A Broken Thing?
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A Broken Thing? Stephanie Strickland The line in digital poetry is not broken— it is extended, sometimes into a third dimension, sometimes into the semblance of a third dimension; it is apparent in space, as graphic arc, or sonic-graphic arc, or sonic-graphicchoreographic arc; it is always doubly located, in the code and at the interface. In the code, the ensemble of lines, when read, makes things happen. Each line is exquisitely sensitive to change: any change magnifies as it ripples through the cascades of behavior it creates. Lines of code are written to be readable by humans but to be read by a machine . The machine is a leaping, looping reader. We can see it in action in Brad Paley’s CodeProfiles, his contribution to the CODeDOC show at the Whitney.1 All the pieces in this show were made to connect and move three points in space. Paley’s does so by highlighting its own inner working. It both reads—and displays itself reading—its own code. The amber point follows a straight, human, linear read down the columns; the green refers to the developmental order, how Paley broke it up as he composed it; and the silver-white, the most wildly active, shows the rhythm of machine reading, its execution order, how the routines call each other, passing control back and forth. 238 | Strickland Paley chose not to visualize the parallel, multitasking aspect of the machine. However, another contributor to the CODeDOC show responded to CodeProfiles with a remix that profiled Paley’s program profiling itself, focusing on the parallel operations occurring at any given moment, rather than the sequential order Paley traced: the line is not broken—layer upon layer of reflection on it is engaged; the line is not broken: it has become parallel, multiple, orthogonal . . . . The machine is also a reader of me, who is reading it. As much as I may scan the screen for new events, the computer—reading its lines of code—is scanning it for evidence of my hand movement. Each poem is a different instrument with a unique interface. To create a digital poem, a digital line, is to create, simultaneously , a way to evoke it, an entire interactional system, a means of—and potential for—producing many events without any intrinsic time of their own, events waiting to appear from virtuality. To move from the code-line to the interface-line is to leave the tangible. The interface-line is the end result of a process, an evanescent, ephemeral state— one that cannot be known ahead of time with completeness, either by its coder or its viewer/reader, so dependent is it on the unknown condition of a vast web of interconnecting resources, those of the Internet and those on the reader’s machine. The onscreen line is inflexional, known only as it is transformed—an in-between, an on-the-way to we’re not sure where. The line onscreen is morphing, or on the verge of morphing. It explores the felt togetherness of movement, feeling, color, thought, and connectivity. Choreographed, animated, folded across times, it can appear or disappear at will; sometimes it can appear, or disappear, at your will; it is perhaps generated once only, never to return. The line in digital poetry does not break— it reenters, it feeds back, it streams into sampled mixes, or recursive spirals, or . . . , or . . . , producing overlap, disintegration, newly created timespace . . .2 Strickland | 239 1. http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/codedoc/; to enter Paley’s piece directly, go to http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/codedoc/Paley/code.html 2. More specific description at “Born Digital,” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/ journal/article.html?id=182942 ...