Adeena Karasick, Ph.D is a New York based Canadian poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of eight books of poetry and poetics. Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as "electricity in language" (Nicole Brossard), "proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion" (George Quasha), noted for their "cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory" (Charles Bernstein) "a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick's signature 'syllabic labyrinth'" (Craig Dworkin); "one long dithyramb of desire, a seven-veiled dance of seduction that celebrates the tangles, convolutions, and ecstacies of unbridled sexuality… demonstrating how desire flows through language, an unstoppable flood of allusion (both literary and pop-cultural), word-play, and extravagant and outrageous sound-work." (Mark Scroggins). Most recently is Checking In (Talonbooks, 2018). She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is the Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, 2017 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the 2016 Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking.
Checking In is a long poem by Adeena Karasick; it's in her book Checking In (Talonbooks, Vancouver, 2018). In Aleph Null, my vispoetical, online, generative, interactive animator, Checking In is rendered as a video poem, an interactive, animated visual poem word by word; each word, rendered huge, is filled with a random one of 208 images Adeena Karasick chose for the image remix, and the background is a random collage of parts of the 208 images.
Maria Damon described Karasick's text this way:
"Aesthetically innovative and intellectually stimulating, Checking In is a restless and propulsive commentary and parody of our habitual and often addictive uses of social media."
Both Maria Damon and another writer described Karasick's Checking In as "propulsive". The visuals I've created for Checking In are propelled with some force over the 22 minutes it takes to present the full text. Checking In has considerable poetic, visual and kinetic energy.
Karasick's poem is composed of 'status updates' or 'notifications' from an imagined 'social media' system—not unrelated to Facebook and other apps that apprise the 'user' of the activities, location, moods, desires, etc of other denizens of the network (ad nauseum).
Everybody and everything in all imaginable universes can and does check in in Checking In. Not just the living but also the dead. "Jacques Lacan just checked in at the Gap." Pop stars and abstract entities alike check in. "David Bowie is witnessing a field on Mars." "Forever is composing its nows." The cosmic, but also the mundane. "Girl Guides are refusing third-party cookies." Words check in, apparently living secret lives not far from us. "Evening is coming." Characters from literature check in. "Oedipus just checked in at Momofucku." And many poets. The system tells us not only about what they're listening to ("The Gestapo is listening to Rank and File") but the laws they're breaking "Saussure is doing some insider trading."
Karasick's imagined 'social network' is omnisciently narrated—as only contemporary social network software can do, spying on us constantly, as it does. But, in this case, the network is truly, fully fictive and omniscient in only the way that fiction and poetry can be. "Immanual Kant is listening to No Doubt." "Narcissus ♥ his own profile." Karasick's network also seems less like a cerebrally shrunken media bubble—which describes a lot of social media 'feeds'—than a space exploding into the outer reaches of time itself. Or something. It's expansive. Any conception of 'social media' that lacks the sort of high-minded, expansive exuberance we see in Checking In just isn't on point. Karasick's network is not particularly utopic. "Sisyphus is at the Hard Rock." "Sappho is clutching her guts." But it's expansive and beautifully humorous. There's a sense of wonder and spirited energy in the telling. Like it's an instrument of destiny. There seems to be some optimism concerning the whole process.
It feels to me like an interesting kind of feminization of the 'social media' concept. The concept is broadened to let in some light. It's given entry to and deep involvement in the arts. Ideals are quotidian—they have lives—in this vivid imagining of a seemingly rather healthy alternative social media network. It isn't dominated by the forces of dullness. Karasick's network narrates a grand narrative—albeit a totally fragmented one, a torrent of one-liners that add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
In the interactive version of Checking In, the viewer can change many of the parameters of the animation of the poem—or remix Karasick's poem with work by over 20 featured artists such as Jim Leftwich, Chris Joseph, Maria Damon, Dan Waber, and Catherine Mehrl Bennett. The interactive version of Checking In starts at a random point in the poem. It takes about 25 minutes to get back to the starting point.
The main video version of Checking In which, of course, isn't particularly interactive, contains the full text of the long poem. The video is 22 minutes long—a full reading of the poem from beginning to end. The video is unlike what you see in the interactive, generative version in that the video is composed of about 25 independent sessions strung together with video editing software. If you were to see the same sort of thing in the interactive version, you'd have to continually adjust the controls, change the parameters of the animation.
The main video version of Checking In also differs from the interactive version in that the video version gets continually faster. It starts out easy to read. By the end of it, some have been bucked off of reading the poem. At that point, you have to shut it down or see it differently—not as a text to read in the usual sense, but as an experience of cinematic language, say, that you catch in fragments—but the visuals impart their own meaning and tone. It is a literary experience unlike any other. It feels a bit like a video game that makes you stand increasingly further away from the screen to be able to read it as it speeds up. That speeding up, while eventually destroying normal readability, lends the work more visual energy. It finally flashes somewhat incomprehensibly with signification. It isn't so much an assault on the senses as a flood of visual signification, in the end, a taking in of an overflow of information. It isn't a violent experience but one where poetry is propelled at great speed verbally and visually.
A year or more before we collaborated on the current visuals for Checking In, I made a different video using a different set of images Adeena sent me. I made the video using an earlier graphic synthesizer I wrote called dbCinema. This earlier version didn't do much with the text of Checking In, just with the images Adeena sent me. It looks preliminary to me now.