ELECTRONIC POETRY Two Latin-American Precursors: Eduardo Kac and Ladislao Pablo Györi

by Clemente Padín

One of the infallible methods of transgressing the codes of any language, that is to say, its mechanisms of emission, transmission and reception of messages (writing/support/reading) and, therefore, to generate a greater number of bits of information –because of the unpredictability of the contents they involve– is to use new supports or channels. Generally, the action of the new medium contributes immensely to the form of the expression, the genuine producer of the poetic as long as there are "readjustments of content" (Umberto Eco, 1977). On the contrary, the mere transposition of one language into another, without great changes nor informative increases, occurs when the new medium takes place only in the form of content.

As we know, aesthetic information was and will be bound to the physical properties of the support, and the supports, in themselves, are (in)significant. However, something happens when a significant unites itself to a support. Something causes the original meaning of the sign to be transformed by that conjunction; thus their semantic expression would be impossible to obtain with any other media or channels.

For example: the book-poem "A Ave" by Wlademir Dias-Pino (Río de Janeiro, 1956) is a book-object without which the poem would die out, since it could not be registered in other supports without altering its sense (even they were more versatile or modern, like the magnetic tape of the audio or video or the disk of the computer) since the algorithms of reading could not be reproduced, that is to say, the turning of the pages and the covers, the texture, the opacity, the color, the perforations, etc., elements that, appraised as a whole, are going to display the aesthetic information contained in the book through the process of reading or manipulating or paginating the object-book.

It is also asserted that it is not the same "to write" poems that adapt the new medium to the forms already effective or foreseen by the official literary system in a mere transposition, to create new forms starting from the languages which characterize the new channels or supports. The same approach governs the new electronic media: it is not only necessary to make use of their communicational possibilities, those that will be discovered via experimentation, as long as modifiers or enrichers of the form of the expression, but, also, like possible transmitters of concepts for which verbal language has been overcome, for instance, the concept of "field" or "infinite," among others.

At this point we are tempted to chronicle all the facts through which this situation has been reached: from Stéphane Mallarmé and Guillaume Apollinaire to Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, from E.E.Cummings and James Joyce to the Concretists, from N.H.Werkmann and Raoul Hausmann to the Letrism by Isidore Isou, from the phonic poems by Henri Chopin and Arrigo Lora-Totino to the Hypertext by Theodor Nelson, but, limitations of space hinder us. New media, mainly electronic, bring forth the program, envisioned by Mallarmé, about synthetical forms of thought and expression, ideogrammarian and synchronous, causing, of course, new formulations and new facts and discoveries which, in their turn, generate other facts in an endless development, similar to semiosis (although this could be frozen, in any moment, for the option of any receiver).

The works of two Latin American poets stand out in this sense: the Brazilian Eduardo Kac, creator of holographic poetry (toward 1983, together with the holographical technician Fernando Catta-Petra) and the Argentinean Ladislao Pablo Györi, creator of virtual poetry (toward 1994, though he has elaborated computer projects since 1984).


In spite of everything, unbelief and postmodernism, creation is still going on in Latin America. It also continues the research and experimentation, not only of new materials and communication media (fax, Internet, etc.) but, also, of new ways for the poetic expression. Not simply accompanying the advances of electronic technology (computers, laser, etc.) but still more impelling (as Walter Benjamin has pointed out) the media by highlighting, through the artistic experimentation, their "productive" possibilities, either aesthetic or scientific or technical.

"Do not expect but poison of stagnant water," William Blake warned us and, closer, Karl Popper declares that major advances in any field of the human activity are achieved upon questioning that already known and effective for each system; not only what the "word" or the "verb" has consecrated, by means of power or what the system has legitimated, via ideology, but even everything connoted as "unalterable," "necessary" or "essential" by the Establishment.

Only, the irrepressible empiria, the experimentation aided by creative negation will bring us fresh and luminous airs like these.

Montevideo, Uruguay, October 1995.

Clemente Padin