(FEATURE) Some Letters - Pt.3, by Joe Luna & Maria Sledmere
The conclusion of Joe Luna’s trilogy Some Letters (you can still read parts one and two) features a reading of our inaugural issue of the online magazine, SPAM001, followed by a response by SPAM’s editor-in-chief Maria Sledmere. Engaging with trends felt across the issue (from affective excess to associating and dissociating selves, mediated interactions, celestial bodies and exhaustion) in the context of recent post-internet, psychoanalytic and poetic theory, Luna and Sledmere move towards a sense of what transmissive lyric might mean as a mode of survival, solidarity and postcapitalist imaginary.
The following letters discuss SPAM Vol. 1, in correspondence with the editor, Maria Sledmere. My thanks to Maria and everyone else at SPAM for the conversations that have led to this exchange, and for the opportunity to think these things through, in, and on SPAM over the last few weeks.
Joe Luna is the author of Air Hunger (Plea Press, 2018) and Development Hell (Hi Zero, 2020). He lives in Brighton.
21st December, 2020
So the idea I had for the third batch of letters is this: I’d like to write some kind of hot take on the poetry collected in SPAM Vol. 1, because I think the curation and the collective are both welcome and instructive, and could put us in touch with a certain moment and tell us something about where we are. I’ve been trying out a few different ways of doing this, and I don’t think a ‘review’ would really cut it, because a) I’m not that interested in reviewing things, and b) it would seem more germane to the current state of things to try to take the measure of what Vol. 1 suggests about a certain lyric survivalism, and the affects it aims for, and the extent to which it has in its collective sights the kinds of affective sensorium identified in recent works by, oh, I don't know, people like Christopher Bollas and Brian Massumi, or whoever, or whether it misses those marks entirely in favour of others, and whether any of this makes sense and, if so, what kind of sense it’s making. I thought it could begin just like this.
By ‘survivalism’ I mean the way the poems figure out ways to keep going, to scoop out a social sense even through the faltering and flattened affective scene of isolated feeling that pervades every wry, or gentle, melancholic apostrophe. The most frequently used word in the whole issue, my machine tells me, is ‘like,’ which illuminates both the overwhelming litanies of spurious equivalence through which the poems sift (e.g., ‘Never have I seen a dick resemble a dildo so perfectly,’ ‘The furniture is designed / To recall something natural,’ etc.) and their means of negotiating that field of indifference in order to emerge out of it someplace on the other side. I think Amy De’Ath names this condition fairly immediately right at the top of the issue when she writes: ‘unscrolling after death // and shut out of a more / screen-time time / a common day of breathing,’ which seems at once to yearn for a time and place beyond the screen-death of ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ labour models, and yet also to clamber over that same condition as a means ‘of unseeing ourselves’ as they (the selves) quasi-permanently stare back at us from the same endless wall of screens. Other patterns, and sometimes internally contradictory strategies of survival, start to climb up the leader boards: there is too much affect and not enough (‘gagged on affective exuberance / droopy smirk o’er big Tesco’), a collectivity part- futuristic poetry reading and part- ancient chat room (‘I’m wondering / how are the people in the comments / from 5 years ago’), a sexuality both intimate and exposed in ‘soft focus’ in the knowing performance of its literary history, be it John Wieners or Thomas Wyatt, so that the erotogenic is a site of second- or third-order mediation, either conditional, or reflexive, or fugitive; the microscopic escape-hatches that litter the poems and that are nevertheless more often than not coded in the language of hegemonic contingency (e.g., ‘tiny rivulets of chance,’ ‘a glitchette,’ etc.), as if by mimicking the future into shapes so delicately contorted we could by that very strategy find a way through it, and them, and towards something else; a lot of sun, a lot of sky, a lot of moon, and a determination, I think, to state (or at least to imply) the existence of a horizon to this most inhospitably horizontalized of moments – Ed Luker’s aubade’s ending puts the shimmer right on that relentlessly endurable apostrophe: ‘I am staring / right at you, / waiting.’
Because of SPAM’s basic format as a webzine, because actual emoji are involved, and more generally because of the conditions of virtuality that the poems in SPAM Vol. 1 reckon with, circumvent, and desire, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of something called ‘transmissive lyric,’ which I’m adapting from Christopher Bollas’s pretty grumpy but mostly right-on characterisation (in 2018’s Meaning and Melancholia) of what he calls the ‘transmissive self’ of the twenty-first century plugged-in global citizen: ‘In many ways, in the course of a day, we associate with one another, but when we abandon actuals to talk to virtuals we are momentarily dissociated. If everyone present is engaged in talking to a virtual, the group is in a state of mutual dissociation. This is an important function of the new world: we split the self into the associating self and the dissociating self, and a new function of the group is to tolerate both states as they emanate from each person.’ Would it help to think about ‘mutual dissociation’ as the glue that holds Vol. 1 together, as well as the connective tissue of much of the issue’s apostrophic eye-beams, both across and over individual lines? I think the phrase, scraped and bundled over from Bollas, captures some of the affective residue of SPAM’s lyric ‘exuberance,’ to borrow a word of Al Anderson’s, which is both full of feeling and feeling full of feeling, too, stacked to the nines with an intensity that nevertheless registers as a kind of sensual modification, not a fully-fledged or inhabited state of being, or inebriation, or desire: witness the lower-case run-on first line of Charlotte Knight’s ‘WE’RE HAVING SEX IN A DORSET FOREST’: ‘and cumming over lily pads!,’ where jouissance must be relegated to a one-liner to be registered as exuberant in the first place; or, in a different mode, see the first line of Imogen Cassels’s ‘x settlements in the direction of the beginning’: ‘To write down everything about the world would be impossible, / why bother,’ wherein the desire for the desire for everything is stopped short at the line-break, which then propels the poem into a negative infinity: ‘this piece of work, unlike some better ones, / has no sense of the inevitable: so no end.’
Ali Znaidi’s exclamation marks capture the arc of exuberance as it tends towards manic vacuity; Lauren Empson’s repeated tagline does the same feeling to death. But I think mutual dissociation as a lyric tendency is probably most potently exemplified by the absences, rather than specific moments, of spoken lyric: the gap in between Betsy Porritt’s last, unzipped stanza, or – and I think best of all – Anderson’s line-break ‘all I want to write about is myself thinking / of you,’ which neatly encapsulates something of the recursive pinging off the bedrock of transmissive objectivity. The line-break is a kind of echolocation of the other by way of an internal failsafe mechanism that registers the addressee by analogy, so that by the end of the poem the sky itself is a ‘fleshy permutation,’ full of the passion of address that knows itself only as unmuted ‘histrionics,’ and the whole thing finishes in a lovely tangle, devoid of direct demarcation of the lyric voice, which then tessellates in erotic confusion. So the poem survives in differential disintegration, and like Luker’s yearning for a yearning at the end of ‘Fail Sun,’ propagates a transindividual affect which is not the property of either lyric subject or apostrophised other, but something else found in the making possible of play in the midst of laborious quantification: ‘a right stupid fucking lark,’ or, as Luker has it, ‘odes / to the virtue of / fucking about.’ I’m channelling a little bit of Brian Massumi’s 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value (2018) here, in which affect as alter-economic currency is given a beautifully bonkers run for its money, viz.: ‘An algorithmic means would have to be found to register the fluctuations in the affective intensity composed by the tendencies in play, in order to make the approach to these tipping points palpable. In other words, a digital affect-o-meter registering intensity would have to be invented.’ SPAM as digital affect-o-meter! Massumi’s book is part-critique, part-blueprint for an anarcho-communist app., and reads as necessarily hot and cold as that, but its adumbration of the critical imperative required for any post-capitalist imaginary draws carefully on infrastructural hegemony in ways reminiscent of Vol. 1's persistent reaching for playful possibilities beyond the living death on every kill-screen, e.g. ‘An event-derivative, as surplus-value of life, is an emergent qualitative difference that both envelops and is enveloped by its conditions of emergence. It is an immersive effect. It is a participatory peak, a coiling wave. It remains in the qualitative register, in its own emphatic way.’ Call it a song, or the on-ramp into a total alterity, however buckled and insufficient; call it ‘the virtue of / fucking about.’
Which is a relief, among other things, because everything is dogged, lonely, difficult, and fucked. As I work through the various means and methods of the poems in Vol. 1 – or even just notice them sinking into the state of the day and its increasingly blank morass of foreclosed possibilities – my sense of the lyric survivalism I mentioned above is fuelled by a second, more economic but also more atmospheric sense, that the signal mode of the poetry in Vol. 1 is compensatory, for an audience that is first and foremost exhausted. Ed Luker’s own gorgeous commie-georgic essay ‘Summer on Lock,’published on the87press’s Digital Poetics series earlier in the year, rings in my ears and helps me to figure out this feeling, because it generously identifies what Luker calls the ‘intense cultivation of fantasies’ in poetry as a strategic necessity in the face of the current horror, as a way ‘to grow, trim, crop, and plant our desires.’ I agree wholeheartedly that this kind of cultivation breeds a creativity that fully faces into and over the void, rather than demurely looking askance, or pretending we have more important things to do. And on this note, too, I’ve returned to one of the more dazzling examples of fantastical prosodical and grammatical cultivations of the past decade, Justin Katko’s 2011 poem, Rhyme Against the Internet (Crater Press); do you know it? Katko’s Rhyme feels incredibly far away, like everything does at the minute, not least because its avowed aims and intentions as a piece of writing seem now so at odds with the current range of perceptions possible in either cyber- or meat-space or any mutant combination of the two; that is, it proposes a dialectic of internet-surveillance technologies inspired by the social media acceleration of the Arab Spring, and which produces in the poem an extraordinarily fertile prosody of playful accumulation and musical vivacity. But it also feels incredibly prescient, and singular, and weird. The Rhyme’s infrastructural organisation could be summarised by any appropriate theoretical articulation from the last twenty years, such as (and practically at random) Nick Dyer-Witherford’s claim that ‘the very communication channels that circulate commodities also circulate struggles’ (from 1999’s Cyber-Marx), if only the grammar of such a claim did not sound so tepid and malnourished in comparison with Katko’s beaming hyper-rainbows, his ghoulish, tesseracted diagrams (ably assessed, incidentally, by Colin Lee Marshall in his review of the poem in Hix Eros 6): ‘Plummeting from the dream pommel Hon Hai scrip roof; / And in the everlasting creak of the company safety nets, / The sapient blur of Love’s munition plur-suspends itself, / On Tear No. One of Serra the Community Evangelist, / Whose virideous eyebrows ratchet down to sear out No. 2.’
So much of the invidious, daemonic energy that swirls through Katko’s poem has taken shape and material form over the last decade that it could plausibly be said to read now as a proleptic eulogy for the insurrection never-to-come. But that would be to submit to exactly the kind of despair that Luker warns so plausibly against in ‘Summer on Lock,’ and which is anyway deftly avoided in the best work in SPAM Vol. 1, like Al Anderson’s, Imogen Cassels’s, and Ed Luker’s. Katko’s poem, meanwhile, is still firing on all cylinders ten years later: there’s another great line in the poem’s ‘Apology,’ in which Katko muses about the possibilities of twisting the entrails of emergent social media culture into primers for better knowing our exploiters, viz.: ‘it should be possible to direct a tool’s separation-valence outward against the enemy, that is, to cut the potencies of isolation and unity into discrete channels whose orientation is bipolar along the social axis.’ It should still be possible, right? I don’t know. I hope so. The diabolical engines of 2021 crackle and seethe into life. My phone just told me I have a new memory.
I’d love to hear what you make of any of these scattered thoughts, and hope your new year begins in earnest. Thanks to you and everyone else at SPAM for keeping the whole thing going over the last year, it’s been a welcome resource.
With all best,
10th January, 2021
Thanks so much for your generous and attentive letter. As the ice around here is finally starting to thaw, my brain fog easing, I eagerly receive your hot take stoked with ideas from elsewhere! It’s very heartening to hear you feel this issue speaks to ‘a certain moment’ in ways both fruitful and somehow assuring or compensatory — nice also, that in responding to exhaustion, the poems themselves do not demand an exhaustive critique, but something lighter on its feet. This is the first time we’ve released any kind of anthologised publication without having a ‘theme’ in mind for submissions — we felt there would be a constructive risk to that openness. As you might know, SPAM began in 2016 as a zine and in that time, alongside occasional anthologies inspired by bad reality tv shows, we ran issues on subjects ranging from Vape or Dream to Chips & Cheese or Astroturf, inviting contributions that danced around a sort of avant-lit approach of flarf, collage and meme poetics, concrete poems, prose poems, hypertextual flirtations as well as some really moving lyrics and interesting (re)takes on traditional forms. After a few issues, we recognised a distinctly ‘SPAM’ aesthetic emerging which tended to put the performative monologue at its forefront, affectively choreographed through metamodern oscillations of irony and sincerity and often thematising the waste dynamics, situational absurdities and encounters of labour and leisure within late-capitalist culture. Last year, taking the zine to the end of the road with our tenth issue, Millennium Megabus (its launch, all planned as an IRL party with bands, a dj and readings, moved online a month after lockdown and became a surreal five-hour Zoom marathon…) was a moment of reconciliation with how we positioned ourselves between the DIY scenes of our early twenties, the Glasgow community and the contemporary poetry world beyond. We wanted the magazine to curate a space that was a bit more diverse, expansive, international, while retaining the formal experimentation of the zines and inhouse focus on ‘the post-internet’.
A term that had for some years fallen out of use (I wonder what your opinion is on it?), the post-internet offers, for us, a way of feeling into the ethics and aesthetics of how we respond to the ontological enmeshments of Web 2.0. For many within the millennial generation, and even more so for the Zoomers coming up behind us, there is no ‘unthinking’ the internet’s pervasive role in our lives. We claim the post-internet mantle as both a call to attention, an embrace of embarrassment (its prefix blaring the datedness of everything from postmodernism to ironic theory bro t-shirt culture and lo-fi Tumblr art movements) and a sense of experiential resonance that nevertheless remains striated and shaped by distinctions and experiences of class, race, gender, disability and sexuality. The ‘post-’ embodies the (im)possibility of claiming a time of after the internet, a scepticism about the arbitrary distinctions of various claims to this or that new media ‘age’. Along with the novelist Tom McCarthy, and media ecologists such as Arthur Bradley, we suspect humans are always already beings haunted, wired, exteriorised and existentially constituted through technology. I’ve always been drawn to the frisson between poetic infrastructures of the IRL and virtual, the traditional and new. One of the exciting moments for us in the early zine-making days was the sense of ‘putting the internet on the page’: seeing a YouTube comment, QR code or TripAdvisor review, a poem written within an MSN chat window, printed on black-and-white A5, was to experience a kind of archival vertigo that wasn’t simply nostalgia — it felt like a genuine re-visioning of the medium.
Your emphasis on ‘survivalism’ is interesting to me because it seems to afford the possibilities of a long-durée that extends from the now of more-or-less instant online publication. We always liked the ‘timeliness’ of physical pamphlets and their accompanying ‘waves’ of circulation, but there’s something gratifyingly untimely about the online magazine, even as it purports by its very timing (SPAM001 was published in November 2020, on the brink of the US presidential election and another wave of Covid) to speak to some kind of cultural or historical ~moment~. What happens when domain names are lost, when links get broken, when our favourite online journals from a few years ago become riddled with dead pages and missing images? Seems to me this offers on the one hand a recursive mise en abyme and on the other a kind of leakage or overspill beyond the bounds of the archive: a glitchy loss, unexpected wormhole or diversion. I think of a line from your recent pamphlet, Development Hell (2020): ‘Even / my holes have holes in them’. Perhaps the online magazine always offers this potential of discursive porousness, or falling through. We wanted to curate a more ambient space of attention, whereby as with a social media feed, readers might find themselves scrolling up or down upon something exciting, seductive, while retaining a hypertexted index so to allow for the quick, familiar directive of choice/selection. For the background, we selected a definitive millennial pink (I’d just returned from a pre-pandemic The 1975 gig and was vaguely inspired by their cloying, hyper-manic employment of post-internet culture within the audiovisual architectures of their set) and with artwork and layout we were thinking through the kinds of playful expansiveness situated somewhere between early GeoCities pages and the cryptic websites of our favourite IDM artists (including Oneohtrix Point Never and one-time SPAM contributor, Lanark Artefax): the idea that you’d select poems like tracks, you’d open these portals to listening (hence why our URL Sonata episode with readings from the poets is also on the page). Perhaps these design choices allow for a textual inhabiting, density and togetherness that speak to a kind of lyric survivalism, the illusion at least of an alternative ‘screen-time time’ (Amy De’Ath) of readerly presence? Somehow it was important for us to have all the poems on the same page, requiring simple click-and-scroll navigation, for the space to be ad-free: if the SPAM aesthetic is generally one of trashy chaos, the magazine offers a space of oscillating attention, with a dual font choice to represent the affective and stylistic shifts therein.
I’m particularly drawn to what you identify as ‘the microscopic escape-hatches that litter the poems’: their shape-making affordances of futurity; not to mention the prevalence of atmospheres and celestial bodies, and what that might mean for thinking ‘the existence of a horizon to this most inhospitably horizontalized of moments’, as you put it. When Justin Katko, in Rhyme Against the Internet (2011) writes of ‘*Ozone disk wallet / *Harmonic portal’, I wonder if the asterisks function as bullets or gestures of reference to elsewhere, a promise of deferral withheld. Katko’s ‘Apology’ hauntologically channels a Romantic retreat, ‘some apparently natural environment’ in which Rhyme Against the Internet was suitably composed ‘Far from an internet connection’. His summoning of internal turbulence is maybe somewhere between Kyle Lovell’s nascent idea of the ‘lyric reflux’ (see Each Sharper Complication (2020)), the undigest of Peter Manson’s longer works and the conflicted intensities of Sean Bonney’s revolutionary poetics. I write this in a week where the ‘Leader of the Free World’ has been suspended ‘indefinitely’ from Facebook and Instagram after supporting far-right rioters who stormed the US Capitol. If the internet once offered the frontier of cyberspace or Romantic retreat with consequential techno-detournement/hack – ‘: I want to stay here and do nothing; / : Destroy everyone’s work; / Plunge atoms into catabolic CRTs; / : Ravish secret farms of service; / : Glorify the clerk!’’ (Katko) – as Christopher Bollas argues, now it represents the imposition of ‘alarming political and environmental conflicts on the horizon’ on our daily, mediated lives. Where Katko witnessed Facebook’s affordances during the Arab Spring back in 2011, the poets of SPAM001 have lived through ten years of political, existential and metaphysical derangement – from deepfakes to Cambridge Analytica – played out in the ever-shifting environments of social media.
I find your evocation of transmissive lyric, via Brian Massumi’s ‘digital affect-o-meter’ compelling: the idea of poetry as a qualitative and potentially qualifying ‘measurement’ during crisis; one imbued not simply with analytic use-value but also the speculative intensities of postcapitalist imaginary. I recently read Maria-Daniella Dick and Robbie McLaughlan’s Late Capitalist Freud in Literary, Cultural, and Political Theory (2020), which makes the case that the Facebook/Instagram complex has warped human desire such that what desire is producing in every click, like, react or share is not for a ‘specific object’ but in fact ‘desire itself’. We are all presumably familiar with the term ‘doom scroll’ and its nihilistic infinitude; perhaps the scrolling imaginaries of SPAM001 are instead part of the ‘immersive effect’ of ‘a participatory peak, a coiling wave’ remaining ‘in the qualitative register’, as you quote from Massumi. And does this amount to a fundamental intervention within the emotional economies and directive, oft-paralysing political architectures of social media, a redrawing of desire lines and potential veerings?
My sense is that these poems are trying to breathe where ‘the wind / still cries / asphyxia’ (Lizzie McCreadie) and the channels for communiqué, transmission and breath are addled, interfered with, hacked and sparked and sealed by a language that rinses and is rinsed through commodity culture, poetic tradition, racial capitalism, ecology and technology. There’s Craig Santos Perez’s ‘brief hymn for the uprising’, written among the summer resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, praising those who put their bodies on the line ‘to protect’ the breath of others; or nicky melville’s ‘doctor’s’, a blunt diagnosis of Covid necropolitics and government incompetence. In Charlotte Geater’s ‘my laptop needs a babysitter’, the dehumanised clunk of our daily communication device is given a queer, intimate and baroque rewilding. What else is happening? ‘So fluff up the lines / secrete nacreous carapace’, announces Fintan Calpin; we can live in the VHS flickers, city soundscapes, noise continuum and ‘colours enraptured’ of JD Howse’s Perfect Sound Forever. These residues of the ‘nacreous’, the ‘powder’ in Ali Znaidi’s sonnet, to ‘still think about politics and about that / cluster of quasi-strong molecules and myths’; Shehzar Doja’s ‘tremors […] buried / deep’; the sigil-like observance of Sameeya Maqbool’s ‘blinking’ ‘hydrangea’ in ‘aerial view’; the ‘Colours in lustre’ within Rory Cook’s textured macros…I find them to evoke a lyric dissolve and hesitant shelter, whose absent-presencing seems to both embody and refuse the archival excess of our moment in its data bloat of information seizure, remote storage and alchemic transfusions of language and code. What Donna Haraway would call the ‘god trick’ of objectivity evoked in Maqbool’s title ‘aerial view’ – implying the violence of drones, the anthropocene sublime of Edward Burtynsky’s photography and various technologies of war – is then supplanted for images of rubble and intimate etching, of hiding and insidious observation. I think also of Flo Goodcliffe’s coordinates, clock kissing, population numbers, or the speaker of fred spoliar’s ‘moon poem / free hugs’ being ‘wise to count everything’, turning to the marvellous, intimate banality of ‘take my hand’. These are poems that watch and are watching; not paranoid so much as acutely attuned to the micro and macro exhaustions of labour, surveillance, information dissection, reproduction and spatiotemporal oppression/compression within daily living in late-capitalist upheaval – from coronavirus to climate crisis – and the varieties of government incompetence therein. The effect is often a sense of being stuck in a loop of ambient attention and response. As Grafton Tanner puts it in his recent book The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech (2020): ‘As we analyse each other, so too are we watched’. Perhaps the unit of lyric transmission within pervasive discourse networks (a phrase I borrow from Friedrich Kittler) is Alex Marsh’s ‘glitchette’: not quite the full-bodied meta dismantling of the hack but something more like an exploitation of gaps, faults or exits – the grain of the voice – within the material undersong and affective valence of language itself.
Let’s tease out the transmissive lyric a bit further. As a collected issue, do the poems present themselves in ‘mutual dissociation’, as Christopher Bollas puts it? What would it mean to read lyric and post-internet poetry for its moments of association and dissociation – a kind of veer or flicker between levels and spheres of attention? Might this connect to what I said earlier about ambience, and perhaps to ambience as understood in the ecological sense which Timothy Morton explores in Ecology Without Nature (2007)? In Goodliffe’s ‘Dissonance’, the stars ‘say: Lyrics look for coordinates in the space of a song, where they will and won’t reach’. Throughout SPAM001, augury is fraught, glitched, in a state of perpetual waiting or bathos. In Al Anderson’s ‘Oysters’, the speaker mistakes ‘a dead satellite for a star’, and in Nina Ward’s ‘the star’ (named after a faith card in the major arcana), the speaker’s ‘arms drift / like orbits waiting for their worlds to return’. The daring generality of Luca Bevacqua’s ‘Our Song’, which closes the issue, expresses fear ‘of the future’ and demands a jouissance of the here-and-now which is itself an otherworldly refusal of the very here-and-now we breathe in: ‘I wanna do something crazy / something insane and ethereal’. Not quite to touch, not quite to reach: lyric transmission throughout these poems seems to exist in the ellipsis which marks a logic of temporal supplementarity (in the Derridean sense) in our post-internet condition of mutual dissociation, in the betweenness of no-time and temporal density which lockdown offers, in the geological spectres of deep-time understood as anthropocenic. ‘But this song is…eternal’, proffers Bevacqua with some hesitance, before ending on the messianistic glitchette of a promised return, snipped into line-breaks of broken instant: ‘Just like / that. For a second. You are back’. Lyric survival might be something like: how far can poetry go within its own terms of demand, desire and presence; what kinds of elsewheres, of playtime or break(ing)time, can poetry glean from (its) labour?; how might it recalibrate, interfere, exploit or hack the architectures and navigational flows of Web 2.0 and its limited, algorithmic affordances of relation and being? How does its libidinal economy move towards the event horizon of an alternative future, a space of unburdening (‘There must be somewhere’, writes Ryan Ormonde); a venturing among both failure, exhaustion and its compensation; a gesture and embodiment of baroque excess and sensual ‘edging’ (E. R. de Siqueira) beyond the demarked affect zones of ‘capitalism’s terraformers’, to recognise the ‘disappearance from history of gigawatts of cumulative erotic bliss’ (Sophie Lewis) – be that sexual, intellectual or otherwise.
Have you read Teresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect (2004)? It forms a critique of individualist, psychological notions of the Eurocentric, ‘emotionally contained subject’, and puts forward ‘the transmission of affect’ as a process whereby ‘the emotions or affects of one person, and the enhancing or depressing energies these affects entail, can enter into another’. Approaching SPAM001, the poems may not be read in order of appearance, but certainly they are read within a ‘room’ of each other. As recurring stay-at-home orders in Britain and elsewhere, following Covid outbreaks, prompt reimagining of what is meant by touch and transmission, it’s helpful to think about how affect is passed and transmuted between these poems, and presumably their authors and readers online. Somehow, reading the issue, we get to be in a room with each other, as with Bernadette Mayer’s Utopia (1984), whose lyric escapades and speculations around the non-place of worlds-to-come occur within dialogue and the many-voiced discourse of its performative and citational inclusions. Perhaps mutual dissociation, its paradoxes of (dis)connection, leans towards what you identify as ‘sensual modification’ and ‘negative infinity’ and what Sianne Ngai calls ‘stuplimity’: ‘the aesthetic experience in which astonishment is paradoxically united with boredom’. In the past decade, debates around ‘post-internet’ tended to hinge on ideas of ‘new sincerity’ in the face of postmodern irony and the political potential or limit of a horizontal, paratactical, ‘I do this I do that’ vibe (a quick google of these terms will service you with tireless examples). Perhaps more recently we are turning the dials up on the specifics of affective transmission – Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart’s The Hundreds (2019) is a compelling example – and the possibilities for expression and commonality therein, rather than the presence of or commitment to sincerity more generally, understood within constructed notions of individualist, bounded subjectivity.
Maybe transmissive lyric offers a way out of hackneyed debates about authentic expression by acknowledging the discursive, relational situations and curatorial contexts in which poetic language is incubated, fostered, expressed. All the while orientating its potential towards survival, hospitality, the cultivation of desires beyond our void, ‘checking-in’ with others and figuring the entanglements which bind and break ‘us’ as beings enmeshed with technology and the more-than-human. This is the strange ‘attic heaven’ of ‘the day […] listening to time’ in fred spoliar’s ‘day of the care react’: an occasional poem upon Facebook’s unveiling of the ‘care react’ function in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and the new pressures upon intimacy and relation taking place online. In these early days of lockdown, I was invited to a new Facebook group (now with nearly two million members) called ‘A group where we all pretend to be ants in an ant colony’. spoliar’s poem, with its crawling overflow of enjambments and indentations, attunes to the nuances of dwelling in the metaphorical and actual spaces and channels of what Jussi Parikka calls ‘insect media’. There’s the anti-Copernican narcissism of Facebook et al, where ‘the sun revolves around us / reacting’; the ‘you’ addressing the ‘adjunct staff of the getting damaged by the world day’, inoculating themselves against structural depression with herbal medicines and ‘hiding under beds in flats’; the prevalent refusals (‘no’, ‘not’, ‘aren’t) forging the dialectics of a kind of care that is limited and made possible within and against that offered by the one-click, symbolic economy of the Facebook react; the labour of ‘ant sized children’, ‘streaming’ and ‘not being paid for this’. The streaming ants seem to embody affective transmission in the fraught populations and reterritorialisations enabled and delimited by Facebook itself. A viral imaginary, scaled up from the context of platform users-as-workers (many of whom are or were actual children) or data generators. Poetic labour might be something like this ant-sized streaming in the millions, in the glitchettes of where we are when we read or write towards and against the networks and nervous systems which fray and sustain iterations of intimacy and care. Distinct from the fleeting promise of origin or return which ends ‘Our Song’, in the hypothetical non-event that closes ‘day of the care react’, the poem cleaves to a utopian togetherness which is not made possible by getting close to ecological primitivism (‘mud isn’t on my face’) or celebrating the coronating day of the care react, but in the event of a performative action, not reaction, of some kind of solidarity and lyric promise: ‘all the children and all the ants are here, they are loved’. In the between-space or elliptical, supplementary logic of ‘these apodictic lego fuck! cities / actually didn’t happen’, the domestic, childlike microcosm of the lego city and the barely graduated, connective world campus of Facebook, the speaker summons an idea of survival, mediation, cure and love whose capitalist definitions are held under erasure at the moment their utterance strives for reassurance that there could be something more – ‘these tiny acts are mercies’. For me, this poem is a comely example of that uncertain questioning: ‘It should still be possible’, as you write, a little anxiously perhaps, back to Katko’s hope of ‘direct[ing] a tool’s separation-valence outward against the enemy’.
Today, my phone pings a memory from 2018. I’m presented with a self-made collage captioned ‘J A N U A R Y / / / / / / /’: featuring a bottle of gin, Lana Del Rey gazing wistfully beyond the camera, a screencap from a video titled ‘Mark Fisher on why Modern Life causes Depression’, a photo of Theresa May laughing maniacally in parliament and the lyrics to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. This is not to say life has qualitatively worsened or improved in the past three years, or to pass that melancholy, millennial residue back into this discourse; it is only to say, my phone remembers. Perhaps it is a paratactic, recursive or glitched remembering. The feeling is born anew. I wonder what your memory was.
Staying with and musing on your thoughts on SPAM001, I realise how much editorial work with SPAM has carried me through the past ten months. It means the world for all this to be read, understood, responded to. I’m already excited for future issues, another meaningful horizon beyond the news.
With all kindest wishes,
 see his Originary Technicity (2011), which develops an archaeology of thought from paleontologist André Leroi-Gourhan through to Marx and Engels, Derrida and Bernard Stiegler.  not least because we have pamphlets in our roster titled PORTS (Calum Rodger, 2019) and portals (Rosie Roberts, 2020).  You can read an earlier instantiation of Dick and McLaughlan’s argument in their 2013 essay, ‘The Desire Network’.
Text: Joe Luna and Maria Sledmere