Luna’s Café: The Next Generation

Legacies of Modernism
The State of British Poetry Today | 9-11 June 2011 | Université Paris-Diderot

Friday 10 June, 3.15 pm Panel 5
Joe Luna, University of Sussex: ‘All your poems are belong to us: reading internets in contemporary British poetry’

‘Is that an extra code for something? Cuz my generation doesn’t deal with direct sarcasm’ (Ryan Trecartin)

‘Access denied’ (Milton, Paradise Lost, IV. 137)

Is there a new digital humanism afoot in contemporary British poetry? My paper will explore this fecund contradiction by positing links between traditional Romantic notions of Immortality and Spirit (as evinced by Hazlitt and Shelley among others) with a new breed of poets for whom ‘Immortality’ is found in the multiple lives of computer game characters, and ‘Spirit’ becomes isomorphic with the Ghost in the Shell. In his Lyric Poetry and Society, Adorno states that ‘In industrial society the lyric idea of a self-restoring immediacy becomes – where it does not impotently evoke a romantic past – more and more something that flashes out abruptly, something in which what is possible transcends its own impossibility’; but where, in the truly infinite abstractions of digital society, can we locate this ‘immediacy’, and what are its implications for the poetic recuperation of humanity at the risk of absolute dispersion by the tentacles of late-capitalist alienation? Arguably the dialectics of internet culture and video-game mentality produce a collectivization of human subjects who at once recognize their humanity through the increasingly ‘realistic’ semblances of life such diversions procure, at the same time as they are removed from the ‘reality’ of active subjectivity and their interaction reduced to chat boxes and status updates. How are contemporary poets responding to and working in the motherboards of digital Pop culture? I will argue that works by Justin Katko & Jow Lindsay, Jefferson Toal, Mike Wallace-Hadrill and Jonty Tiplady produce varying forms of ‘.jpeg transcendentalism’ that flesh out in belligerent chrome an ‘intense inane’ (Shelley) that instead of ‘impotently evoking’ a Romantic inheritance, recuperate and détourn the ersatz affirmation in digital culture precisely in order to transcend its own impossibility.