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Gnoetry and the Ego

August 26, 2009

I was reminded of this issue by Joe Hall’s post “Hello Gnoetry” on his blog, Pigafetta, Poetry, and Painkillers.

Here’s my response to the post:

Hi Joe,

Just a comment on my use of Gnoetry: I think it would be inaccurate to say the function of Gnoetry “at the heart” is to “remove the ego” from the writing process. Jackson Mac Low, who for years worked with generative methods to achieve such a goal, gave up on this concept sometime in the 80’s or 90’s, realizing that it was an impossibility. Selection of the “best” outputs is the principle strategy of the Gnoetry user, and as such it is firmly founded in ego considerations. I think it does help the author/user to write outside of his/her own “voice,” personality or habitual idea of self, but it relies wholly upon the sense of the author/user as a being who enjoys, and who has the power to select what it most enjoys and reject what it does not. This is a more basic and less deceptive mode of the ego, but still ego nonetheless.

As a Buddhist, I’ve thought a lot about this subject, and I mostly agree with Mac Low’s opinion, which you can find in his (few) speeches and essays (see the front matter in A Thing of Beauty). I think it is best to be honest about what we do as poets and not just try to keep deceiving ourselves (and others) by propping up our troublesome senses of self. The operation of the ego through generative processes (or machine prosthesis) can work outside of the self and more in the realm of pleasure, as Mac Low outlines in “Poetry and Pleasure.” Poetry, as a conceptual act of wit, intelligence and imagination, cannot be fully transcendent, though it may facilitate some beneficial transformations within the reader and author. That’s my current opinion.

Although perhaps, we’re using two different definitions of ego. Are you talking psychoanalysis or Eastern philosophy, because I’m mostly stuck on the latter?

These are my thoughts so far on this issue. I’m curious to know what other Gnoetry end-users have to say on this issue.

P.S.: As an addendum, I just found the passage in the foreword of A Thing of Beauty that addresses this issue:

One Comment leave one →
  1. ChadAHardy permalink
    August 27, 2009 3:20 pm

    I've always thought it interesting that Mac Low takes this stance. It's intersting because it acknowledges that even using a program like Gnoetry as a tool is an egoistic choice (why Gnoetry and not another program). This would be true, I think, for either version of ego. On top of that, the source text you put in, the percentages of each text included, even the form you choose would be a gesture of the ego, even before the selection of the "best of" begins. Mac Low's "deterministic" poetry of the middle years (where he was rarely editing output) make that clear.

    The only other issue I had with Joe's post was the Flarf reference. From talking with him I know that his intention was to connect the Gnoetry program with something somewhat "avant" that most people in the blogosphere have encountered. And Flarf certainly fits the talked about bill at this point. The problem is assigning everything using found text to a label that really represents a sensibility [albeit one which Gnoetry can produce (ex. Eric's Flarf Gnoems)] misrepresents/underestimates the potential for serious work to come out of these processes. Whether it's serious, or not, or both, or seriously frivolous would be another moment where the ego intervenes.

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