Showing posts with label Innovation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Innovation. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Christian B

This is one of the notes that got bumped when Blogger went south for two days. Christian Bök suggested on Twitter that I’d gotten some of the details wrong in my description of his Xenotext project on Tuesday, so I dropped him a noted & asked him to correct any misimpressions. Here is his reply. I’ve standardized the use of dashes & italics to fit with the blog, but the ellipses belong to Christian & nothing has been deleted.

No worries, Ron — my comment about the errors are actually quibbles (and such errors always underline for me the difficulties of explaining the project to my audience in an abbreviated, but comprehensible, manner--meaning, in effect, that I have to improve the quality of my patter...). I have done my best to update my peers about my progress on the project so that everyone has some idea about how the process works--but because most of my friends are not very immersed in the language of science, they often get a fact or two wrong when trying to rearticulate my news:

Your blog suggests that I have actually brought the project "to fruition" in D. radiodurans-- when in fact, I have yet to complete this stage of the exercise. I have, in fact, designed my gene X-P13, and in order to make sure that it "works," I have implanted it into the genome of E. coli, a standard organism for such engineering. I have, in effect, conducted a "test-run" in order to ensure that all my projections and simulations are, in fact, correct, before actually implanting the poem into the final extremophile. I have hit a big milestone, though. I have demonstrated that, when implanted into a bacterium, my gene (which enciphers a poem) does, in fact, cause the organism to write a viable, benign protein in response -- a protein that, in turn, enciphers yet another text. I am now the first poet in literary history to have engineered a microbe to write poetry -- but I have yet to insert this mechanism into the target creature.... I have actually demonstrated the viability of my text, and the last step is now a kind of aesthetic formality.

I might note that, while your posting suggests that I have a numerous scientists working on my behalf behind the scenes, I have, in fact, done all the genetic engineering and proteomic engineering myself, designing and optimizing the gene on my own, while working out the simulations for the resultant, foldable protein, using my own academic resources. I have called upon a commercial lab to build the gene for me--(because, nowadays, obtaining a gene is as easy as ordering a pizza...) -- and the university lab has implanted the gene into the microbe for me. I have, so far, relied on the advice of two scientists, a graduate student, and a lab technician for support -- and they have all been extremely helpful. I have always emphasized that, for me, the artistic exercise requires that I, in fact, become a molecular biologist through a dilettantish, autodidactic process. I think that the scientists are impressed that, despite being a scholar in literature, I have nevertheless trained myself to be a functional biochemist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deinococcus radiodurans the future of printing?

A thought about Christian Bök’s epic act of minimalism taken to its logical conclusion, Xenotext, has been haunting me since the Bury Text Festival. As I understand Xenotext, it’s an attempt to imprint a short lyric poem into the DNA of a particular single-celled bacterium in such a way that will cause the bacterium to create a benign protein that, when “read” in the same “language” as it was written, would generate a second short poem, the words, order, lines & line breaks of which Bök also already knows. Because the bacterium he has selected for this act of signage is Deinococcus radiodurans, an extremophile, a bacterium that lives at – indeed is happiest in, to the degree that one might assign bacteria emotions – exceptionally hot & caustic environments¹, it is one that could conceivably survive at least up to an explosion of the sun terminated life as we know it. It is in this sense an attempt to create an immortal poem, one that could easily outlast not only the English language & humanity itself, but even sentient life on the planet on which it was originally inscribed. In Bury, Bök characterized Xenotext as the first such attempt at literary immortality.

So here’s what haunts me: How do we know?

If, for example, one Canadian might conceive of such a project, how do we know that elsewhere in the universe other species have not likewise thought to imprint their deepest thoughts onto compliant organisms? Further, as we are now starting to discover archeological evidence of molecular life on various modes of stellar debris, why might some civilization not have thought even to create some sort of symbol akin to the NASA “hey there” message shipped off out into the universe awhile back. Maybe one of those fossilized bacteria in the asteroid belt is its own message from some Christian Bök type figure on an inner planet of some other star? (I refuse to imagine Jar Jar Binks in a purple shirt & tie.)

Monday, May 09, 2011

After a long, intense day of events at the Text Festival in Bury – the morning spent at the museum where my neon excerpt from the still-in-progress Northern Soul has become the public face of the festival itself, the afternoon at a reading in Bury Parish Church – the building dates from the 19th century, the congregation from circa 900 – to an evening at the Met where mostly a sequence of sound and performance poets (but nary a sign o’ slam) tickled & occasionally ripped at our ear drums, I found myself the next morning reading Sarah Riggs’ 60 Textos, simple one-stanza lyrics (or perhaps anti-lyrics) feeling that there was more that was genuinely new in her tiny poems than I had seen the entire previous day, even as I’d been immersed work that everywhere proposed itself as new (my own included) but was in fact something different altogether.

The axes that converge in something like the Text Festival – poetry as visual art, as performance, as sound – have their roots in traditions that are at least 100 years old (in the case of the Russian Futurists or the Dadaism of Hugo Ball, twice that or more in the case of William Blake & illuminated manuscripts). It’s fascinating to watch Christian Bök build a career out of two or three very divergent types of work: obsessive, jaw-droppingly brilliant contained projects like Eunoia or the ongoing Xenotext; performance poetry that draws knowledgeably from the masters of Futurism, Dada & fluxus; sound work that extends the legacy of Steve McCaffery, bpNichol and the Four Horsemen in Canada. But it’s those obsessive projects of his that represent something transformational in poetry. Much of the rest of it is theater that enables him to go places, entertain & build a public presence. That’s more about marketing than innovation, tho Bök is as thorough a scholar of performance poetics as I’ve ever met. Nor is there anything new, as he himself acknowledged, about him writing a set of responses to the questions of my work, Sunset Debris. Alan Davies beat him to that over 30 years ago, and such responses are threatening to become a genre (or at least genre-twitch) of their own. What’s new in Bök’s approach is the use of a computer program and artificial intelligence to “write” the responses. Frankly, it’s refreshing to hear a machine forced to admit repeatedly “I don’t know.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A second link that had me pondering the world was the discussion of innovation in art, both Adam Jameson’s original post and the many comments it generated on The Big Other. There are, I believe, two fundamental drivers behind innovation, but they are almost diametrically opposed to one another. Very often critiques of innovation (and occasionally advocates of it as well) confuse one with the other.

I have written before that any history of poetry is inevitably a history of change in poetry, and that an inevitable consequence is that the well-wrought urn is almost invariably a trivial accomplishment. Indeed, it’s a trivial goal. That which forwards the evolution of poetry, something that occurs raggedly & in fits & starts, is really the heart of writing practice, the pump that breathes life into verse & makes it relevant to our lives. This is why Charles Olson was a major poet and Robert Lowell a wasted minor talent at best. And it’s why I take vispo & video poems far more seriously than I do, say, dramatic monolog. Not that that guarantees that they will amount to anything.

But. And this is the crux here. There are, as I suggested above, two diametrically opposed drivers of innovation. One is that innovation that continually besets all art because the world itself is changing and poetry (& any other art) must change likewise to relate to these changing conditions. Capitalism in particular perpetually generates enormous change & the key to Joseph Schumpeter’s famous “creative destruction” is the conjunction between adjective & noun. It is as easy to be blinded by the noun as by the adjective, and each is a dead end. Innovation like, say, the Cluetrain Manifesto is not so dissimilar from the cluelessness of the Italian Futurists, who found themselves on the luge to fascism because they didn’t have a larger context for their celebration of the disruptive technologies of modernism. Innovation without context, without critique, is mere fashionism, a desire to be the latest thing, whate’er that might be. Such innovation of the market is forever subject to the market. At best, it’s silly & harmless. For the most part, it’s stupid.

But the other innovation is that which looks to the world and brings the world into one’s art, not just as a slapdash invocation (LBJ intoning “We shall overcome,” Pat Boone singing the Rolling Stones), but to actually change the structure of the work so as to make it adequate to the (always already) new context. In that sense, Blake, Baudelaire, Dickinson, Stein, Jack Spicer & Barrett Watten are all united. Such change is fundamentally disruptive.

The problem with all things hybrid links precisely to this issue. Hybridism wants to be new & it wants to be the well-wrought urn. For the most part, it accomplishes neither. Above all else, it is a failure of courage.