Skip navigation
Hardcover | $40.00 Short | £32.95 | 288 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 1 b&w illus. | June 2016 | ISBN: 9780262034517
eBook | $28.00 Short | June 2016 | ISBN: 9780262334389
Mouseover for Online Attention Data

Aesthetic Animism

Digital Poetry's Ontological Implications


This book offers a decoder for some of the new forms of poetry enabled by digital technology. Examining many of the strange technological vectors converging on language, it proposes a poetics appropriate to the digital era while connecting digital poetry to traditional poetry’s concerns with being (a.k.a. ontological implications).

Digital poetry, in this context, is not simply a descendent of the book. Digital poems are not necessarily “poems” or written by “poets”; they are found in ads, conceptual art, interactive displays, performative projects, games, or apps. Poetic tools include algorithms, browsers, social media, and data. Code blossoms into poetic objects and poetic proto-organisms.

Introducing the terms TAVs (Textual-Audio-Visuals) and TAVITS (Textual-Audio-Visual-Interactive), Aesthetic Animism theorizes a relation between scientific method and literary analysis; considers the temporal implications of animation software; and links software studies to creative writing. Above all it introduces many examples of digital poetry within a playful yet considered flexible taxonomy.

In the future imagined here, digital poets program, sculpt, and nourish immense immersive interfaces of semi-autonomous word ecosystems. Poetry, enhanced by code and animated by sensors, reengages themes active at the origin of poetry: animism, agency, consciousness. Digital poetry will be perceived as living, because it is living.

About the Author

David Jhave Johnston, a digital poet, is Assistant Professor in the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong.


“David Jhave Johnston’s Aesthetic Animism is truly an original and visionary work. I cannot imagine anyone else in either the digital poetry world or the academic code studies, software studies, media archaeology, or digital literature communities being willing or able to make such a provocative and compelling argument. I love this book and appreciate the passion, conviction, and real knowledge at its core. It is one of a kind in its field—inventive, historical, and complicated in its mix of interdisciplinary discourses.”
Johanna Drucker, Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
“Perfect for the hooked and perplexed alike, Aesthetic Animism is an informative guide to the art-bending implications of digital poetry and poetics. Johnston’s conceptual, historical, and technological sweep goes hand in hand with a cornucopia of detailed discussion of specific works. His advocacy of the wilderness of ‘unsupervised learning’ makes palpable the living life of letters.”
Charles Bernstein, author of Pitch of Poetry
“David Jhave Johnston has animated the study of digital poetics by surveying a novel field of literature, at a time when texts have begun to speak for themselves, dancing on screens, taking on a kind of inchoate vitality never before seen in writing. Johnston speculates about the future of these texts that now have the capacity to react to readers, engaging with them, evolving autonomously in ways that might lead to literary cultures, capable of writing themselves into existence. Let this book guide you through the terrain of an embryonic ecosystem.”
Christian Bök, author of Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science