(SPAM Cuts) 'The Noughties', by Dom Hale
Attending to the poetics of lightspeed capital, everyday internet phenomenology and aesthetic refusal, Mau Baiocco explores Dom Hale’s ‘The Noughties’, a poem taken from Hale’s debut collection Scammer (forthcoming, the 87 Press).
> On February 1 a long poem, ‘The Noughties' drops into my inbox. 'I appear / to have failed to purge / my poem of evil' it reads roughly at the halfway point, '502 Bad Gateway / nginx / The literal just lost to me / Nostalgics / for toujours.' ‘The Noughties’ was first circulated as part of Dominic Hale's early 2020 edition of the file/pamphlet Scammer and at 44 pages takes up half of its contents. It is an experiment in serial and durational writing initially taking place between July 2018 and July 2019. Its form as well as composition are fragmentary, with short lines of unevenly indented text cascading down text boxes, an appearance that on the page bears a superficial resemblance to code, but when read aloud has all the jutting immediacy and scattered rhythms of something that cannot be compiled as a program or finished. And though I will attempt to trace questions around the relation between the internet, politics and poetics as they arise in ‘The Noughties’, a new and unprecedented arrival on something that might appear done to death (the ~internet~ poem), it should be noted from the outset that this poem is avowedly provisional, open to alteration and as much a mechanism of response to other poets and events as it is a finished work. Sitting down to appraise it, almost as a private inquiry, feels like refusing some of the poem's own motivations. If ‘The Noughties’ is about anything, it is about exchanges and modulations to be made outside the formal circuits of publishing, the commodity and ultimately capitalism. When read live—as I was lucky to witness twice in 2019—the poem is delivered at a rapid and at times overwhelming speed, straying far from considered intonation and 'poet's voice' but in an oppositional mode long explored by various poets such as Verity Spott, Tom Raworth or Peter Manson. Its text is a camaraderie, in all the inviting and indulging senses of the word.
> To admit the internet into history is to arrest the entirety of its internal logic, its drive towards immediacy and delivery of information on request—or even before we request or begin a search engine lookup, as algorithms quietly dispense tailored content, autoplays and preempt any personal vicissitudes we might have at a given moment. As being online ceases to be a specific activity and becomes the very basis of our lives (and dramatically more so following Covid-19), the internet takes on a phenomenology identical to encountering everyday life: the external world, its colours, the weather, a sentiment, an object. Our words for being online can paint an entire life-world as it is really being experienced. I couldn’t stand it, the internet was so annoying today. This transparency is only superficial: what appears to be truly memoryless, debugged and free of glitches is owed primarily to the quiet labour of developers, data centre workers and content moderators—industries rife with overwork, exploitation and even trauma at the exposure to daily streams of violence and hate. Behind every phenomenal seamlessness is a world of labour and agency that has been wrested away from the internet’s users and makers. This is far from the resource that would remake the public sphere, the heroic age of the developer-hacker-blogger-writer. At some point in our lifetime a transition occurred between accessing a resource and living through its infrastructure. Had it happened any more dramatically we would rightly call it a revolution on par with any other that came before it, with political and interpersonal consequences no less significant than those of any other revolution.
> The critical internet poem, the post-internet long poem, the always-online poem has to account for such a revolution: the gap from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. It has to account for it as a real event where political and affective possibilities were seized by the powerful and online spaces sequestered and rerouted into sites of economic capture. Hale's 'sorry for cross-posting / stupidly nostalgic for the fucking noughties' is poised at the aftermath of this revolution, speaking back to the first decade of the 2000s through a relentless clash with the proper names for corporations and individuals (Bezos, Cuadrilla, G4S, Bill Gates, Northern Rock, etc) who have shaped the current world we inhabit. Arrayed against them is a belated deference to modes of grassroots management of online spaces (apologies for the cross-post), the ability to render these spaces malleable via creative interventions (forking), techno-utopian dreams that cross with play ('Snorlax used Snore! / Sustainable day') and the metabolic ease and abundance of 'We / eat as we go'. And yet, we are constantly reminded that to move from the past to the present means being carried by a 'katabatic wind'—a ceaseless descent that finds its origins at every point of the noughties and carries us on through to today. These winds, the matter of the skies as an invisible mover, figure prominently in ‘The Noughties’, and they are our guide through the fragmenting online landscapes of the decade since. When the winds reverse they end up 'hoovering / up the teleologies'; ecological catastrophes such as wildfires are seen congealing 'under the / pearling cumulus'. Like the financial flows and exchanges that pervade the poem, winds can go unnoticed until they collapse upon themselves or crash against lives that mean to resist them. These moments are revelatory of a whole structure at once: 'A sky’s a style' or 'A sky’s a clause', the grammar which shapes our political and expressive possibilities is loaded with toxic fumes, global and intimate as weather. It all lays open for contestation.
> In comparison to the fast-moving streams of text, riffs on information and broken data that surround it, a sort of speaking self appears in ‘The Noughties’. The ‘poet himself, as part of as part exposed nervous receptor, part digestor and regurgitator’ as Alex Grafen has written on Scammer’s companion pamphlet/pre-release Addons. It is often rueful, self-castigating and circuitously arrived at. It appears regularly in the guise of a comment or interjection. A distance from the surrounding text—set aside by line breaks and Hale’s deft play with sentential clauses—makes space for simultaneous ironic detachment and sincere observation. This wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone who spends a lot of time on the internet; it is after all a very common affective position to speak from online. Other forms of internet speech feature in the poem too: textspeak, emoticons, emojis, etc, but my own response settles on moments where this voice appears, as if a remainder of pre-technological communicability:
> Perhaps what makes them stand out is that they are so often addressed and imperative. The imperative falls in line with a poetics of refusal figured in Anne Boyer's essay No, from which Hale draws the epigraph, 'Sometimes our refusal is in our staying put.' Perhaps the commitment to speaking and interjecting works out as a refusal to speechlessness. But this persistence paradoxically discloses very little: it would rather not talk, not participate, go back over itself. On the other hand it may coax a life out of life; its speech becomes more a sort of 'negative silence' which to Boyer is 'the negative’s underhanded form of singing', speaking while not speaking and asking when not asking. I think these gestures of refusal also gain a specific valence within a long durational work such as ‘The Noughties’. From the outset the poem aims to figure as a text of life, a response born from the everyday. This specifies the refusal as a sort of refusal to the everyday temporality out of which it arises, a refusal of the working day or even a refusal to work: 'I will never / be fulfilled by any kind of work.' This is seen more clearly still as the poem develops and the specificities of the decade—war alongside economic boom, proliferation of websites, technologies and interfaces to enact one's self-presentation to the world, to give voice to our newly minted online selves—begin to add up. The voice threatens to drop out entirely:
> In these lines poetry is pitted against the ability to survive the everyday economies of making ends meet. It signals a larger background of sustenance, a whole undisclosed sphere which undergirds the year-long writing of the poem yet cannot be easily verbalised. The gloss we can give to the gap between this sphere and ‘The Noughties’’s own enactment is a no, a refusal to make the link between the circuits words take on page and those of the background out of which they emerge. There is a doubleness to 'now, now', shading over to both 'no, no' but also that the poem must return to its present elaboration, the site of its self-recognition. Reading this gap as a refusal opens the possibility that the poem's own dynamics—the very rhythms it falls into, its very online texture—can militate against the extension of working life into non-working life. 'Hacking', so often the trite word for unauthorised access into systems and circuitry, springs to mind here, but in its older meaning. A sort of choppy relentlessness abounds in ‘The Noughties’, where two types of ‘work’—that of the poem and that of the post-internet working day—extend into one another, bristling at the seams and unveiling oppositions where we could have forgotten there were any.
> In Sleep-Worker's Inquiry, an anonymous text published on the communist journal Endnotes, a tech worker begins to dream in code, coming upon problems raised by their working life and solving them in their sleep. The worker asks if this is meaningfully different from their everyday waged work: 'When I find myself observing myself sleep-working, I observe myself acting in an alienated way, thinking in a manner that is foreign to me, working outside of the formal labour process through the mere spontaneous act of thought.' Self-estrangement has always been an aesthetic resource of the avant-garde, but its possibility always corresponded with the availability of leisure and other types of 'free' time. When our estranged selves are also signed up to the imperatives of production, what spaces are left for the creation of social alterities, dream worlds and landscapes where we do not come under those same imperatives? As technologies extend the working day by making us become forever available to our jobs, as the everyday labour of self-making on social media becomes collated and valorised as data which accrues its owners stock value to be exchanged on the market, distance from any economic activity becomes impossible. It becomes inchoate as the speaker’s voice in ‘The Noughties’, refusing as it proceeds.
> But I find that as I fixate on this voice of refusing, I almost forget that what makes ‘The Noughties’ so enticing to read and pick up is the heaving pile-up of dead data, outmoded imperatives and pithy renderings of cultural touchstones we would rather forget. 'What is this ‘dick chainy’ / and where can I get one?' To hold all these together, to attend to this conflagration of material is also to remember that, profoundly, the noughties were a fucking awful decade, with an enormous amount of political and cultural dead ends that the poem (happily) fails to enumerate. If the noughties represented the smirk of capital at history's end, ‘The Noughties’ enacts its degradation into our modes of present living. But we hold on to our imperatives, to care, to refuse and somehow make a world otherwise.
‘The Noughties’ is taken from Scammer, Dom Hale’s forthcoming collection from the 87 Press. You can watch Hale perform extracts at The Roebuck, London last year:
Text: Mau Baiocco Published 3/7/20