rhizomes.06 spring 2003

Mobilization Network: Personation, Poetry Hoaxes, and the Internet
Damian Judge Rollison

[1] Contemporary theorists of information technology can sometimes sound like Old Testament prophets. In the case of N. Katherine Hayles, the author of How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999), this air of apocalyptic zeal is likely the result of the rubric of the "posthuman," a term that suggests several things Hayles expressly positions her argument against, such as William Gibson's notion in Neuromancer of a bodiless virtuality in cyberspace. [1] Hayles by her own account intends the term to convey "post-liberal-humanist subjectivity." Admittedly this doesn't roll off the tongue or have the polemical force of "posthuman," but the distinction is important: Hayles's vision of the information system as a substitute for an outmoded concept of selfhood does not include the proposition that we are "moving into" a posthuman "phase" -- indeed, she suggests that a shift in perspective reveals the posthuman (I'd prefer to call it the "posthumanist") as a lens that can be applied throughout the history of the human being as a technological innovator. Such a shift in perspective is vividly illustrated by Hayles in her account of John Searle's "Chinese room" analogy as reimagined by information theorist Edwin Hutchins:

Searle challenged the idea that machines can think by imagining a situation in which communication in Chinese can take place without the actors knowing what their actions meant. Suppose, Searle said, he was stuck inside a room, he who knows not a word of Chinese. Texts in Chinese are slid through a slot in the door. He has in the room with him baskets of Chinese characters and a rulebook correlating the symbols written on the texts with other symbols in the basket[s]. Using the rulebook, he assembles strings of characters and pushes them through the door. Although his Chinese interlocutors take these strings to be clever responses to their inquiries, Searle has not the least idea what the texts he has produced mean. Therefore it would be a mistake to say that machines can think, he argues, for like him they produce comprehensible results without comprehending anything themselves. In Hutchins's neat interpretation, Searle's argument is valuable precisely because it makes clear that it is not Searle but the entire room that knows Chinese.... In this distributed cognitive system, the Chinese room knows more than any of its components, including Searle himself. The situation of modern humans is akin to Searle in the Chinese room, for every day we participate in systems whose total cognitive capacity exceeds our individual knowledge.... [2]

Hutchins reveals the extent to which Searle's concept of the thinking machine as paradox depends on his tacit acceptance of a subjectivity which is arbitrarily delimited by the bounds of the physical body. To illustrate the ubiquity of distributed cognitive systems in the modern world, Hayles mentions "such devices as cars with electronic ignition systems, microwaves with computer chips that precisely adjust power levels, fax machines that warble to other fax machines, and electronic watches that communicate with a timing radio wave to set themselves and correct their date." [3] One notes the instrumental function of most of her examples; even the fax machine, the only text transmission medium in Hayles's list, is nothing more than a delivery device for a message that has already been composed. The networking of personal computers on a worldwide scale, on the other hand, represents something more akin to a common sense notion of subjective interiority in which the machine prosthesis represents a constitutive component. This is precisely because it is possible to conceive of a partition, like the closed door of the Chinese room, between the virtual and the real. Hayles argues convincingly against conceiving of the virtual as a space cleared of bodies, reminding us that contact between physical self and machine engenders virtuality; and yet this vision of machine as prosthesis would seem to be excessively dependent on a notion of the human subject as a producer of virtual systems rather than, as our own experiences in cyberspace will bear out, one among innumerable co-producers in the larger context of response. We are not, in other words, as much like Searle in the Chinese room as we are like the Chinese interlocutors outside it, sending messages into a virtual space which has already been constituted as a universe of responses from more or less unknowable sources. The partition between the virtual and the real is not something we conceive of as a divide within our own psyches -- this would be Gibson's model again -- but rather as a distinction between modes of communication and, consequently, as differently constituted social spheres. (This is not to suggest that virtuality, at least in a more limited form, has no history previous to the establishment of the internet as a widely available cyberspace medium. We might instead think of the internet as the first stable infrastructure for the maintenance of the virtual as a space of social interaction.)

[2] It's by now a cliché to say that e-mail, for many of us the primary mode of internet communication and one that might stand as metonymic for the cluster of similar modes that includes chat rooms, message boards, and instant messaging, resides as a style of self-presentation somewhere between telephone conversation and what we now call snail mail. [4] Like the telephone, e-mail favors short, spontaneous exchanges that are characterized by affect; like a physical letter, e-mail potentially gives the composer the leisure of forethought. One of the more important distinctions between e-mail and its precedents, however, is the sense under which we generally operate, especially in an environment like the listserv, that all communication is already coded as virtual. We all know how frighteningly easy it would be for someone with malicious or merely playful intent to masquerade as you or me by means of an easily obtainable anonymous e-mail account. Even when the exchange we are engaged in is authorized by our personal acquaintance with a correspondent, there always exists the ghost of a chance that the persona constituted by a body of e-mail messages -- the self as projected into the machinery, what some internet theorists call an "avatar" -- has no connection with the flesh and blood person. It will always be "someone else," to be sure, but that "someone else" will be operating in a vacuum of associations, a situation of radical instability as regards age, gender, location, personal beliefs, and intentions. That malicious guerilla invasions into the stable field of social interaction do not occur more frequently is testament to the power of our largely unconscious belief in a one-to-one correspondence between the physical body and the represented self. [5] Such invasions do occur, however, and when they do we are reminded that unitary selfhood can just as easily be viewed as a fiction in which we all willingly suspend our disbelief.

[3] That way lies madness, Descartes might have said. But there are intermediate conditions: one of them, lying halfway between unconscious stability and hyperconscious multiplicity, is the conscious duplicity of the confidence game. This game relies on the disarmingly simple pretext that the "mark" must not recognize that a game is being played at all. The con artist simply relegates represented intention to the realm of game playing. The con in one form or another is probably as old as the notion of social advantage, but the growth of modern urban and global culture, with concomitant reliance on disembodied modes of communication, has made the con game into an increasingly ready-made activity, requiring only that the con artist deploy communication systems already in place in ways that violate their ostensible purposes. What the con game reveals about representational selfhood has implications for any reading of virtual culture; the con will also serve, if unexpectedly, as a means for introducing the subject of poetics.

Poetry Hoaxes in the Twentieth Century

[4] George Landow has famously argued in the two editions of his book Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology that the hypertext environment fulfills the conditions outlined variously by Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Deleuze, Lévi-Strauss, Lyotard, and other structural and poststructural theorists -- his survey is broad and comprehensive -- for a textuality that radically undermines the centrality of the author function; and furthermore that "[w]hereas terms like death, vanish, loss, and expressions of depletion and impoverishment color critical theory," the utopic vision of hypertext theorists is characterized by "the vocabulary of freedom, energy, and empowerment." "Most poststructuralists," Landow suggests, "write from within the twilight of a wished-for coming day; most writers of hypertext, even when addressing the same subjects, write from within the dawn." What determines this difference in outlook turns out to be the hypertextual condition itself, which in Landow's account contrasts favorably with "the limitation -- indeed, the exhaustion -- of the culture of print." Trapped in this outmoded paradigm, poststructuralists must content themselves with "limitation and shortcoming, [and with] a moody nostalgia, often before the fact, over the losses their disillusionment has brought and will bring." [6] There can be little doubt that the inauguration of the hypertextual condition represents a watershed in the history of the textual subject, and Landow was among the first to diagnose its significance. His account turns crucially, however, on a binary distinction between print and digital that can occlude the presence of print technology as the persistent base from which imaginings of hypertext and the virtual take flight. That metaphor signifies doubly: hypertext flees the confines of print, but print remains its launching pad and landing zone. [7] In much the same way, the traditional liberal-humanist subject persists as the ground of intention and representation, despite how successful poststructuralism and information theory have been in demonstrating that, as Gertrude Stein said of her hometown, there is no there there. We continue to assume a correspondence between the body and its instrumental functions and between the proper name and its representations.

[5] Once again, it is the confidence game that simultaneously reveals the strength and the frailty of represented identity. For this reason it is surprising to note that no extensive history of the literary con game in the twentieth century has been attempted. If a modernist "poetics of impersonality," as Andrew Ross has argued, "aims to reduce the traditional subjectivist privilege of expressionism to a limited and perfunctory act of passive creativity, in which any record of enunciation is kept to a minimum," [8] while inadvertently revealing the persistence of the subject as the index linking language (the system) with discourse (the moment of its invocation), it is precisely in the transactions of the literary con game that we see most clearly this contradiction and its complex implications.

[6] Brian McHale has identified a useful set of categories that can help us to track the development of the literary hoax as a modern phenomenon. [9] McHale divides literary hoaxes into three types. First we have the "genuine hoax," a hoax whose perpetrator has no intention of its ever being exposed. Significantly, few modern hoaxes belong to this category; we must look backward to such cases as James Macpherson's invention of the Ossian poet in the 18th century to locate a poetic example. The next type is the "trap hoax," wherein the hoaxer's intent is to expose and deflate the pretensions of the target. The Alan Sokal Social Text affair is the most notorious contemporary case, a hoax designed to expose the supposed inscrutability, even to its practitioners, of poststructuralist theory. Literary modernism has had its share of trap hoaxes, too, and their history is a long if little-known one. During the high modernist period, a group of three poets, Witter Bynner being the most prominent among them, invented a group called the Specrists that was designed to compete for recognition among the Imagists, Vorticists, and other high-profile experimental collectives. Their ruse was successful enough to put William Carlos Williams in the unenviable position of expressing a preference for the two male pseudo-poets in the group over the female, whose verse he pronounced too feminine. (This poet was in fact a man.) Though Witter Bynner managed to build something of a career on the notoriety of the Spectrist hoax, the verse the group produced is best described as a series of cheap shots of varying levels of sophistication. Here is "Philosopher to Artist," by Marjorie Allen Seiffert, writing as "Elijah Hay":

You are a raisin, but I am a nut!
What meat there is to you
Can be seen at a glance --
(Seeds, when they exist, are bitter)
My calm, round glossiness,
(For I am sound and free
From wormy restlessness of spirit)
Defies your casual inspection.

It takes sharp teeth
And some determination
To taste my kernel! [10]

Even more notorious than the Spectrists was the Ern Malley affair, the fame of which spread from Australia to the rest of the English-speaking world in 1944. The hoaxers in this case, two young conservative poets named James MacAuley and Harold Stewart, invented the iconoclastic modernist poet Ernest Lalor Malley and his slim collection of poems, titled The Darkening Ecliptic, one Saturday afternoon in October 1943. As David Lehman describes their process,

Imitating the modern poets they most despised, [MacAuley and Stewart] rapidly wrote sixteen poems that constitute Ern Malley's 'tragic lifework.' They lifted lines at random from the books and papers on their desks (Shakespeare, a dictionary of quotations, an American report on the breeding grounds of mosquitoes, and so on). They mixed in false allusions and misquotations, dropped 'confused and inconsistent hints at meaning' in place of a coherent theme, and deliberately produced what they thought was bad verse. They called their creation Malley because mal in French means bad. He was Ernest because they were not. [11]

The immediate target of the hoaxers was Max Harris, a twenty-two year old poet and editor who had been using his journal Angry Penguins to promote modernist poetry in Australia. Harris was taken in completely by the Ern Malley poems, and it couldn't have hurt that MacAuley and Stewart had invented a life story for the poet that was equal parts romantic and credible: "Having dropped out of school, the young man worked as a garage mechanic in Sydney and later as an insurance salesman and part-time watch repairman in Melbourne. In 1943 he returned to Sydney, where he died of 'Grave's Disease'" [12] at twenty-five, the same untimely age as Keats.

Strange to report, the Ern Malley poems can be said to have succeeded despite the best efforts of their authors. Many of the poems reflect Malley's very Keatsian sense of impending mortality, but they do so by means of a stark and elliptical but affecting lyricism that truly suggests an original voice. This is a stanza from Malley's "Sweet William":

One moment of daylight let me have
Like a white arm thrust
Out of a dark and self-denying wave
And in the one moment I
Shall irremediably attest
How (though with sobs, and torn cries bleeding)
My white swan of quietness lies
Sanctified on my black swan's breast. [13]

Max Harris decided to devote the upcoming issue of Angry Penguins to the work of Ern Malley, and though the hoax when revealed caused something of an international sensation in the summer of 1944, Harris continued to maintain that the poems deserved the attention he'd given them. The afterhistory of the Ern Malley affair is notable in that Max Harris and his Angry Penguins associates were not the only ones to insist on the merit of The Darkening Ecliptic. The Australian critic Philip Mead has said that "'Ern Malley' became, and remains, a kind of rallying point for radical modernist, postmodern and avant-garde writing in Australia." [14] And the poets of the New York School, especially John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, were enamored of the Ern Malley poems. Koch in his poetry workshops used to suggest that students follow the example of MacAuley and Stewart; he thought that the invented persona and the notion of writing "fake" poetry could be useful devices for helping the student to escape the limitations of "writing what you know."

[7] In 1996 a hoax came to light the true origins of which have yet to be revealed. A series of poems had begun appearing in such magazines as First Intensity, Conjunctions, Grand Street, and The American Poetry Review, purporting to be the work of Araki Yasusada, a Japanese poet and survivor of the Hiroshima bombing who was supposed to have died of cancer in 1972. The papers discovered after his death included a number of arresting poems, as well as evidence that Yasusada's encounter in the 1960s with the work of theorist Roland Barthes and San Francisco poet Jack Spicer had spurred him to embrace a new vision of disembodied authorship. Barthes's "Death of the Author" is well known; Spicer, whose poetry deserves far more attention than it has received, promoted a kind of transpersonal poetic vision in works such as After Lorca (1957), which both translates and co-opts several poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, and includes an introduction by the deceased poet himself (who incidentally calls the work a "waste of considerable talent on something that is not worth doing" [15]). Surely this association of Yasusada with Barthes and Spicer was an audacious stacking of the cards in the wrong direction, and yet the Yasusada poems had about a twelve-year history of being accepted as authentic until rumors began to circulate in 1996 that the poet was an invention. Kent Johnson, the man whose name has been most associated with the Yasusada poems, ultimately claimed that the poems were the work of a Japanese friend whose pseudonym was Tosa Motokiyu -- a person whose authenticity has not to my knowledge been verified, who supposedly died some time in the early 90s, before he could be interviewed, and who requested in his will that his real name never be revealed. Applying Occam's razor to the problem yields Kent Johnson himself as the most likely candidate for authorship, though the critic Mikhail Epstein, who was inspired by the Yasusada project to invent the concept of the hypernym -- of which more in a moment -- has presented fairly convincing hypotheses suggesting that two different Russian authors may be ultimately responsible for the Yasusada poems, and that the poems are translations by Johnson into English from Russian, rather than Japanese. The theory is not as preposterous as it may sound: Johnson is well-known as an expert in contemporary Russian literature, having edited with Stephen Ashby the celebrated anthology Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry in 1992.

[8] Whatever the "real" origin of Araki Yasusada -- it is possible that the question will never be resolved, though one imagines that if any legal action were ever brought against Kent Johnson new pieces of the puzzle would be uncovered -- the revelation of the hoax resulted in a thunderstorm of controversy. That such a fuss was raised might be a cause for surprise, given that the controversy was largely centered in the community associated with Language poetry, a group that has a well-established reputation for questioning the grounds of representational subjectivity, and among whom Barthes and Jack Spicer count as significant influences. One journal editor responsible for the early publication of some Yasusada poems went on record as being horrified that the perpetrators of the hoax had chosen to win sympathy for their invented poet, not by concocting a tragic Keatsian story of solitude and untimely death, à la Ern Malley, but by making him a hibakusha, a Hiroshima survivor -- a horror that reads as a variation on Adorno's famous dictum, "No poetry after Auschwitz." (And indeed Hosea Hirata has written in connection with Yasusada, "Hiroshima is the impossibility of poetry." [16]) Ron Silliman, on the other hand -- one of the central poets of the first-generation Language group and someone who admits to having been taken in by the Yasusada hoax -- claimed that the project only became more interesting once its true nature was revealed.

[9] Among the champions of Yasusada as a representative of McHale's third category -- the "mock hoax," wherein "issues of authenticity and inauthenticity are elevated to the level of poetic raw materials," [17] and in which group McHale includes Chatterton and Pessoa as well as Yasusada -- the most outspoken besides Kent Johnson himself has been Mikhail Epstein. Epstein's essay "Hyper-Authorship: The Case of Araki Yasusada" [18] contains his speculations about the possible Russian origins of the Yasusada poems, and also puts forth the proposition that the Yasusada case heralds the coming of a new post-authorial era:

Why couldn't we establish an International Society (or Network) of Transpersonal Authorship? We could invite for membership those people who feel themselves overwhelmed by different (and multiple) authorial personalities that wish to be realized through their transpersonal creative endeavors. This writing in the mode of otherness is not just a matter of a pseudonym, but rather of a hypernym. We don't produce our own works under different names but we produce works different from our own under appropriate names.

This is a crucial issue in contemporary theory and writing. Poststructuralism has pronounced a death sentence for the individual author(ship), but does this mean that we are doomed to return to a pre-literary stage of anonymity? One cannot enter twice the same river, and anonymity in its post-authorial, not pre-authorial, implementation will turn into something different from folklore anonymity. What would be, then, a progressive, not retrospective, way out of the crisis of individual authorship? Not anonymity, I believe, but hyper-authorship.

Lest we be singed by the heat of Epstein's rhetoric, we might do well to recall that it would take more than the announcement of a new hyper-authorial dispensation to bring such a state of affairs into being. The legal and social underpinnings of representational identity persist, as I've argued above, and I'd suggest that it is really at the fracture-lines between the concepts of the stable proper name and the hypernym that the interest of literary hoaxes like Yasusada lies.

[10] If, however, we begin to consider what changes when we enter the arena of the virtual subject as constituted by the internet, the question of what Epstein calls "the crisis of individual authorship" takes on a new dimension. As I've already indicated, internet subjectivity presents us with a kind of infinitely deferred masking of the body behind the text. Whereas print culture undergirds the represented subject with an institutional framework of editorial gatekeeping, financial records, and marketing exposure -- an illusory stability, perhaps, but a remarkably persuasive one -- the ease of instantaneous release, the frequent lack of financial motive, and the ready-made anonymity of website publishing create a contrastingly fluid zone of representation. (In this connection it's hard to resist mentioning a perhaps apocryphal sidenote on Araki Yasusada: one of the events that supposedly caused the hoax to unravel was that Harper's requested permission to reprint one of the Yasusada poems from a little magazine that, like many shoestring publications, does not pay its contributors. But Harper's couldn't figure out who they should send a check to.)

[11] As I've discussed in connection with e-mail, the availability of the internet as a medium for anonymous exchange does not always, or even typically, result in suspect self-representations. Indeed, the phenomena of the personal homepage and the online diary or "blog" (weblog) attest to an unprecedented outpouring of sometimes excruciatingly sincere private thoughts and feelings broadcast on a public stage. But there is a sense that the internet inevitably translates even the most seemingly reliable instances of self-expression into virtual simulacra of representation. A number of poets have been led in to explore the aesthetic possibilities of this curious effect. Among the examples I might mention is the e-mail poetry of Alan Sondheim, who has published a great amount of material via various listservs, including the Language-associated Poetics listserv out of SUNY Buffalo, over the past decade. Much of Sondheim's work takes the form of aesthetic ventriloquism in the manner of Pessoa, but significantly one of the most persistent personae, or avatars, Sondheim adopts is that of "Alan Sondheim," a creation whose virtuality is indicated by a licensing of extreme states of paranoia, sexuality, and combativeness which it would clearly be a mistake to attribute to the poet. Also worthy of note is Patrick Herron's Proximate project at www.proximate.org, whose motto, "Getting close is what we're all about," gives something of the flavor of that site's investigation into the website as both lure and deferral of human contact.

[12] The example with which I'll end my discussion is less well known. A few months ago I was solicited for a contribution from a new online poetry journal, The Muse Apprentice Guild, in an e-mail from the journal's editor, August Highland. As someone whose reputation as a poet is best described as nonexistent, I was of course flattered by the request, and obliged by sending a selection of recent work for the journal's second issue. Before doing so I took a look at the journal website, and was impressed to note that the inaugural issue had poetry by Ron Silliman and by well-known digital poets such as Jim Andrews, Mez Breeze, and Alan Sondheim. But, as I soon discovered, The Muse Apprentice Guild or M.A.G. is only one among a vast network of sites that together comprise what Highland calls the Worldwide Literati Mobilization Network, sometimes referred to by the abbreviation LitMob. These sites, with names like Book Burning Department, Ink Bomb Disposal Unit, Anti-Genre Elite Corps, and New Literary Underground, represent the work of various members of the LitMob, who are engaged, Highland says, in disseminating a new form of writing called "hyperfiction." The writing one sees on the various LitMob sites bears little resemblance to the more commonly known genre of hypertext fiction, which works by linking nonlinear text blocks -- what George Landow, following Barthes, calls "lexia" -- into sequences determined by the reader rather than the author. Hyperfiction by contrast would seem at first glance to be resolutely informed by the motivated syntactical instability of some Language poetry, or, one might say, by a perception that experimental poetry following after Language is obliged to be asyntactical and non-referential (a perception, it should be noted, that Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman and others have argued strongly against). This first impression is belied by a closer inspection of the work, which turns out to be not so much writing at all, as traditionally conceived, but rather a systematic manipulation of source texts that works to produce a kind of patina of unexpectedness and originality. One example which resembles poetry more than fiction is the first installment in a collection by Alvin Sachs, described as a kaballah-influenced project that seeks to represent "the 10 sephiroth or transitions through which divinity becomes the world." An excerpt from the section titled Kether begins:

wound hearts why these occasions
colonel exclaim remembers living flesh lie
long together hand enamored milkmaid surly
believe exquisitely pleasures brought well well
entertained eagle roaring lions queue
streets chesapeake cargo
notions sole two grass heads
scarcely ladies taken humbugging chivalry
southern road one generally
such recognize vexation injured pride ten-
abominations house being stated
confined came entertained eagle duties
very smallest intellect long sitting
gentlemen says doomed ultimately rusting
eastward extremely [19]

What's notable about such texts is that they tend to retain trace features of literariness -- in this example, poetic lineation, some rhythmic regularity in the repetition of short pseudo-declarative units, and rhyme-like echoes, especially of adverbs ending in "-ly" -- while remaining largely unreadable in any traditional sense. (I'd want to distinguish here between LitMob-style hyperfiction and the procedure-oriented work of such writers as John Cage and Jackson Mac Low, where a manifestly rigorous aesthetic control has simply been displaced from content to form.) The determining condition for hyperfiction -- Highland tellingly uses "hyper-literary fiction" as an interchangeable term -- would seem to be that it resemble literature consistently enough to serve as content for a literary movement.

[13] The movement itself is the central target of August Highland's creative energies. As he states in the "About the Editor" page of The Muse Apprentice Guild, "August Highland is the originator of hyper-literary fiction and is the founder of the simulated literary movement the worldwide literati mobilization network," "all 60 members" of which "are august highland's multiple personas." "Collectively," Highland says, "the members of the wlmn have produced over 50,000 volumes of hyper-literary fiction ranging in length from 175 pages to over 1,000 pages." [20] Clearly Highland's work goes beyond the bounds of the literary hoax, and yet he has gone to great pains to invest his "simulated movement" with all the paratextual equipment of a real organization: author photos, which variously resemble (and no doubt actually are) actor's headshots, college yearbook photos, and vintage portraits; improbable biographies; indexes and membership rosters; information about new releases, press coverage, and coming events. Anyone who fails as I did to read the editorial statement before delving into the various LitMob sites is liable to be at least momentarily taken in by the sheer immensity of the project -- or simulated immensity, since it turns out that one can't actually view anything like 50,000 volumes -- and by its exuberance and detail. I admit that I haven't quite decided what I think Highland is up to -- he says that "the digital tools we employ in the generation of our hyper-literary fiction are self-extensions and inextricable elements of the creative process of writers who are producing literature in the technoculture of our times -- the question of whether literature is machine- or man-made is now irrelevant -- machine and man are as inseparable as nature and nature or man and god," and that "the mission of the worldwide literati mobilization network is to reflect [the] underlying sociological landscape with reformed language that affects change in the world of letters and especially in the world at large,"[21] without quite indicating what this change will or should entail -- indeed, in his theoretical comments Highland could be said to present a simulacrum of theory much as hyper-literary fiction gives us a simulacrum of literature.

[14] The interest of the project for me lies in its being a completely web-dependent entity. The limited cases of the literary hoax -- the fact that the institutional requirements of print culture almost entirely preclude the use of assumed identities outside the bounds of the hoax -- give way in internet culture to an open invitation to play with the boundaries of the self. Highland's LitMob may not represent the most aesthetically engaging response to the notion of the virtual subject one could conceive of, but like many pioneering efforts it does suggest an expansive field of possibilities.



[1] Gibson describes his protagonist, Case, "jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix" (William Gibson, Neuromancer [New York: Ace Books, 1984], 5).

[2] N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: U Chicago P, 1999), 377.

[3] Hayles, 377-378.

[4] The use of older technologies as metaphors for the new, what Jay David Bolter calls "remediation," underlies much of the way we imagine internet culture.

[5] Relatively innocuous examples of uncertain identity alignment are more frequent than malicious invasions; think, for example, of the unstable authorship of e-mail messages that purport to be passing on important information. Without "<FWD>" in the subject line we cannot always know whether sender is author, and even when forwarding is indicated the origin of the message is often obscure, a commonplace that gives rise to the surprising durability of hoaxes or calls to "action" that outlive their context (the call to save National Public Radio from federal budget cuts being a well-known instance). The atmosphere of floating authorship and the response context facilitate that most ubiquitous of malicious misrepresentations, the e-mail virus. Relative to the present discussion the phenomenon of "virtual viruses" is especially interesting: these are e-mail messages designed to trick the receiver into deleting a vital system file simply by claiming that the file is a virus. The effectiveness of the trick demonstrates that the computer is the apotheosis of Hayles's machines that extend our functionality without a corresponding extension of knowledge or control; the innards of Windows or Mac OS are completely mysterious to most of us though we utilize them every day. The rhetoric of such viruses apes face-to-face social interaction ("I" am your "friend"; "I" want to warn "you") in the uncertain context of the virtual.

[6] George P. Landow, Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997), 103.

[7] In connection with the latter I note Landow's comments on how Hypertext would be a different work if it were itself a hypertext ("How I Am Writing This Book," 96-103), a thought experiment he expects to be received as "simultaneously terrifying and bizarrely celebratory," but one he does not, of course, choose to enact in this case. The lag between composition and publication in the print environment has proved a hindrance to books and print essays about technological innovation, which proceeds at a pace no traditional publishing schedule can hope to match. This fact does not, however, seem seriously to have threatened the prestige of print, even as electronic publication has become increasingly legitimized as an alternate venue. Of potentially greater significance than Landow's imagined hypertextual Hypertext are his incidental comments on the changes in the composition methodology of his own books in the course of his transition from typewriter to computer. His implicit suggestion, which deserves to be developed further, is that books themselves have become quite differently constituted as a result of such mundane features of word processing technology as cut and paste and the subdivision of longer works into multiple documents.

[8] Andrew Ross, The Failure of Modernism: Symptoms of American Poetry (New York: Columbia UP, 1986), 26.

[9] For the moment I'm relying on an overview of McHale's discussion of hoaxes in John Bradley, "Waiting for the Ultimate Snuff Flick: An Interview with Kent Johnson," ReadMe #1 (Fall 1999). «http://home.jps.net/~nada/johnson.htm».

[10] "Poems of Elijah Hay, from A Woman of Thirty by Marjorie Allen Seiffert, and Poems of Elijah Hay," Jacket #17 (June 2002). «http://www.jacketmagazine.com/17/daly-spec.html».

[11] David Lehman, "The Ern Malley Poetry Hoax," The Big Question (Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 1995), 48-49.

[12] Lehman, 49.

[13] Quoted in Lehman, 50.

[14] Philip Mead, "Re: Perloff on Yasusada," message posted to the SUNY Buffalo Poetics listserv, 20 April 1997. «http://listserv.buffalo.edu/archives/poetics.html».

[15] Robin Blaser, ed., The Collected Books of Jack Spicer (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1989), 11. Spicer's manic, exhilarating brand of surrealistic comedy, loose at the hinges and threatened with the imminent dissolution of its own subjective coherence, concerns itself with the experience of sifting shreds of historical "evidence" in order to reconstruct, or invent, the psyches of Rimbaud, Lorca, Dillinger ("We, ghosts, lovers, and casual strangers to the poem./ Me, the ghost says."). The phrase "historical figure" reveals its tropic underpinnings -- the historical self as a figure of speech -- and the poet responds with a near-hysterical impulse toward the figural. It is not, ultimately, surprising that the ostensible subject of "A Fake Novel about the Life of Arthur Rimbaud" (from The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, 1960-61) at one point becomes Rimbaud, the gorilla with seven teeth: the reader wants desperately to find a real animal anterior to the text (for Spicer the desire is both ontological and sexual), and knows that its name has seven letters (though elsewhere we're led to believe, with a play on diphthongless French speech, that there are six: "R-I-M-B-AU-D"). The gorilla with seven teeth evokes the constructedness of the historical remnant: the letters of the proper name are integral to the mythic body.

(16) Hosea Hirata, "Longing for the Real," Boston Review 22.3 (Summer 1997). «http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR22.3/Hirata.html».

[17] Quoted in Bradley.

[18] Mikhail Epstein, "Hyper-Authorship: The Case of Araki Yasusada," Rhizomes #1 (date). «http://www.rhizomes.net/issue1/rhizopods/misha.html».

[19] See "Kether #0001" at Web Published Nation,

[20] «http://www.muse-apprentice-guild.com/august2002/the_editor.html».

[21] E-mail correspondence with the author, 10 November 2002.