Poetry Beyond Text Vision, Text and Cognition

Recent and Upcoming Activities

Upcoming Activities

Dr Kim Knowles will be giving a paper on 'Word and Image in Early Avant-garde Film' at the University of London on 22nd February 2010.

Dr Andrew Roberts will be presenting a paper entitled 'Literary Criticism and Experimental Psychology: Reflections from the Poetry Beyond Text project' at Strathclyde University on March 9th 2010.

Dr Lisa Otty will be presenting a paper entitled 'On Ambiguity: Modernism, Literature and Cognition' at the 5th annual conference of the British Society for Literature and Science in Newcastle in April 2010.

Recent Events

Dr Martin Fischer presented a paper entitled 'Experimental Studies of Poetry' to the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich on the 15th of December 2009.

Mary Modeen gave a talk entitled 'Vision, Text and Perceptual Interpretation' at the Perception(s) Conference, Institut Superieur des Sciences Humaines, Tunis on December the 6th 2009.

Project Launch Lecture and Workshop

Citational Poetics in Benjamin's Arcades Project

The lecture was given by Professor Marjorie Perloff, Emeritus Professor of English at Stanford University. The event was held on the 11th of May and co-hosted by the Centre for Modern European Literature in the School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent. A podcast of the lecture is available below.

A noted literary critic, Perloff has published widely on twentieth-century poetry and poetics, particularly in relation to modernism, postmodernism and the avant-garde. She has written a staggering 13 books, which include: 'Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of New Media' (University of Chicago Press, 1994), 'Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary' (University of Chicago Press, 1999), 'The Futurist Movement: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture'  (University of Chicago Press, 2003) and 'The Vienna Paradox: A Memoir' (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004) and the highly acclaimed and influential '21st Century Modernism: The "New" Poetics' (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).  

Opening Workshop

Held on the 9th of May, the workshop brought the team members of the 'Poetry Beyond Text' project together with a range of experts in the field of digital poetry, aesthetic and cognitive psychology. The team reported on pilot experiments in which recent works by the Scottish poet Jim Carruth were read and the eye-movements of the readers tracked: the poems and images of the results can be seen in the photo gallery.

The wide-ranging discussion opened out numerous avenues of potential enquiry and stimulated discussion about the principle aims and objectives of the project.  

Edited versions of some of the contributions follow.


Jim Andrews: Intermedial Readability

Readability is a strong concern of mine in the digital work I create. In many senses. There's the typical way the term "readability" is used. Is the type large enough? Is the contrast between the background and foreground sufficient? Are the columns too wide? Is it hard to look at? Is the visual tone congruent with actually reading as opposed to simply gazing? And so on. Questions of this nature are typically associated with the issue of readability. And I try to make my work readable in all these ways--when I intend for the wreader to 'read' it at all. […]

Even when all of the above sorts of issues have been attended to, and the writing itself is interesting, I find it hard to read very much from a monitor without breaking up the experience into at least some experience of a more intermedial nature. On, I try to provide a diverse experience. Much of it is interactive. Some of it is purely visual. Some is purely sonic. And many combinations of these. Still, there's a great deal of text. is my 'book'.

The term 'intermedia' is useful in this regard as it puts the stress on the interrelation of the media, not the multiple nature of the media. [...] I've noted that my work is taught in a few courses concerned with "visual rhetoric". Just as rhetoric is typically thought of as the art of persuasion through primarily verbal means, "visual rhetoric" examines the way we direct the eye through visual work, the way one thing leads to another, the ways we 'read' visual work, the way 'arguments' are made, in a visual sense. What has the primary or initial focus? If there is one. Where does it go from there?

There's also 'interactive rhetoric', then. The simplest forms of interactivity in the work I create is in clicking things or mousing over things. Does the cursor indicate what to do? Are the actions dramatic? Are we simply clicking things or are we creating the universe? What do the actions mean? Does one action lead to another? What is the 'argument' being made? All these things are ways we read, these days. They're all involved in a notion of readability.

Jim Andrews is a digital poet, based in Victoria, Canada. Recent work can be found here.

John Cayley: ‘The Gravity of the Leaf’

The remarks in this presentation are based on a forthcoming essay (which will be published in the collection Beyond the Screen) and was initially conceived as the elaboration of earlier arguments which conceptualize certain programmable media as complex surfaces for inscription. My original intentions was to develop a conception of new media as complex surfaces, based on recent experiences teaching a unique course in literary arts, a writing course at Brown University that employs an immersive 3D audio-visual monitor, a four-wall ‘CAVE,’ for its media. In the event, work in the CAVE required me to confront the relationship between language and media (and indeed language and embodiment, language and materiality) from a new position. It is not difficult for us to concede that particular ‘arts’, especially when characterized as ‘cultural practices,’ are constituted in terms of the media with which they engage. However, I do not think that it is often acknowledged that the relationship of language art to its widely various media is inherently and profoundly problematic. In the arguments I am developing this problematic arises from the fact that language always comes to us from a world that is distinct from the media-constituted diegetic world within which it represented. When we practice language either to give or receive its objects of poesis we must always also enact what I will theorize as a diegetic break. This phenomenon does not always obtain in the arts associated with other media, with architecture providing, arguably, the example of an artistic practice that has a human currency commensurate with that of language and yet instantiates the starkest contrast, relative to language, in terms of how we may live with(in) aesthetic practice. We live in architecture without departing from a world in which we live. We live in artistic language only in so far as we leave the world in which the language is embodied. If this is the case, it has always been the case, and I believe that poetry and poetic practice has been the site of greatest awareness of the phenomena associated with these relations - perhaps, paradoxically, precisely because of its long-standing attention to materiality (= media in the broadest possible sense). However, as poetry moves ‘beyond text’ (according to the rubric of our workshop) we are re-confronted with the problem of giving a home to the other-worldly in the new media-constituted diegetic worlds within which, all-too-suddenly, we find ourselves living. Because language was constrained to the voice and latterly to the ‘surface of the leaf,’ we internalized its being-in-all-possible-worlds as such. When it appears in ‘new media’ are re-sensitized to the experience of its never-having-belonged here.

John Cayley is a digital poet and Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University

David Cunningham

The majority of my comments are, I think, connected together by a concern with the specifically historical conditions of both the particular forms of art and forms of perception and/or artistic experience that the project aims to explore. I’m particularly interested, in this regard, to see how, as the project develops, the use of contemporary applied psychological methods, and recent work on perception within the discipline of psychology, might combine (or conflict) with more explicitly historicized accounts of both artistic and other forms of perception within currently influential traditions of twentieth-century European philosophy/critical theory – for example, Walter Benjamin’s well-known claim (in ‘ The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility’) that the “mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence…determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well”.

At a fairly general, philosophical level, this raises the question of what relation there might be, in this context, between current psychological models of human sense perception and the concerns articulated by aesthetics’ original philosophical meaning, as relating to the sensory experience of perception (Aisthÿsis) – that is, as a cognitive discourse of the whole corporeal sensorium rooted in individual and collective physiology, rather than, specifically, as a discourse of art or artistic experience (as it becomes with, for example, Hegel, who explicitly severs both aesthetics and a philosophy of mind from any study of the physiology of the brain). The US critical theorist, Susan Buck-Morss, for instance, proposes an interesting argument here, which would link this conception of aesthetic experience back to Benjamin’s historicization of the mode of human sense perception also. As she puts it: “The brain is … not an isolatable anatomical body, but part of a system that connects the individual organism to the environment, passing through the person and her or his (culturally specific, historically transient) world. …There is a historically specific organization of the human sensorium that must be studied in situ, [thus] taking the socio-historical environment into account” (Dreamworld and Catastrophe, 99) 

This is an account of the system of sensory perception that could be seen to dovetail with, for example, both recent philosophical work (in the Anglo-American tradition) around what Clark and Chalmers call the “extended mind” thesis, and a variety of ideas in cybernetic theory (e.g. Gregory Bateson on the “ecology of mind ”), as well as some current developments in cognitive science (around, for example, artificial intelligence). If each of these stress, in different ways and to different extents, the structural co-evolution of an organism with its environment, and thus a conception of human consciousness and perception which cannot be restricted or localised to the physical brain alone, what interests me in this is the degree to which it places a new emphasis on what Buck-Morss describes as the intrinsic relation of human sense perception to a “culturally specific, historically transient world”, insofar as this presumably involves a number of repercussions for how we attempt to “evaluate critically the aesthetic consequences of readers’ perceptions of image and text interaction in [historically variable] literary and artistic works”. As W.J.T. Mitchell puts it, in a famous study, while the “dialectic of word and image” may have been a “constant in the fabric of signs that a culture weaves around itself”, what varies is “the precise nature of the weave, the relation of warp and woof”. This must relate, I think, as much to changes within the wider “socio-historical environment” as to the immanent development of “literature” or “art” themselves as cultural forms.

David Cunningham is Principle Lecturer in English at the University of Westminster. 




The following downloads are available
Professor Marjorie Perloff (Stanford University)
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Beyond Text IconPodcast of the Inaugural Lecture by Prof. Marjorie Perloff - Windows Audio (wma), 49.42 Mb
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Alternative MP3 Version of the Podcast of the Inaugural Lecture by Prof. Marjorie Perloff

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