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The Posthuman Poetics of Instagram Poetry

10:00 AM, Thursday 16 Aug 2018 (1 hour)
Technological developments and constraints have always influenced and shaped human cultural artefacts such as poetry, stories and music (Emerson, 2014: ix) and the same is true of the vast variations of the digital apparatus. As a result, the forward momentum of the contemporary explosion of online cultural content has far reaching implications on human subjectivities in cyberspace (Hayles, 1999). Much of what we encounter in our daily lives has been digitised and we are in what Hayles (1999) terms the “posthuman” era as we all are increasingly continually connected and hence defined by digital influences both in media and elsewhere. We can no longer talk of the machine impersonally when we are in fact connected to and part of it, directing the flow of digital data. Therefore, the construction and analysis of new digital literary artefacts with regards their impact on literary expression and reception is a timely venture that can help us begin to understand, anticipate, and drive the changing shape of human culture. For example, electronic literature is a genre that encompasses new literary artefacts that require a digital apparatus to both consume and produce the text such as digital poems. Instagram poetry, a type of digital poetry is, as the name implies, poetry that is produced for distribution through the social media channel Instagram and most usually incorporates creative typography with bite size verses. Instagram poets such as @atticuspoetry (517k followers) @christopherpoindexter (325k followers) and @rupikaur_ (1.8 million followers) have in fact proven to be so popular that their work also appears as best-selling print books.

Instagram poetry can demonstrate the cultural impact of a posthuman cyborgian fluidity of borders and forms in that we essentially find ourselves left with anthropophagic texts - cannibalistic texts that remix, reuse and re-appropriate content. Digital texts can no longer be regarded as singular standalone objects rather they are constantly changing assemblages in which inequalities and inefficiencies in their operations drive them towards breakdown, disruption, innovation and change (Hayles, 2012: 13). Chris Funkhouser outlines how digital poets approach anthropophagy through transcreation and the direct appropriation of external elements through the mechanical presentation of the work and appropriating coding language (Funkhouser, 2012: 230). This transformative process can contribute to an expanded field of meaning and potentially offers to scope for syntheses of “discrepant cultures and expressive histories” (Funkhouser, 2012: 231). By assimilating, remixing and repurposing existing poetic content Instagram poets can offer us access to new combinatorial potentialities of hermeneusis in an unprecedented manner. Granted the nature of intertextuality in a traditional print sense has always allowed us to form our own links and connections through texts but this time in Instagram poetry we can see at play the formation of a new literary artefact with its own unique affordances and interactions. Within this literary posthuman and anthropophagic context this paper will examine existing and contemporary examples of Instagram poetry towards the goal of a deeper understanding of the politics of the machine and their cultural impact.