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Communities/Commons: A Snap Line of Digital Practice

Abstract (in English): 

“Communities/Commons: A Snap Line of Digital Practice” presents a brief history of digital poetry, from the perspective of the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC), Buffalo, and the international E-Poetry Festivals of digital literature, art, and performance (E-Poetry). The paper engages the discipline from various perspectives, considering its relation to historic contextualizing movements and institutional mechanisms. Determining a renewed vision of E-Poetry community, it is argued, are its exuberant origins: (1) the U.S. small press movements of the later Twentieth century; (2) the activities and philosophies of the Electronic Poetry Center; (3) its self-definition as more broadly-conceived than that of any specific category of digital literature; (4) the pre-existing literary ground of Black Mountain, Language Poetry, and related practices; (5) the vibrancy of the as-then-constituted Poetics Program at Buffalo, and; (6) a “symposium of the whole”, the continued emerging importance of enthnopoetic localizations to an eventual realization of contemporary poetics. Finally, a call is made for the field being adaptable and more generous with its frames of reference. Such a breadth of understanding, it is concluded, contribute to E-Poetry’s continuing vibrancy and to a wider vision of the possibilities for digital practice.

I am fascinated by the opening scene of Salvador Carrasco’s epic film La otra conquista / The Other Conquest where the young scribe Topiltzin wakes up in the rain in the ruins of Tenochtitlán, fallen comrades around him, staggering to understand a total transformation of an historic paradigm. Such a change perhaps cannot be understood by historians, nor religiously, nor by any individual. In effect, our only option is, as did he, to write our way through it. The literal scribing of the material fragments onto the codex is the only way such an inversion of a dominant system can be processed. And, indeed – even given such a devastating historical collision, in Topiltzin’s case – his practice of scribing the events created continuity with his past, as well as serving as a means to understanding his present.

It would be unfair to claim such historic proportions for the shift at hand. It is, after all, a monumental shift but on a different scale. There are no bodies at the foot of the temple. There are no forced conversions. (Though there is coercion of the user by the operational demands of a given interface and its controlling software.) There are none of the literal atrocities that accompany political-economic subjugation. Yet to underestimate the degree to which the pressure point of the quill has shifted would be irresponsible at a minimum.

(Source: Author's abstract)

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Patricia Tomaszek