Summary
Perloff seeks to undermine the supposedly inherent wonder of the digital modality, and instead posits that it is a new aesthetic form of the traditional literary expression:
    • “It is fundamentally problematic to assign a fixed meaning to a procedure” -Peter Burger

Perloff mentions that procedure is tied to will and whim of the artist:
    • “No medium or technique of production can in itself give the poet (or any other kind of artist) the inspiration or imagination to produce works of art. And poetry is an especially vexed case because, however we choose to define it, poetry is the language art : it is, by all accounts, language that is somehow extraordinary, that can be processed only upon rereading” (143)

She mentions as well that “economics” (145), only prohibited by “a matter of time” (145), will lead to the wide-scale adoption of digital poetic expression.
    • Put simply – students will gravitate to what they can afford.

As a result, art manifesting in similar ways doesn’t necessarily share an aesthetic. In other words, a digital poem and a printed poem might have greater presentational, but potentially not literary, differences that we realize. However, Perloff defends, these aesthetic differences do not negate the necessity that the poem or literary work be “charged with meaning” (to quote Ezra Pound) in order to be effective. Even when readers can navigate the digital work with some semblance of choice (choosing the order of the stanzas, for example), their interactivity is actually rigidly predetermined. In this way, Perloff argues, the programmers and author remain in the dominant position of control, and the free will of the reader is illusory at best.
    • Her thesis is best summed up in the following terms: “In evaluating electronic poetries, therefore, we should not subordinate the second term to the first” (160).

Commentary
Interestingly, Perloff claims that digital reprints of traditional poems are probably truer to the originals than their printed counterparts, as “The Norton anthologies, for example, often adjust the visual format of a given poem so as to save space and hence money: intentional double-spacing becomes normal single-spacing, and so on,” whereas the digital modality is not limited in this way (145).

Though claiming to consider native-born digital poetry, Perloff mostly stops at differential texts (texts published in multiple formats simultaneously, including online).
  • Goldsmith’s Fidgit, for example, has a print version, a digital version, and a gallery archive version.

The Dreamlife of Letters is another digital conversion success story:

Print Version Digital Version
Print.png
Digital.png




Perloff admits that there is a certain aesthetic appeal to the digitization of the piece, as the movement and shifting appearance holds the viewer’s eye.
However, she falls short of calling it “superior,” noting that the printed version is far easier to read, absorb, and study. In this way, she makes her case that these differences have both benefits and detriments, but that these are ultimately less important than whether or not the piece was well-done to begin with. In short, the aesthetic presentation of a work is a secondary consideration, and even the flashiest of flash presentations could give life to an uninspired poem.
        • “I don’t like the label ‘video artist,’ the great video artist Bill Viola once remarked. ‘I consider myself to be an artist. I happen to use video because I live in the last part of the twentieth century, and the medium of video (or television) is clearly the most relevant visual art form in contemporary life’” (160)

Questions
  • How might Perloff’s argumentation interact with Kittler’s? Would they agree that technology is overrated in terms of what it brings to the literary?
  • We have discussed the inherent change (thinking about something like Hayles' discussion of "hyper-attention") that occurs when using technology to encounter the literary as opposed to print. Does Perloff dismiss that concern in favor of emphasizing the literary? Is that responsible?