Spectacle and the Performance of Politics and Poetics

The advent of digital technologies is effecting a sea change in poetics, a change marked by the fluid amalgamation of seeing and saying. "Previously defined boundaries between sight and sound are collapsing around us. Works are now being produced where colours speak and soundwaves can be seen vibrating on the screen," announces a poetic manifesto on The Word Project, an eclectic site embracing mysticism, politics, and poetry. The website author both argues for and demonstrates a poetic art that is as much about seeing as it is about saying. In fact, digital poetic art is a performance, a spectacle with abstract and concrete significance. It is no longer merely about a text (if it ever was); it is also about "the dimension of time": "No longer are word and letter patterns trapped in static one-dimensional structures—they can now spin, dance, play and mutate." The emergence of multimedia software increases the options available to wordsmiths, providing "new means of creating out of words a spectacle for the eye."

The expanded artistic repertoire also brings with it new issues of ethicality. Art historian Barbara Maria Stafford (1997) notes that the pervasiveness of imagery and its intellectual weight "brings both an ethical and an aesthetic dimension to the computer age" (p. 52). The nexus of seeing and saying, seemingly so characteristic of the current post-Gutenberg age, and the creative texts that evolve from it, can be fruitfully conceptualized through the lens of Aristotelian ethos, enabling us to better understand not only the aesthetics of "a spectacle for the eye" but also its ethical implications. Fourth century BCE rhetors, like twenty-first century cyberpoets, developed an ethos, the good character that contributes ethical credibility to their work, within this milieu of spectacle.