Inter-Field, the Acts

[The Field Project is a collaborative essay by mIEKAL aND, Jim Andrews, Thomas Bell, Loss Pequeño Glazier, Inna Kouper, Clemente Padin, Jim Rosenberg, and Ted Warnell.]

Field. As in Composition By Field -- a term I have always attributed to Robert Duncan, from whom I heard it first. I have always taken Composition By Field to mean this: In the poem a locality or area or field becomes established as the poem is being composed; if a continuation occurs to the poet which works within the field, then it should be accepted as a valid continuation of the poem without having to resolve it against any kind of global constraint or global set of rules. Thus, Composition By Field is a kind of composition by induction (in the sense of mathematical induction). Mathematical induction is a method of proof by continuation: you show that a statement is true initially, then you show that if the assertion holds, it follows that it continues to hold for the next number. This establishes that it holds for all numbers.

Continuation: Producing the nextness. What does this mean for a poem that is structured nonlinearly? Surely in hypertext we have a strong sense of locality; the term lexia [Land] has become entrenched in the hypertext vocabulary: the location where you are when you go nowhere. (Which is not to be complacent in the face of arguments that 'lexia' is a concept which is seriously problematical -- see [NNHI] for a discussion of circumstances in which the concept of lexia may be said to break down completely.) Surely continuation is something that can happen through the link, not just within the lexia; link-based hypertext has a strong concept of continuation, except that it becomes pluralized: there may be a multiplicity of continuations.

Along with composition by induction, the poetics of the 60s had a strong sense of Real-Time Poetics: the time sequence of events in the poem should have a direct relationship to the time sequence of events in the composition of the poem. Read-time continuation had a relationship to write-time continuation. Allen Ginsberg wrote about this explicitly in Improvised Poetics [Gins]. Here we begin to get into a very serious problem with nonlinearly structured work. In a link-based hypertext, read-time continuation may go through a given link. Write-time continuation may have gone through a different link. Even when simply focusing on the reader, the issue of continuation becomes complex. There is a multiplicity of continuations. For the reader to experience this multiplicity, continuation must be a separate concept from contiguity in time. To experience the multiplicity the reader must return, perform a different continuation. Perhaps the time of these continuations is equivalenced. (Though one must admit this concept of equivalenced time is an abstraction.)

This is not to say that multiplicities in hypertext should always be taken as alternatives. The elements of a multiplicity may be taken as components. A unit may be a cluster consisting of layer A and layer B and layer C as opposed to a lexia from which one may take link A or link B or link C. Conjunctive hypertext [NNHI]. (In logic a conjunction is and, a disjunction is or.) For the linear field as practiced by Robert Duncan, the continuation happened in a direction, onward in the poem. In a conjunctive cluster directionality is not onward but inward, toward an abstraction of the cluster as something in a fixed spot, a center, a locality. The field is a real field: an arena. An arena in which acts occur on the text, perhaps in which the text itself acts. Word objects that behave.

How do fields combine? For the linear poem composed by field, the reader simply continues reading -- or the writer simply continues writing. It is not a coincidence that the poetics of the 60s made a strong connection between fields and time sequences. How do you combine fields whose directionality is inward? Fields can be combined by just doing it: by spatial juxtaposition, by drawing the connection explicitly, by embedding a device on the screen area where the combination happens through programmed behavior. Space replaces time. The field is a container. Fields can be combined by nesting them, or stacking them, or adjoining them, or doing the virtual equivalent of connecting them with wires. Fields connect the way parts of a sentence connect: with plugs and sockets.

Fields combine in a network. (The linear chain may be thought of as a special case of network -- mathematicians would call this a "degenerate case".) The network may have "disagreeable" properties. For instance it may contain loops -- feedback loops perhaps. The feedback loop is a difficult structure. Programmers typically cannot deal with such structures: they like their structures to be "well founded", parts having other parts etc. in a clear hierarchy, so there is a clear bottom level nesting back to the top. Computer programs normally deal very poorly with feedback loops. But the mind can apprehend a feedback loop "at once" -- as a single gestalt. Surely the feedback loop is one of the most fundamental structures of nature. The idea of a poem which folds back on itself at the end is a venerable one, one of the classic ways to end a poem. In the network way of thought, a thought itself is a network, down to a fine grain. The network of fields builds field combinations without reservation. Proximity need not matter. Topology need not matter.

Replacement of one field by another. (Michael Joyce's concept of writing that rewrites itself. [Joyc]) Continuation not by the movement of the reader "in" the text but by the text itself in front of the reader. The lexia is replaced by a new one. There are some difficulties here. The replacement is typically complete: no residue of the former lexia remains in view. No one ever said that fields in the classical Composition By Field couldn't overlap. In fact you could almost count on the fact that fields would always overlap: the word is always at the center of a field: energy radiance. Perhaps we need new interface ideas in hypertext, a moving-frame lexia.

Reading through the network needs to be not so much a navigation as a gathering: bringing back to central hinge points the results of the fields, integration of the multiplicity. The technology is still in its infancy at providing good gathering tools: let no one think that at this moment either the interfaces or structures for hypertext are a done deal! We are all learners at this. (We are all also latecomers: Lady Su Hui produced in The Revolving Chart [Fran] in China in the 4th Century A.D. an intensity of connectivity we have yet to recover: a matrix of ideograms that can be read in almost any direction -- complete connectivity -- with literally hundreds of paths known in the Chinese critical literature.) The field is quite literally a Field: the place of harvest. The locus of gathering.

Inter-field, the acts: the field in one's fingers, mouth, lips, jaws, the whole body. The acts: the doing: it is an act that replaces field with field, an act as part of a multiplicity. Interact. The poetics of the 60s had an anatomical fixation on breath, as if there are no words outside of breathing. Multiplicity of breath in a single body is a difficulty. The eyes make multiplicity easy, the movements of eyes are outside of our awareness. Multiplicity of events in the world simply happens, we do not breathe it. There is too much unity in a single person's breath: the breath is not a world. Inter-field: the fields so multiple, so dense, the poem is a world. A word forest. Field to field is a multiplicity of breaths: not the breath of the poet, the many breaths of the world. An ecology of breaths.

[Fran] Herbert Franke, "Chinese Patterned Texts", Visible Language XX 1, 1986, pp. 96-108.

[Gins] Allen Ginsberg, Improvised Poetics, San Francisco: Anonym, 1971.

[Joyc] Michael Joyce, Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics, The University of
Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1995.

[Land] G. P. Landow, Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

[NNHI] Jim Rosenberg, "Navigating Nowhere / Hypertext Infrawhere", SIGLINK Newsletter 3, 3, December 1994,