The following is excerpted from New Directions in Digital Poetry, available from Continuum.
Pero Afonso de Sardinha arrived on the shores of Brazil from Portugal in the mid-sixteenth century to be Bishop of Bahia. Natives in the Aimorés tribe (pagans) ritualistically ate him. This historical event, a spontaneous response to colonial oppression, has been a source of identification for Brazilian artists and has been used as a foundation for the cultivation of heterogeneous expressive forms. Use of this transgressive context has expanded, and has significance and application in today's media environment. Anthropophagy (or cannibalism), the name assigned to this unusual and iconoclastic creative philosophy, was initially announced in Oswald de Andrade's "Anthropophagy Manifesto" (1928), which proclaims: "I am only interested in that which is not my own" (65).[i] External texts and idioms become grist for the anthropophagist's mill, a trait reflected in de Andrade's short poems "Biblioteca Nacional" (partially composed of juxtaposed document titles, e.g., "Brazilian Code of Civil Law/How to Win the Lottery/Public Speaking for Everyone/The Pole in Flames) and "Advertisement" (which adopts the language of advertising copy, e.g., "All women-deal with Mr. Fagundes/sole distributor/in the United States of Brazil") (Bishop 11, 13). In another historical example of anthropophagy in poetry, Raul Bopp's Cobra Norato, the brutal hierarchy of the elements in a rain forest is established in a serial poem involving continuous encounters between the elements (e.g., a snake, trees, a river, and birds). Bopp favors process rather than destination and engages, emulates, and reprocesses natural, conversational sounds, stitching the language of the creatures of the forest into the poem (e.g., "Tiúg... Tiúg Tiúg.../Twi. Twi-twi" (16). More importantly, Bopp borrows the story of Cobra Norato from native mythology, and re-inscribes it in "very colloquial and popular language." It is primarily anthropophagic in terms of its "ethos and thinking structures" (Salgado n. pag.).
Numerous poets and artists in Brazil were subsequently motivated by anthropophagy.[ii] Today, useful connections can be made between anthropophagy and digital poetry that divulge significant artistic opportunities in a genre known for its synthesis of fragments. A relationship between concrete poetry and digital poetry is often discussed.[iii] Augusto de Campos explains in a 2005 interview, "Oswald made a distinction between anthropophagy and pure cannibalism-by hunger or by greed-from ritual anthropophagy. Ritual anthropophagy is a branch of anthropophagy in which the cannibal eats his enemy not for greed or for anger but to inherit the qualities of his enemy. The metaphorical, and also in certain aspects philosophical, idea of cultural anthropophagy Oswald promoted was the idea of cannibalizing the high culture from Europe, with the results that one could acquire, or could have from this devouration, and could then construct something really new out of this development" (Interview 2005).[iv] Transformative expression appropriates given data then warps or reconfigures it to new ends. Such a method certainly corresponds, or perhaps responds, to Dadaist techniques of appropriation, and also corresponds to the type of cannibalism seen in examples of digital poetry. An anthropophagic text, in which the author or authors engage with multiple languages or idioms, devours other texts, icons, and is free to remix discrepant methods and philosophical approaches. Discovery and re-discovery of meaning is reached through the cannibalization of texts, which may then establish alternative perspectives on cultural or personal subjects taken up by authors in textual composition, re-composition, and composting. Through anthropophagy, artists are free to reshape external influences. This open acknowledgment of plurality is what makes the concept still relevant today, as an active principle for the creation of "difference."
Digital poetry is primarily anthropophagic because it mints a literary concept via the absorption of forms of expression and production that are foreign to digital technology and the primary concerns of the Web. Digital poems have inherited the qualities of computer media: poets courageously embrace formidable machines, built for the progression of science and business, and these explorations have been fruitful. Assimilation of texts and language unrelated to computer operations and has endowed digital poetry with an autonomy. The anthropophagy of early computer poems generated by algorithmic equation reify modernism's inscription of tentative, nonlinear arrangements of text; use of randomized elements, as in Dada, is sometimes employed. Instead of computing equations and processing data, the computer and WWW are entrusted with creative responsibilities, giving the machines, programs, and servers a role in the negotiation between author, reader, and language. This dynamic invites the author to reconsider what an author is and does, enables poets to recycle composed texts within new contexts, and to alter the visual materiality of texts in inventive ways.
Mechanically consuming a text to project a new text is aesthetically anthropophagic, suggesting a type of shifting, combined realization. External material is consumed, digested, and restated as a new entity. Historically, this process of absorbing what is of interest in foreign matter has been a technique used to combat and transcend colonialism. Beyond that objective, it has pertinent cultural relevance by promoting the value of diversity and discrepancy on multiple registers. Digital works in the anthropophagic continuum reflect a range of orientations, including analog information, to make intriguing, vibrant expression. Anthropophagic possibility, permitting a blend of individual expression and structure along with the incorporation of outside elements, contains obvious opportunity for artists, and many poetic interpretations of the anthropophagic analogy (and other sorts of artistic engagement with the concept), have arisen, such as Bill Seaman's notion of "interauthorship" within his scheme of "recombinant poetics."
Like concrete poets, digital poets on the WWW approach anthropophagy in distinct and profound ways: (1) through transcreation, in which "original" writings are processed and re-languaged; (2) through direct incorporation of external elements (including multiple languages, images, and symbols) in the generation of original expression; and (3), in the mechanical presentation of the work (and inventing new technological/navigational structures, appropriation of coding language). Each of these areas holds the potential to advance the poem into a realm of heterogeneity. While some of these traits are undoubtedly present in analog poetry, digital multimedia works are best able to represent anthropophagic mechanics which, as Charles Bernstein writes, give us "a way to deal with that which is external...by eating that which is outside, ingesting it so that it becomes a part of you, it ceases to be external. By digesting, you absorb" (De Campos n. pag ). An evolving, transitory art, instigated across a century of possibility, emerges with intent, aesthetic polemic, and political depth. In a world of just globalization, artists absorb, through consumption, to become another. To transform, one must be transformed. Incorporating anthropophagic conditions into progressive creative schemes is not compulsory. Doing so, however, opens up new promise for the synthesis of discrepant cultures and expressive histories.
In the abstract and in practice, creative cannibalism in digital poetry considers the alphabet's content as well as and words and phrases made by letters as potential fuel. Communication of any sort relies on perpetual permutation and assurance of the finite components of language. Recycling or scrambling words can be a critique of the appropriated language, as in (but not only in) dada. As DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) writes, "The mix breaks free of the old associations. New contexts from the old. The script gets flipped. The languages evolve and learn to speak in new forms, new thoughts" (25). The cannibalism model is ripe with possibilities for considering digital poetic practice, and works discussed in my case studies take the concept to new aesthetic and technological levels.[v] Text-generating computer programs and other calculated methods have been used to process and automatically permute databases of words into poems for a half-century, and in recent years the potential content and media enabling cannibalistic approaches to creativity has expanded wildly with the growth and capabilities of the WWW.
[i] Other associated essays from the same period are collected in the volume The Anthropophagic Utopia. See http://www.agencetopo.qc.ca/carnages/manifeste.html for an online translation by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro. For more background on anthropophagy see João Cezar de Castro Rocha's essay "Brazil as Exposition" (http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v08/rocha.html).
[ii] A discussion about the manifestations of anthropophagic poems in Brazil would address works by de Campos, Décio Pignatari, and other concrete poets, as well as other historical figures in Brazil (e.g., Flavio de Carvalho) and younger artists who practice with intent today. Here I would like to thank both Lucio Agra and Marcus Salgado for bringing relevant works by historical and contemporary artists to my attention, and for our ongoing dialogs, which have substantively contributed to my discussion of this topic.
[iii] References to concrete poetry are far from uncommon in dialogues regarding the influence of literature on new media productions: concrete poetry has been cited as an influence on computer poems since the first two books on the subject appeared in the 1970s, Richard W. Bailey's anthology Computer Poems (1973) and Carole Spearin McCauley's monograph Computers & Creativity (1974). Bailey writes that in graphical computer poems, "concrete poetry is reflected with a computer mirror" (n. pag.). McCauley acknowledged in Computers and Creativity that computerized graphical poetry "resembles, or perhaps grew from...‘concrete poetry'" (115). More recent books on the subject, such as Loss Pequeño Glazier's Digital Poetics (2002) and Brian Kim Stefans's Fashionable Noise (2003), as well as essays by Friedrich Block and Roberto Simanowski, discuss the relevance of concrete poetry to the development of digital poems.
[iv] In an email exchange regarding the ritualistic elements in concrete poetry, de Campos writes, "We viewed Anthropophagy as an anthropologic metaphor, nurtured in Freud, Nietzsche, Lévy-Burhl and Bachoffen (from whom he took the theory of ancient Matriarchy, that would have preceded Patriarchal society, associated with authoritarian monarchies and private propriety).... The brainstorming in which we three, Decio, Haroldo, were engaged, in a Poundian way ("paideuma," "the age demanded"), trying "to gather from the air a live tradition," reading in several languages as only barbarians do to arrive at the selective choice MALLARMÉ-JOYCE-POUND=CUMMINGS was surely linked to the Oswaldian cultural ANTHROPOPHAGY" (Email 2006).
[v] While it is more pertinent to focus on works featured in my case studies, works of my own have also developed so as to cannibalize a limited set of letters to produce anagrammatic poems around given theme. A description of exactly how the context of cannibalism functions within my own practice, as presented at a 2009 performance in Bergen, Norway: Both visual components co-opted cannibalistic network devices. For projected poems (which were also spoken at the outset), I compile then edit phrases made with the Internet Anagram Server to create lines of customized expression. From the 1,181 results lines I received from three query phrases ("Norway delicately," "Bergen light," and "Bergen lightly"), 41 lines are chosen to create a text file (Bergen light II) that becomes the basis for the animated poem. Through this I am able to offer a slow, strange, personal, calculated speculation (now public statement) with words, their sounds, and interactions. The accompanying soundtrack is original, but has a relevant back story: I recorded the text (words) and remixed it twice, into separate tracks; both tracks, at different speeds, stretched the words to a point where they are beyond grammatical recognition. On a third audio track I dubbed a one-take composition on a "canjo," a one-string guitar that uses for its body a Coca-Cola can, in harmony with the distorted text. For the final mix, I removed the first two audio tracks altogether and add rhythmic effects to the sound. As observed in the efforts made by others, myriad approaches are used in these compositions. The avant-machinimatic companion in the montage is created with Jim Andrews' dbCinema, which uses results from Web image searches to render a poem according to parameters set by the viewer. Working with a series of "brush" tools invented by Andrews, I created five new brushes (Bergen, delicate-poetry, espenaarseth, Bergen_history, and lightly), each given unique and common attributes. These brushes are arranged on a playlist, which also included a brush titled cannibalism previously devised by Andrews and I for E-Poetry. Each brush configures verbal and visual information in a circular pattern. Some of the relations in the brushes are straightforward, others not. Bergen matches the name of the city with results of an image search on the city; Bergen_history matches the word "history" with images of "Bergen history"; cannibalism displays an animation of the word and images culled from a search of the word. To add poetic intent, however, delicate, matches the word "poetry" with the image results for "delicate"; lightly matches "lightly" with images tagged with the word "dreaming"; and espenaaresth matches the word "cybertext" with images of Espen. Two of the poems spoken during the performance were made as a result of my participation in the Flarf collective, a group that commonly uses results of Google search queries to fashion poetry. Beyond particular use of network technology and editing processes, Flarf is often, if not overwhelmingly, also based on discussions, exchanges, and utterances that occur on the group's enormously active online discussion forum. These particular poems directly responded to posts I'd read by others. "Scared" was a response to a Ben Friedlander gripe about the overuse of scare quotes, and "Psychographic" was the last of a series poems referencing Michael Jackson appearing on our forum during the weeks after his death. While the last few lines of the reading came from a Facebook comment box exchange between Tisselli, Adam Saponara, and I, the bulk of the text I read during the performance was drawn from a manuscript titled "You are, Therefore I am" which are excerpts from a serial narrative I published on twitter (see http://twitter.com/ctfunkhouser). Each line of the work originates from a sentence made with Charles O. Hartman's program PyProse (see http://cherry.conncoll.edu/cohar/Programs.htm). For this project, I decided to test (with successful results, it seems) Hartman's idea (stated in Virtual Muse) that his generator "could be treated as a first draft writer." The program is open source-I have made a few adjustments to the code, and every morning I use it (sort of as a brain-gym type kick start) to produce some lines which are then fashioned via close editing-often to conform to the platform's constraint-into twitter posts. In addition to other benefits, using the program brings words I never use but like as well as strange modes of logic to me out of the blue that I-in turn, in a very disciplined way-force myself to respond to and shape into meaningful expression. This work is generated, then filtered through my mind and sensibilities.