Memmott, Talan, “Beyond Taxonomy: Digital Poetics and Problem of Reading.” New Media Poetics: Contexts, technotexts, and theories. Ed. Adelaide Morris and Thomas Swiss. London: The MIT Press, 2006. Print.
In this essay, Memmott offers both an update to the descriptions of digital poetic texts from other media scholars like Landow and Aarseth, and an idea about how to engage with them critically. His renovation of the concept of taxonomy in relation to literary discourse is intended to allow for a critical approach that is both rigorous and open, immersive and significant, comprehensive and mobile.
Focusing instead on how the “[s]trategies of signification that arise out of [the wide range of digital] writing technologies operate in different modalities with different intent than strategies of page-based authorship” Memmott argues that key differences in the actual tools used to build the texts are integral to the kind of signification that they generate. Instead of simply extending the “book,” digital poetry actually “expands the field of textuality” and thereby creates a scenario of “signifying harmonics” (294) that includes in its signification repertoire not only words, sound, animation, and image, but also the material system used to organize, compute, and bring these elements into correspondence with each other and the interactive viewer/reader/operator. This activates for Memmott a relationship to Artaud’s notion of the theatre where the written text does not signify apart from the “ ‘sensuous and spatial’” (303) or the entirety of its construction, gesture, appearance, and action.
Referencing Impermanence Agent, an interactive work by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, et al, Memmott points to the way that the interactivity of the reader facilitates “the generation of personal narrative and its abstraction,” but that the process of building that narrative, based, in this case, on the accumulation of data by an application which accompanies the reader as she navigates the internet, is where the poetics of the work reside: this is a work of engineering that “allows poetry to emerge through it” (297). While not all works perform this organizing of chaos into singular, fleeting, and non-redundant or limitless narrative, this particular piece and others with similar generative structures indicate the importance of understanding the code implicit in the materiality of the work if the work is to be addressed theoretically in terms of its own poetic functioning.
Memmott finds an expression like “taxonomadism” useful for describing the kind of mental trajectories required to work critically with these texts. Insisting that the limits of normal taxonomy and the kind of linear thinking that compiling one involves do not serve the nature of digital poetics. Rather, it requires a more open and mobile type of data gathering that might be understood as transitory and unstable. This is not because its signification is unsubstantial, however, as he understands digital poetics to be making ideas: because “signification occurs through a sort of resonance or harmonics between signs and sign regimes…[i]deas are made operational, transactional, [and] scopic” (304). This requires, for Memmott, a new kind of critical approach: namely where theorists become “poeticians” understanding the entire system of signification, including software, hardware, networks, code elements, and intent interact to construct the hypermedia text. He insists however that theoreticians must “do” the work they theorize about; it is no longer possible, for Memmott, that a mere reading of the text be offered. One must play the games, use the internet, send email, text colleagues, and so on, if the mediality is to be understood at any level of rigor. Further, he desires that the critical position migrate along with the poetic one into the realm of application: scholarship needs to participate in “emergent, temporary, nomadic and applied lives that are so evident in creative applications” (305). This certainly implies that he finds writing papers, reading them at conferences, and publishing them in magazines to be only one level of theoretical engagement that should extend itself to utilize with the very structures about which it is theorizing.
Other hyperlinked connections: Stengers “Irony and Humor” in The Invention of Modern Science, Guattari: the Three Ecologies in discussion of group dynamics and participation with shifting “subjectivity/identity”, Deleuze Bergsonism, flash mobs, Pierre Clastres’ stateless society (as discussed in “Nomadology the War Machine” in A Thousand Plateaus).