2. LANGUAGE AS MATERIAL
There’s been a lot of talk the past few years about net neutrality, a concept that argues either for or against assigning different values to the various types of data that flow through our networks. Net neutrality advocates claim that all data on the network be treated as equal, whether it be a piece of spam or a Nobel laureate’s speech. Their advocacy reminds me of the post office, which charges by the pound, not by what’s inside the package: you can’t charge more to send a couture dress than you can for a book of poetry just because it’s more valuable.
Uncreative writing mirrors the ethos of net neutral advocates, claiming that one way of treating language is materially, focussing on formal qualities as well as communicative ones, viewing it as a substance that moves and morphs through its various states and digital and textual ecosystems. Yet, like data, language works on several levels, endlessly flipping back and forth between the meaningful and the material: we can choose to weigh it and we can choose to read it. There’s nothing stable about it: even in their most abstracted form, letters are embedded with semantic, semiotic, historical, cultural, and associative meanings. This of the letter a, and it’s anything but neutral. Associations for me include The Scarlet Letter, a top grade, the title of Louis Zukofsky’s life poem, Andy Warhol’s novel, and so forth. When nonobjectivist painters tried to rid painting of illusion and metaphor, you can see why they chose geometric forms, not letters, to do so.