“@Postmeaning” by David Knoebel (part 1 of 2)

Open “Postmeaning” by David Knoebel (part 1 of 2)

ose poem is published serially through a Facebook page which gathers all of its postings in its timeline since it began on February 27, 2011. The writing is surreal at times, mixing topics and language in ways that are grammatical but obeying an almost dreamlike logic, like Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. Since its launching, every single one of its daily (or almost-daily) postings begins an ends with an incomplete sentence and even word, evoking a sense that it is part of a larger thought or text, yet there is no grammatical connection between any entry and the ones before or after.

What is Knoebel trying to express through this diligent piece of performance writing quietly accumulating like snow in a solitary Norwegian forest? This page has been around for almost two years and accumulated hundreds of postings, yet it only has 31 likes— that is, 31 people who subscribe to this poetic stream. Perhaps subscribers come and go, not understanding the meaning of this cryptic poetic work.

Well, the wait is over. But before I offer the key to understanding this performance, it is important to track how it has evolved over the course of two years in order to intuit some of Knoebel’s goals with the project.

When the performance began, each posting was crafted as a Facebook note and it had a title independent of the prose poem below. Each note contained 100 words, not counting the words in the title, a pattern that he adhered to until April 28, 2011, when he put in a few audio clips.

Here’s a link to the audio clip from that date, which was created with a text-to-speech rendition of one of his 100-word texts. Knoebel did this for a few days, but returned to the original postings until June 2011, when he started to make the titles of the notes the beginning of each 100 word text, continuing it in the note.

Notice that by cutting the text in the middle of a word and continuing it in a note, he is creating a strong enjambment, particularly in contrast with the unfulfilled enjambments at the beginning and ending of each text. The formatting given by Facebook to the title portion of the text draws attention to it, as if it had special significance (as titles usually do), but the realization that it is simply the beginning of the 100 word text undermines such conventions. By August that year, Knoebel adjusts this further by limiting the note’s title to enough characters to fit in one line, making the distinction a mechanical constraint, as can be seen in the September 19 entry below:

On September 21, however, he made a major shift from writing Notes, which required titles, to simply Status Updates, effectively eliminating the titles. This provided a text that needed to be apprehended as a unit, without distracting the reader with an undermined title, but this didn’t last but a few months. On November 14, 2011 Knoebel started identifying one sentence by placing it in all caps.

Now THIS is an intentional intervention by Knoebel, gesturing towards meaning, one might think. But could this be another red herring, distracting us from the point of this poetic tour de force?

One thing to consider is that, he used this format for a long time, until July 2012 with only one variation: the addition of ellipsis at the beginning and ending of each text. This addition signals an incomplete text, though this was already indicated through spelling, grammar, and context.

The postings became sporadic after June 30, 2012, leading to a significant variation on July 18, 2012: reducing the number of words to about 20 per entry.

Note that he kept the ellipses, but dropped the capitalization of a sentence, perhaps to indicate that a shorter text is coherent enough to not need such conceptual guidance. This is the format that persists to this day.

Whenever I’m reading my Facebook page, and run across a Postmeaning entry, it’s like a rare bird has flown into a world full of the familiar. To read it is to contemplate another reality beyond all the meaningful meaningless status updates, memes, and shared content I run across in Facebook.

That is not to say that Postmeaning is devoid of meaning, however. The trick to understand this work is to consider how the ti

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