Tim Steer


Tim Steer

Work from his oeuvre.

“How do we account for the affect of materiality in a particular work? One way to think about it is as a process. This is not an original point. In “The Time of Digital Poetry: From Object to Event”, Katherine Hayles develops a more sophisticated description of materiality than Writing Machines. Analyzing the distributed structure of the material in digital poetry, she concludes that rather than a discreet object, the poem can be seen as an event, “brought into existence when the program runs on the appropriate software loaded onto the right hardware” (182). If a digital work only exits through multiple layers of material, it cannot be “performed” if any level is interrupted (185). Therefore, the digital work is an “event” or “performance” because it requires the operation of multiple points of materiality. Under this scheme, materiality becomes a “dance between the medium’s physical characteristics and the work’s signifying strategies”; it is “contingent, provisional, and debatable” and therefore considered more of an “event” than a pre-existing discreet object (206). Paradoxically however, the risk of treating the digital poem and its material as an autonomous “event” is a perception of immateriality. Johanna Drucker, cited by Brian Lennon, suggests a similar approach. She identifies the conflict between immanence and nontranscendence in applications of materiality (72). The concept cannot be based in an immaterial Derridian deconstruction, after Derrida however, nor can it return to a self-evident presence (71). This conflict “disappears” if materiality is understood as a “process”, where the material of an artefact only exists in the activity of interpretation (72). As a “process”, the material can never be located before the text, however, the text cannot exist without the material. Heidegger discusses a similar dilemma: “the artist is the origin of the work. The work is the origin of the artists. Neither is without the other” (Heidegger, 143). The text therefore can only exist between the two.” – Tim Steer (dissertation extract)

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