The Oceanic, Ergodicity, the Vniverse, and a Sextant

Sextant, complete with suspiciously untanned old white helmsman in obligatorily thick Aran sweater.

While I hesitate to ascribe an intended link between Stephanie Strickland’s choice in title for V and the shape of a sextant, I can’t help but be intrigued by the similarities. Resembling an open book splayed spine up, a sextant is a tool used primarily at sea to measure the angle of a celestial object (in this case the sun) from the horizon, and from this information  and calculations glean a position so the sea-farer can navigate.

Similar to how lines and V shapes are drawn at varying angles between tercet nodes to construct the constellatory poems in Strickland’s Vniverse – importantly orienting each node in the spacial environment as well as a linear (or course) trajectory within each sonnet-constellation – the navigator determines a position by measuring the angle between the horizon and the celestial object, and it is only through the complex spacial relationships of navigator, earth, and celestial object, that a position (especially over time) can be determined and utilized. Without getting too bogged down in the complexities of celestial navigation (most of us are english majors) which you can feel free to explore elsewhere (in my opinion it’s profoundly interesting, especially considering the long history), we can at least note the parallels in Strickland’s work. Plotting a course for an unfixed reader, nodes form relationships with other fixed nodes, forming larger structures (constellations/sonnets) that provide an assemblage that a reader (may or may not) use for orientation within the text. I like to think about Strickland’s work, and Vniverse in particular, as an example of what Deleuze and Guattari call a tracing: the physical object (book), with its heavy use of allusion and straightforward subversion of textual conventions, is continuously creating what they call lines of flight from itself – from the book as ending and stand-alone object, but seems to trace various instances within a larger web. Its primary superposition, where the wavelengths of author, reader, object, and network overlap, is the existence of the central Vniverse – all at once middle and ending (and perhaps in some ways a beginning to understanding or connecting “Waveson.nets” and “Losing l’una,” although I admittedly haven’t thought through this enough to argue a “beginning”). Deleuze and Guattari insist in “Introduction: Rhizome” that a tracing must always be put back on the map. The nodes, the individual stars that can serve to position the reader, always gesture to the larger structure at least visually if not with their content.

Strickland alludes to another model when she addresses superposition: “Quantum mechanics suggest every possible separate configuration and a profound entanglement” that might be borrowed from and used (perhaps superimposed?) on “a new level of emergence, a new form of gesture, of notation, perhaps noting processes rather than images or outcomes [emphasis mine] …to grasp the situation that has emerged in the ever-filling space of interconnected digital structures” (“Quantum Poetics: Six Thoughts,” 36). Positioning, then, is less important for its outcome than for its process, its use of relationships and links between objects, and thus the tracing is put back into the larger map (or web) by Vniverse’s continuous decoherence, where navigation deconstructs any previous positioning by superimposing other nodes and their vast connections.

This shifts our focus from position plotting and orientation, instead to the process of positioning within the text. Explicitly concerned with thinking the digital and networks, Vniverse seems to approach representing these quantum mechanics through the potential of ergodic e-lit, where each tercet functions as a node that seems to be “everywhere at once” – in that agency allows varied reader navigations and jumping from place to place (and it seems in the new iPad app writerly agency at the level of the word rather than the tercet extends this further) – while simultaneously asserting procedural orientation with its determined constellations and thus sonnets. There emerges a friction in this that reflects the conflict Alexander R. Galloway identifies in Protocol between the hierarchical and rhizomatic features of the internet. Galloway and Thacker extend this in their “Prolegomenon,” exploring how sovereignty and networks can interact and reshape one another, and specifically how network interactions are fundamental to the human but when network logic takes over it is detrimental to the subject (or individual node, similar to how naming resists itself). In Vniverse this tension manifests into an effect bordering on erasure, where it becomes impossible to remember all the nodes the reader encounters and how they connect with the others. The network, or process – the procedural connections and jumping around the rhizomatic form affords – Vniverse captures fights against any single node achieving significance outside or separate from the system.

If you recall Brad’s lecture concerning hyperarchival knowledge and interpreting the ending of Infinite Jest in relation to other moments of the oceanic in literature, the link I am going to draw here between Strickland and the literary tradition she and other e-lit is concerned with addressing may not surprise you (if you aren’t asleep at your screen already). Considering the Jamesonian conception of hyperspace and postmodernity, where the human has become incapable of cognitively mapping her position in the world, Strickland’s constellations and rich allusions to the nautical, and their enactment with the ergodic aspects of Vniverse, emerge as careful subversions of a classical attempt to orient the human (a single node) relative to nature and an oceanic hyperspace. V replaces this model (akin to a tree – nature/earth as mother, origin) instead with a disorienting network, a web of connections that are constantly evolving, collapsing, and morphing, often in cycles. Confronting this oceanic, expansive and yet drowning condition which eradicates the ego, Strickland seems to invite the reader to jump in. Aided by the comfort of oscillation, that everything, like the wave, the Tarot, the earth’s precess, and the constellations themselves, will come around full circle in a web of interconnection, the modern subject has no choice but to submit to the drowning and acknowledge her materiality, her inevitable dependence on a network ontology.

Unlike astrology, which seeks to orient the individual and manipulate/anticipate (as in Tarot) their position using the celestial, the network, or the rhizome, seems more concerned with planes converging or breaking from one another rather than tracing any position. V then embodies this process, not orienting the reader but instead subjecting her to the abstract multitude of connections that elude individuation or orientation by performance, by process, weaving the human (reader), the text (book), and the digital (flash site) together into their own network.

Things I’m thinking about:

-Network ontologies… how do we begin to understand an ontology of the universe? Of universes? Is this even possible considering quantum mechanics – since we are inside the object and are observing it don’t we then change it in certain ways? Is it even worthwhile considering this (and perhaps all network) dynamism?

-What are some imaginary qualities of an “antiweb?”

-I keep coming back to V as a coded allusion to what Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code lifts from Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade – “V” or “U” as chalice, feminine vessel (remember, if you were carnivorous enough as I was when The Da Vinci Code was popular and thus read it, how the orientation of how Christ – and by their reading Mary Magdalene’s – images form the shape of a “V” and thus signify that the grail – chalice – is in fact the woman and not a relic). Strickland returns to femininity often – but not in the sense of matrifocality and the nurturing, egalitarian societies differentiated by Goddess worship that Eisler identifies and whose symbol Eisler finds is the chalice, or “V.” Rather Strickland seems set on the stenographic and “women’s work” model of technology and networks, and I’m curious how this fits into The Exploit’s explicit understanding of network inequality but also how Vniverse approaches these classical conceptions of gender and their coded interpretations of the world and technology. 

-Do we need/is it useful to gender theoretical discourse about the posthuman? Especially considering the increasingly blurred role of gender in contemporary society (this is not by any means to say gender inequality or gendering doesn’t exist, but to assert that I’m growing more and more dissatisfied with the persistent narrative of male v female when a plethora of identities exist between these two “poles”) where an inclusive rather than confrontational discourse, if not something entirely new (and perhaps antihuman, or that combats correlationism, like OOO), could serve as a more effective model.

-How does Vniverse enact these power inequalities? Can the constellations be seen as moments of control, or more important links than say how a reader might link nodes of separate sonnets (and thus stars of different constellations)? Does this then reveal Strickland as a sort of sovereign-in-network because of her role as designer, despite the writerly and ergodic aspects of the work? Does our agency and interpretive power, alongside the process and experience of the network, overpower how organizing the text as she does highlight these links and in a way orient the content?

-Buy a telescope!

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2 Responses to The Oceanic, Ergodicity, the Vniverse, and a Sextant

  1. Great post. I urge you to take a look at Judith Butler’s classic study of gender (its performativity, its multiplicity, and its constructedness), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 2nd ed. (1990; repr., New York: Routledge, 2006).

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  2. epiratequeen says:

    Your first question really got me thinking about some of the other texts we’ve read in class. The rhizomatic nature of Vniverse is apparent in its visual traits (specifically, the constellations) and in how it can be navigated. It is the reader’s (player’s? viewer’s?) choice to make connections between each of the nodes, and they can pick any one after any other. However, I think it’s important to make a distinction between the universe and the field of stars, potentially visible from Earth, that Strickland uses as the environment of Vniverse. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the universe, especially with all we’re learning about it (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/01/130111-quasar-biggest-thing-universe-science-space-evolution/) would qualify as a hyperobject from Timothy Morton’s thinking (viscous, nonlocal, interobjective, phased, molten). The connection Strickland makes between poetry, the Internet, and the universe can definitely be thought about in a number of ways.

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