The ElectroPoetics Manifesto
The ElectroPoetics performs co-created being-hoods from the electronic world as praxis of care, by situating encounters across electronic entities such as online media, artificial intelligence, consumer electronics and the user. Such being-hoods are driven by Object Oriented Feminism, or the mode of “being poor in the world”, which is a self-abnegating being-hood that identifies with each object contemplated.. Such ever changing being-hood does not arrive at a predetermined position, but leaves traces of their lived experience as digital artworks, which could be presented as video, performance, multimedia installation, AI generated imagery, animation, sound and text.
The term “ElectroPoetics” is coined by Bixiao Zhang, which adapts the precursory poet Emily Dickinson’s “Biopoetics”. Researcher Coleen Glennery Boggs (2019) coined the term to describe Dickinson’s biosemiotic poetics, which stage co-created being-hoods from an environment that extends beyond human subjects. Boggs also argued Dickinson’s biopoetics poems were driven by the mutually circuitous understanding of “worlds are things we make and that make us”, in which the concept of world within/without is disregarded. Resonating with such, the ElectroPoetics adapts such circuitous biopoetics specifically to the electronic world.
The ElectroPoetics performs being-hoods from the electronic world in partial response to Dickinson’s line, “success in circuit lies”¹. which Eliza Richards (2019) analyses Dickinson’s telegraph related poems as seeing the electric media as both sets of literal and figurative circuits that connect other circuits of related networks. This is meant in the sense that it transports cultural discourse through machines supported by electricity, making the telegraph a mixed media environment of cultural, technological, and natural dimensions a world of overlapping worlds. Similar to Dickinson, artist researcher Lev Manovich (2004) argued that the dynamic networks of the internet and AI make the world into an oscillating network of relations, constantly ready to change from one click of a user, and poetically capture new images of the world. Resonant with such possibility, AI and internet are often incorporated for staging co-created being-hoods in the form of generative art and internet art. It is here that ElectroPoetics sees the potential for exploring complex modes of being-ness, conjured and defined by such dynamic networks of relations.
Dickinson’s circuitous understanding of things, or “circulation of mutuality“² are fundamental for the ElectroPoetics. One might consider nodes within these networks as the negative and positive poles of electric circuits, with each entity universally receptive and proactive to each other. Or, as suggested by Boggs’s analysis previously, the circuitous understanding of “worlds are things we make and that make us”. “Circulation of mutuality” also concludes the circle of life and death, the universality of impermanence, which Dickinson states “death is the common right”³ for all beings. This multitudinous “circulation of mutuality” become the equaliser for all beings, and become the drive for ElectroPoetics to inhabit various modes of being-hood that aren’t human-centric.
“Circulation of mutuality” drives the compassionate practice of Dickinsonian Object Oriented Feminism (coined by Michelle Kohler, 2019), which is to sympathise and identify with the object contemplated, amongst an equalising stance for all beings ( it could alternately be expressed as a sympathy that leads to the understanding of mutually circuitous relations amongst things). Object Oriented Feminism is , among other things, the exploration of “being poor in the world” as a form of poetic world attending. This is not dissimilar to Guanyin (Avalokiteshavara, the embodiment of compassion from Mahayana Buddhism) that shares all beings’ sufferings by becoming like each of them⁴.It is a being-hood of self diminution which I call the “noself-hood”. “Being poor in the world” also resonates with precursor poet John Keat’s “negative capability”, which inhabits the negative receptive pole of electric circuits, a mode of “noself-hood” that shifts along with each objects’ subject they sympathetically inhabit, and a mode of openness that embraces change and the complexity of beings, without reaching for singular truth.
It is not surprising that Zen Buddhist aesthetics of “wabi-sabi” (the embracing of emptiness, impermanence, and sufferings, which I take as noself-hood, change, and compassion) also synchronises with the Dickinsonian “being poor in the world”.The precursory “Zen of stone” sect that influenced Soto Zen and the wabi-sabi stone gardens, were said to be found from master Shi Tou Xi Qian’s epiphany from a stanza in the sutra 涅槃無名論 (nirvana is without name)： 會萬物以成己者，其惟聖人乎!(inhabit all things that emerges from selfhood, make thee the sage)⁵. This suggests a seemingly paradoxical noself-hood that is similar if not identical to Dickinsonian “being poor in the world” and Keatsian “negative capability”, while the animist name of “zen of stone” also speaks the same value.
Hence, the Electropoetics adapts Dickinsonian biopoetics, Buddhist compassion, and Keatsian negative capability as fundamental methodologies, and ultimately practices “being poor in the electronic world” as poetic world attending. This is proposed as a means to explore the complexity and variability of being-ness from such dynamic networks of electronic media as a praxis of care, rather than searching for singular truth. As Dickinson’s poems tell us, ‘we might see a sneer whose multivalent status as subject and object, and whose multivalent gestures of exclusion and inclusion, urge us to ask where we have been “all kinds of wrong”’(Kohler, 2019, p97), so the ElectroPoetics urges a sympathetic approach in practice, so that we might arrive at the “right” in the sense of care, rather than metaphysical arguments.
¹ “success in circuit lies” is a stanza from Dickinson’s poem #1263, and also the heading from Literialist Eliza Richards’s essay analysing Dickinson’s circuitous understanding of electronic media. Kohler, Michelle, ed. The New Emily Dickinson Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 49-63
² The phrase appeared in a letter from Dickinson to George h. Gould, February,1850. Emily, Dickinson, “letters from dickinson to george h. gould”, Emily Dickinson Archive, accessed 20 Sep, 2021. http://archive.emilydickinson.org/correspondence/gould/l34.html
³ Poem F419 (1862) J64, Emily Dickinson, “A toad, can die of light”, the prowling Bee by Susan Kornfield, accessed 20 Sep, 2021.
⁴ huntingtonarchive.org, “Great Compassion Dharani Sutra ”, huntingtonarchive.org, accessed 20 Sep, 2021. https://huntingtonarchive.org/resources/downloads/sutras/05bodhisattvaYana/Great%20Compassion%20Dharani%20Sutra.doc.pdf
⁵ The tales of Shi Tou Xi Qian could be found from some buddhist institutions’ archive, Fang Litian, “Commentary on the Theory of Zhan Yuan in the Stone Sect,” Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, accessed 20 Sep, 2021. http://www.chibs.edu.tw/ch_html/bcc/an019_24.htm