The Ethical Spectacle

"Who is now the writer," Jim Andrews "writes" in "Spas Text," a digital poem from the Brian Lennon-Jim Andews Stir Fry Texts site. In this work, words and phrases, at the twitch of the user's mouse, dematerialize and rematerialize in ways that constantly destabilize meaning. Throughout the various manifestations, the author position is continually challenged, perhaps even, as one textual incarnation suggests, "subverted," by the very act of writing. We have, as Andrews notes in one fluid line, "entered a phase of combinatorial inter-textuality. . . .The web and anything digital or copyable perpetuates it." Ultimately, the digital poem suggests, the point is "not who writes or makes it, but that extraordinary work be done."

Andrews's emphasis on digital poetics as extraordinary work created by a bewildering multiplicity of "authors" highlights the degree to which word and image, texts and bodies, choice and action are negotiated within a public sphere. It highlights the way in which such negotiation is always aesthetic and always rhetorical. Finally, it highlights the ways in which ethos can help us answer his question "who is now the writer" in ways that are both ethical and beautiful, poetic and political.

"Digital expression," Richard Lanham (1993) says, "indeed fulfills the postmodern aesthetic," but to understand reading and writing on computers, "we need to go back to the. . .rhetorical paideia" because the digital aesthetic "attempts to reclaim, and rethink, the basic Western wisdom about words" (p. 51). The ability of ethos to provide insight into the rich reciprocity of aesthetics and civic virtue in the wandering author position so characteristic of digital poetics illustrates the validity and value of his claim.