The Anti-Logos Weapon: Excesses of Meaning and Subjectivity in Mezangelle Poetry

1 December 2011

However, all of the actions of Third Faction take place in-game and are conducted by player avatars, visual representations of the player that allow and, in fact, govern, the ‘real’ person’s interventions in the game world. Indeed, talking about these avatars, whether they are referential or representational, as though they are all masks for the ‘real’ Mez is highly misleading. In the feminist sense, Mez’s use of avatars can be seen as a means of encountering the other within the self—she shifts through a number of different subjectivities which are nevertheless a part of her, in much the same way that Irigaray theorises feminine self-touching as ‘a nearness so close that an identification of one or the other, and therefore any form of property, is impossible … a closeness with the other that is so near she cannot possess it, any more than she can possess herself’. And, as part of the phenomenology of digital engagement, in which all interactions across the digital network are mediated by what John Reep calls ‘purely symbolic bodies consisting solely of language and programming code,’ avatarism breaks down the divide between the real and the virtual. The avatar is an extension of the real self, ‘transgressing … pre-assigned boundaries and perhaps venturing into new, previously forbidden or inaccessible territories,’ but it also stands apart from the self, achieving actions (for example in-game behaviours) that would not be possible for the ‘real’ physical human self alone. The dominance of the ‘real’, here allied with the physical and opposed to the virtual, representational realm of avatarised selves, is broken down; the boundaries between material and virtual selves are permeated; and subjectivity is constantly shifting between the actions of the ‘real’ self and those of one or more avatars.

This division between the material and the virtual also has significant effects on more specifically textual forms. The positive revaluing of fluid forms is an unusual move in the late age of print, given that linguistic value in particular has been determined by the solidity, fixity, and permanence of the printed page. However, given the hyperbolic increase in digital artforms, the philosophy of flow that emerged prior to the 1980s can be seen as an antecedent to the new operations of language and selfhood in the digital realm. Theorising on hypertext, Jay David Bolter makes this particular distinction, and the philosophical foundations, explicit:

In the age of the manuscript and especially in the age of print, the book was valued for its capacity to preserve and display fixed structures. It was a technological reflection of the great chain of being, in which all of nature had its place in a subtle, but unalterable hierarchy… [T]he electronic book reflects a different natural world, in which relationships are multiple and evolving: there is no great chain of being in an electronic world-book

While print texts were traditionally valued for their permanence, digital texts can explore, experiment with, and give value to the qualities of ephemerality and emergence.

Digitality has also reopened the text to a consideration of materiality: both the ‘material basis of literary production’ that forms the basis of Hayles’ critical corpus, but also the material conditions by which the products of literature are disseminated and used — in other words, how texts are read as well as how they are written. Although print media have very specific material conditions, these have generally been treated as part of a tabula rasa on which the text itself (in opposition to the materials which embody the text and make it possible) can be inscribed. Materials such as ink and paper have been seen as ‘neutral, inconsequential carriers of “content”’ and the impact of these material objects upon the phenomenology of reading has generally been effaced. It is most often that case that avant garde practice, rather than popular or orthodox literature, has engaged with the materiality of paper media. To give just one example, the technique of randomised cut-ups outlined in Tristan Tzara’s ‘dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love’ introduces unorthodox physical interactions into the act of composition, as well as breaking down the notion of the print page as a fixed totality:

Take a newspaper. 
Take some scissors. 
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem. 
Cut out the article. 
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag. 
Shake gently. 
Next take out each cutting one after the other. 
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.

By foregrounding the artifice involved in any linguistic construction, experiments such as these also serve to roughen the text and reveal the non-neutrality of the textual medium. This is particularly significant for dead-tree media, the fixity of which has been considered almost sacred, but it is also relevant, as Hayles suggests, for digital texts, which require specific physical interactions with interfaces and programs in order to be constructed, transmitted, received and read.

The linguistic play within mezangelle poetry in some ways resembles the products of these Dadaist cut-ups, although the disjunction is conducted on a more minute level by means of a technique of lexical splicing. Mezangelle is characterised by the splicing of individual words into one another through the use of symbols outside of the traditional alphanumeric elements of written English. As such, mezangelle becomes what N. Katherine Hayles refers to as ‘a creole evocative for human readers, especially those familiar with the denotations of programming languages’, which ‘uses programming punctuation and expressions to evoke connotations appropriate to the linguistic signifiers’. Or, in Mez’s own words: ‘i constantly mine programming conventions/structures + actively repurpose them as part of my works’. This repurposing of digital codes shifts them into an intermediary space between full computer operability and human comprehension, and also serves to trouble the supposedly ‘natural’ features of human language by penetrating the boundaries of words and splicing lexemes to one another.

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