Tuesday, December 15, 2015


**please view and listen to poems through a desktop computer, they won't work on mobile devices**

"#SELFIEPOETRY: Fake Art Histories & the Inscription of the Digital Self" is an on going series of e-poems that I've recently started to write (although write might not be the right word to use), using the online platform NewHive--which I was basically testing to see if it would be a good teaching tool for my e-lit course next year.** However, I got hooked, and I began working on a series of poems that combines a few of my current intellectual interests: the (un)truth behind artistic or literary histories and our (il)legitimacy to intervene and organize events to create narratives that "make sense," vs. the interpretative role of the recipient of said narratives. I'm also pretty intrigued by the roles assigned to the producer of art and its consumers, roles that have been traditionally separate and that have begun to blend and blur indistinguishable thanks to their performance on digital media. Consumers subjectivity and representation has turned into a very particular way of individual signaling, turning the subject into an object of massive amateur (some have called it "democratizing") representation and distribution. The self (and the photographic image of the self) keeps reappearing in different digital platforms, inscribing itself through the space and time of the Web. In other words, we are obsessed with our faces (and this obsession goes well beyond taking photos in the bathroom).

My #SELFIEPOETRY series looks thus at some ways in which the inscription of the self (in today's paradigmatic digital manifestation, i.e.: the selfie) can be reinterpreted against a very vague and unorthodox selection of artistic and literary trends. As of today, there are 8 poems, each constituting an intervention in a different movement. They also touch upon some very personal matters, since I am intrigued by the many ways in which people today share their personal lives online.

Dreamtigers tigers tigers

Dreamtigers tigers tigers is the first poem I wrote, as an obvious homage to Jorge Luis Borges. Taking into consideration the latest and controversial conceptualist interventions in and around his work, I felt the urge to explore it myself. The poem consists on a recording of my reading of Borges's "Dreamtigers" (as it was included in the collection with the same title--El hacedor in Spanish). I didn't change anything in the text, I simply copied and pasted the English version (the original, btw), and then read it twice, first in English and then in Spanish. The voice recording loops endlessly going back and forth between both languages, and it's interrupted by a documentary video on the last wild tigers on Earth. Footage of real tigers interrupts the imaginary summoning of Borges's tiger (although this YouTube video is zone restricted and it is only viewable in the United States and some other English speaking countries. Very pertinently, Copyright policies ban its reproduction in Spain or Mexico, for instance, making this poem about intertextuality and appropriationism even more relevant to my purposes). My sound recording includes some repetitions and some strange, Spanish inflected pronunciation, as a means to highlight the struggles of vocalizing in a (not so) foreign language. Finally, in order to mesh the critical discourse on digital originality with the role of the so-called pronsumer, I incorporated about 8 copies of the same selfie image showing my face partially hidden by a shot of a tiger running.


I like to think of Futurismo as a funny (and eerie) commentary on all things avant-garde. Futurism, both as an artistic and a literary movement, is one of those very dated expressions, easy to identify at a first glance, and quickly associated to ideas like "speed," "machines," "progress," "war," and "industrialism". It takes us back to a concrete moment in Western history, characterized by revolutions (political and mechanic) and artistic manifestos.

I was reading Digital Memory and the Archive by Wolfgang Ernst at the time of writing this poem, and I was struck by his figure of the "cold gaze" of the machine that explains how, while human subjectivity and historical circumstances change (turning human memory into a matter of representation) agency in a machine is not pure abstraction any more, but becomes an (algorithmic-based) unchangeable reading of the past. According to Ernst, technical media then records time and acts as a time-machine between times and the past (literally, he talks about a media-archaeological short-circuit between otherwise historically clearly separated times). I am fascinated by the idea of machines short-circuiting history, and about the poetic capacity of digital performativity to bring the past to the same reproductive reality of the present. Periodization is underscored as the human invention that it is, in the same way that other artificial constructs are. The personal dimension of this poem engages with the idea of monogamy and "the one and only true love," suggested to be a social convention that can perhaps be periodized (or dated) in the same way as a futurist manifesto.

The poem includes my selfie next to a photo of a handwritten poem, superimposed over images of metallic engine parts and gears. The poem breaks into an animated spiral, and my voice reads the poem 10 times, partially muffled by machine sounds. The poem itself goes on for about 10 hours.

Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)

This is a poem about immigration in the United States. Or about my migration to the United States. It is also a piece about one of the most important poets in the country, our friend of Leaves of Grass and "America," Walt Whitman, and about his portraying of American identity and sexuality.  To write it I made my computer Fred read Whitman's entry on Wikipedia while I drew some doodles on the screen (basically, I write the word America and draw little blue and red stars and dots over the Wikipedia page, I also underscore the words "sexuality," "sexual," and "politics," and draw a red circle around "race"). As Fred reads about the life of this 19th century (trascendental-realist) poet, me and my American husband read his "Poem of Women." After I read each stanza, his male voice repeats my words. However, things are hard to hear, since everything becomes muffled by a loud white noise. Finally, the photographs I used for my visa application multiply and rotate on the screen. No makeup, no hair products, no glasses, no smile.

I am not going to interpret this poem.

The Democratic Value of Art Making

Since the series is about selfies, the background image of this poem is a repurposed Instagram photo. On a beach, looking into a vague horizon (we've all seen/taken photos with this pose). Two sentences cross over the screen, moving from left to right (not perfectly however). Some meditation Tibetan chimes play in the background. Although the words that run across the screen in Spanish are self animated, the poem requires interaction. I've included some play buttons (and some redundant and spam-like "Click!" signs) that allow the user to play my voice reading the sentences in English. The user can push the buttons as she likes, making me repeat the words as many times as she wants. She can also bring the voices back to life by pressing the red play button that produces a heartbeat.

This poem was made in less than half hour. I didn't pay for anything, yet I used plenty of resources. I'm not going to read more into it either.

The Measure of All Things

"Your Digital Presence is the Measure of All Things" is written over da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica online, "Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm)." The Renaissance belief in the human body as an analogy of the universe is confronted with today's representation of the selfie in the Web. 

This time, I made a series of videos of myself reading Garcilaso de la Vega's "Soneto XXIII," a very well-known poem by this influential solider-writer who introduced Italian Renaissance poetry to Spain during the Golden Age. From tragic courtly love of medieval empires to teenagers' Youtube vlogs. 

Here is an anonymous translation of the sonnet I found in John A. Crow's anthology of Spanish Poetry (it's not the best, but it's free):

The soft shades of the lily and red rose
Show their sweet colors on thy chaste warm cheek,
Thy radiant looks, so tender and so meek
Arouse the heart yet hold it in response.

And as thy hair like strands of gold now glows
Casting its sheen upon thy neck so white, 
Touched by the breeze that stirs and gives them light 
Thy tresses in wild disarray do blow.

Pluck off the ripe fruit of thy joyous spring
Before time with its swift and angry sting
Covers thy precious head with lasting snow. 

The icy wind will chill the tender rose,
And fleeting years bring change to everything 
That Nature’s law might keep its ordered flow.

No Weekend Wi-Fi, un cuadro costumbrista (US of A)

A costumbrismo snap shot of a coffee shop scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, November 15, 2015. Believe it or not, this breakfast place had no wi-fi available on Sundays.

In reality, No Weekend Wi-Fi is nothing else but a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the current trend I've observed in contemporary poetry (and music, and film) that presents completely banal and unimportant things as if they were, actually, of trascendental relevance to all of us. By making this poem (and incorporating the texts that my husband and I wrote in basically the 10 minutes we were in this café) I am reclaiming my right to participate in this useless trend.

Animated photo GIFs over a pixelated copy of Hopper's Nighthawks, plus written text and two playable audio files.

City of Eléi

This little poem engages with the culture of boleros (although I'm not completely sure about the status of this slow-tempo music in art history).

I recuperated an old poem I wrote about love, passports, ex-boyfriends, the city of Angels and Mexico, and I incorporated a beautiful GIF by Canek Zapata, and a video in 8 mm of my right eye as a biological sun in this digital beach. Seagulls and my humming over Lila Downs's "Perfume de Gardenias" are part of the score. Music and water as transatlantic shared imaginaries in the Spanish speaking world.

I actually did incorporate credits for this one:

Background psychedelic GIF: Canek Zapata.
Text: Alex Saum, but with stolen bits 
from popular songs.
Crab: from the beaches of the interwebs.
Music: Lila Downs is singing "Perfume de 
gardenias" in the background, sort of.
Oh, and there is a series of copyrighted 
sounds and ads may pop up.

Pupila Romántica

"Pupila Romántica" reinterprets the famous "Rima XXI" by Spain's last romantic poet, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, to make it about myself. I photographed my right pupil through the glass and through the screen four times, then animated the image to produce an artificial, mechanic, blinking.

My glasses have a special anti-reflective coating that is supposed to protect my eyes from the toxic lights of my computer. It's said to be blue. I cannot see it, yet I believe it's there, like a ray of moonlight. What can be more romantic than that?


I'll be making more poems. I'll be writing shorter blog posts. I might translate this post. Or make a video in Spanish. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

If the Future Is Digital, Why Print a Book?

Last week I attended the international symposium "Reading Wide, Writing Wide in the Digital Age: Perspectives on Transliteratures" organized by the LEETHI group from the Complutense University of Madrid. It was a fantastic event where I had the opportunity to listen to very interesting work engaging electronic literature from very different perspectives, such as Vilashini Cooppan's reading of e-lit as world literature, or Germán Sierra's selection of digital objects that show how digital technologies have reshaped our conceptualization of reality [Here is a link to the complete program].

In my talk, "If the Future Is Digital, Why Print a Book?" I looked at how, while e-lit is a global phenomenon, in Spain it takes on additional importance as it allows writers to bypass the hierarchies that characterize Spanish cultural institutions. These institutions have been heavily supported by the State, and along with it have suffered a loss of legitimacy that is a consequence of 21st century financial crises. My talk explored several manifestations of computational writing practices emerging at the intersection of digital media technologies, electronic literature and traditional print. As I proposed, the digital-inspired work done by Jordi Carrión, Vicente Mora or Javier Fernández could, at a first glance, be framed as a rejection to the contemporary cultural canon, participating within some free culture movement ideas that manifest as digital remix or mashed-up creative practices. However, their paradoxical return-to-the-book, creating what I call “printed technotexts” (i.e. paper e-lit) highlights both the desire to escape the institutionalized canon, but also the necessity of being recognized by it and its “bookish” forms of authorship and power. In opposition to these, I proposed we look at born-digital works (e.g. Doménico Chiappe's Hotel Minotauro) that have remained electronic and are accessed online. I wonder if these type of texts should be read as a form of liberation from the Author as creative agent, the book as platform, the current literary canon, and the Spanish publishing industry altogether. It seems, although I am still scared to affirm, that only born-digital literature will finally escape Spain's literary paradigm (beyond the market) that has been in force for the past four decades. 

Here are the slides for the talk (in Spanish)


And the works cited: 

Becerra Mayor, David. La novela de la no-ideología: Introducción a la producción literaria del capitalismo avanzado en España. Madrid: Tierradenadie Ediciones, 2013. 

Bunz, Mercedes. The Silent Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Castells, Manuel. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet age. Cambridge: Polity, 2012.

Carrión, Jordi. Crónica de viaje. Córdoba: Aristas Martínez, 2014.

Chiappe, Doménico. Hotel Minotauro. 2013. Web. 16 Jul.2015.

Cramer, Florian. Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts. Rotterdam: nai010 publishers, 2013.

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artists’ Books. New York: Granary Books, 1994.

Emerson, Lori. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Ernst, Wolfgang. Digital Memory and the Archive. Minneápolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What is it?” Electronic Literature Organization. 1.2 (2007): n.p. Web 15 Nov. 2013.
________Writing Machines. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Fernández, Javier. Cero absoluto. Córdoba: Berenice, 2005

Martínez, Guillem. “El concepto CT,”
CT o la cultura de la transición: Crítica a 35 años de cultura española. Ed. Guillem Martínez. Barcelona: Penguin Random House Mondadori, 2012.

Minchinela, Raúl. “La CT y la cultura digital: cómo dar la espalda a internet,” CT o la cultura de la transición: Crítica a 35 años de cultura española. Ed. Guillem Martínez. Barcelona: Penguin Random House Mondadori, 2012.

Mora, Vicente Luis. Alba Cromm. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2010.

Vázquez Montalbán, Manuel. La literatura en la construcción de la ciudad democrática. Barcelona: Grijalbo-Mondadori, 1998.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Teaching E-Lit and DH: Plataformas de la imaginación

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity of participating in the international symposium, Máquinas de inminencia, organized by UNAM’s lleom in Mexico City. This series of talks was part of their larger electronic literature project, Plataformas de la imaginación: Escenarios de la literatura electrónica (and, shameless plug here: also part of the even larger series of exhibits we are coordinating with Berkeley and Barcelona's Hermeneia group)

Although I generally tend to favor speaking about my academic research, this time I decided to focus on a teaching project I have been working on for a while now related to the teaching of (Spanish) electronic literature in the US and its relationship to the fields of Digital Humanities and Spanish studies, as well as the University as a whole. What I propose in this talk (among many other things) is to perhaps start thinking electronic literature as a foreign literature, and as such, host it in foreign language departments within the University. These are important topics touching several aspects of the academic institution: curricular planning but also the administration and the social realm. I have been wondering lately if these teaching and administrative fields are not as important (perhaps even more important) than the type of research projects we tend to favor as professors in Research 1 universities.

Here are the slides I presented (in Spanish)—and hopefully there will be a video of the talk soon as well. I’m working on a translation of the talk, and I hope to share it (or publish it) in the future.

[Y ahora en español]

La semana pasada tuve la maravillosa oportunidad de participar en el simposio internacional, Máquinas de inminencia, organizado por el Laboratorio de literaturas extendidas y otras materialidades de la UNAM, como parte de las actividades que componen su proyecto Plataformas para la imaginación: Escenarios de la literatura electrónica (parte del proyecto aún más amplio sobre exposiciones de literatura electrónica que incluye nuestra muestra en Berkeley y la próxima a cargo del grupo Hermeneia en Barcelona)

Aunque no suelo hacer este tipo de intervenciones (prefiriendo presentar otro tipo de ideas relacionadas con mi investigación académica y no con la pedagogía), decidí presentar un ensayo sobre un proyecto docente en el que ando involucrada ahora mismo. Lo que digo en la charla (en especial aquello de pensar la literatura electrónica como una literatura extranjera, y ubicarla entonces en los departamentos de idiomas) me parece importante tanto a nivel curricular como administrativo y social. A veces me pregunto si esto no serán cosas tan o más importantes que la otra labor académica a la que nos dedicamos los profesores.

Ahí arriba os dejo las diapositivas de la charla; con suerte pronto habrá un vídeo para compartir también.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Spring 16 Courses

UC Berkeley students, beware! This Spring 16 I will be teaching two new courses:

1. A groundbreaking upper-division undergraduate course on e-lit that epitomizes digital humanities – literary analysis alongside basic programming skills and DH tools and methods
[Find out more about this e-lit undergraduate course here]

2. An exciting graduate seminar on the culture of the Spanish transition to democracy

[Más información aquí]

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The E-Lit Critical Making Group (Working Group)

JOIN US THIS FALL (as in, NOW) at >>>

The E-Lit Critical Making Group

In preparation for the spring exhibit, No Legacy || Literatura electrónica, this fall we will gather to explore tools for electronic literature and use them for creative work. We will play with tools such as Twine, Inform 7, Undum, Flash, generative grammars, and bots. Participants will receive an applied, rudimentary introduction to programming. Using the Python Natural Language Tool Kit, we will learn how computers read poetry and how they write poetry. We will gather at the end of the semester to share work in a digital salon. If you are interested, please fill out this form and indicate your availability. No experience with programming or digital tools is required, but interest in the subject matter is key.

Macintosh Color Classic (one of the machines we will be working with)

GSR Position (Spring 2016): E-Lit

Electronic Literature: A Critical Making and Writing Course

Are you an artist? What about a poet? Do you think computers are cool? Do you play with code? Are you a Facebook freak? Come work with Prof. Saum-Pascual!

I am looking for a graduate student interested in working with me in the teaching and research involved in an experimental undergraduate course on electronic literature, i.e.: poetry and narrative created on a computer, meant to be displayed on a computer (hypertext novels, generative poetry, social media fictions, etc.). This is a Mellon award funded project, part of the DH program at Cal.

The course would be structured as a workshop, and most of the instruction and all lectures will be carried out by me, selected consultants from the D-Lab, Digital Humanities at Berkeley staff, and invited guest professors. The GSR would be in charge of helping students identify the tools they need to create their digital artwork, and assist them in their production during workshop time.

Class schedule is yet to be determined, but the course will probably meet twice a week (1.5hrs x2), dividing sessions between lectures and making workshops. The class will be cross-listed in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, and the Berkeley Center for New Media.

The ideal GSR should be familiar with (or have an strong interest in learning about) most of these tools and skills:

1.     Hypertext, interactive fiction: Twine (, Inform 7 (, Undum (

2.     Generative grammars, Twitter bots:

a.     Tracery ( Cheap Bots Done Quick (

b.     Chatbots: ElizaScript (

c.     JavaScript and RiTa for NLP (

d.     Python for NLP

3.     Kinetic poetry: Flash

4.     Social media protocols (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest)

5.     Creative usages of PowerPoint and Office Suite

6.     Knowledge of Spanish is strongly preferred, but not required

7.     Interest in Latin American and Spanish literature and culture is also highly preferable but not required (pero... who doesn't like Borges??)

If you are interested in collaborating in this awesome new course, please send me your CV before September 25 at Questions are welcomed anytime!


Also, you might be interested in joining us THIS FALL (as in, NOW) at >>>

The E-Lit Critical Making Group

In preparation for the spring exhibit, No Legacy || Literatura electrónica, we will gather to explore tools for electronic literature and use them for creative work. We will play with tools such as Twine, Inform 7, Undum, Flash, generative grammars, and bots. Participants will receive an applied, rudimentary introduction to programming. Using the Python Natural Language Tool Kit, we will learn how computers read poetry and how they write poetry. We will gather at the end of the semester to share work in a digital salon. If you are interested, please fill out this form and indicate your availability. No experience with programming or digital tools is required, but interest in the subject matter is key.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

What I've been up to this summer (and what's to come)

Time flies when you are... working. Although I've been enjoying some free time, this summer I have mostly been working. Here is a little update on what I've been doing, and what's to come.

I had the opportunity to attend DHSI again this year, and took part in a terrific electronic literature class, Advanced Criticism and Authoring of Electronic Literature, facilitated by Dene Grigar, Sandy Baldwin and Aaron Reed. This was the continuation of another e-lit class I took last year, an introduction to e-lit also facilitated by Grigar and Baldwin, together with Davin Heckman and Marjorie Luesebrink (a.k.a. MD Coverley). As always, class and the people in it were fascinating and stimulating. Élika Ortega came to Victoria as well and we had the chance to keep working on our current e-lit adventure, No Legacy || Literatura electrónica. This is a large project that includes an exhibit and book project (more on this soon) that look at literary histories, the relation between literature and other media, and Spanish and Portuguese experimentalism. No Legacy will be opening in Berkeley on March 2016, but this exhibit is part of a larger series of exhibits, Literatura electrónica: A Transatlantic Series, that will be taking place in Mexico (City) and Spain (Barcelona). No Legacy will also be funded by a grant I was awarded by the Hellman Fellows Program, as the exhibit is part of my current (and much larger) e-lit project. Other collaborators are my own wonderful BCNM and Doe Library. I will write more about this, and about No Legacy in particular, soon, so please stay tuned. 

I have always tried to incorporate my research into my teaching, and I am happy when these activities blend into each other in an organic way. Last semester I taught a grad seminar in Hispanic e-lit, and I am lucky to be teaching another e-lit class in Spring 2016. This is a new, experimental, class, Electronic Literature: A Critical Writing and Making Course, where students will be able to critique and analyze electronic art and literature (learning specific terminology and theoretical frameworks), as they gain the skills to build their own digital art pieces. I will be developing this course in the Fall, thanks to a grant by the Mellon Foundation. I could not be happier about this, and I feel honored to have been awarded this terrific DH grant. To read more about all my e-lit related projects at Cal, please look at Camille Villa's write up in the DH at Berkeley blog. 

Still within the realm of e-lit, I was happy to see my article "Literatura española post-web: al borde de lo virtual, lo material y la historia. El caso de Jordi Carrión" published in the Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies. In this article (full text here through Project MUSE) I explore how Carrión's Crónica de viaje sits at the perfect juncture of two types of culture (print and digital) as they manifest in post-transition and post-crisis Spain. I wonder if the text's digital rhetorics and aesthetics are a means to reject the contemporary "democratic" canon (mostly modern) in Spain, in decay since the onset of this century's financial crises. 

Also this summer, and just a few days ago, Sur+ Ediciones republished Cristina Rivera Garza's Dolerse: Textos desde un país herido. I had the incredible opportunity to participate with an article, "Por qué Dolerse: La relevancia de un texto híbrido," on Cristina's original book, part of the collective volume that accompanies this reedition, Condolerse. In Rivera Garza's words: "Condolerse se trata de un libro que es, a su vez, una conversación, una visita, una insistencia. Un sampleo. Un loop y un remix. Y una alterada alteración. Somos más ahora: Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, Marina Azahua, Amaranta Caballero Prado, Elda Cantú, Roberto Cruz Arzabal, Irmgard Emmelhainz, Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Mónica Nepote, Diego Enrique Osorno, Javier Raya, Ignacio Sánchez Prado, Alexandra Saum-Pascual, Ingrid Solana, Eugenio Tisselli y Sara Uribe; autores de México y España y Estados Unidos han contribuido con sus propias reflexiones y procesos para acrecentar la capacidad de nuestra escucha. Por desgracia, somos más; por fortuna". 

Now that the summer is almost over, I will be preparing myself for a couple of exciting talks I will be delivering in Mexico City and Madrid in October. I am happy to be talking about my experiences teaching e-lit in Spanish in the U.S. at Máquinas de inminencia: estéticas de la literatura electrónica at the UNAM on October 9th (more on this soon). At the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, I will be participating in their conference Reading Wide, Writing Wide in the Digital Age on October 22nd (check out the program here). 

I am fortunate not to be teaching in the Fall, so I will be able to devote myself fully to all these new exciting projects. I hope to find time to keep this blog updated as I move along, so keep reading if you want to learn more! 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atrápala si puedes

Es difícil capturar el momento de lectura, ¿cuándo ocurre? Ahora, ahora mientras lees. Leer siempre es una performance y siempre ocurre en este mismo momento, aunque las ruinas del evento permanezcan como letras en la página tiempo después.

Con la literatura electrónica, no obstante, la ruina se desvanece. O más bien, muta, se transcodifica, cambia de cuerpo y se convierte en otra cosa. La ruina como código inactivo, distinto de la superficie en la que leo. La lectura se revela pura como la performance que siempre es y del evento tan sólo pueden quedarnos récords: una fotografía como souvenir del momento. Como ésta:

Leyendo Between Page and Screen de Amaranth Borsuk y Brad Bouse

Aquel texto y aquel momento ya no existen; al cerrar el libro, el software--que gracias a mi webcam traduce y descodifica desde esa página web remota los códigos QR inscritos en la página de papel de mi libro--se duerme, se desactiva. No tiene nada que leer, ningun signo que le indique acción, nada que active la performance: la lectura como el acto de lectura que siempre es. 

Sin acción no se materializa la palabra.

Una lectura sin huella.

De aquello que leí el miércoles sólo queda esta fotografía. Y en ella me incluyo a mí misma, como parte de aquella performance. La lectora, yo, sujetando el libro. El acto. Leyendo así, de soslayo, de reojo--desde la esquina del ojo, como dicen en inglés--palabras que no están ya en el libro, sino atrapadas momentáneamente en la pantalla que traduce para mí. Y, como me recordó Félix, me atrapa así a mí también.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

El silencio de la palabra: Poesía digital

La escritura silencia la palabra. Y una imagen vale más que mil de éstas. 

"Silencio" Eugen Gomringer, 1954

De la escritura se ha dicho que supuso el abandono de la oralidad, aunque lo que realmente esto significa no sea más que la separación necesaria de lo escrito y la palabra. La lectura silenciosa cambió el régimen semiótico de la palabra que en tanto que fuera escrita, pasaría a ser visual y estaría asociada con un régimen material de códigos de escritura, frente a aquella otra que sería pronunciada. La otra, la oral, parecería pues, casi, una palabra escurridiza—un palomo de lumbre que se desliza por la oreja, como leí una vez en un Lorca que hacía hablar a una mujer encinta (encinta, ¡qué palabra!).

Blanchot decía, en su Diálogo inconcluso que escribir era quebrar el vínculo que une el habla al hablante, quebrar la relación que hace a uno hablar hacia otro. Escribir “me da el habla dentro de la comprensión que esta habla recibe de ti, porque se dirige a ti, que comienza en mí porque termina en ti” (187). Escribir, aun en su silencio, es convertirse en el eco de lo que no se calla tampoco, que no puede dejar de hablar—en tanto que está escrito ese palomo vuela y vuela y va quemándolo todo.

Y claro, así es, porque la poesía ha buscado siempre decir lo indecible, cazarlo al vuelo en ese eco quizás, y encontrar imágenes para el vacío y el silencio, como diría Belén Gache. Lo que es entonces realmente productivo es el eco, o la nada, por volver a Gache que “se presenta como fuerza productora de un sentido pleno al que no tienen acceso las palabras” (63).

Decir sin decir palabras. Y quizás sea más fácil de lo que uno piensa, lo hacemos constantemente con una caricia, con una sonrisa ambigua, por ejemplo. Con gestos que no son nunca, por mucho que una crea, totalmente comprensibles. Con poesía concreta también se hizo. Con estirar la iconicidad de la palabra y su código escrito. Y se abrió por entonces todo un debate sobre la relevancia de la semántica en estos juegos visuales: hasta qué punto era juicioso abandonarla. Hubo bandos, hubo poetas concretos por todo el mundo. Hoy también los hay, se los ha llamado visuales según se alejan del letrismo. El debate existe, la palabra se niega a su silencio.

Con la llegada del Flash se animó aún más el asunto. Pongo “Disciplina” de Ana María Uribe como ejemplo. Un poemita visual en el que a ritmo de música electrónica (machacona, por cierto—machacona ¡qué palabra!) pone en movimiento seis letras “H” en mayúscula, de distintos colores, que se ejercitan siguiendo las órdenes una voz dictatorial en off. Lo que diga la voz, berreo más bien, es igual. El chunda-chunda (ojo a la palabreja, estoy sembrada hoy) anima la cosa y se sincroniza con las H cuyo cuerpo se iconiza para representar las extremidades humanas—los brazos y las piernas de los soldados mudos, obedientes. Las "H" se aproximan a la ambigüedad de la sonrisa, o la caricia.  Viva el grafema antropomorfo.

"Disciplina" Ana María Uribe, 2002

Uribe, así, sin palabras, da voz a las que son mudas por antonomasia. Con letras, en un silencio que grita multiculor, nos recuerda que lo que no se dice—ahora incluso lo que no se llega a escribir—sigue ahí pero quizás responda a otro régimen estético o semiótico. Está ahí y, en este caso, sigue trabajando obediente—en silencio, bajo un orden igualmente estricto.  

Blanchot, Maurice. El diálogo inconcluso. Caracas: Monte Ávila, 1996
Gache, Belén. Escrituras nómades. Gijón: Ediciones Trea, 2006
Uribe, Ana María. “Disciplina” 2002, Anipoemas, Vispo, Web, abril 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

¿Cómo pensar el formato blog como intervención política?

Otra semana más, repito aquí lo que dije en clase:
"There is much in the world to protest" (Rita Raley, Tactical Media)
Hay mucho por lo que protestar en el mundo, sí. Así comienza Rita Raley uno de los textos ya canónicos sobre medios y protesta, Tactical Media. Lo dijo en 2009 y sigue siendo verdad hoy, evidentemente.

Y aunque la relación no sea a todas luces evidente, pienso hoy en particular, tras leer los posts de mis alumnos sobre el formato blog y sus posibilidades literarias, si no deberíamos pensar también en el blog y sus características intrínsecas de protesta. Se ha hablado bastante acerca de la relación de este formato digital y su relación con el mundo exterior, la transformación del autor-narrador en avatar performativo, y la complicidad o pacto con el lector que se establece en la escritura de blogoficciones. Pensando en el trabajo de Daniel Escandell u Osvaldo Cleger sobre la blognovela, estas tres serían las principales características de la ficción en formato blog.

Y probablemente tengan razón. Pero, pensando hoy en otra de las características del blog (o del tuit, porque el fenómeno al que apunto es similar y probablemente más radical en este ámbito), lo que me parece verdaderamente importante del formato es su dimensión temporal: la presencia digital tan fechada que mantienen las entradas en un blog o en twitter, y la interpretación de esta dimensión temporal tan efímera como intervención en el mundo. La brevedad de un tuit, de un bot político del estilo de los de Mark Sample y sus "bots of conviction," por ejemplo, pero cualquier otro en realidad, constituye una presencia temporal que puede interrumpir el régimen semiótico dominante. Si bien la existencia posterior del tuit o la entrada de blog como cuerpo espacial es rastreable (podemos leer entradas del pasado), estas entradas anacrónicas deberían meramente leerse como ruinas de la verdadera performance comunicativa que se establece con nuestra participación sincrónica en las mencionadas plataformas digitales.

Esto que digo es indiscutible en el caso de los bots de protesta cuya intención política resulta explítica, claro, pero me interesa pensar, y propongo aquí que pensemos, estas creaciones digitales (blogs, tuits) como interrupciones de la temporalidad general que necesitan siempre de la cooperación del lector cuya propia temporalidad también distorsionan, permitiéndonos hablar así de protesta y política en un sentido más amplio. No se trata de hablar de revoluciones apocalípticas, sino de pensar en una intervención en y una interrupción de un sistema dominante, donde la situación temporal que emerja active el signo, el mensaje, y la narrativa simultáneamente permitiéndonos abrazar un nuevo pensamiento crítico.

Se trata de conceptualizar intervenciones efímeras, prácticas de temporalidad limitada (¿que más efímero que un tuit, que un post?) que articulen instancias performativas donde la sociabilidad y la cooperación se valore como emancipadora, algo así como aquellos medios tácticos de los que hablaba Raley: "it is not simply that interventions by tactical media may disrupt but that the outcomes of those disturbances remain uncertain and unpredictable" (Raley). Ella estaba hablando de práticas artísticas à la Critical Art Ensemble, pero yo creo que podemos ampliar un poco la cuestión e indagar acerca de este otro tipo de acciones (y tácticas) temporales e impredecibles.


Textos mencionados

Cleger, Osvaldo. Narrar en la era de las blogoficciones: Literatura, cultura y sociedad en el siglo XXI, 2010

Escandell Montiel, Daniel. Escrituras para el siglo XXI. Literatura y blogosfera, 2014

Raley, Rita. Tactical Media, 2009

Sample, Mark. "A Protest Bot Is a Bot So Specific You Can't Mistake It for Bullshit."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

¿Por qué debemos pensar las Humanidades Digitales desde la Literatura Electrónica?

Como ya viene siendo habitual este semestre, copio aquí la entrada que colgué esta semana para el blog de la asignatura, Electronic Literatures: Hispanic Influences, que estoy impartiendo en UC Berkeley.

Hoy he propuesto en clase que pensáramos sobre la relación entre la literatura electrónica y las humanidades digitales pues, aunque para algunos esto parezca un matrimonio lógico, este tipo de literatura no ha sido abrazada por el campo HD tan efusivamente como se pensaría. 

Cuestionando, o quizás tratando de justificar su relación, me doy cuenta también de que se trata de abarcar una cuestión más amplia que tiene que ver con la relación real entre las humanidades y las humanidades digitales como campos que hoy parecen ya establecidos y esencialmente definidos, en el que este último suele pensarse como un grupo de acercamientos y herramientas digitales para pensar y trabajar cuestiones y objetos pertenecientes a las otras humanidades. En el caso de la literatura electrónica, evidentemente, esto no parece suficiente. Pero me parece que en lo que respecta a las humanidades digitales tampoco lo es. Creo que para justificar el campo de las HD como tal, no deberíamos limitarnos tan sólo a aplicar herramientas digitales a cuestiones humanísticas, sino que deberíamos pensar en cómo crear herramientas digitales que respondan a y encarnen métodos y saberes humanísticos en sí. 

Es decir, ¿podríamos, desde las HD, crear herramientas y plataformas digitales distintas (herramientas y plataformas HD y no sólo D) si nos propusiéramos pensar desde las humanidades y no sólo desde lo digital y sus posibilidades? 

Si de lo que se trata es de justificar la autoridad cultural de las humanidades en el mundo de hoy, que es fundamentalmente digital (o donde los medios principales lo son), será necesario demostrar que los métodos y teorías humanísticos son realmente esenciales para el diseño de plataformas digitales que encarnen valores humanísticos. En otras palabras, lo que tenemos que hacer es crear herramientas o plataformas que incorporen saberes obtenidos desde las humanidades. 

Johanna Drucker, en "Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship" propone una serie de acercamientos provenientes de las humanidades para la construcción de herramientas digitales. Éstos tienen que ver con las enseñanzas propias de las humanidades que favorecen la interpretación y los saberes performativos y probabilísticos frente a los declarativos o deterministas que serían naturales a la programación digital. Así, explica la necesidad de crear herramientas digitales que se enriquezcan de las perspectivas humanísticas sobre el discurso, la temporalidad o la representación, entendidas siempre desde un acercamiento relativizante. 

Por ejemplo, y pensando en la representación, las humanidades han enfatizado la necesidad de desarticular la fuerza de la reificiación de la representación gracias al paralaje o la perspectiva que inciden en la proposición de que la reproducción es siempre producto de una condición de observación: una postura y una posición. Esto apunta a una de las bases de la expresión humanística que tiene que ver con la influencia del observador (o del lector, pensando que un texto se completa con su lectura, y existe dentro de ese círculo de producción hermenéutica). 

Este tipo de conocimiento debería asumirse también en la producción de herramientas digitales que parecen ignorar lo aprendido acerca de la relatividad de la observación y el poder de la tecnología de crear representaciones y no realidades, y nos presentan sus funcionalidades como herramientas con las que efectivamente alcanzar una visión “real” del mundo. Pensemos así en Google Earth, por ejemplo, y las representaciones fotográficas que nos ofrece como, precisamente, representaciones relativizadas y mediatizadas (construcciones dependientes de las mismas variables que entran en juego cuando trabajamos otras formas de representación desde las humanidades, por ejemplo) y creemos herramientas de representación que partan de la base de la creación de interpretaciones, y no aquellas que nos hagan ignorar el medio de reproducción (como parecen efectivamente querer hacer los mapas de Google). 

Creemos herramientas digitales que traten de capturar y contabilizar no sólo el espacio sino la dimensión temporal, pero no desde la supuesta objetividad y exactitud homogeneizadora que solemos adscribir a las posibilidades técnicas de lo digital para hablar de tiempo, sino desde la ambigüedad experimentada en términos relativos tras la idea de la temporalidad. Pensemos en cómo incorporar lo aprendido tras una experiencia de la temporalidad que se vuelve flexible, relativa, e interpretativa según las posibilidades de la representación narrativa, e incorporémosla a las herramientas digitales que trabajan, generalmente, bajo las premisas del tiempo dividido en unidades exactas e inflexibles.  

Volviendo a Drucker, hacer esto que propongo aquí se consideraría esencial, pues aplicar herramientas digitales concebidas desde premisas no humanísticas a objetos artísticos o literarios sería una distorsión del objeto, una reducción que aniquilaría el valor por el cual se lo consideraría "humanístico". 

"Just as the attempt to place James Joyce's spatial references onto a literal street of a map of Dublin defeats the metaphoric and allusive use of spatial reference in Ulysses, flattening all the imaginative spatial experience that infuses the text with images of an urban imaginary irreducible to its material counterpart, so the task of putting pins into a Google map or charting the times of lived experience on a single unvarying linear scale is a grotesque distortion--not merely of humanistic approaches to knowledge as interpretation, but the very foundation from which they arise" ("Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship" Debates in the Digital Humanities 94)

El saber humanístico nos permite un acercamiento interpretativo--parcial, enunciativo, subjetivo y performativo--al arte y la realidad, y creo que el objetivo de las así llamadas humanidades digitales debería incluir estos tipos de saberes a la creación digital, problematizando no sólo el estudio de herramientas desde estos puntos de mira, sino creando herramientas y objetos que incluyan esta forma de mirar. Es desde aquí justamente desde donde propongo que miremos la literatura electrónica: como objeto digital que, participando con la tradición crítica literaria por un lado, y siendo objeto de arte por otro, se nos propone como ejemplo perfecto de creación digital humanística. Creación digital que incorpora, desde la literatura, lo aprendido gracias a las humanidades al nuevo saber HD. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Memorias Futuras

Last Wednesday I spoke at the launch for the Digital Humanities at Cal program, and the opening of the Future of Memory Exhibit at The Magnes. It was an absolute joy and honor to be there. This is what I said (more or less):

To talk about memory and its relation to the future, is of course to talk about issues of archiving, preservation, and access. This is a historical problematic that the arts and humanities have dealt with in many ways--how to keep a record of history and memory? what was the past like? what do we learn from it and through what mechanisms?

Nonetheless, the issue gains a new relevance when talking about digital memory and the synchronic base of digital-born cultural production that easily becomes unreadable due to machine obsolescence and the constant and rapid development of newer computing or encoding standards. Memory in the digital world is a question of material preservation and curation. The question relates to medium (as the device) as well as the experiences of it, like manipulating it and reading what is or works inside of it.

I only have five minutes to talk about this, so instead of giving you a survey of digital humanities theories surrounding the issues, I would like to give you an example, to tell you a little story, which I hope will illustrate what I mean.

The story relates to my particular artistic discipline: literature. Back in the 1990s a group of writers started experimenting with a new type of hypertextual narratives. Narratives that would be conceived in a computer, experienced in a computer, and that took advantage of the capabilities of these machines--such as hypertextual functionalities. Written on a new software platform called StoryBoard, writers like Michael Joyce, Shelly Jackson, and Stuart Moulthrop created the first commercial series of electronic novels, built on EastGate Systems software and distributed in floppy disc form. Their works are some of the earliest examples of electronic literature.

As I am currently teaching a class on the subject of electronic literature and its relation to Hispanic traditions or influences, I turned to the library to find a copy of Moulthrop’s Victory Garden which is loosely based on a short story by Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges. And I did find a copy of the novel there indeed, this is Berkeley after all, we have a record of everything! And this goes to show how libraries, and museums such as this one, are the places of memory and archive, places where we turn to find stuff.

But what was my surprise when, even though I had managed to get a copy of this 1991 first  edition novel, and I was holding it in my hands, I was unable to read it. I asked the librarians for an “obviously obsolete” computer to read it on that was nowhere to be found. They seemed puzzled. I was puzzled. I was in the place for memory and yet, I was unable to access its records.

I asked around a few different media labs. No where on campus seemed to have the necessary equipment to run this floppy disk. No hardware, no software to make sense of this literary piece either. The novel, its memories and stories, trapped in the disk. Hidden, forgotten. I have the floppy disk now in my office waiting to be read, but I am still trying to figure out where to do it.*

It became clear to me that digital objects are more than the file (however material), but part of a larger media ecology, that requires us to engage with devices in distinct archaeological ways. Digital objects, digital memory if you wish, rests upon very material storage devices, which turns memory preservation into a deeply material question--one that paradoxically we never think of when working within the realm of the virtual, the digital, etc.

The increasingly burgeoning field of Digital Humanities has, up until now, focused much of its energy and resources on making digital or datifying a variety of non-digital objects and/or taking humanistic practices into the digital realms. The advantages of this approach are evident. And wonderful. Nonetheless, as media becomes obsolete so quickly, and we increasingly rely on things like the cloud to store our information, bringing these material conditions and devices to the fore becomes an important necessity, one that might be addressed thanks to museums and exhibits of digital media. 

* I have now found many possible places to read the floppy--I was mostly making a point when I read this