Monday, July 25, 2005

An elliptical treatise on F7

This will probably be my last post until next week, because on Wednesday, I'll be setting out on a poetry reading tour with other members of Lucifer Poetics. The schedule is below:

Wednesday, July 27, 7pm:
Red Emma's Bookstore
800 St. Paul Street

Thursday, July 28, 7 pm:
Molly's Cafe & Bookstore
1010 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 923-3367

Friday, July 29, 6 pm:
Pete's Candy Store
709 Lorimer Street
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 11211
(718) 302 - 3770

Saturday, July 30, 7pm:
Lost Dog Cafe & Lounge
Ithaca, NY

I'll be reading from my manuscript F7. In light of this, and the fact that within the next month or two, a couple things are happening that will dramatically enhance F7's visibility in the poetic community and the world at large, I'd like to expand upon some of F7's practical and theoretical dimensions. I will begin by describing its origin and its essential processes.

It's been said many times that a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters would eventually, by sheer chance, produce Shakespeare. More fascinating to me is the idea that these same monkeys would, with equal probability, produce great works that have not yet been written. Borges embodied this idea in a physical space in his Library of Babel, a great, seemingly infinite hive-like structure, filled with books that contain every possible permutation of language known to man. As a young man reading this story in the 21st century, it's natural to imagine the Library of Babel as a computer. As a writer and a human being, I find this idea both exhilarating and slightly terrifying: A powerful computer running through different permutations of language could, theoretically, eventually produce scientific and philosophical breakthoughs simply by chancing across the correct combination of words. This was the initial spark for F7 - I wanted to begin to exhume the shadow narratives latent in our technology, specifically, from the linguistic databases programmed into our machines, and generally, from the great unruly babble (Babel) of the Internet.

I began by simply typing meaningless clusters of letters, then using Microsoft Word's spellcheck function (which is triggered with the F7 key, hence the name of the manuscript) as a palette to determine which words would comprise the final poem. But I quickly discovered that typing random clusters is harder than it sounds - certain typing motions are so entrenched in my hands that I found myself accidentally typing actual words, or typing the same clusters over and over again. I then resorted to various methods to confound this programming, including turning the keyboard in different directions, misorienting my hands on the keys, crossing my hands at the wrist before typing, and devising various patterns in which to move over the keyboard. (An example of the last, entitled "11 kHz", can be found below on this blog.)

Then I began to look to classic forms to give these poems structure, and arrayed my nonsense language in the forms of sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, sestinas, epistles, ballads, prose poems &c.

The next evolution of the process involved getting away from unwieldy clusters and creating a sort of nonsense language, interspersed with indefinite articles, that alluded to actual words and familiar syntactic patterns. The inital language in these poems is not unlike Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, and the end results, while still largely vacant of actual sense, bear echoes of these recognizable units just beneath the surface.

The next logical step, which I threw myself into with abandon, involved bastardizing famous texts like the pledge of allegiance and the Lord's prayer, either by purposefully mispelling the words, or by breaking them at various points, then extrapolating a new text with the spellchecker that still resonates with the original in various ways. The poems produced in this manner tend to elicit the strongest audience response, since there is something thrilling about recognizable text gradually emerging from such chaos, yet they are also the least true to the spirit of F7, which I'll describe later.

The process really expanded drastically from here, as I began to use online translators, text databases, Microsoft Word's thesaurus, outline and various other built in functions, and flarf (Googled words and phrases), often feeding several processes, one into the next, within a single poem. This is where I am in the process now. After poking and prodding at it for upwards of a year without really understanding exactly what I was doing, I feel it's nearly complete - complete, in the sense that I will have soon taken it as far as I'm willing or able, not in the sense of pursuing it to its ultimate end. At this point, I'm closer than I've ever been to a comprehensive theory of F7, which I'd like to relate in its inchoate, elliptical and probably subject-to-change state, here:

"A 'mistake' is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is."
-John Cage

"An artifact is a mistake."
-Barrett Watten

F7 is akin to the works of the composer John Cage in numerous striking ways. For one, serial / chance operations are utilized to recede the ego, imagination, and experience of the creator, thus freeing words / sounds of an imposed value system and allowing for a more intense, less mediated experience. The emphasis is on the present moment of pure experience, not the past or future, and on the sheer being of the medium, not the influence of its creator. However, just as often as not, F7 fails in this regard - I, by accident (this is preferable, since F7 honors the accident), or by furtive choice, have found myself nudging the poems toward certain oblique, if pointed, statements about art, the academy, politics, and love.

Nevertheless, concerns of expressivity are de-emphasized. F7 denatures poetry by making no distinction between the planned effect and the accidental one, the "sonorous" tone and the "discordant", music or noise, poem or text. Any sound intoned at any point in space / time is part of universal music, the ongoing composition comprised of every sound ever made, past / present / future. Likewise, every word or sound (F7 sees no distinction between words and sounds) ever intoned, whatever its intention, is part of the ongoing poem of existence. F7 shows a tiny portion of this greater whole, being itself perhaps only a single "note" in the ongoing symphony. Ideas of truth, beauty, and other aesthetic concerns are de-emphasized so that a pure approximation of language in its raw state may be experienced. F7 has yet to attain complete unfetteredness, still busying itself with subverting established forms, locating musicality in chaos, discovering surprising logical imagery in irrational processes, &c. This intermediate phase is entirely necessary in reaching the theoretical point where language becomes pure form, pure sound, pure sense (meaning pure sensation, not logical sense), unconnected to any abstraction and existing in a singular, freestanding state.

Like the work of Cage, Gertrude Stein, and some Language poetry, F7 is democratic.At its most successful, no cues are included toward its interpretation, and no moral imperatives, so that interpretation is left entirely to the reader, the way that many Cage compositions simply set up parameters, defined by chance operations, that serve as otherwise unfettered fields of play. F7 is also democratic and collective in another sense - the spellchecker used as a palette was compiled by a group of persons unknown to the author, and the source material from the flarf poems may have been composed by anyone in the world. Anyone who puts a piece of text onto the Internet assumes potential co-authorship of F7. Anyone who has spoken a phrase or performed an action that, at whatever remote end of a chain of causality, caused someone else to put text onto the Internet, is a co-author of F7. When we see how language forms and travels collectively, we see that F7 is authored by the entire world, while I simply happen to discern, organize and record it.

Some poems in F7 can be read in multiple directions of the reader's choosing, and hopefully, in the future it will attain states that are even less determinate, that foil the act of 'reading' to the point that only 'looking', viz. experiencing without value judgements, interpretation or outside association is possible. An example of this is "Nude Fiction Index", which can be found in Volutions Magazine in a link to the right.

F7 strives to not be mimetic, although like any imperfect thing, it often fails, and despite its unusual attributes, it is a reflection of the world it inhabits. A poem constructed in a more traditional fashion, be it narrative or evocative, concerned with lyricism, meter, rhyme and sonority, truth, beauty, &c. might be conceived as a border drawn around a particular area of space - say, a window. Imagine using a grease pencil to outline the contours of the world reflected in this window. Imagine shattering the window, then reconstructing it differently, by way of chance or patterned operations. This is F7.

F7 describes not a limit, but a field of possibility on which infinite actions, reactions and combinations are possible and encouraged. F7 has limits of possibility, but an infinte number of things can occur between these limits, as an infinite number of infinitesimals stretch between the integers one and two. F7 is the limits, and everything that takes place between them, but nothing more. Therefore, F7 is both finte and infinite.

F7 is shorn of moral and intellectual intent. Any moral imperative or critique or position that arises in the text is a function of chance, not of my own intellect or values. This only obtains completely in reference to a theoretical, idealized F7, which does not yet and might never exist. This ideal F7 would completely lack syntax, image, sign, symbol, moral and political dimension, would, in essence, be an example of pure language spinning in a void. My only role would be to record it on the page.

F7 does not describe life, it is life, an event in the frame of a moment. It should be liege to neither the past or the archival / museum paradigm of the future. It should create itself anew, in and for every moment, both in its recording and its reception. Ideally, F7 might be an accidental glyph impressed upon sand, noticed, experienced but not interpreted, then washed away by a wave, only to be replaced by a new expression of F7, perhaps in the footprints of a walker on the shore.

F7 maintains that a line of email spam is as 'good', i.e. contains as much intrinsic value, as a line of composed verse.

Nothing that inhabits F7's moment is separate from it. As you read the text, any sound you hear should not be considered a distraction - it is part of F7 and F7 is part of it. Any bit of outside text you happen to read or object you see while reading F7 is part of it, as is any taste or physical sensation. This speaks to a) F7's infinite possibilities for occuring within any given moment (inhabiting the moment without displacing or dominating it) and b)its function as a thread in the tapestry that is the sum total of existence and experience.

F7 considers silence / blankness to be a value exactly equal to sound / text - not a lacuna. Therefore, any blank page (written F7) or silence (oral F7) must be considered a part of the work with a value equal to the sounded parts. It is possible that the ultimate expression of F7 is silence or a blank page, but this end cannot be jumped toward - the distance between imperfect and perfect F7 must be closed by the crossing of infinte half-spans, which, Zeno's Paradox tells us, is impossible. This is probably good for me, as a writer, since a perfect F7 would remove me from the equation completely, producing a 'text' of perfect blankness unsullied by a human influence.

F7 does not aspire to be 'musical' in the limited, traditional sense. I have no problem with the statement that 'poetry is musical', but I reject the tacit assumption that music is necessarily harmonic and melodic. Music can be a-, pan-, or proto-tonal, monotonous, dissonant, bracing, etc. In this broader sense only can F7 be described as 'musical.'

F7 is more concerned with process than with outcome, and any interest inherent in the outcome is simply a reflection of the process used to arrive at it. (Although F7 will not complain if the outcome happens to be beautiful in some weird way, which surprisingly, it often is.) The goal of F7 is momentary rapture, not historical consideration, although this rapture might take place anew at any point in history.