The first step towards a response is to delimit what is meant by “American.” For the purposes of this categorization, I will define it as e-literature created or co-created by authors born and/or raised in the United States of America. The focus on birth and/or national identity helps find common ground for American writers who live around the world. In a globalized world, full of digital media that encourage collaboration, national boundaries become blurred and the focus shifts towards convergent characteristics, practices, themes, and poetics.
Since 1986, besides videopoetry, E. M. de Melo e Castro worked on a series of experiments with other computer media (suportes informáticos), coined by the author as “infopoesia” [infopoetry], in which he used image editor software. Once more – and this is a fact the analysis by Jorge Luiz Antonio (2001) does not highlight – the prevailing choice of image editors at the expense of word processors reveals the visual affiliation of Castrian poetics. The infopoems’ visual animations acknowledge pixel as the primary unit of meaning, in the perspective of an infopoetic language. Some of the resulting images were published in Finitos Mais Finitos: Ficção/Ficções [Finite Plus Finite: Fiction/Fictions] (1996) and Algorritmos: Infopoemas [Algorythms: Infopoems] (1998), whose initial essay develops “a pixel poetics” and explains the amalgams created in the title. The quest for transgression, which is underlined by the book’s title (1998), is followed by the quest for formal synthesis:
Poetry is traditionally conceived as a refined, patterned and stylised language produced by skilled writers and orators. Not so for twentieth-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. His highly influential and counter-intuitive philosophy, encapsulated in the dictum “language speaks man”, suggests that poets do not make poetry, but poetry poets. It is not a question of self-expression, but of “listening” for language’s “call”. According to Heidegger, this “call” takes us beyond the “mortal” towards the “heavenly”, “the Unknown One”, “god”. I wonder, then, what he would make of @godtributes, a charming little Twitter bot that “listens” to your tweet and “calls” it out back to you, transformed into an (ir)reverent tribute to an incidental, aleatoric deity.
In the 1980s, the world saw the introduction of personal computers (PCs). While the first creative stage of electronic literature took advantage of mainframe computers, only accessible in institutional environments, the context in which Silvestre Pestana created his first computer poems was totally different – a new wave Pedro Barbosa ironically calls “poesia doméstica” [domestic poetry] (1996: 147). With personal computers, Silvestre Pestana programmed in BASIC, first for a Sinclair ZX-81, and then, already with chromatic lighting, for a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, three poems respectively dedicated to Henri Chopin, E. M. de Melo e Castro and Julian Beck, which resulted in the Computer Poetry (1981-83) series. Pestana, a visual artist, writer and performer – who had returned from the exile in Sweden after Portugal’s Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974 – brought diverse influences put forward with photography, video, performance, and computer media. From his creative production, it should be emphasized the iconic conceptual piece Povo Novo [New People] (1975), which was remediated by the author himself in the referred series of kinetic visual poems, “video-computer-poems” (Pestana 1985: 205) or “infopoems” (Melo e Castro 1988: 57). By operating almost like TV scripts, the series oscillates between recognizable shapes – such as the oval and the larger animated Lettrist shapes, formed by the small-sized words “ovo” (egg), “povo” (people), “novo” (new), “dor” (pain) and “cor” (color) – and the reading interpretation of the words themselves: “ovo,” the unity, but also the potential; “povo,” the collective, the indistinct, the mass; “novo” and “cor/dor.” This play of relations translates the new consciousness, although painful, of a “new people” in a new historic, social and artistic period, one of freedom and action. In an interview, Pestana (2011) claimed having researched more than thirty languages, only to find in Portuguese the possibility of traversing the singular and the plural, the individual and the collective, the past, present and future, by just dislocating a letter: ovo/(p)ovo/(n)ovo.
Doménico Chiappe, a Peruvian-Venezuelan writer and a journalist currently living in Madrid, has written and produced two delightful works of electronic literature: Tierra de extracción (1996-2007) and Hotel Minotauro(2013-2014). His works depict a critical and pleasant voyage to diverse Latin-American landscapes where poetry within prose, and prose within poetry, submerge the reader into hypermedial embedded narratives.
I ♥ E-Poetry welcomes its new contributor, Nohelia Meza.
Nohelia Meza is a PhD candidate at the Department of Translation and Language Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. She holds a BA in English from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), a MA in Audiovisual Translation from the University of Seville, and a MA in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language from the University of Deusto and the University of Iceland. Her PhD project focuses on the poetics of digital discourse and the rhetoric of time in specific works of electronic literature. She is also interested in translating e-lit works into Spanish, as well as, in teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language using electronic literature. Nohelia is a member of Hermeneia research group (Literary Studies and Digital Technologies, Universitat de Barcelona), Red Latinoamericana de Literatura Electrónica; and a collaborator of the publishing group at Centro de Cultura Digital México. She is fascinated by volcanoes and adores pencils, and if she could be restored to factory settings she would not think twice about studying Astrophysics.
Barbosa’s theoretical-practical trilogy closes with Máquinas Pensantes: Aforismos Gerados por Computador [Thinking Machines: Computer-Generated Aphorisms] (1988), as it can be understood as the third volume of A Literatura Cibernética. Here, the author presents a long series of literary aphorisms, in which the generation of texts is said to be “computer-assisted” (Computer-Assisted Literature) in BASIC language. The “A” series (Re-text program) deals with combinatorial “re-textualizações” [re-textualizations] (1988: 59) of a fragment (“matrix-text”) by Nietzsche and the “B” series (Acaso program), which had been partially published in the Jornal de Notícias (1984), draws upon the conceptual model created by Melo e Castro’s poem “Tudo Pode Ser Dito Num Poema” [Everything Can Be Said in a Poem], included in Álea e Vazio [Chance and Void] (1971). Melo e Castro himself would write an early review on the aphorisms, in the Colóquio Letras (1986) literary magazine, revealing Barbosa’s outputs as undeniable literary productions. Finally, the “C” series (Afor-A and Afor-B programs) comprises reformulations of traditional Portuguese aphorisms, which result in new interpretations, sometimes ironic, sometimes surreal.
One of the most important features of these three volumes is the highlight given to computer code – showing the importance of programming for Pedro Barbosa – inasmuch as in the end section of each volume the author publishes all the source codes, which today becomes a rich and open archaeological finding, insofar it documents the coding practice and it enables further critical and creative analysis.