Even though I’ve not written about it in awhile, I’ve been thinking a great deal about techno-dread, especially in relation to affect and the emotion that poem try to create in an age of immediacy where representations of unbridled, if uncultivated, emotion seems to surround us.
I’m thinking of the kind of raw, almost kitschy or compulsory emotion of social media, where the representation of emotion, although raw, is put on display in a certain kind of way, an expected way that counters the unfamiliarity of the medium in which it is delivered. Tumblr projects, like Kate Durbin’s Women as Objects, are examples of this odd mixture of form and kitschy sentimentality, which creates performance art out of the raw emotions and images of a specific kind of teenage girl culture emerging through the Tumblr space. To read and see stereotypical teenage emotions re-represented and removed from their previous semi-private space jars us with its mixture of the expected stereotyped teenage emotions undergirding thousands of quasi-unique instantiations of the emotion mediated by an emergent form (we know of them through films, music, and pop culture, but we used to lack a direct connection to these emotions). The form allows the thousand singular examples of prepackaged teenage emotion to jar us by the sheer vastness and scope of their emergence in immediate media, as if looking as a wave as a vast concern of molecules continually exceeding their objects in a tidal regularity.
To see this kind of raw emotion invade poetry is an equally jarring effect of techo-dread and the kind of technological occurrence captured by Durbin’s project. A poem may seek to affect the reader with a range of emotions, but the expectation is that these emotions will be stylized (or else categorized as perjorative low, light, or comic verse). In a poem that gets after a particular emotion, the emotion must be stylized, must be brought up to a level higher than its baseness, must push against the disgusting rawness that may have produced it.
Traditionally speaking, this rawness has not place in a poem, which is supposed to be human but not embarrassingly so, which means the (immediate) emotions we find disturbing or unpalatable get edited out or transfigured into higher, headier versions of their raw brethren.
One product of technology’s immediacy is to create a tension between a particular poet or poem’s need to fit this realm of seemingly heightened emotional awareness (a feeling of admitting that while we feel these base emotions, it is also the duty of poetry to redeem them by morally exceeding them) while contending with a new immediacy of forms permitted by technology. While I believe that refined immediacy in an art is possible and is called improvisation, that word still holds such pejorative connotations in poetry, equating to sloppiness, that it almost can’t be mentioned.
But then there is the bulk. The bulk by its vastness creates tension with the traditional need to redeem emotion through poetry’s possibility to affect the reader with elevated sentiment. The bulk is so huge as to be irremediable, which displays contemporary critic’s techno-dread by revealing that all of the poetic happenings of the moment cannot be mastered, creating a sublime void of idiosyncratic styles that must be fumbled through, ignored, or admired for the sublimity of their bulk alone. The bulk’s sublime bulkiness changes the project of engaging with poetic happenings from trying to master a meta-narrative of poetic progress to finding the idiosyncrasies of what’s happening now.
It’s no longer about the field of poetry, it’s about particles in relation to the bulk of that field, and the ties that we can argue bind each particle to it.