Is Poetry Digital? -Kyle Mann

In the current sense of the word, most people would not observe physical printed literature, such as poetry, as “digital.” Computerized media contains a finite amount of data. For example, a text file containing a poem represents the characters in that poem in a finite amount of ASCII binary. Similarly, according to Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media, “Human language is discrete on most scales: We speak in sentences; a sentence is made from words; a word consists of morphemes and so on. (3)” On both mediums, computerized and print both could be thought of as digital because both may be broken down to finite data. While this might not hold true for a painting versus a digital photograph of a painting, it remain consistent for literature or film. More importantly, both types of media rely on pointing. In Every digital device is really an analogical device, Benjamin Peters remarks “Only by indexing our counting to real world objects do we embody our computational abstractions…By pointing or orienting ourselves to different objects, our digits have long manipulated the world around us. (17) ” They both require these external references to objects and feelings in order to be understood. Without referencing the external, both digital and print would be equally as useless. When we examine the similarities both digital and physical printed media seem more similar than opposite.


2 thoughts on “Is Poetry Digital? -Kyle Mann

  1. When we relate this idea of the digital to poetry, I think we begin to see the importance of pointing. You said, “They (referring to digital and print, I believe) both require these external references to objects and feelings in order to be understood.” This is absolutely true for poetry. What is a poem but a series of indices, meant to point us somewhere else through symbols and references? “In the room the women come and go // Talking of Michelangelo” (Eliot) Like an image on a computer screen, these words mean nothing in and of themselves. It’s because we recognize them as a reference that they take on meaning.

    This is why The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock can be construed as digital, even though we read it in print. The pointing nature of poetry is inherently digital. “Digital media thus have meaning insofar as they index the world. They point beyond themselves, and exclude something significant in the process” (9). As I’ve said before, poetry points beyond itself. The paper version is also digital because of the author’s use of line and white space. The actual physical space between words and lines is used by poets to create more complex meanings. So, poetry is a very digital art form.

  2. I happen to agree with Kyle’s supposition that the printed medium is one way of seeing the digitalism of the poem, as hearing the poem spoken aloud bypasses the digital form (digital=discrete units) of the printed media. Perhaps this idea is better understood from the perspective that our brains have to make that extra effort to interpret symbols on a page in order to put the images behind our eyes. Viewing the poem in terms of the digits of words got me to thinking that due to the printing out the words of the poem the work also becomes subject to the “lossy-ness” (Drouin-lecture-9/3) of digital media. When a poem is reduced to its constituent words and sentence structure, the essence of the performance and the feelings that an orator can thrust upon the audience are lost and must be made up for by the readers imagination. While digitization can and does provide unheard-of amounts of access to various forms of media there will always be that cost, loss, and deviation from the authors original intent.

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