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Descriptions of an Imaginary Universe:
Table of Contents
Note on the arrangement of texts 17
Posthuman Nation / Knowledge and Noise 18
NOTES ON S&M 45
EXORDIUM TO IMAGINARY UNIVERSES 126
Pos(t)ing An Imaginary For The Real | DIU
Descriptions of an Imaginary Universe (or University/Univercity, DIU) was a periodical I assembled during the mid-1990s as a graduate student in the English Department at University of Albany-SUNY. DIU was compiled on a MacIntosh computer, uploaded to the Internet using a software program called Mac Kermit through a 2400 bps modem, and circulated internationally via email by SUNY’s VAX system. Beyond the e-mailing list, DIU was archived in various places on the Internet (Usenet) and accessible via gopher protocol. Later issues were assembled on a UNIX machine because of its capable line editors and, beginning with Vol. 29 & 30 (Summer 1995), DIU was distributed to subscribers via listserver.1 All issues of DIU were immediately archived on the World Wide Web (WWW) at the Electronic Poetry Center, where each volume remains available via http://epc.buffalo.edu/ezines/DIU. In all, forty-five transmissions were dispatched in twenty-eight months. The final two issues, nearly identical in copy as the penultimate (for reasons explained below), happened in November 1996. DIU’s listing in The 1995 Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists, published by the Association of Research Libraries, reads:
Title: Descriptions of an Imaginary Univercity (DIU)
Description: Compiled because of The Logic of Snowflakes, this
poetry/poetics 'zine began as a weekly on 4 July 1994. Maintained
sporadically out of Albany, NY, DIU features writing from around the world,
circulated pseudonymously or in an initialized manner (i.e. writing is not attached to
'real' names). Past issues have featured work by Marianne Moore and Kimberley
Filbee, and regular features include a Reading List for the Last Days of the White
Race, bi-coastal radio playlists, and words to the wise by someone who calls
themselves 'Thus, Albert or Hubert.'
DIU was produced during a transitional phase of Internet/online publishing. The infrastructure for what we now know as the WWW was in place but had not yet come into vogue as the broadly used, convenient, and versatile publishing device that it is today. DIU was circulated via email, the easiest and most immediate method of preparing and distributing text-based publications on the network; as the number of subscribers increased, a listserv(er) was implemented in order to facilitate swift circulation of the magazine. As DIU concluded its run the WWW was beginning its wild popularity and online publications developed that contained visual images and multimedia work. DIU—though it benefits from the WWW’s archival abilities (as it had on the Usenet)—never made it to this state, because it had an effective design in place, and because the publication ceased to exist by late 1996.
In late 1994 I created a briefly annotated list of “Poetry on the Net” for Mark Nowak’s North American Ideophonics Annual, is a bibliography of poetry resources on the Internet at the time (see Appendix I). Considering the tens of thousands of poetry related sites on the Internet in 2002, serving every purpose imaginable (publishing poems, magazines, criticism, poetics, and so on), it is astonishing to realize that less than a decade ago merely a few dozen were available. When DIU began, less than ten sites existed for the purpose of discussing and offering criticism of contemporary poetry. Foremost among them were the Electronic Poetry Center, the Poetics listserv, RIF/T (all based at SUNY-Buffalo), CORE, Grist, and Taproot (also published in print). RIF/T, CORE, Grist, and Taproot primarily functioned as online sites that emulated the mechanics of print journals, such as operating around a table of contents and not utilizing hypertext to non-linearize the reader’s experience. These were strong, if conventional, “publications” that along with the Electronic Poetry Center also served as archival sites. The Poetics listserv, also an archive of sorts, was (and is, ideally) a multi-author generative community, though it always functioned more as a type of bulletin board where people post their views and enter a discussion with others, rather than as a formalized publication.2 Additional literary communities and discussion groups were available through America Online and various Usenet newsgroups (such as rec.arts.poems) but these, too, were sites of completely conventional interaction. MOOs, the Internet’s “text-based virtual reality” system were not much explored for their literary capacities, either.3
At this juncture in the mid-1990s, the Internet had not yet proven itself or been discovered as a worthwhile forum for the dissemination of poetry and poetics. In fact, many communities and individuals still resist the idea (and practice) of using computers and networks to create and distribute poetry. Why was it considered a challenge to the printed page? Only a few editors, publishers, and writers had taken it upon themselves to learn how to operate the systems to the extent it took to present online documents. DIU set out to show that the Internet was ripe to stage an alternative poetics, that more could be done to serve the purposes and art of poetry with the technological systems at our fingertips.
DIU manifested out of a dissatisfaction of online poetics, that a medium of such high-speed and raw space was being underutilized. DIU, made in the imperfect, hybridized, “do-it-yourself” tradition of “’zine” culture, was part discussion group, part classroom, part literary arts journal. In a unique way it exploited most of the Internet’s functionality, including MOO, whereas most other poetry resources on the network were narrower in scope, approach to subject, and projection of the form. Ben Friedlander, discussing DIU in his title Simulcast: Four Experiments in Criticism (University of Alabama Press, 2002) writes: “DIU’s most useful contribution to Internet culture may have been its initiation of an uncertain, even hostile readership of poets into the pleasures and possibilities of the “virtual,” something the journal accomplished by exaggerating the Internet’s most often noted qualities (anonymity; self-creation of identity and community; erasure of geographic distance; occlusion of gender; ethnic and age differences) within a quasi-fictional frame that at once highlighted and rendered safe the alienating strangeness of the medium itself.” (40)
I had first experimented with electronic literary publishing using e-mail and Usenet to circulate We Magazine Issue 17 in 1993. In 1993-94 I was also an intern and Managing Editor of EJournal, one of the first online academic journals in the Humanities.4 Through We 17, which appeared in a daily serialized format in the spring of 1993 (one poem issued per day), I learned that poets could grow to appreciate and would participate in the instantaneous response communication system that the Internet upholds. For instance, in Volume 3 of We 17 Robert Kelly’s contribution is, “answering the quick thought of Lee Ann Brown, hello.” Brown’s poem “Discontinuous Autoharp” had appeared in We 17, Volume 2 the day before.5 This method of textual exchange—that could easily and directly include elements of the larger network it was a part of—was fresh and exciting. At first the constant conveyances were criticized by some, though the complaints ceased about halfway through the eighteen volume series. Editing We 17 and EJournal I learned how to manage networks and online text editors. With this foundation, I was prepared to publish formatted documents to the Internet. A collaborative, expansive, hybrid-minded transmission that addressed the chaotic makeup of poetry and the world could be freely manufactured.
My original intention was to produce an online music magazine generated by writers, musicians, and other artists. In the spring of 1994 I drafted a call-for-work and a solicitation letter that proposed a new journal, which I showed to Don Byrd (my academic advisor and anxious accomplice in new media publishing schemes). He frowned on the idea because it was too narrow in its scope. Putting the concept in the context of the growing range of the Internet, Byrd believed new magazines should be inventive and did not see any purpose in limiting the scope of an arts publication to just one form or angle. I also recognized several advantages a wilder, freewheeling project could have, and proceeded without a specified or finite plan. The call-for-work consisted of the following statement, which appeared in DIU 1 and morphed with each issue: “Please forward initialized or pseudonymed passages of lucid hallucinatory visions cultural recipes reading lists memos or to email@example.com” (see Appendix IV). Few models existed for online literary/arts/poetics discussions and there were no particular influences to adhere to, which helped to keep unfettered the production of DIU.
With We Press and in other publishing endeavors, I had put together magazines and publications without direct author acknowledgement. I have been interested in the practice of anonymous writing for many years; DIU would give me a chance to further explore this curiosity. Writing, when not attached to the identity of its author or the ego-connection (or other connection) between reader and author, may be read with a type of objectivity that the revelation of identity does not permit. Anonymity allows for expression and opinion that might otherwise be self-censored. I am usually (and quickly) reminded, of course, that anonymity creates another set of biases, especially if what is being said is provocative. DIU could be fearlessly unconventional because there were no electronic publishing standards; we had the liberty to operate without orthodoxy. At the magazine’s outset, my coursework at SUNY had just been completed, I moved into a new house and began collecting miscellaneous writings from friends near and afar who knew something was cooking. Several editions came together quickly and smoothly. The spirit and practice of improvisation, where forces spontaneously conjoining create unique expression (even if clangorously), became activated in DIU. Word of the new, somewhat unusual, and irreverent publication was spread on the Poetics listserv and other channels. The first issues quickly led to others built on discourse underway. Since no predisposed plan was under effect, the content was spontaneously invented, advanced, and then reinvented within the magazine itself. This is exhibited in exchanges between Patriarchal Poetry, Black Hole Sun, Marianne Moore and others in the early volumes and numerous other points throughout the DIU narrative. Editorial intervention was practically non-existent: I did the technical work, compiling and reformatting materials that accumulated, occasionally inserting miscellaneous information discovered while conducting research on the Internet.
An archived email message from a subscribe now reminds me:
On Fri, 25 Nov 1994, Robert Salasin wrote (to the Realpoetik newsgroup):
> I highly recommend "d.I.U."--.Descriptions of the Imaginary
> University, sometimes known as Di U or Die You, unclear whether
> it is named after the British Princess or is grammatically
> imperative or what...
> You can get you weekly copy by emailing Chris Funkhauser
A quirky imprecision was presented in the nomenclature and pronunciation of the magazine was extended further by slippage in its title, and by the other peculiarities in DIU’s production. Unpremeditatedly, DIU—with a group of sympathetic contributors extending “course” announcements and descriptions as well as other regularly features—became an ongoing jam session focusing on and creatively supplementing literary discourse and the subculture it both involves and excludes. DIU presented a different angle on the aesthetics of contemporary poetics, and some people were clearly offended by it (see Appendix II). DIU was an effort to use network technology to generate and circulate enlivened, imaginative discussion on the subjects at hand, which grew as suggestions arose. In DIU 22b (1 March 1995), Doctor P. Semiconductor wrote, “The internet as a medium dominated by ASCII is interesting almost exclusively for its speed and savings of trees--an evolutionary throw-back.” DIU was a high-speed electronic newsletter that hinted that possibilities did exist for developing alternative, trans-continental, shared ideas and aesthetic paths.
For everyone involved, DIU was extracurricular activity, something beyond what they were supposed to be doing. Though the contents of DIU came from many sources, it is a fact that graduate students diverting attention away from official studies generated a large portion of work. In an early promotional letter addressed to Steve Evans on the Poetics List I proposed, “We all have our peeves regarding university curriculae, here is a place for I or I to begin again….” On certain registers the endeavor is every bit as intellectualized as academic studies, while offering more creative independence and chaos than academia generally allows. For some of us, DIU became part of the formal scholarship, and not merely in a flippant or provisional sense. The contributors are dedicated artists and instigators, and what emerges in a shaping of the dialog is a spontaneous discourse worthy of consideration in any classroom of late twentieth century literature. The breadth of DIU’s cumulative agenda, its unique (in certain respects random) editorial stance and approach to publication and discussion of poetics is an example lesson on what can be done with “common” literary, artistic, or philosophical knowledge in such a forum. It is a prime example of early online cybernetic discourse.
Several moments and instances in the course of publishing DIU illustrate unforeseen occurences that arose from the electronic profile of the publication. The process of creating one of the first online poetics journals was full of sudden circumstance and a range of difficulties. As an experimental occasion to all, we expected and welcomed the techno-social twists, turns, glitches, misunderstandings, and appreciated how they help to define and shape DIU and reflect of the instability of its medium. DIU began and grew in the era before the World Wide Web became the primary venue for electronic publishing. As a publication spread from e-mail account to e-mail account, and then to e-mailing lists and online bulletin boards from there, compromises in formatting were inevitable. I noticed this had happened on Joe Amato’s e-mail group, Nous Refuse. When I contacted him about it, he was apologetic, writing back, “I remain amazed at how these systems can jerk one around… but in any case, sorry it came out to you altered…. Gives me some idea that wysiNwyg…” (i.e. “what you see is Not what you get). (archived email) Another e-mail subscriber, Walter Taylor at University of Colorado, claimed to receive Vol. 3, “about 35 times. Some software glitch?” (archived email)
In November 1994, a subscriber named Alexis Bhagat, though meaning no offense by it, usurped DIU’s mailing list in order to promote his own “POETRY STRIKE,” sending to all persons on the DIU mailing list a dogmatic manifesto urging them to forsake writing poetry. At least two readers, Thus, Albert or Hubert and MC, responded directly to the tactic used to promote this type of “Strike” (and to a lesser degree the proposal of the strike itself) in the pages of DIU (see DIU xx online). Another byproduct of this particular event arose when a subscriber—someone I did not know but received DIU mail—became annoyed that so many large pieces of unsolicited mail were arriving in their e-mailbox. This person complained to the SUNY-Albany systems manager, who without questioning me shut down all of my online access due to the report that I had “sent a mailbomb” and was “spamming” the Internet. The misunderstanding was quickly resolved, with my accounts restated, but the incident revealed how reliant one is on hierarchies of online administrators and systems beyond one’s control. Publications and exchanges on the Internet do and will continue to exist in a tenuous space. Anyone’s access and “control” has limitations.
Another noteworthy exchange developed out of DIU 33 1/3 (January 1996), in which an installment of Edgar Allen Poe’s “THE LITERATI OF SAN FRANCISCO: Some Honest Opinions at Random Respecting Their Authorial Merits, with Occasional Words of Personality” profiled the writer Dodie Bellamy. A few days after it was published Bellamy’s partner, Kevin Killian, called me on the telephone to say that the piece had upset them greatly and insisted that we have it removed from the Internet or he would “destroy” me. The issue had already been posted at the Electronic Poetry Center, which I have no control over, so I contacted EPC Webmaster Loss Pequeño Glazier about the matter. He initially resisted the idea of purging it but eventually agreed to remove it from the record; to this day it is one of the very few items that has ever been removed from that archive.
As DIU progressed, issues were often loosely constructed around two regularly appearing features: Radio Playlists and a section called “Readlist, The Last Days of the White Race.” Thirty-five issues of DIU included playlists of artists’ work broadcast on real or conceptual radio programs. In all, transcripts from three California, two upstate New York and two imaginary radio stations appear. When DIU began, Stephen Cope and I were radio programmers (at KZSC in Santa Cruz and WRPI in Troy, New York). It was intrinsic that we would include when possible the surface documents of our radio transmissions in DIU from the very beginning. At the time I was a subscriber to SATURN, the Sun Ra listserv, where I encountered DJ Cat’s work with Glen Solomon at KZSU (Stanford University). Charlotte Pressler was part of the Buffalo Poetics community and sent lists from WRUB (and other posts) once she became aware of DIU. Nate Mackey’s work at KUSP in Santa Cruz has been a major inspiration and influence for Stephen and I. Mackey’s concept of a “discrepant engagement”—where subjects not ordinarily associated with one another are connected—also strongly informed DIU, so Cope noted the works transmitted during one of Mackey’s weekly broadcasts of “Tanganyika Strut.” For the present compendium I asked Cope, now a programmer at the online station World Music Radio (http://worldmusicradio.org), to “curate” an assortment of DIU playlists; his unadulterated selections are included in this book. These lists show amazing range and diversity of expressive forms: poetry, spiritual blends of word / chanting and sound, global jazz and contemporary fringe music of all sorts. The following excerpt of one of the Playlists clearly illustrates the multi-continental profile of these indexes:
Aresenio Rodriguez/ Quien Soy/ Los 24 Exitos Origionales de Arsenio Rodriguez
Djosinha/ Xandinha/ Simpatia
Teta Lando/ Sonho de um Campones/ Esperancas Idosas
Gererd H. Guamaguay/ Leve Souk/ Hurricane Zouk
Stella Chiweshe/ Chipindura/ Ambuya
Dumisani Moraire/ Chaminuka/ African Odyssey
The radio programming here significantly veers from the mainstream radio content in ways comparable to the way DIU’s poetics stance sought to invite a more broadened perspective to discussions at hand. We insisted on introducing new characters and formal considerations to our idioms. The sets of music, both as broadcast and their representation in DIU, are clearly meant as contemplative, yet intentional assertions to draw together an uncommon web of voices and approaches to cultural expression. We present another area of our research as broadcast artists, using radio (in addition to the Internet and other platforms) as a medium to educate and move an audience. Individuals working together, even if at great distances apart, were able to build a profound curriculum. Besides the performers listed in each program represented, artists whose work was played on radio transcripts in DIU who are not recognized elsewhere in this volume are included in Appendix V (A.) of this book.
Ben Friedlander and I initiated the “Readlist, The Last Days of the White Race” section a month or so after DIU started. We were co-writing a review of From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 (see “NOTES ON S&M”) when we realized that we needed to do more than critique exclusivity in our article. We wanted to invent another mechanism that could actively, effectively insert other references and voices into the dialog; this became our way of doing so. Instead of writing some sort of standard dogmatic academic response, we wished to impart a space where authors’ words spoke for themselves. Here is an excerpt from one of the Readlists:
Readlist, Last Days of the White Race
Radio Free North America, 25 September '94
Beverly Dahlen / "Five" / *A Reading 1-7*
Margaret Danner / "The Convert" / *Impressions of African Art
Judith Johnson / "Miranda's Birthspell" / *The Ice Lizard*
Rosario Murillo / "La Vida No Tiene Calma" ("Life Without Peace") /
*Angel In The Deluge*
Pam Rehm / "Matters Of Relation" / *The Garment In Which No One
Nazik al-Mala'ika, "New Year" / *Modern Poetry of the Arab World"*
it was hell and I walked down the steps
But I find myself still framing word sketches
of how much these blazing forms ascending the
in their muted sheens, matter to me. –MD
Friedlander, who recalled the title-phrase from an XX novel, and I created (collaboratively and separately) most installments of the Readlists; Charlotte Pressler created at least one edition, and at least one was taken from a Usenet newsgroup. Printed collections (anthologies, journals, books) and artists sampled in “Readlist, The Last Days of the White Race” that are not included in this volume are also listed in Appendix V (B.).
Recollecting these aspects of DIU, it must be acknowledged that the magazine would not and could not have come in to existence without the camaraderie I have had the fortune to share with colleagues and teachers over the years. Don Byrd, Ben Friedlander, Belle Gironda, and Stephen Cope directly and particularly provided momentum for the initiation and continuation of DIU. Connections within my local community (Pierre Joris, Sandy Baldwin, Beth Russell, Chris Stroffolino, Ando Arike) along with various elements (institutional, social) of my past and present strongly informed and permitted the project. For instance, “The Logic of Snowflakes,” which appears in the production credits of nearly every DIU, is the title of an H.D. Moe book. Moe was a collaborator and inspiration of mine in California. I liked the phrase, and felt it applied to the impromptu and random sensibility of the publication. The contributions by these friends and partners in support of this “imaginary” project are deep. Certainly DIU grew through their company, as I did by conspiring with them. Complete strangers who share similar intentions or creative presuppositions could produce unregulated publications, but that is not the case here. We could be a renegade faction because we had each other’s unflinching support.
Don Byrd, whose influence and reputation lured me to Albany in 1992 (and with whom I have collaborated in other areas), wrote “Posthuman Nation / Knowledge and Noise” in 1995 (see p. XX). DIU had grown strongly, gaining readership and notoriety. Byrd, a steady contributor as “Thus, Albert or Hubert,” was encouraged by the proliferation of the project. His editorial—a clear outline of some of DIU’s foundations—was written in response to the seemingly constant criticisms being levied (publicly and privately) against the legitimacy of our form (/forum) of review. Byrd’s insight and energy unquestionably propelled this “universe;” we were all deeply pleased by his involvement and attention. “Posthuman Nation / Knowledge and Noise” celebrates the punkish principles behind DIU, virtually announcing that we would say as much as we want however we want to, and that the concerns expressed and questions raised were and are worthy of attention. Even if our virtual and anonymous means of delivery could be questioned, technology was there to be used advantageously in the pursuit of building a transformational, multi-faceted dialog, and resonant thinking that should be considered accordingly.
In 1993, after noticing that we shared similar concerns, Nate Mackey suggested that I get in touch with Ben Friedlander. Soon thereafter, Friedlander and I met—via Lee Ann Brown—at the Poetics of the New Coast conference in Buffalo. At the conference his smart commentary, especially the assertion that everyone needed to “drop” his or her xenophobia, impressed me. Sharing various interests, we have met well in subsequent collaborations. Friedlander, also a champion of “anonymous” writing, was a critical factor in the trajectory of DIU, has been closely involved with most aspects of the production of both DIU and this collection. He wrote under more than a dozen pseudonyms for the publication, and used the magazine as the initial venue for the literary criticism he created under the moniker of Edgar Allen Poe. The Introduction to his collection Simulcast: Four Experiments in Criticism explains the gist of DIU. Friedlander describes DIU as, “an anarchic compendium of improvised poetry, in-jokes and dada manifestos. Much of the writing was silly or sloppy, and much was of little interest to outsiders…. But an undeniable vitality ran through all of it. …DIU fixed its sights on the imaginary. Poems, letters, syllabi, notes, reviews and essays were intermixed in no particular order, with no distinction drawn between fact and fantasy.” (34) While appropriately recognizing DIU’s identity as a makeshift and transitory venture, Friedlander also identifies and acknowledges the publication’s poignancy:
Maddening in its erasure of context, the work in DIU often came across as ephemera floated back in time from an unrealized future, an alternative culture’s debris rather than its finest achievements. This was, in fact, precisely the point, but the point was frequently disguised by the magazine’s reliance on anonymity, a big obstacle for readers who were used to ordinary poetry journals, where the matching of style or stance to author (and the subsequent placing of author on literary map) often takes the place of reading…. But there were reasons for this cavalier disregard for the niceties of attribution. We were trying to confuse the difference between documentary and science fiction, and this required both a defamiliarizing of the given and a naming of the possible. Thus, what appeared, at first glance, to be improvised poetry was often an elaborate fantasy of how poets in the future might improvise. Likewise, what appeared to be an in-joke was sometimes an attempt to create a community out of thin air with a joke. And when one looked closely, the dada manifestos often turned out to be Heideggerian, or feminist, or multicultural, or cybernetic. …the world disappeared in favor of an idea, but here the “idea” in question was precisely the world’s disappearance. To chart this disappearance—while filling the resulting void with something other than nostalgia—was our ultimate aim, and the justification of our labor. (35)
Edgar Allen Poe’s “Exordium to Imaginary Universes” (p. XX) also offers a useful perspective on DIU, especially where Poe makes the important proclamation: “…we at I U have eschewed the use of signatures--not out of hatred for identity, but out of respect for identity's power.” (114) Friedlander’s insights on the function of DIU provide crucial context for reading the materials collected in this book.
Clearly, both the content and context of DIU would not be what it is without the input of Friedlander and Byrd. Yet my collaborative history and connections with Stephen Cope and Belle Gironda are equally profound and an important aspect to the configuration of DIU. Cope and I began to work together as artists in a poetry / music / performance ensemble known as thelemonade in 1989. Within a few months, Cope became an active partner in We Press, a literary arts publishing group I co-founded in 1986. Between 1989 and 1993, while living together in Santa Cruz, we co-produced dozens of magazines, broadsides, books, compact discs, and videos in addition to our work as performers and as sponsors of poetry events. Again, he and I shared many common viewpoints and interests and always work well together. Belle Gironda and I met as new graduate students at SUNY-Albany in 1992. Neither of us had used the computer for anything beyond word processing before then. Between 1992 and 1996 we learned multiple techniques digital publishing together: using line editing systems, writing multimedia code (we co-edited The Little Magazine Volume 21 an early poetry cd-rom in ‘94-’95), and eventually html. Gironda and I worked closely together, along with Sandy Baldwin, in the improvisational digital writing and performance group Purkinge during this time, and co-produced a number of digital recordings. She contributes writing to two issues and was completely supportive of the publication on all fronts: DIU was, to a significant degree, the online extension and integration of our milieu, the conversations and activities we were experiencing.