August 4, 2014
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Hello, Kitty

From this morning’s advertisement for the Electronic Book Review:

Gwen Le Cor casts a new light on contemporary writing in mew media.

The underlying essay claims it is trying to apply the ideas of fluid dynamics to understand the electronic poetry of Stephanie Strickland and Lawson Jaramillo. In practice, it appears to apply some terminology without really understanding it. What literary critic has ever modeled reading, much less Text, as a system of linear equations? No one construes construction as strictly accumulative. No one believes that understanding of a text is either univalent or continuous, or indeed that any significant part of the experience of reading exhibits univalent or continuity. In other words, of course we see this sense of nonlinearity in Strickland; we see exactly the same nonlinearity in afternoon, in Pride and Prejudice, in The Illiad.

Gwen Le Cor works at Paris 8, a storied department that happens to be famous for work on the inherent nonlinearity of the text. Indeed, the definition of linearity taken from a popular overview and used here,

the rule that determines what a piece in the system is going to do next is not influenced by what it is doing now

is patently incompatible with the reader’s role in interpretation, an issue to which Paris 8 made such great contributions. If you bring your understanding to the text, then the text you’ve just read surely influences what you’re about to understand.

For some reason, English professors (or, in this case, titulaires of the Département d’Etudes des Pays Anglophones) love to find metaphors in stylish physics and mathematics. Fifty years ago, physicists and mathematicians borrowed some mundane terms like “bifurcatation” and “chaos” as metaphors for the mathematical constructs they were studying. Ffty years later, we turn around and try to use those metaphors metaphorically, but without seeming to pay very close attention to what the equations mean. Thirty years ago, they were doing this with Heisenberg and Pauli. Now it’s fluid dynamics; in 2060 they’ll be going on about compiler optimization in contemporary literature.

Science is fun and interesting. If you really want to do fluid dynamics, do it. Learn the tools, learn how to turn the crank. Then, if you like, come back and see what you can learn by applying them to poems. Don’t simply borrow the jargon and the dress.

Still, perhaps “mew media” is an idea worth closer study.