Writing and Digital Media

{I was invited to teach a seminar at City College’s MFA program in Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice. This is the syllabus for the course I came up with. I wanted to share it as a resource for people who are interested in the topic, and also in hope that I’ll get some feedback on it, in case I ever have a chance to teach it again. Please leave comments if you have suggestions. I removed housekeeping stuff–program policies, assignments, deadlines–so if you are a student in the course DO NOT refer to this version of the syllabus because it’s missing information that’s essential to you. It’s fine for everyone else.}


Themed Workshop: Writing and Digital Media


How is writing on a computer different from writing with pen and paper? How is text on a screen unlike text on a page? Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith has said that writing online is the same as archiving; the platforms for distributing writing on the internet—from Blogspot to Facebook—automatically add metadata, organizing entries with timestamps and user-defined tags. But “archiving” implies a purposeful preservation for the future, and the examples of Geocities and Friendster, among others, show that users’ digital writing can be deleted by the companies that own the platforms it’s on, and further steps must be taken to archive it properly. Furthermore, an archive maintains a standard of historical significance, and most of the writing produced online wouldn’t meet any such standard. Text messages, chat room transcripts and status updates have just as much in common with everyday speech as they do with the printed word, in that they have the most meaning at their moment of utterance, the moment they appear on the screen. But the enduring traces of the written speech of digital text have interesting implications for artists and writers, who have long tried to capture the immediacy of speech and physical presence in their work.

The relationship of digital media to speech and the archive will be the central question of this seminar, as we consider how writing—one of the most transformative technologies in human history—inhabits and adapts to other technologies of communication, and the possibilities of these developments for art. We will approach the issue from a variety of perspectives, reading critical and philosophical essays on literacy and orality by thinkers such as Freud, Derrida, and McLuhan, and studying recent works of art and literature that exploit various features of digital text, from the ease of appropriation with the word processor’s copy-and-paste tools and the “active” text of code to experiments with the short forms of blogging and poetic stylizations of chat vernacular.


How to Read

Over the course of the semester we will consider what digital media does to the idea of a text, both in our theoretical discussions and in our practical work as readers of blogs, twitter accounts, interactive fiction, and other forms of writing that pose a challenge to linear habits of reading. When I put a blog on the syllabus, I don’t expect you to read every post from beginning to end, but I do expect you to read enough to draw some intelligent conclusions about it. You should come to class prepared to share an excerpt that struck you as interesting—whether that is five tweets or three blog entries—and give a close reading of it.

For each meeting there will be a reading in critical theory in addition to artworks. Students are not expected to “apply” the week’s theoretical text to the artwork; rather, the readings should be seen as two parallel tracks. For the most part they will be discussed separately, but I expect the quality of our discussions of artworks will be influenced by an understanding of writing as a medium and a technology developed through the theoretical readings.


Schedule of Readings and Assignments


9/3: Introduction

Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries, SAMSUNG

Oliver Laric, Still Available


9/10: Participation

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, Introduction, Chapters 1-3 (pp. 1-76)

Douglas Davis, World’s First Collaborative Sentence


9/17: Interactivity

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, Chapters 4-5 (pp. 77-135)

Mark Amerika, Grammatron

Olia Lialina, Agatha Appears

Imri Sandstrom, A While Ago I Decided to Eat


10/ 1: Code as Poetry

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, Chapters 6-7 (pp. 136-176)

Rosalie Hirs & Harm van den Dorpel, Family Tree

mez, _cross.ova.ing ][4rm.blog.2.log][_
mez, LiveJournal

Bjorn Magnhildoen, PlaintextPerformance

Pall Thayer, Microcodes

Stanford Code Poetry Slam finalists

Nick Montfort, Concrete Perl

Nina Freeman, untitled

Ryder Ripps, git-poetry


10/8: Text Adventures

Marshall McLuhan, “The Photograph: The Brother-without-Walls” (pp. 188-202) and “The Typewriter: Into the Age of the Iron Whim,” (pp. 258-265) in Understanding Media [PDF]

Matt Sheridan Smith, Play

Jeremiah Johnson, Wave Muse

Nina Freeman, Perishable


10/15: Conceptual Writing

Lev Manovich, “What Is New Media?” (pp. 18-61), The Language of New Media [PDF]

Kenneth Goldsmith, Soliloquy [PDF]

Kenneth Goldsmith, Fidget [text] [Applet])

Tan Lin, BIB. [PDF]

Sheila Heti, “From My Diaries (2006-2010) in Alphabetical Order” [PDF]

Claude Closky, Welcome to My Blog and My Latest Things


10/22: Flarf

Sigmund Freud, The Mystic Pad [PDF]

Mainstream Poetry (esp. “Why Flarf Is Better Than Conceptualism”)

Nada Gordon, “Unicorn Believers Don’t Declare Fatwas”

Sharon Mesmer, “The Swiss Just Do Whatever”

Ji Yoon Lee, “RE: Dear translationmachine,” from Foreigner’s Folly: A Tale of Attempted Project [PDF]

Brandon Brown, “99: Nine translations for the Flarf Anthology,” from The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus [PDF]


10/29: User Engagement

Jacques Derrida, “Exergue” and “Preamble” (pp. 7-32), Archive Fever [PDF]

Guthrie Lonergan, 3d warehouse

Joel Holmberg, Legendary Account


11/5: Modified Readymades

Jacques Derrida, “Exergue,” “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing,” and “Linguistics and Grammatology” (pp. 1-73), On Grammatology [PDF]

Jeff Baij, Everything U Stand 4

pvvq on Buzzfeed


11/12: Alt Lit

Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” [PDF]

Tao Lin, “hikikomori” and “i’m going to touch you very hard”


Mira Gonzalez, selected poems (1, 2)


Bunny Rogers, Cunny Poem [PDF]


11/19: Internet Poetry

Harryette Mullen, “African Signs and Spirit Writing” [PDF]

Steve Roggenbuck, i am like october when i am dead

Steve Roggenbuck, videos

Michael Hessel-Mial, Tweets Like a Lovebird

Internet Poetry


11/26: Robots and Aliens

Mikhail Epstein, “Reconfigurations of Textuality” (pp. 69-78) and “Scriptorics: An introduction to the anthropology and personology of writing” (pp. 117-129) from Tranformative Humanities [PDF]


Angelo Plessas, Robot Poetry

Oscar Schwartz, bot poet

Christian Bok, Xenotext [PDF]

Christian Bok, “The Piecemeal Bot is Deconstructed: Notes toward a potential Robopoetics” [PDF]


12/3: Case Studies

Bhanu Kapil, Was Jack Kerouac A Punjabi?

Kevin Killian on Amazon


12/10: Case Studies

Paul Chan, Wht is a Book?, Wht is Lawlessness? and Wht is a Kardashian?  [ebooks]

Rob Horning on Buzzfeed Community



  1. Posted August 27, 2014 at 4:42 am | Permalink | Reply

    Now we get to study with you independently! What a terrific resource, thank you!

  2. Posted December 12, 2014 at 2:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you. (:

    ♥ | http://www.connect-the-cloths.com | xoxo

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