Poetic Radicalism in the Internet Age

by Patrick Herron

Years ago in a film criticism class I learned that artistic genres and movements seem to have four general phases of their lifecycles: introduction, a classic period, a parodic period, and a revision period. Today it appears Language poetry may have been in its classic period for a long time. Language poetry and radical contemporary poetry/poetics also seem to be names for the revision of modernism, apparently still correcting modernism's "mistakes." The Internet has drastically transformed the cultural & artistic substrata of contemporary radical poetics. Such changes have introduced a new radical poetics, a radicalism quietly evolving out of Language poetry, a radicalism making poetry in some ways less syntactically disjoint, but perhaps more lyrical, more gestic, more interested in narrative (albeit disjoint), more interested in content and less in form, and even more ambiguous (more possibilities for meaning). The radical successor of Language poetry appears to be even more critical of the self, the author, & solipsism than much of Language poetry. The reader, in this more contemporary form of radicalism, doesn't have any easier of a time, as the intellectual difficulty of Language poetry is subtly being replaced by the emotional difficulties of ambiguous and confrontational and sometimes even unfriendly language. Ironically, the radicalism of such a poetics, despite both the un-radical nature of the Internet and radical poetics' criticism of Internet & mass culture, will likely come to us from the Internet.

Contemporary market & industrial Western culture has slowly engulfed much of the radical forms of Language poetry (and postmodernism as a whole) largely via the Internet. Modern mainstream culture has accomplished this though the Internet by co-opting postmodern/Language poetry's disjunction and radical structuralism. Such assimilation can be seen in the Internet-dominant & structurally complex forms of marketing and personalization. As a result, attempts at poetry in the flavor of Language poetry such as hypertext literature on the Internet seem less and less radical, perhaps even as empty as the empty signifiers much of Language poetry seeks to criticize.

The shift of our culture's artistic focus to the Internet has underscored the need for the parody & revision of Language poetry. It also compels us to discover amidst the weeds of dominant artistic culture (whether "indie" or "mainstream") the introduction of some new poetic genre or movement--a new movement or genre based on a healthy and appreciative response to Language poetry, a movement that seeks to maintain a position of anti-authoritarianism in light of a radically altered sociopolitical and cultural landscape now heavily influenced by the Internet.

I wish to carefully enumerate what we are looking for in this mess of things I write about here. I am suggesting we might want to begin looking for parodies and revisions of Language poetry. We might even want to search for the introduction of something new in poetics that maintains a subversive position in relation to the new cultural landscape dominated more and more by the World Wide Web (WWW). We might even wish to search for parodies, revisions, and new responses not only to Language poetry, but also to contemporary poetry as a whole, and hypertext "innovations" on the Internet.

Some Reservations
Before I proceed any further I wish to share two small caveats. Generalizations about things such as "radical" and "mainstream" and Language Poetry and other such broad terms are tricky and awkward to wield, and they neglect many exceptions to their apparent rules. I am using the terms to help imagine the trajectory of radical poetry; the content of this essay is perhaps at least as speculative as these pivotal but elusive terms. Also, perhaps as a result of the speculative nature of this essay as well as its cursory nature, I will share very few examples of what I believe is coming along in radical poetics, and none of the examples seem quite complete or exhaustive.

Language Poetry and Radicalism
Language poetry seemed able for a long time to subvert its contemporary cultural realities via radical disjunction, revealing the emptiness of mainstream cultural signifiers, and making gestures towards the disappearance of the author. But Language poetry, by taking upon itself the missions of radical disjunction and signifier disposal, emptied out language in the minds of even the most sophisticated readers of poetry. For many, language seems to have something to it, even if that something is elusive or difficult to name, and so it feels easy for many to summarily dismiss Language poetry.

I must first insist that just because many people insist upon the validity of a belief that there is something "to" language doesn't make it so. Language poetry, by that account alone, maintains its relevance. There are of course many other reasons for its continuing relevance.

Language poetry for many seems to render communication difficult if not impossible. Poetry needed a breakdown of communication and Language poetry provided that much-needed noise; poetry had become, in the minds of many poets young and old, somewhat placid and dull, somewhat too full of clarity, too friendly to the reader, perhaps so conciliatory in more and more obvious ways that much innovation vanished and poetic culture was complicit perhaps tacitly with the state of the world and with both language and literature. Language poetry pushed poetics away from such social complicity into a radicalism essential to poetry.

In the Internet age, however, we may require something a little different from Language poetry in order to maintain some amount of radicalism. Why is Language poetry no longer as radical as it once was? And, what is that very thing that is different, that helps poetry continue to have a home in radical poetics?

The Postmodern Essay and the Hyperlink
The dominant form of contemporary literature is palimpsest. Palimpsest employs as many connections as possible to justify and legitimize one's own work, giving that work variety and support. Such work seems insecure, as if the writer must rely on the established authority of others. Hypertext has become the perfect way to implement such a multitude of connections in creative work.

The literary style of palimpsest may have become the dominant form of contemporary literature because design is central to the Internet. One must know all of his/her pieces s/he is about to put out on the web in order to do something that will not annoy the crud out of people or sent them away from the site. Literary works, it seems, need to be designed, strategized, and laid out, just as any other web site. The coherence of such work is often presupposed by the author to be an emergent property of the designed sequence of text. Any work done in this manner rests upon the reader's intuition, the reader's actual mindfulness and 'heartfulness,' so-to-speak. A hypertext-ed work with links going everywhere rarely feels coherent, often because the reader departs before the argument is completely absorbed or read, or perhaps because conceptual coherence arises out of more linear structures.

Hypertext Again
Children's book publishers and computer games manufacturers innovated polyvalent text linkage structures in the 1980s in the children's book series "Choose Your Own Adventure" and in text computer games like "Zork". The Internet originally promised and still promises mainly to allow people to disseminate and track information rapidly, quietly, efficiently, and widely, all without paper. The content that appears on the Internet is produced independently of its means for delivery. Radical form, since it is a product of text and not a product of the dissemination of text, would and still will be innovated regardless of the existence of the Internet. The Internet makes multiple-choice narratives easy to complete, but it could also be easily done in a book before the days of the WWW "revolution."

Technology is not some automatic radicalizer. If anything, given that rapid and frequent introduction of new technologies drives our current market/capital hell; using technology as the justification for being "radical" seems completely absurd. If you want radical writing, radical form, such writing can be captured without the Internet in every case. With pencil and paper or even with a flipbook of stapled paper. Perhaps the speed of production will be compromised if the pieces are put in a book instead of on the Internet, but speed to delivery should not be essential to a discussion of innovating radical forms.

Use of the Electronically-Generated Poem
Poetry on the web is only now "catching up" to the rest of the Internet culture in terms of technological sophistication. Perhaps not many poetry web sites offer personalization schemes, but there is a significant poetic art form on the web that is analogous to the personalized web page: the personalized poem.

The personalized poem, of which there are many examples on the Internet, is a poem where the user, via mouse clicks or keyboard tappings, enters some information into a web application, and, PRESTO! The user gets hir very own poem, a bona fide original.

Such a preprogrammed personalized poem is the mirror image of Internet control and domination. The personalized poem application, in whatever form it is in, is entirely predictable in its output, and those outputs are completely determined by the actions of one individual: the programmer. The person behind the black box. Sometimes, frankly, we're too busy looking at this black box to see the person who runs it or the implications of it. The programmer is in control of such poetry. The poet/programmer is obscured by distance and complexity, a modern-day Wizard of Oz of sorts, and the poetry is deterministic despite the randomness of human input. That programmer has a remote and invisible authority and control over the creative output, and that authority and control is completely automated.

Many believe such a poem as the one I describe is radical because it seems to reflect the 20th century avant-garde tradition of process as a fundamental property of art. But again, process, algorithms, and the like were rather exotic intellectual ideas many years ago. Today algorithms and processes are as essential to control and surveillance as barbed wire and cameras, or perhaps even more so. In hindsight this comes as no surprise. We can completely predict the behavior of any algorithm and because they are so predictable they can be efficiently utilized for highly complex methods of control.

The Objective Correlative of the Postmodern Aesthetics of Palimpsest & Linkage: Use of The Hyperlink to Rest on More Links
Contemporary hypertext poetics, perhaps the very culmination of radically disjoint poetics, is based almost entirely on the existence of the hyperlink. Users can find new ways of tumbling into some body of literature, perhaps never to escape! But we become ensnared, thus mirroring the industrial foundations of the Internet. As long as the linkages become the driving mechanism of poetic innovation, poetic innovation is not radical. It offers no resistance.

Radicalism in 2001, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and The Potentiality of the Internet
Humans are being divided and conquered and separated and surveilled, and, ultimately, controlled by a remote minority. The remoteness itself seems to drive a certain amount of lack of regard for those being dominated in our culture, or it at least facilitates the lack of care and consideration for humanity that appears to be essential to authoritarianism. The mission of radicalism today, in 2001, is how to bring together people while confounding the mechanisms of authority.

Language Poetry & Disjunction & Technology & Ambiguity
During the Language poetry revolution, the powers that be were learning to use disjunction (in at least the structural sense of the word) for their own gain, particularly in the arena of electronic communications and surveillance. It appears we must turn to another way of keeping the resistance alive, even if it means doing something that might conflict with the radicalism of the past. Language poetry isn't dead. I am saying instead that when it comes to the Internet there are perhaps better ways to resist the machines and procedures that control us, that we are desensitized to daily, than hypertext. Perhaps in 1970 algorithms were an intellectual curiosity; today they are ubiquitous as essential elements of the authoritative control of our lives. Once upon a time procedural writing was of resistance, just as the solitary voice once formed resistance. Both algorithms and process no longer resist but instead support market and capitalist industrial power. Resistance must co-opt and then dumb down, make transparent, the powers of big brother. It must not reject the emptiness of signification but exploit it to its own end. Radical poetry must mock the use of such techniques in tongue-and-cheek ways to expose the ways power works and to scatter those very powers to the four winds. In a sense radicalism must take a form of Luddism trapped in a high-tech world; it must embrace paradox as if blessed contradiction were its own child. That is, it must indulge in technology that it aims to subvert. It might be the only way to get to people. But such resistance must obviate the occluded aims of power, must make the gestures of power obvious, or create works that show that there are ways to write that do not aim to control people, deliberately or otherwise. Such writings must not avoid contradiction at any cost; when the subtlety of conflict arising from contradiction is ignored, such a criticism cannot be avoided.

It appears that disjunction itself is perhaps no longer as radical as ambiguity. A gentleman always means what he says, right? Look at what gentlemen have wrought upon our world! A thief, however, never means what he says. I choose to not be so sure what I mean; ambiguity (androgyny is its analogue in the flesh) perhaps becomes more relevant than disjunction. After all, Big Brother is now selling disjunction at his own store and selling it as a means to watch you. I do not mean Language poetry sold out, not in the least; it means big brother has shifted his own form and co-opted disjoint structuralism as he has grown.

Word and image are surely different in important ways, but that difference no longer substantiates radicalism in poetry. The disjunction between word and image has not really been an important issue for many years; Western intellectual culture pretty much threw away the image theory of language years ago. After so many years of focusing on the differences, some poets are interested in recovering those tools, however futile it may be to treat any one thing directly with language. We can all accept there will be no such thing as a perfect analogy between a thing and any text, but after twenty years of being flooded by similarly imperfect attempts to replace such analogy with only intertextual linkages (the notion that text is analogous only to other text), we can now be assured that no sins are committed in playing with the relationships between word and image.

What does the web have to do with how word and image are connected? We feel they are somehow, yet we cannot nail such relationships down in words. But we also cannot avoid such a failure. Instead we can force unexpected and ambiguous connections that might appear empty but are in fact substantive through combinations of word and image in the most literal sense: some text and a graphic image. If an artist puts text and image together, they ARE connected, however arbitrary the connection is. It's that easy.

The Technology of Text
Text has always been removed from the user. It has always been somewhat more remote than spoken language (sounds like the web, doesn't it?). Text is a technology. It is a sometimes disjoint tool for attempting to represent speech. Text also provides language users with a storage device. Stone is the first hard drive. (Poetry is the precursor to this first static storage device, as poetic devices act as mnemonic tools.) Because of the disjoint nature of text, because of its apparent separation from the world, and because it is a "lossy" signal, the user seems always required to invent at least some part of the meaning of the text. That moment of invention is an act of creation. It's not just out-of-the-blue creation. I'm not saying anything as odd as that. The moments of creation that occur in a user's head are limited and predictable because the term has parameters of meaning. The parameters of meaning are the possibilities of meaning. Meanings can be parameterized in the text, by the text, and they can also be bounded by what the user has learned about the term.

As an example, imagine a text discussion of penguins. Now, what do people mean by "penguin"? Well, a reader may have gone into the reading with previous instructions about "penguin." Antarctic black and white aquatic birds might be one of those parameters to "penguin". Another might be LINUX, the well-known operating system, with its logo based upon the Antarctic bird. Or we might be talking about Batman's nemesis. And so on. The number of possibilities in a person's head parameterizes the possibilities for the term "penguin." The term is parameterized in the text containing it as well. We might see the words "Joker" and "Batmobile" in the same context. The word "penguin" has been parameterized to Batman's nemesis, and this is in a way how a reader would normally create meaning. "Penguin" is really just a term like any other that has expectations set about its use in advance of encountering the term, and those expectations help move the reader towards some set of confines for the term's possibilities. Simply stated, the reader is somewhat limited to inventing the meaning by the limited set of choices made available by the text's context and the reader's own past experiences.

The Disjoint Basis of The Military-Industrial Internet
The empty signifier and radical disjunction, in a sense, are fundamental properties of the Internet. The Internet born from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the central research and development arm of the US Department of Defense. DARPA is perhaps the very core of world military industrial domination. The very nature of the Internet is rooted in wide-area distribution effective for constant surveillance and rapid deployment of divide-and conquer strategies through distributed communications. The Internet's origins have lead to more commonly understood features of the Internet landscape: behavior monitoring leading to marketing strategies such as personalization, wide distribution of content for constant presence and the possibility of "ensnaring" the audience's attention (which generates more data for behavior control). All of this happens on an individual level to divide people into individuals with their custom web environments and conquer their wallets and their minds one at a time. The most crucial datum about modeling one individual's behavior is HOW THEY LINK. That is, how does one choice lead to another for each individual? How people make connections is perhaps the easiest aspect of a person's behavior that can be recorded using the Internet.

Text, Intertext Reference, and Hypertext
Analogy seems impossible to be made intertextually. It also seems impossible to make an analogy between a thing and an image; Language poetry has succeeded in showing us how impossible of a mission it is. It might be made instead between text and a person. In a flash. Pow, it's perhaps magical, and perhaps that's what people are experiencing accidentally through using lots of hypertext. But with hypertext, resolution is impossible, and so all people see is the text-text relationships THAT ARE NOT REALLY THERE. It's all in the eye of the reader, or, rather, it's in the tripartite (1. user 2. text/technology 3. user/text connection) relation of text and person.

Radicalism and the Freeing of Language: Revealing Parameterization as Means to Control Language & Minds
The parameterization of meaning in the moment of the reader's invention of the meaning is what I call the control of language. (For now let's avoid the pejorative sense of "control.") The parameters act as a sort of fence that restrict a reader's moment of creation/interpretation/understanding; the parameters give that creation a predictable shape. Controlling the parameters of language is transitively the control of language readers. Text can act to control people and people who control the parameters of text can control people. Depending on how a piece of writing is authored (number of possibilities & ambiguities set up as intratextual cues for the meanings of terms) that text can strongly confine and dictate the meanings of the terms created by the reader. That is, a piece of writing can push the reader (and with his/her interpretations) into a well-defined space. Such writing is usually described as precise, clear, deliberate, etc. As an alternative, writing can pit parameter against parameter both intratextually and in the memories and expectations of the readers, allowing or forcing the reader to invent the meaning of such language in a completely unbridled way. Often this is what we refer to as poetry.

Let's think of parameterization in terms of the Internet and hyperlinks. A hyperlink, the specific form of Internet interactivity, is exactly a mode of parameterization. Quite literally. Hypertext linking is a mode of predefining and reducing the number of possibilities for meaning in a reader's mind. Such an effort, though they may help to guide users to make certain points, deliver instruction or knowledge, etc., controls the set of creative cognitive possibilities. It also leaves the moment of creation in many cases (think of interactive poetries where a click "generates" or selects a preformed new phrase from a database of collected phrases, albeit by chance) almost completely to machines. The spirit is pushed out of the user and its ghost appears in the machine.

Poetry has rather consistently sought to find new reader inventions by both using language that is highly unparameterized and also by using forms that move people's thoughts away from the pre-established parameters either in the text or in the reader's memory. We know now that people with stutters can smooth out a stuttered word if they try to sing it; their loci of activity are moved away from the predefined and the expected, which has qualities that makes the person stutter, into the world of something less expected & more beautiful. Likewise, early poetry is lyrical because an lyric is easy to remember, because of assonance and rhyme and alliteration as well as other lyrical techniques. When lyrical devices were no longer necessary for remembering poetry anymore. Poets began playing with meanings, moving words and phrases outside of the range of expectations and parameters. Poetry, perhaps since the advent of text, has functioned as a language of free subjective creativity and psychic freedom, breaking free from its previous function as a repository for cultural memories.

Text is understood in a complex where the user interacts with the text and invents a meaning. (What the real relationship is between text and image is not really my concern here.) What meanings are created are boundless but are bounded by previous expectation and intratextual cues. Hyperlinks are a form of a parameter, a form of a limit of the reader's creative moment, and transitively a tool of language control. Control of language necessarily implies control of language users. Poetry often works as an opposing force to the standard parameters, opening up the reader's ability to more freely select the meanings of terms and ideas, spawning previously unimagined associations and moving the reader toward uses of text other than as a device for control.

We might not want to ask if word and image are connected. Instead we might ask how people connect them, however arbitrary such connections are, and in what way can we write to make those connections unpredictable yet contrary to the aims of capital and military-industrial culture?

The Bandied Promises of Internet Radicalism in the 1990s
Many people once believed they could define the "hot new medium." In the early to mid-1990s (and even today) many people did not understand that the medium was already well entrenched, and primarily a medium for the distribution of text and its surveillance. Much of it boiled down to plain old text and other pieces of data that are easily broken up into small pieces. For example, the physics community was already familiar with SGML and so HTML was very much the same thing, albeit easier. The World Wide Web (WWW) was born in the cradle of physicists. They used the Internet to distribute their papers and also watch and see who read what, actions very much in accordance with the potential of the Internet.

During this time period, the literary community it seems was poorly informed as to the background and nature of the Internet. I believe that this is still painfully true of the literary community when it comes to the majority of poetic work I see on the Internet. Much of the literary community is not using those features that are most powerful but least likely to reflect the least radical aspects of our society.

The particular promises that the Internet would become some sort of egalitarian or liberalized utopia for literature were naive, and did not analyze the possibilities for expression in light of the potentiality of the Internet. The potentiality of a thing is crucial; the acorn becomes the tree, but not the squirrel; the potentiality of the acorn is the tree. The Internet never promised some sort of non-hierarchical literary experience, though it seemed for some odd reason to be the very central hope for such a possibility. Its birth in DARPA underscores what sort of potential the Internet has. As a medium the WWW specifically promised a quick way to share documents, images, etc., (emphasis on speed and wide distribution) and it offered a way to easily surveil not only the distributions of the documents but some aspects of their usage. The promises that the literary community believed as a whole was bound to mislead people, as there was only one rational basis for the belief that the Internet would provide something radical: the hyperlink. However, since the hyperlink was the very essence of the WWW, it promised only the rapid and wide distribution of information. As we speak, most literary works being created on the Internet seem to be aleatory practices, and most artists seem not to have much of a grasp of the implications of such work in a contemporary context such as those discussed earlier.

What is Radical in Poetry Today?
What's radical about employing the gestic is that the gestic CANNOT be captured IN the language. The gestic can only be captured in the noise at best in text and around text. I can SHOUT in text but that's somewhat limited. One of the aims of the gestic is to move people towards living the local, the proximal. Problems arise when five or ten people make final decisions about the welfare of millions. Such a type of distal relationship creates an incredible amount of disregard for humanity, and is exactly the sort of social organization the Internet provides.

Gesture & Lyric
A poet can be gestic and lyrical, but the gestic and the lyrical cannot be captured in plain old proper text. Being gestic and lyrical plays into the hands of the dominant paradigm; it mocks it and takes the power back. The weird side effect is that such an effort regards everyone.

Radicalism of Gesture
Making people aware of gesture and radicalizing its role in power is essential to maintaining a radical stance. It is not a radical political notion to discuss the behavior of Henry Kissinger in slaughtering 10-15 million people across the globe as a gesture, describe them as actions taken by Kissinger so that he could establish "credibility" for the US (well, really for the Rockefeller patrons, for their banks and industries)? The bully flexes and threatens. Killing 10-15 million for the gain of the American elite is but a gesture, a flex of power, one openly called by the powers that be "establishing credibility." Establishing credibility is a mode of thuggery, of gangsterism, in any shape or form.

Radical Form is Radical Content
The radical form of the current age seems to be radical content. Radical form has been co-opted by big brother and its name is the Internet. Myriad hypertext expressions of radical form confirm the legitimacy of oppressive forces. Proximate.org (http://proximate.org) maintains the tradition of radicalism by maintaining a place that responds to the current oppressive context. Language poetry in, say, 1975 for example, was taking a radical stance in responding to the jingoism of mass media (among other things). One way it accomplished that was through disjunction.

More on Text and Examples of Radical Poetry
But all of these ruses are still in part about text, or rather, text's shortcomings. Such limitations of text (and transitively, limitations of the Internet) challenge us to either try new ways of delivering gestural, extralinguistic information to readers/viewers or just to drop the use of text altogether. How do we get gestural extralinguistic information about text across to a viewer (a project that requires use of formal properties)? Can poetry be narrative, gestic, lyrical, AND radical?

Today a new radical body of work that moves radical poetics away from solipsism and the cult of the author is growing. Some examples include Doubled Flowering by Araki Yasusada, Barry MacSweeney's Pearl poems and his Postcards from Hitler, and Armand Schwerner's The Tablets. These works maintain hard-sought positions of ambiguity about authorship, loftiness, and poetry as the culmination of history. None of these works reject lyricism or coherence, yet the poems in each of these titles appear superficially different from one another. Despite the differences in the appearance of the poems, the poems seem to go together well for reasons other than formal consistency, while avoiding any sort of brand (authorial) identity. The style and odd authorial packaging bucks the potential for mass marketability. Importantly, each of these works are made of more than just radical form; each seems to have some sort of emotive propulsion, some emotional reason for being written, and they appear to favor a tinkering with narrative as opposed to its outright rejection.

Why Keep Language Poetry?
Language poetry is of crucial importance in the resistance and articulation of resistance to central remote authoritarianism. Some of its means may no longer work to form a contemporary "objet d'resistance" but it is surely not to be rejected for some new fashion. But what a fine example Language poetry has provided! Language poetry provided a strong back to keep alive radicalism in poetry and in life, among many other things.

Internet Examples of Contemporary Radicalism
Heavy Industries (http://www.yhchang.com/) is a site that crisply illustrates that the web is at its best and most radical when being used as a means of enhancing speed of delivery combined with animated text, while not requiring or making the web out to be some privileged radicalizer of formal innovation. The site is minimal: the viewer is greeted with a plain text list of links, each connected to a serial text-based flash animation set to text. Its various flash animations makes excellent use of coordinating cadence, text, and sound, and seems to underscore an excellent use of the internet for the delivery of poetry. The site includes nothing that is flashy or dense or slow; it instead relies on a minimal design of black text timed to various jazz (mostly bop) pieces. The pieces in no way require the viewer to become intimate with them; the design asks the viewer for no personal attachments, the content is straightforwardly & powerfully delivered.

Proximate.org (Proximate: prox I mate/me-ism/proxy-mate - machine as a lover) seems to be a site that has similar aims as Heavy Industries. The "radical form" on proximate in many ways is really a fake radicalism, since the code-stuff is extraneous, a joke on the viewer. (E.g., http://proximate.org/01d3c0d3.htm). Proximate.org also treats a side-effect of the Internet: personalization and the way the Internet tries to suck a person in. With Proximate.org, the creator tried to illustrate the silliness of that side-effect as a consequence of language through the use of confrontational second-person language and also by shifting around the person-position of the viewer by changing the uses of personal pronouns. Proximate also tries to illustrate that there are more direct ways to "get personal," hence all of the faces (a pun on interface). It seems the radical underpinning of proximate was to push people away from text and machines and towards more vital and proximal interfaces such as person-to-person interactions. As the site's slogan reads, "Getting close is what we're all about!"

Proximate.org attempts to push notions of ambiguity of the self into the sociopolitical domain, and tried to show that such efforts to capture gesture on the Internet (like when people insist on using exclamation points! in writing to you over the Internet, yes only you!) can be manipulative, projective, a part of an ugly power struggle & that those efforts at manipulation are what Language poetry was fighting against, namely, the ugly hegemony of the author-hero. And that push is absolutely dependent upon the notion that the self is central to the operation of a person's life. Many of these ideas have predecessors, like Vito Acconci and his confrontational art, or Ron Silliman and his forays into postauthorial writing (moving away from the "chronic strategies of authorial domination", to borrow from Jed Rasula).

A wonderful parody of utopist visions of the Internet, called the "cyborg manifesto" is available on the web through an organization called adbusters at http://www.cyborgmanifesto.org. The parodic essay makes fun of the machine future that the Internet seems to tell us we absolutely must possess.

Poetry that articulates through gesture, ambiguity, emotive strength (no logic to an emotion), ambiguous authorship, without nebulous hypertext structure or use of algorithms, may be radical today. Poetry though can never become radical if it continues to maintain some sort of faith in any one answer to the question of self. It is when we answer and insist on our answers to ideas of the self that we continue to pursue either, in the case of Language poetry, a rather hasty rejection of self in writing (but perhaps not in authorship, and that's the difference between the action of writing and the thing we call a text,) or in the case of more "mainstream" (for lack of a better word) poetry, the insistence upon selves. The Internet helps gather power for a controlling minority by exploiting the self-centered possibilities of humans, and the rejection of that leaves us with answers that seem to be equally false. Perhaps the only answer to "do selves exist?" is, "I do not know." As long as we maintain such a position on authorship, meaning itself is not owned, and the possibilities for poetry are wide open and fully resistant to centralized mass dominance and control.

Read Patrick Herron's poems


Patrick Herron lives outside Chapel Hill, NC where he is a data programmer, architect, and interface designer. Patrick's digital and textual works have appeared in places such as Rhizome.org, README, Oasia Press, and in the recently released _100 Days: An Anthology_, a collection of poems on the Bush presidency (Barque Press). Patrick has recently completed two volumes of poetry (one is a conceptual work, and the other is a loose collection). He is also working on a poem-play loosely based upon Captain Ahab and Oedipus. Patrick believes that, moral judgments aside, poetry is not always read for pleasure and it is not always written out of self-interest. Nevertheless, he doesn't want you to know he submitted this bio.