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After Language Poetry
From OEI 7-8 2001: AFTER LANGUAGE POETRY
Christian Bök in UbuWeb Sound
Christian Bök in UbuWeb Contemporary
Christian Bök -- "The Square Root of -1" in UbuWeb Papers
Christian Bök -- "Notes Toward a Potential Robopoetics" in UbuWeb Papers
Darren Wershler-Henry has observed that, for young poets like us, the conceit of entropy has defined the millenial anxieties of our own belatedness, particularly in the face of the exciting, but imposing, precedent set by Langpo, whose broad and varied innovations have so thoroughly exhausted the field of experimentation that the notion of a poetic "beyond" must seem virtually untenable: we can no longer generate any new forms of poetry since every option has already been tried; yet we must not simply preserve the old ruins of writing since this option is simply too staid. Langpo has successfully debunked the poetic values of referentiality and expressiveness, thereby establishing its own set of unspoken, generic conventions about the "look" and "feel" of obdurate, hermetic writing; moreover, Langpo has become a respectable object of academic study, and the work has spawned a younger generation of dedicated imitators, who have added to the quantity, if not always to the quality, of such output. Langpo seems to have begun entering a senescent phase, now that many of the main practitioners have ceased to exceed our expectations or to explore new alternatives; consequently, many of the older poets may be feeling the same anxious concern about their own belatedness as they try to improve upon their own earlier, trendsetting achievements, asking themselves the same vexatious question: "What next?"
Wershler-Henry has at times remarked that, because Langpo seems to have exhausted itself without generating any innovative successors, what Langpo needs is "a good swift kick in the ass" - a new mandate that might jumpstart our creativity, exploiting the lessons of Langpo on behalf of some other, as yet unimagined, practice. Langpo has pushed poetry as far as poetry on the page can go; now poetry must find new avenues of thought beyond poetry itself, seeking inspiration, for example, in the work of architects and musicians, scientists and engineers. Recent, poetic trends suggest that, in order to avoid sounding completely outdated, many poets may have to learn a new catechism, acquiring competence in domains far beyond the purview of literary expertise. Poets may have to become advanced typesetters and computer programmers - technicians, polyglot in a variety of machinic dialects: HTML and Quark, PERL and Flash. Poets may have to learn the exotic jargon of scientific discourses just to make use of a socially relevant lexicon, and now that cybernetics has effectively discredited the romantic paradigm of inspiration, poets may have to take refuge in a new set of aesthetic metaphors for the unconscious, adapting themselves to the mechanical procedures of automatic writing, aleatoric writing, and mannerist writing - poetry that no longer expresses our attitudes so much as it processes our databanks.
Wershler-Henry suggests that, because we are faced with the impossibility of composing something totally innovative, we may have little choice but to pick through the rubble of the past, jerryrigging contraptions that that fuse old parts with new ideas, coalescing them syncretically into a contradictory set of unpredictable regenerations (like an unholy hybrid, for example, of Langpo spliced, say, with Vispo, Oulipo, and Fluxus). Future advances in the aesthetic formalism of poetry seem unlikely to occur unless we can experiment more audaciously with the technical apparatus of the book, disrupting the sequential temporality and stratified pagination of such a medium in order to produce the kind of text that might easily be mistaken for an interactive sculpture, a mechanized appliance, or even an artificial ecosystem. We may exalt the poets of the future, not because they can write great poems, but because they can program devices that can write great poems for us, doing so automatically within a digital economy of unrestricted expenditure. We may also want to keep in mind too that we are probably the first generation of poets who can reasonably expect to write poetry for inhuman readers, be they aliens, robots, or clones. The new millenium brings with it the prospect of poetry becoming a weird genre of science-fiction, fusing aesthetic concepts with technical conceits in order to foster our own pataphysical speculations.