The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things, my second book of poetry, is now available and shipping from Salò Press. Order it here if you’re in the UK and here if you are anywhere else. I am very proud of this book.

Bradley J. Fest’s second volume of poetry, The Shape of Things, continues his project of poetic assemblage. Written in an age of ubiquitous algorithmic surveillance and increasingly catastrophic climate change, these poems both describe the shape of things in the overdeveloped world and endeavor to challenge the widespread feeling that the imagination has been foreclosed in the twenty-first century. An ambivalent hyperarchive, the collection draws influence from a number of seemingly incompatible lyric registers, including the language of contemporary theory. The Shape of Things culminates in an eponymous long poem that asks if a poiesis of “network being” is possible and suggests that there might be some other way to dance to the sounds of our present.

 

If Whitman and Adorno had a knife fight on the ruins of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, The Shape of Things would be the perfect voice over. Which is to say, though it’s not a pretty scene, there’s pleasure and beauty to be found in the action and music of the syntax and in following the wild movements of this poet’s mind. Truly original, dazzlingly smart and game for anything, Fest writes of lives and desires torn apart by the neoliberal security state. Jolting between paranoiac rage and orgasmic bliss, between all- out negation and Wordsworthian swoon, these poems describe the awful implications of a contemporary moment in which “we have made ourselves a gallows of a house.”

–Sten Carlson, author of Fur & After

To call The Shape of Things “post-apocalyptic” would be a mistake: its poignant present tense anxiety unfolds in the apocalypse now. Ataris and hunter-gatherers lean together over the edge of time, commingling in harrowing yet pleasurable ways. But this is no book of “detached mirth.” Hear in Fest’s singing the quiet pathos of humans and machines out of time. While Fest’s human creatures have lulled themselves into submission—”There may be something (virtually) / on fire. More likely our expectations are being met . . .”—his work nudges middle class late capitalist culture awake into the disturbing awareness that “a prolonged adolescence is the shape of things.”

–Robin Clark, author of Lines the Quarry

Spring Break Links 2016

It has been a very busy past few months, and my links have suffered. But spring break has provided some lovely, unencumbered time, so here are many, many links (futilely) attempting to catch up with what’s been happening in the world. (In the interest of space, I’ve also passed over some of the more visible recent stories.)

 

Nuclear and Environmental

Paul Krugman, “Republicans’ Climate Change Denial Denial.”

Democracy Now, “Naomi Klein on Paris Summit: Leaders’ Inaction on Climate Crisis Is ‘Violence” Against the Planet.”

Adrienne LaFrance, “The Chilling Regularity of Mass Extinctions.”

Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism.

Sebastian Anthony, “Scientists Discover an Ocean 400 Miles Beneath Our Feet that Could Fill Our Oceans Three Times Over.”

Kylie Mohr, “Apocalypse Chow: We Tried Televangelist Jim Bakker’s ‘Survival Food.'”

Alex Trembath, “Are You and Upwinger or a Downwinger?”

Eric Bradner, “Newly Released Documents Reveal US Cold War Nuclear Target List.”

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May Links

It’s been a busy month, and a there’s a bunch of stuff to catch up on, so links:

 

Disaster and Environment

David Roberts, “The Awful Truth about Climate Change No One Wants to Admit.”

Sarah Resnick, “A Note on the Long Tomorrow.”

Phil Plait, “Jovian Armageddon +20.”

Jamie Lauren Keiles, “Millennial Revenge Fantasy.”

“Texas Governor Signs Law to Prohibit Local Fracking Bans.”

Maureen McHugh, David Rieff, Benjamin Kunkel, Joseph McElroy, Srikanth Reddy, and Ted Nelson: “Speculations Archive: Overextending Ourselves.”

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Many April Links: Catching Up

Another semester is coming to a close, and I finally have a chance to sit down and sort through the backlog of links that have been piling up over the past few months. So, with no further ado, links.

 

Nuclear, Environment, Ruins

Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s Leaders Fall Into Line Behind Nuclear Accord.”

William J. Broad, “Hydrogen Bomb Physicist’s Book Runs Afoul of Energy Department.”

John R. Bolton, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Um, no.

Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey Smith, “South African Nuclear Cache Unnerves US.”

“South Africa Rebuffs US Attempts to Take Over Its Nuclear Material.”

Jon Greenberg, “The Odd Reality of Iran’s Centrifuges: Enough for a Bomb, Not Power.”

Charlie Jane Anders, “Nanotech Could Make Nuclear Bombs Much, Much Tinier.”

Andreas Malm, “The Anthropocene Myth.”

99% Invisible, “Ten Thousand Years.”

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Abstract: Poesis and the Procedural

If it is accepted, here is an abstract for a panel my colleagues, poets Sten Carlson and Robin Clarke, and myself propose to deliver at the 2011 Society for Literature Science and the Arts Conference in Waterloo, Ontario this September.

Poesis and the Procedural

This panel will begin by framing and reading from a collaborative manuscript of poetry, Dear Human Converter Box, a book conceptually situated in the interface between artificial intelligence and poetics. The authors will read from the manuscript and gloss some of its central theoretical and political concerns, which include the procedural and collaborative processes involved in its composition. This portion of the panel will conclude with a multimedia “performance” of one poem via a text-to-voice application. The third panelist will present a general theory of “poetic assemblage” and engage specifically with Dear Human Converter Box as an instance of such assemblage.

Dear Human Converter Box: Poetry in the Age of Intelligent Machines
    —Sten Carlson and Robin Clarke, University of Pittsburgh

Panelists will read from and discuss their line-for-line collaboration, Dear Human Converter Box, abook-length sequence of poems that investigates the possibilities of a machinic intelligence brought to bear on the making of poetry. Taking two texts—Giambattista Vico’s The New Science and Manuel DeLanda’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines—as its conceptual frame of reference, the book stages the transfer of cognitive structures from humans to machines in the late twentieth century, bringing an experimental, oppositional poetics to bear on those very cognitive structures. Once artificial intelligence has been achieved, DeLanda argues, “we might imagine specialized ‘robot historians’ committed to tracing the various technological lineages that gave rise to their species.” One of the wagers of this project is that, whereas the robot historian would largely assemble genealogies to describe, illustrate, and account for the history of AI (a history, DeLanda points out, that would look very different than one written by a human historian), the robot poet would involve itself in processes of aesthetic experimentation and discovery that would interrupt, complicate and transform the fundamental forms of such an intelligence. Considering, for example, that artificial intelligence has developed largely along procedural lines in the service of the military-industrial complex, what are the implications on that intelligence of a felt and imagined machinic poesis capable of (in Vico’s terms) “perturbing to excess” its own rational, barbarous properties and processes? Put differently, how is the poem—as a site of imagination, critique, pleasure, irrelevancy, excess—a technology capable of refusing strictly rational “intelligence” as such? As a line-for-line collaboration between two poets, Dear Human Converter Box takes up these problems not only at the thematic and formal levels, but at the level of the composition process itself. Certain objective formal constraints put into place in the book, as well as freestanding language systems like ready-made word “palettes” and appropriated source materials create systems of information, knowledge, and music continually assembling themselves in ways the authors hadn’t anticipated. On the one hand, the formal techniques and collaborative processes in this project enact the very processes of assemblage and emergence that the book is about. On the other, collaboration and assemblage challenge the suppositions of much lyric poetry that posits the poem as an isolated, autonomous, and rarified aesthetic object and the author as a discreet, ahistorical and unmediated identity. As both enactment and opposition, then, the poetry in this book emerges—via mutual aid, inspiration, contradiction, multiplication—as what our co-panelist Bradley Fest calls a “poetics of assemblage.”

The Robot Poet: Toward an Assemblage Theory of Poetry / a Poetics of Assemblage
—Bradley J. Fest, University of Pittsburgh

One of the major impasses that any coherent theoretical or critical approach to poetry has historically faced was accounting for the relationship between part and whole in the poetic text. Whether it was the New Critical emphasis on looking at the whole of the poem-itself, deconstruction’s focus on parts that broke the form of the whole, theories of influence where the whole was the entire canon of Western literature, or the many other critical approaches that have flourished in the wake of theory, entire schools of literary criticism have often been defined by their approach to this problem. Drawing upon the work of Manuel DeLanda and his mobilization and codification of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s theory of assemblage, this paper will attempt to point toward an assemblage theory of poetry. What assemblage theory offers, I will argue, is a mode of looking at poetry that can simultaneously account for the absolute heterogeneity of the various parts that make up a poem, while able to retain a complex view of the assembled whole, a view that understands any assemblage to also be a part of other poetic assemblages. To demonstrate how such a critical approach might be undertaken I will engage with the work of my colleagues on this panel, Sten Carlson and Robin Clarke, and further suggest that their ongoing collaborative project Dear Human Converter Box points toward a poetics of assemblage, a poetry that fundamentally understands itself as an emergent property of the process of imaginative assemblage.