Ethical Interaction

"Any ethical imperative for aesthetics today must be rethought via the social dimension," Anna Munster (2006) writes in Materializing New Media. Although the individual may access the Internet in solitude, "our social and political relationships are increasingly ones of mutual dependence" (p. 151). To theorize an "ethico-aesthetic paradigm," Munster eschews the classical and turns, instead, to "baroque antecedents"; however, as I demonstrate throughout this webtext, I find in Aristotle's fourth century BCE concept of ethos a robust framework for understanding the ethico-aesthetic implications of the author position in digital poetics.

Our understanding of the wandering author can be informed by the interactive aspects of ethos. An Athenian citizen, whose behavior and choices in the fluid city-state democracy were tightly knotted with the ethics and beauty of citizenship, was similarly immersed and interactive. The Athenian citizen, poised between bodies and words, images and sounds, was immersed in a context of speaking; that implicitly interactive milieu became explicitly interactive as the citizen-rhetor shifted from the active seeing as speaker in potentia to active speaking as perceiver in potentia.

Situated between implicit and explicit interactivity, ethos holds the power to help us rethink not only the nature of the wandering author in digital poetics but also the ethical nature of that wandering author. Ethos reminds us that all poetry, but perhaps digital poetry especially, is political because it is participatory; through such acts we jointly evoke a public sphere balanced on the edge of seeing and saying. Within the confines of the cyberspace, we cannot disentangle the threads of aesthetics and ethics from the weave of interactivity. We cannot disengage from politics as we engage with the physiological-linguistic fusion of digital poetics. Aristotle's ethos, evolving as it does in a social milieu of seeing and saying, offers us fruitful ways of re-imagining the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of the author position in digital poetics.