As part of our series spotlighting outstanding pieces from back issues of Drunken Boat, Joe Milazzo comments on Jonathan Minton’s poems from our fourth issue.
Reviving the Digilogue
by Joe Milazzo
What was chance? In the increasingly historical early 2000’s, machine-generated text offered an aesthetic thrill that seems to have since lost a bit of its spark. Opening your email (remember that this was once a morning ritual) and discovering semi-digested chunks of Victorian social realism streaked through the mass of pharmaceutical keywords that had made it past your spam filters could genuinely upset your defaults, and with a suggestive rather than invasive jolt. Such were the marvels, in the Surrealist sense, of venturing out into “cyberspace” (a dead metaphor?) with little but a username and an unsecured password: you could, in your daily rounds, blunder upon an orchid growing out of a dungheap.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but with the rise of social media and the return—vengeful, even Freudian— of the subject, the nature of digital discourse has changed. The Internet is more Baroque than it has ever been, a megaphone of unprecedented volume held close to a mob of personae.
But there is a quiet, if insistent, estrangement to be acknowledged in those capitalist cut-ups that have become passé in the era of Google bombing, Wikileaks and trending hashtags. Jonathan Minton’s “Digilogue” (Drunken Boat 4, Spring 2002), however, offers a reminder of the still as-yet unrealized possibilities of a literature that is equally code, and vice versa. The product of an algorithm released into the overlapping textual spaces defined by John Cage, Andre Breton and Charles Tomlinson, these roughly automatic poems come to the reader unbidden, not as inspiration does, yet still much as they did to the author. True, these poems arrive at regular intervals (every 90 seconds), and emerge from an initial set of voluntary or created conditions. Minton has turned the program on, and we have followed first our curiosity—here revealed as a gesture—and then a hyperlink. But the poems that constitute the Digilogue soon become involuntary, obeying their own protocols. Minton compares the results to the weather, a “materialization” of atmospheric conditions, but indifferent to us even as affected by our presence and perceptions. Breathing, or any other relatively hidden biological process that carries on with or without our will, provides another analog. In both instances, the implication remains: these poems are not meant for anything so utilitarian as reading. Rather, these texts are to be appreciated, and at some leisure, for how intent and significance dissolve into their dreamily fidgeting echoes and rhythms. And, like answers to questions never asked, these individual poems do accumulate. Spend enough time in their presence, and you might discover how, as a collection that is constantly reorganizing itself—a set of sub-sets—their formal diversity impresses, and how there is something lovely in their concentration (if such a word even makes sense in this context) on language’s clinamens: conjunctions, pronouns and prepositions, the latter of which Claude Royet-Journoud has identified as the “whole of poetry.” It may carry on independent of our notice and with ostensibly philosophic one-sidedness, yet the more mere attention the Digilogue receives, the livelier it becomes.
Below is an excerpt from Minton’s work:
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