Salon 1: A Discussion of a Nika Skandiaka Poem and Reading "Electronically"

Critical Writing
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The first of the monthly Virtual ELO Salons was held via Zoom on Tuesday, February 11.  At that pre-global-pandemic time, we all felt we were engaging in something quite new by meeting virtually via Zoom.  Obviously, we did not know then that our virtual meetings would become the new “normal” for social and professional interactions worldwide.  The Russian poet, translator, and scholar Kirill Azernyi courageously volunteered to facilitate the first ELO Virtual Salon and selected a section of an untitled poem by the contemporary Russian poet Nika Skandiaka for the participants to discuss.  


Explaining why he proposed this particular text for discussion, Azernyi explained, “I was interested in selecting a text that would require some engagement by readers in constructing its basic meaning. Rather than inviting a traditional ‘interpretation,’ Skandiaka's poems suggest the need for readers to engage in a process of ‘solving’ many issues aesthetically.  In this text, in particular, we might initially attempt to read it as a traditional poem but find the text resisting these attempts. Instead, we may need to start reading this text as being constructed (‘work in progress’), noticing paradigmatic relations of used patterns over the syntagmatic ones (based on word collocations). Some questions that will need to be addressed include: How can we combine a pattern-based approach to reading while still taking into account the expressive role of each part? This text gives us no illusion of 'life-like-ness' (even in the terms of syntactic plausibility as described by Kristeva), and I see it as a great opportunity to think about how our aesthetic feeling of a text is constructed, and how this correlates with formal intertextual relations that we may or may not be able to readily ’make sense’ of." 


While Sandiaka’s text proved to be a challenging and highly “open” one, the eight participants involved in the Virtual Salon had a very lively conversation via video, Zoom text chat, and a shared Google document.  We generally disagreed on the extent to which the text "made sense."  And, one of the more interesting discussions related to this question was how much more forgiving readers tend to be of nonsense generated by machines than by human poets.  We also spent a great deal of time discussing the numbers in the piece, how to read them and how and what they might signify or not signify. We also, eventually, figured out how to access the performative aspect of this work by practicing different approaches to reading sections of it out loud to one another during the Zoom conference call.


Out of our discussion also came a couple of interesting ideas for collaborative  projects: 1/ have all of us read the poem aloud and make a synthesized recording of our different readings.  2/ read the poem to a speech to text translator and see what was generated by that. Additionally, we speculated on how disjunctive syntax pushes us towards establishing paradigmatic relations within a work, and how this paradigmatic network could replace syntax and agreed that in fact we don't have to choose between these options (to read text "syntagmatically" or "paradigmatically"), but are able to practice all possible approaches simultaneously which would give us access to both semantic and structural aspects of the work.  Finally, we thought about how much such an open and electronic work needs to be read "electronically,” a term that we all agreed we would continue thinking about and talking about moving forward.  

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Hannah Ackermans