- Poetics in a Networked Digital Milieu
In the study of what writing is, has been, and might be, the figure of the archive and the discourse of poetics fuse together. Not confined to a singular narrative or trajectory, but a vast territory or "complex volume" of articulations in which "heterogeneous regions are differentiated or deployed in accordance with specific rules and practices that cannot be superposed" (Foucault 2002, 145), the figure of the archive and the discourse of poetics concern the assembling and organization of past compositions, the transmission of their inscriptions into the present, and the viable futures those traces make legible. If, as Kate Eichhorn argues, "to write in a digital age is to write in the archive" (2008, 1), what can the composition of archives—their materials, contexts of production, protocols, and interfaces—teach us about poetics today?
In my contribution to this critical forum, I focus on a specific archival genre, the digital repository, which, with the rapid expansion of digital networks since the mid-1990s, has served as a primary means for extending the purview and program of poetics as a contemporary institutional formation. I detail, briefly, the development of three significant examples of poetry- and poetics-related digital repositories—the University at Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Center, Kenneth Goldsmith's UbuWeb, and the University of Pennsylvania's PennSound—so as to describe their impact on the publication, [End Page 248] dissemination, and storage of poetic works. By creating access to collections of out-of-print and difficult-to-acquire compositions, as well as to new writing and its related media, these three repositories have profoundly reconfigured the space and time of literary production. By generating new circulatory regimes for literary works composed in an array of formats—including text, sound, and (moving) image—they have exhibited the fundamental intermediality of poetic practice like no prior platform for publication. To this extent, they exemplify how the digital repository has incorporated characteristics of other vital means for the dissemination of works in literary and artistic communities—for example, the little magazine and small press edition, the anthology, the reading series, and the creative writing program—bringing together aspects of each in a single, unique media infrastructure. For these reasons, they serve as ideal objects for charting out the relation of digital networks to poetry and poetics in the early information age.1
Each repository is, as I outline it, an argument for a specific poetics. Their entwined histories and cultural-technical infrastructures articulate numerous affinities; each is distinct for the way it casts a new light on certain critical terms for literary studies. Here, I approach the three digital repositories by means of their emphasis on, respectively, access, circulation, and format. Each aspect applies to all three digital repositories, yet, by focusing on one theme for each example, that repository's particular communication bias becomes clear (see Innis 1999). Such an engagement, then, opens on to a more general consideration of language and writing in contemporary networked digital milieus and underscores the particular affordances that make the digital repository a ubiquitous yet underacknowledged archival genre.
The Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) is one of the earliest digital repositories focused on poetry and poetics in the English language. In 1995, Loss Pequeño Glazier—in dialogue with Kenneth Sherwood and with the support of Charles Bernstein—initiated the EPC as a pre-Web Internet site using TelNet and Gopher protocols, designing it to function as a hub that could support a virtual ecosystem for poetry and poets. Founded footsteps away from the University at Buffalo's Poetry Collection and within the context of the university's Poetics Program, Glazier's central aim for the project was to create "a site for access, collection and dissemination of poetry and related material" in cyberspace (2002, 3). The EPC's emphasis on works of the radical modernist traditions of [End Page 249] twentieth-century North American poetry and its related information stemmed from Glazier's interest in those traditions' formats for publishing (for example, the small press publication from hand press to mimeo, Xerox to offset), their modes of conviviality (such as conferences, readings, and talks), and the...