Typing the Dancing Signifier: Jim Andrews' (Vis)Poetics

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This study focuses on the work of Jim Andrews, whose electronic poems take advantage of a variety of media, authoring programs, programming languages, and file formats to create poetic experiences worthy of study. Much can be learned about electronic textuality and poetry by following the trajectory of a poet and programmer whose fascination with language in programmable media leads him to distinctive poetic explorations and collaborations. This study offers a detailed exploration of Andrews' poetry, motivations, inspirations, and poetics, while telling a piece of the story of the rise of electronic poetry from the mid 1980s until the present.

Electronic poetry can be defined as first generation electronic objects that can only be read with a computer--they cannot be printed out nor read aloud without negating that which makes them "native" to the digital environment in which they were created, exist, and are experienced in. If translated to different media, they would lose the extra-textual elements that I describe in this study as behavior. These "behaviors" electronic texts exhibit are programmed instructions that cause the text to be still, move, react to user input, change, act on a schedule, or include a sound component.

The conversation between the growing capabilities of computers and networks and Andrews' poetry is the most extensive part of the study, examining three areas in which he develops his poetry: visual poetry (from static to kinetic), sound poetry (from static to responsive), and code poetry (from objects to applications). In addition to being a literary biography, the close readings of Andrews' poems are media-specific analyses that demonstrate how the software and programming languages used shape the creative and production performances in significant ways.

This study makes available new materials for those interested in the textual materiality of Andrews' videogame poem, Arteroids, by publishing the Arteroids Development Folder--a collection of source files, drafts, and old versions of the poem. This collection is of great value to those who wish to inform readings of the work, study the source code and its programming architecture, and even produce a critical edition of the work.