I have been thinking a bit about the question of “poetics” and what it means: Does it refer to poetry specifically? Does it refer theories of literature? Or can it be loosened to denote theory, in general? These distinctions have been in play for some time time, as definitions of poetry, literature and theory have been contentious throughout the 20th Century. But in the 21st Century, specifically as it relates to “netpoetics” and the art and criticism that this forum is dedicated to, the question, “What is poetics?” appears more difficult to answer than ever.
I have come down on the issue in various ways, occasionally advocating a definition of “poetics” that is restrictive, and, at other times, arguing for a “poetics” that is broad to the point of meaninglessness. I guess, the question I have is, what do we mean when we talk about “poetics”? The goal of this prompt is not to stir up ideological conflict, rather, it is to initiate some discussion about the many things we mean when we approach this topic.
To offer an illustration, I would like to hold up the example of the MAICgregator <http://maicgregator.org/>:
MAICgregator is a Firefox extension that aggregates information about colleges and universities embedded in the military-academic-industrial complex (MAIC). It searches government funding databases, private news sources, private press releases, and public information about trustees to try and produce a radical cartography of the modern university via the replacement or overlay of this information on academic websites. This is a necessary activity in light of the contemporary financial “crisis”.
On its surface, we might easily situate such work in the category of advocacy and activism. In terms of what you see, it delivers fairly straighforward informational content, culled from various official sources. On one level, the MAICgregator functions seeks to be something other than poetic, literary or even theoretical. It is highly practical.
Beneath its surface, the MAICgregator does contain the sort of technical “virtuosity” that Rita Raley highlights in her book Tactical Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). While I am not qualified to comment on the ease or difficulty of creating and maintaining such a project, I am impressed, and am thus inclined to accept that it qualifies as a masterful performance, regardless of its aesthetic dimension.
But there is another angle to consider, and that is how successfully the MAICgregator intervenes against an aestheticised backdrop. What makes this particular piece so interesting is not the aesthetics of the project itself, but the way that it interacts with the poetics of the various university websites that it modifies. The MAICgregator is interesting because it disrupts the seamless and (often deceptively) innocuousness of public relations, to add a splash of reality against which the idyllic depictions of the space of the university can be contrasted.
To come back to the question, then, I would ask, in a culture where everything is “designed,” does the critique of this landscape also amount to a poetic practice?