Let's start with the facts, this is quite important on a number fo fronts and I'm going to try and explain why. What follows draws on a number of different objects in my head which seem to lead to Titanichat, a work that will lead to others, and these artefacts need some consideration in turn, I make no apology for straying outside the world of the Poem in this because I remain of the view that contemporary poetry remains too poetically introspecctive for its own good.
As well as being a poetry obsessive, I'm aware that we are living through the greatest revolution that the world has seen for a very, very long time. On a personal level, the net provided me with an opportunity to regain some self-respect and confidence after a severe bout of the bipolars, I was able to start and run a business that did Quite Well. Working with John Matthias on the annotated Trigons project has shown me that the net can make more than a difference to the way that poetry is presented and disseminated. In fact, I've been known to stand at a variety of bars and bore my companions to death about the potential that the interweb carries with it and the fact that we haven't get begun to explore the myriad possibilities.
One of the things that the internet does is provide a wealth of knowledge but many feel that the distraction quotient gets in the way and that students increasingly lift 'textbites' from books rather than reading the rest of the book/essay as in the good old days. I'm not of this view, I enjoy being distracted and flitting because usually I land on something that holds my interest and I read / look at /listen to it. Like most of us, I also have sites that I look at every day because of their inherent quality but also because they act as signposts to other things. I wouldn't have come across Blanchot or Margery Kemp or John Skelton if it wasn't for following random signs, by following (to quote Bourdieu at his most snidey [Distinction 1979]): "a collection of unstrung pearls, accumulated in the uncharted course of exploration, unchecked by the institutionalised standardized stages which make scolastic culture a ranked and ranking set of interdependent levels and forms of knowledge". Before we end this self-indulgent digression, I'd just like to note that unstrung pearls are a Good Thing.
It's a poem and the act of reading the form of a poem is normally straightforward as is the act of watching a film. There are a couple of notable exceptions which I'll get on to later and Titanichats is one of the first web-based poems that makes this normally simple act very difficult indeed. For a start, there are three sections of text, one of which scrolls, one of which is static but changes before you get to the end of the passage and a gizmo that 'responds' to what you put into the box beneath it. The problem is how to make sense of something that has three things going on at once? We're really not equipped to do this, not able to focus on more than one piece of communication. It's difficult even to try and work out whether there's any connection between the three bits. There may well not be and perhaps the best method of approach is to simply watch, rather than try to read, as things unfold.
So, it's a challenge to the senses that most people will give up on in a fairly short space of time but it's also doing something else, it's saying and demonstrating the world in which we live. It's also using the web to examine one of its main features, that of undifferentiation and an overwhelming sense of bombardment. The first of these relates to the Bourdieu quote where, in areas that we have only scant knowledge, we are at the mercy of search engines and pages that 'sound' authoratitive. To give a couple of examples, as part of yesterday's flitting, I fell across the Wikipedia article on Marvell's Upon Appleton House which sounds impressive, giving some context and highlighting one part of the poem but is a complete misrepresentation as to what the poem might be about.
The bombardment problem is about having access to too much information and being overwhelmed by it. Today, whilst writing this, I've looked at the Grauniad, the FT, the Independent and al akhbar as well as the BBC news. I've skimmed through an article on Ya'akov Bat-Sheba, who became court Jew to Emperor Rudolph II in 1602. I've also looked at Wood s lot and a couple of free book sites. All of these combine to give me a massive amount of facts and opinion ranging from slavery in the UK to a variety of Books of the Year, the improving quality of beer in the USA and a corruption scandal in Beirut.
Being type 2 bipolar means that I know more than most about both being distracted and feeling overwhelmed, In what's known as a 'manic' phase I find concentration on anyone thing impossible and jump from one idea to another in rapid succession. In some cases (but not mine) this can lead to psychosis which is fed by these different mental stimulations. With severe depression, the other side of the bipolar coin, the primary sensation for me is feeling impotent and drowning in what feels like an incredibly complex world where even the most mundane choice is fraught with danger. So, for me, Titanichats is quite threatening but compelling at the same time.
In the interests of research and trying to get a 'handle' on the content, I've copied and pasted the following two random extracts from the ever-changing box on the right. I didn't have time to do any kind of selection because of the rate at which the material changed:
Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle sculptures share a common link in that they are derived from the multi-layered narratives of the project as a whole. The sculptures on view here are constructed from the artist's signature materials, including plastic, metal, and Vaseline. These sculptures function as three-dimensional incarnations of the characters and settings. They exist independently from the films, but embody the same content - now expressed in space rather than time. The sculptures you'll see here are largely sourced from the third film in the cycle, combined with works from the other parts of the Cremaster cycle. The sculptures are displayed on the museum's ramp, paced in alignment with their order according to the cycle itself.
You notice the seats on the floor in front of the stage are empty. The actors have started speaking but you can't hear them. You turn to the left to ask the woman if she thinks you can move down there, but she's no longer in her seat. She's ripped down one of the curtains around the balcony seat and tied it to the railing, which she's using as a rope to climb down, hand over hand. Her dreadlocks are in her face and she has to keep tossing them out of her eyes by twerking her neck.
Thus encouraged I did the same with the dialogue box:
u asleep? sleight of hand where is my love? what do you have against mausoleums ingrown hairs are bad caustic but, in my head?
The second and sixth lines are the ones that I typed in. Most of this sounds too clever for its own good but I guess that we're not supposed to read it, with the exception of the dialogue box where we're invited to participate in the construction process.
What I'm thinking of as the cognitive challenge that Titanichats presents has a number of aspects:
it causes us to try and overcome these simple but effective obstacles, even though we know that the rewards are likely to be minimal; it invites a kind of partnership to co-prodcue one of the elements it questions our role in this display since we can't be 'proper' or 'normal' readers; it provokes us into thinking quite hard about the physical and mental processes involved in approaching this kind of object.
Now, the other angle as well as undifferentiation and bombardment is that of the simultaneous. Life isn't static, everything moves along at the same time, writers and artists through the ages have tried to capture this but the net embodies this and these three boxes demand that we give this aspect serious consideration. As I'm writing, I've got Twitter feeds running on Ferguson and the reaction to the dropping of charges against Mubarak and I can do this with any other 'unfolding' events of my choice. Twitter is only one example of simultaneity, there are many others.
The last two progammes of Jean Lud Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinema disrupt the viewing reading processes by presenting images, words on the screen and an audio commentary together with subtitles for monoglots like me. Nick Roeg's The Man who Fell to Earth contains a scene in which David Bowie is looking at many television progammes at the same time. Borges' Aleph and Leibnitz' monad are objects that hold an image of everything on the planet at the same time. Titanichat is one of the first small creative demonstrations of how this might now occur rather than be described.
I recently spoke at a conference on David Jones and introduced myself as the founder of arduity and bebrowed. I went on to talk about issues that had nothing whatsoever to do with the web but the majority of questions were about the future of the book as physical object rather than the criticisms I was trying to get across. This particular issue (print vs bytes) is no longer in contention but this very recent experience is indicative of how few have accepted this and how the poetry conversation needs to begin to catch up with what might be going on. Hopefully, Titanichat will give a small prod in that direction.