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  • T.P.E.

(THESES) Writingification, by T.P.E.

A glitchy picture with many colours transposed over each other, often in squares including pink, green, light blue, and swirls of green,blue and orange.

This is an excerpt from the multimedia publication CAPSULE XII (sincere corkscrew, 2022), a collation of poems, fiction, essays, visual art, song lyrics and more from members of the loose arts collective 'The Poet's Eye'. Here one of their members proposes an understanding of writing as the central aspect of artistic production in the twenty-first century, via the mode(s) of digital technology. CAPSULE XII is available from Far From the Madding Crowd, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Good Press and The Alchemy Experiment.


A] Writing is a relationship with machines. This from an interview with Hal Hartley, who noted how his long-time cinematographer Michael Spillers taught him the technical dimension to his art; that both were, in a sense, inseparable. I can’t find the source to cite, but the idea resonates: writing is when technology is used, or uses, the writer, to express and result in a work. Of literature, nominally. Be that the pen, the charcoal, the typewriter, the laptop, the phone screen, the voice recorder. These inform the work – a writing separate from technology is… well, if not impossible, in the realm of dreams. Dreams as the purest art form because there is no fallible gulf of meaning-making between author and reader, there, and more pertinently, because it doesn’t exist. Nothing Is Perfect -> Perfection is Nothingness, the work of art as failure (though that is for another time).

B] Here’s the other interesting catch: literature is the one art form present in the contemporary age that does not require machines to be received. It can, of course, as evidenced in interactive fiction, hypertext fiction, net-art, the webcomic, but it can also exist as a physical object, completely separate from digital confluence. And, one does not need a screen to access this. BUT…

C] When/if all technology is inert, rust-fossils; when the ultra-rare yttrium seams that thrum behind our screens are depleted, all other mediums but literature will die. Recorded music will die. Digital graphics; video games, social media (duh). Without the machine, these are nothing but ideas – dreams-to-be. Popular culture will look back to the machine, a pile of salt.

D] Ah, but we can perceive the visual, even if not on a screen! That is a prehistoric work before literature, before monks took to the work of documents, before the printing press. Yet the relationship of visuals after the collapse of machines will be different to how it is now, and how it was in the last millennium. When the internet is gone that already-ghostly medium, the apophatic field, that which does not tangibly exist but, evidently, does, via affect and the haptics of keyboard (using the internet its own form of writing, beyond the typing-itself) and social encounters (primarily epistolary, one recalls; reading), will be enshrouded in a double-haunting: the intangible spectre will be felt in memory, but inaccessible. There will be a great quiet and to see an image is to be reminded of a deluge that did and did not exist, via screen.

E] The visual is in crisis because of its astounding victory over the senses: it is the Exception, in some cases, to a procession in modernity, wherein a mechanical revelation leads to crisis, and thus an artform’s most interesting experiments (obviously not as linear as this, but you get me). Photography upended painting’s capacity for realism, thus, ir- and sur-realism, abstraction. The recording of music birthed the dimension of post-production, versus live “authenticity” – as Agnes Gayraud says in Dialectic of Pop, to record is, already, to inauthenticate live performance, for all our benefit. But in our age, wherein one is saturated and overwhelmed by the image, the digital image, its crisis is not one of being upended, but one of a sole class of predator, left in the wasteland: i.e., cannibalisation. If this all sounds very abstract – well, it is, but the political consequences are evident. The truth, online, is a boundary line as thin as the ozone, because of technology’s capacity to distort the so-called ‘real’ document of the image, photography as the ultimate likeness. Photoshopping; video edits; the DeepFake. The image has succumbed to itself.

F] Because literature is (usually) limited to its tight constraint of symbols, characters, script and alphabet, the visual overwhelm is not so transparent; they remain… not unscathed, per se, but their survival will be more profound, after the double-haunting. Like anarcho-monastic communities in the desert after the crash, literature’s limits – its cellular nature, but reproducible infinitely because of this autonomy – tend towards survival. We can call this desert the A-contemporary.

G] But here’s the thing: although only literature survives (phew!), has the chance to sur/thrive in the A-contemporary, since writing is a relationship with machines, all (Western) art, in the twenty-first century, is produced through writing.

H] Thus, a process of Writing-ification has occurred. To use a DAW, for example, to make electronic music, is to write – it is to inscribe, to stitch along the quilt, as represented in GarageBand/Logic Pro. The keyboard one uses to write literature is used to play sounds, to register the sound that has to be created in the touch of organic hand to machine which collaborates on the result. And records. And quantises, when amateur human failing -- the lack of musicianship, if one is a writer more foremost – makes the output out of time. I do not make music like Joanna Newsom, or Caroline Polachek, or the myriad Midwest emo bands I adore(d) circa 2013; I inscribe on a digital quilt, and the machine speaks back. Songwriting, yeah, but more than that, song-as-writing.

I] Or to use a program like Photoshop, or, or Pixelmator, is to write visuals into being – it is to use the keyboard, the copy-paste, the highlight-to-filter, the drag, the arrow keys to pivot or move slightly an element along the flat ‘canvas’, no different to the page in the domain of the screen. I do not paint, but through tools and digital processes taken from word processors, I can create digital visuals. My hands are gone in the process – or, more specifically, mediated to froth in the relationship with the machine.

J] Likewise for video-editing software, which works on the same quilting structure of the DAW. The shooting of film, the relationship with the camera, may not be ‘writing’ (or, a more oblique and skewed form of it; if you squint it will be writing, under the definition of writing as a relationship with machines) but post-production, editing, clicking the segments together to make legible cine-sentences, certainty is.

K] And was the first creative program, that of coding, programming, not writing made ontological in the realm of the machine? Is it not the ‘architext’, to borrow Gérard Genette’s term, of all that is digital? Does it not provide the ‘architexture’ in which all digitally-created mediums (i.e. the vast majority of popular culture) gain that writing flavour?

L] Contemporary writing creates writing and not-writing. Image-making is writing. If you are a contemporary writer in the twenty-first century and you are not making electronic dance music on the side, I doubt your credentials.

M] This comes with several consequences. First, it democratises (or flattens, depending on your view) expertise – you do not need to be a musician to make music, or a visual artist to make visuals. Obviously in the making of these acts one is, in the simple sense, inhabiting these roles, since a musician is someone who makes music, a visual artist someone who makes visual art, &c. But the core of such roles is the role of the writer – the writer is the ur-role. Writing-ification tends towards a universal literacy of creation, of legibility within creative programs; the scarcity of the role of the creator of the precious artist/the genius complex, can be compromised. Genius can be revealed to be a much more common trait among the human animal.

N] Digital programs, the relationship with the machine, turns all creative procedures into writing. Our moment, terminal as it may be, is the age of maximum writer-hood -- when one bemoans crises of readership, the irrelevance of written word, they are saying, The bubble has burst; The cellular wall has leaked, Writing has become a leaky container. Because our communication is so epistolary, via text message and social media, we are all reading more than ever. Cross-genre/trans-medium is the norm. In writing various works of art into being, from music to visuals to video, I am a multidisciplinary (or, multidirectional) writer.

O] The First Ritevisation was an in-multiverse event within the world of my childhood doodles that happened around the time I made the jump from doodler to writer. In an eschatological flourish, twelve-year-old me separated papers/universes into a ‘Green Folder’, where their initial ideas could be translated into writing, and ‘Red Folder’, where the other papers could just stay and be happy; a kind of juvenile apokatastasis (my family household was a liberal Christian one). Eventually these were sorted yet again and synthesised into a ”White Folder”, which now lives in a cupboard in my family home. Here I propose the Second Ritevisation is more abstract: it is my personal transformation, or realisation, over lockdown and during the global pandemic, that all the art forms I do are writing. It is the reaffirmation of myself as writer in all I create.

P] I (re)create the constellation of my creative output with “writer” as the central node instead of “artist” in an effort to create an autonomous multiverse of relations, of my own work; to showcase the radical potential of the writer, so often positioned (especially by literary types) as ‘in crisis’, ‘irrelevant’. &c.

Q] For most work created through writing, written non-writing, is to be lost in the encroachment of the A-contemporary. It can only be translated to a physical medium, thus its own death, or rebirth, in becoming literature, printed, re-life’d. Literature provides an escape – yes, in the narrative of deep time all work becomes dust, blah blah blah, but for a work that has been around since antiquity, literature is like a tardigrade in its stubborn flexible ever-immortal persistence. Can the same be said about film, recorded music, video games, online visuals?

R] The writer, then, is between the A-contemporary (achieved through literature, the gambit of timelessness only possible in the book, literature as the prayer of those anarcho-monks in the desert, its status as prayer, poem-as-prayer, the dichotomy between freedom and futility remarkably – miraculously! – blurred) and the impulse to be contemporary, 2-contemporary, wherein the contemporary must be addressed. This is non-writing writing – I cannot reject the relationship of machines needed in the creation of my music or videos because its reception is, also, a relationship with machines. But since physical literature transcends the writing process, writing the death of writing-ification, its possibilities are the possibilities of Heaven.

Loring Hall, New Cross, London, March 2022 (14th, 19th)


Text: T.P.E.

Image: Russell Teapot

Published: 03/02/2023


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