyme). The title then serves as a catalyst for the understanding of the poem on both its macro and micro levels. Morrissey scatters words and their letters, making patterns to challenge and facilitate comprehension, increasing our awareness of the role of our own facilities. So, most importantly, he involves the reader in a real-time construction of the meaning of the poem from fragments of their own social structures of language and his accurate representation of our haphazard apprehension of them.

This is not something that I feel is limited to Electronic Writing at all, but that Electronic Writing has a crucial role in demonstrating to the entire Writing community.

(Source: Author's abstract for ELO_AI)

Pull Quotes: 

As a piece of literature, connects the social context of reading on the Internet to the traditional question of how form provides meaning to content. The piece is specifically engineered to use language in very particular ways as a test within/against the context in which it is presented. The multiple elements of the duo’s practice — travel and experience, writing, programming, performance, and documentation (both of experiences and performances) — suggest the act of making art as a powerful analog for action in the world: civic action, exploration, and participation in the world, and the subsequent creation of community.

The jump to using a computer as an element in the composition of literature, not merely to transcribe it, was the invention of a new genre. As with the inception of many new genres, electronic literature is the fusion of a more traditional genre with a new technology, responding to a new need in the community for a more accurate perspective on our current world.

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Record posted by: 
Scott Rettberg