Javier Chapa
Jeff Markovitz
Mark Thomas

From MetaData: A Digital Poetics

"Anticipating the Present: An Artist's Intuition (201-207)
This essay speaks to something we discussed earlier in the month: the rapidity with which technology moves. However, rather than ponder the technological longevity of digital works, Amerika is more interested in the ability of an artist to stay ahead of the technological curve. He tells the story of first getting into digital art in the early 90s but not having the institutional support to help him along. He had to figure things out on his own, and he realized early on that mastering the technology of the now wasn't what would make him successful in the field, but rather mastering the technology of tomorrow and pushing the limits of what he could do. In this way, he positions digital lit/art as being part of the avant-garde, as those who are successful are always looking for new ways to present their ideas and express themselves.

He makes a similar argument when it comes to criticism. He sums this idea up when he says "undergraduate art students are learning the implications of this new media practice and wondering aloud if this is what they always meant when dropping the term avant-garde or if this is just more techno-critical training preparing them for the rise of the Second Reich of Dot.Comdom. Of course, it could be both or neither, but for some reason now it seems worth investigating, on the Web, via e-mail, during live streaming broadcasts, and in the artwork itself, the seeming inevitability of constructing their own form of digital rhetoric so that they too may one day become the thriving amateurs they long to be" (205, emphasis his). In other words, not only do the artists have to stay ahead of the curve to be successful, but critics and scholars need to stay ahead of the same curve in order to properly be able to analyze what it is they are looking at. Similar to the way we have had to learn how to "read" these pieces the past few weeks, scholars are continually having to re-learn how to approach this medium in order to keep "reading."

What in the World Wide Web Is Happening to Writing? (413-416)
In Mark Amerika’s essay “What in the World Wide Web Is Happening to Writing,” he correlates the shift from pen-&-ink writing to digital writing by using Walter Ong’s suggestion that expansive practices of knowledge occurred in the shift from orality to literacy. He criticizes the “prefabricated” form of the novel and suggests it is generated by publishing companies that act similarly to capitalistic businesses. In “new” digital literatures, the reader is the co-conspirator to the text, someone who helps produce the literature, as opposed to the “author-as-genius” model (413).

Amerika suggests that novels turn readers into passive literates because their “see-through” nature is comforting but not challenging. Of course, digital literature challenges this paradigm.

He goes on to suggest that writers should no longer worry about “getting published” but should look to find ways to attract readers to their work (414). I think this is an interesting perspective as many young writers focus their energy into strategies of publication, which can detract from their creative work. The idea is that publication, in digital mediums, is essentially granted, so writers can focus on their craft. As culture shifts towards the digital, the issue of publication will cede to issues of generating reader interest.

Grammatron (89-93)
In the Preface of Meta/deta: A Digital Poetics, Mark Amerika writes:
…I was discovering while experimenting with the new forms of Net art-and what better place to distribute these fresh Net art theories than the Net itself? At times it felt like another form of black magic, where an intuitive measure of creative writing was being teleported to the electrosphere as a medium of both readiness potential and (art) market prophecy (xv-xvi).

Amerika (man this is weird to write when one has to reference a writer with this surname) says that this was the idea behind his work “Grammatron”.
On the one hand, “Grammatron” reads like a stream-of-consciousness. It is interesting to witness an interaction that is taking place between the main character, Abe Golam), and his computer. It becomes very difficult to decipher exactly where the characters narration resides in proportion with that of the computer. In a clever and playful manner, Amerika attempts to simulate the experience of being on the World Wide Web (WWW). One of the first interactions Golam has while in the “electroshpere” was a “pop up”. This is the experience that everyone who has ever connected to the WWW has encountered, and to make it more relevant (both to the time period when this book was published, 2007, and today), the pop up is a sexually suggestive marketing.

On the other hand, “Grammatron” reads like a postmodern work, where signifiers have been corrupted by the hypercapitalistic realm of internet adverts. The start of the tale seems to be an thriller based on a character who is trying to escape, but ultimately, Golam contributes to his own “demise” (I’m taking liberty with this term as it is rather hard to say that the character experiences a tragic end since the narration is not clear on the objective, or if there is a resolvable end). During the travails, Golam thinks back to TV commercials of his youth, his dark sense of humor, the state of Cyburbia, virtual sex…

In the end, this tale seeks to find a place, and this just may be the point of the work. It is discussing many of the ideas we’ve had on intermediation, coevolution of man and machine, and the position of the artist/writer in the market place of digital space.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Hayles worries the pace of technological advancement will make it difficult for pieces of digital lit to achieve any kind of posterity; Amerika, though, says artists should be pressing that pace and pushing those technological boundaries past what is currently possible. Are these views diametrically opposed? Or is there a way to satisfy Amerika's desire for advancement as well as Hayles's fears of longevity?
  2. If Amerika’s theory that publication anxiety will shift to audience-seeking anxiety is accurate, than publication companies as we know them will cease to exist. How then, in a nuanced digital literature culture, might publishing companies (and by extension, digital writers) generate capital in commodifying their art?
  3. Given that this text is in digital form, yet in traditional print, in comparison to the works we’ve been reading, does this work feel a bit dated (think of the pop up references used in the text)?
  4. How does this work fit with the broader ideas of coevolution and the changing manner in which the human finds him/herself situated in digital culture?