Hyperrhiz 05: Introduction
Helen J. Burgess
University of Maryland Baltimore County
In this issue, we present poems and essays that meditate on the nature of text as movable - feeding, floating, shaking, scrolling and forking. Language moves, there's no doubt about it.
First off, Chris Ault and A. Andreas take to task the assumption that the primary purpose of text is to be predictable, repeatable and subject to consistent recall - in other words, that text constitutes archival memory. Each project samples text from the current state of the web and processes them into "feed" poems. Chris Ault's poem Hot Air, starts us out with a feed of floating words, gathered from popular social networking sites such as flickr and engadget. Drawing parallels with the "village-like" nature of the social web, Hot Air suggests to us both the ephemerality and surprising "stickiness" of the web gestalt - despite the random sampling (or perhaps because of it), the rising sentences mirror current concerns with surprising accuracy and consistency, forcing us to reckon with the consensual nature of web communities. A. Andreas' Semantic Disturbances, part of a larger ongoing project loosely collected under the title nictoglobe, conversely gives us an alienating, cyborganized feed that confronts us with the disruptive nature of reconstituted text.
Even without the ephemeral feed, words move, both on the page/screen and in the heart. Victoria Welby, Alan Bigelow and Paul Toth set the text rolling (and scrolling) with works that reflect the way words construct and challenge our place in the world - dealing with themes of love, desire, faith, uncertainty and the maddening effect of compulsive repetition. Welby's Un escalier est un escalier est un escalier (A staircase is a staircase is a staircase), a tale of a man and a woman meeting on the stairs, speaks to the disruptive power of anonymous desire, while Bigelow's poems A Deep Philosophical Question and Lord's Prayer, The suggest to us that text can be "shaken out" to produce meaning, whether faithful (the movement from nature to god) or ironic (in the camp imaginings of pop philosophy). Paul Toth's loop poem Repeat the Repetition features a scrolling block of text swinging in and out of the screen like foucault's pendulum. The resulting poem tastes of paranoia - the psychological looping of the mind caught in systematic patterns - like a song we cannot shake.
It is perhaps no surprise that Ault, Welby and Bigelow's works all draw on existing print texts (Sexing the Cherry, the Lord's Prayer, and Gertrude Stein's cubist oevre), and the print genre of comic books. There has always been "movement" in such texts, whether in form or interpretation. And this movement leads us to question the purpose of repeatable knowledge itself: Patrick McHenry's Imaging Metaphysics, our concluding essay, presents notes on an exhibit that challenges the role of traditional metaphysics in the age of the digital image. This work, which bifurcates on the first page into an hypertextual essay and a more traditional discussion of rhetoric and metaphysics, rounds out our exploration of the uneasy relationship between static and moving text.
Finally, in this issue, we present a special reviews section, with evaluations of current works in new media studies. This section, a companion to the upcoming Rhizomes review issue, features reviews by Vidhu Aggarwai, Andrew Famiglietti, Marilyn R. P. Morgan, Mary Tripp, Neil Patten, Anne Brubaker, Beth Weaver and Wieslaw Piontczak. We thank all these writers for their fine contributions.