I’ve been too distracted by other things to write much about the New Aesthetic, which started as a a blog post, then expanded into a Tumblr blog, then a SXSW panel (which I saw, and enjoyed very much). Now it’s become a kind of meme, I see equal parts “what is this thing” and “how do we talk about this?” And some jokey dismissals.
I’m not sure I’ve arrived at anything I could add to the conversation, but I like Kenneth Goldsmith’s take on it, published in the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog:
The Twenty-first century is invisible. We were promised jetpacks but ended up with handlebar moustaches. The surface of things is the wrong place to find the 21st century. Instead, the unseen, the Infrathin—those tiny devices in our pockets or the thick data-haze which permeates the air we breathe — locates us in the present. And in this way, The New Aesthetic is not so much a movement as it is a marker, a moment of observation which informs us that culture—along with its means of production and reception —has radically shifted beneath our feet while we were looking the other way.
He compares the New Aesthetic to New Writing (something I’m not familiar with), and points out that newer approaches in poetry are still ultimately relying on tree pulp for their final presentation:
Beginning with Mallarmé and ending with Language Poetry, the emergence of digital culture signified a break with modernism, replacing deconstructive tendencies with strategies informed by the workings of computers and the web: word processing, databasing, recycling, appropriation, intentional plagiarism, identity ciphering, and intensive programming, but to name a few. Yet the odd thing is that these practices, born of digital immersion, have not shown up exclusively on the screen, but more often have manifested themselves on the printed page.
Goldsmith’s essay reminded me of a counter-example, not meant to contradict what he’s saying, but maybe a model for a New Aesthetic approach to poetry. It’s a project called The Archanoids by Mathew Timmons, that collectively vocalizes sound poetry through online video and voice telephony.
There are still a few items in my Instapaper queue I want to finish before writing more substantially on the New Aesthetic, but if you haven’t read this Bruce Sterling essay on the topic, you should!