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Temporal Irritations of Code in Ben Lerner’s Mean Free Path poems

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Abstract

In this paper, I explore the unconscious effects of computer code, by reading how it is rendered - or ‘negatively figured’ - in the work of the contemporary lyric poet Ben Lerner. Lerner’s book of poems Mean Free Path (2010) provides clear indications of a relatively rare post-digital tendency in contemporary poetry: it is a literature that emphasises the instabilities and problems of digital age communication, even as it admits to the absolute saturation of contemporary experience in digital processes, and therefore the impossibility of writing (reading) outside of them. The presence and pervasiveness of computer code, I suggest, forces the heightened, personalised language of the lyric poet into a new awareness of their role as storing and yielding a expressive intent.

What I call ‘Glitch Poetics’ is a form of reading and writing with error that is sensitive to contemporary language as a system. In this case, I observe that language is infected, perhaps compromised, by the temporalities and structures of computer code. This short paper is an example of the way that Glitch Poetics readings of traditional forms of literature can help explore what the digital means to us at this historical juncture.