LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE as Archive and Meta-Digital Archive

(first published at HARIBO)

Like any archive, THE ARCHIVERSE represents and re-presents a selection and a process. It can be viewed as archive architecture, and indeed both terms (archive and architecture) are embedded and enmeshed in THE ARCHIVERSE.[1]

As it was originally composed, language was layered, written into and/or placed in LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE (or “live from the void,” as it was first titled), which is a particular iteration or map of THE ARCHIVERSE. However, from its inception, the project incorporated copy-pasted language: Pieces of the Oxford English Dictionary online entry for phrase made up a component of the text—a yellow layer defined as “phrase.”

Later, after an aesthetic and ethos for THE ARCHIVERSE was established, I began to distinguish, among poems composed in a word processor, those that fit (in) THE ARCHIVERSE. Certain modes of language experiment, particularly those that foregrounded homonymic and etymological word play, lent themselves to THE ARCHIVERSE framework, and could be better illustrated and realized there. In copying them to THE ARCHIVERSE, I could add a complimentary and complicating visual dimension by layering, copying, sculpting and juxtaposing the new language objects with other elements in THE ARCHIVERSE.

The first time I presented the project to an audience, at the Organism for Poetic Research’s 2012 PELT launch in Brooklyn, a fellow digital media artist asked if I was archiving versions of the project. This led me to consciously do so, saving a new date-stamped file each time I made major changes to THE ARCHIVERSE structure.

I also began to incorporate that versioning into the archival structure of the project itself. First, I copied the entire text map of THE ARCHIVERSE and pasted it back into THE ARCHIVERSE. Then I scaled that copy-pasted version down until it could fit in the loop of the letter e in the word exit (which is composed of two separate elements, ex and it, layered over one another). Subsequent changes to THE ARCHIVERSE are not reflected in the miniature simulacrum, which makes it an embedded archival piece.[2]

Also, subsequent to the conversation at the PELT launch, I recovered an early version of “live from the void” that predated fundamental developments in the visual and linguistic logic of what would become LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE. This early version had letterforms at a single scale (or font size), in a single orientation (text running left to right), with no overlapping or hyper copy-pasted structures. It was an open-field poem on a potentially infinite plane, but it was not yet a concrete digital poem,[3] and it did not yet approximate three-dimensionality. That early version has now been copy/pasted into THE ARCHIVERSE, scaled down, and scattered through a particular region of THE ARCHIVERSE.

The primary compositional field of LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is AutoCAD model space. This is where new elements appear and are (re)arranged. But there is another field—paper space—which operates as a less fluid modality. Paper space allows for the creation of windows into or frames over model space. Those windows may be frozen or locked on particular areas in model space. Zoom levels may be adjusted and set, layers may be turned off, and layer qualities (such as color) may be changed in paper space without affecting model space. However, changes in model space can still affect what appears in paper space. Therefore, the paper space frames are temporary snapshots. This is another vision and version of the archive from within the larger archive of THE ARCHIVERSE.

In this sense, THE ARCHIVERSE is both an archive and an open compositional field, a provisionally static document that at any moment may go into motion—may change, gain and lose attributes, undergo fundamental restructure. It is a meta-digital archive and a digital meta-archive.

Or, Usage in & of THE ARCHIVERSE

(first published at HARIBO)

THE ARCHIVERSE is a conceptual project, a framework. LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is a composition in and of THE ARCHIVERSE—a particular if sole current iteration, or map of the known ARCHIVERSE. THE ARCHIVERSE may be used as an abbreviated form of LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE, though the distinction holds. It is fitting that THE ARCHIVERSE might refer both to the framework and the composition, particularly when we refer to the space of composition. The distinction, then, is that LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE does not refer to the framework of THE ARCHIVERSE, even as it might refer to a particular set of compositional decisions made in a particular ARCHIVERSE structure. Those decisions might become, however provisionally, part of the meta-structure of THE ARCHIVERSE, but they are not essentially so.

That said, LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is the more specific compositional term, and THE ARCHIVERSE is a general term encompassing the concept and its materialities, which include but are not necessarily limited to LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE.

The Game That Is Not a Game

The rules of the game that is not a game but an infrastructure are reconfigured. Annotation takes the place of typical architectural drafting elements. The line replaces the line. The structure of THE ARCHIVERSE, as embodied (or objectified) by the structures in THE ARCHIVERSE—language structures, if and when not proper linguistic structures; that is, language objects—re-places (and repopulates) architechtural modelling space.

But embodied and repopulates only seem like conventionally appropriate terms, and are appropriate(d) by altered logics. Digital graphical representations of architecture do not shelter or contain people or lived experience. Nor do those architectures necessarily exist. Still, we might imagine them, and we do, as embodied (or actual) structures. We might also construct them.

Language objects in THE ARCHIVERSE exist only in THE ARCHIVERSE, and cannot be actualized or meaningfully extracted. They re-present real-world language, embodied as objects. Or figured as objects. (They may be temporarily embodied in performance, but they refer back to THE ARCHIVERSE, not to structures external to it.) Language objects take on relational qualities (color, scale, orientation) that are extra-lingual, even as they persist as signifiers (or the ghost forms of signifiers made strange by their objectification as layers of digital material). However, they are best understood in relation to one another, rather than to a system that exists wholly outside THE ARCHIVERSE.

Language does and does not act this way; language refers to the world, to real-world relations, and to language itself (which is in the world—a part of, a part from, apart from). When we encounter THE ARCHIVERSE, we are free to elaborate its object relations in a “real-world” context, but this context is external to THE ARCHIVERSE, which does not depend on it (that is, so-called real-word context—the structure need not be built, need not be buildable or actualizable in the world outside THE ARCHIVERSE, whereas architectural forms are always at least hypothetical). THE ARCHIVERSE exists as a digital construct in the world, but refers to itself. It is built of language material, which is essentially self-referential.

The real-world communicative/referential/semantic language funtion operates in plausible (or ostensibly empirical) denial of such a linguistic turn (or turning in).[4] THE ARCHIVERSE does not allow such disavowal.

THE ARCHIVERSE is external to real-world context, except that it is running on a computer (in a program), and is (or may be) cast in light on a wall and audibly/aurally/orally improvised. Screen, projector, voice, audio instrumentation, etc. present additional object relations, but they too are external to THE ARCHIVERSE, though they may abet its provisional mapping. However, THE ARCHIVERSE is interior to itself, a language event horizon and self-composed linguistic network. It is a fluid and morphological (and morphing) system whose theoretical edge spreads as it is approached—an always-already permeated, expansive membrane.

The game that is not a game but an infrastructure is broken by misuse of the program that provisionally hosts it, even as its rules do not apply (or are reconfigured). Annotation text typically confined to paper space (or layout space) becomes an array of objects (and object relations) in model space. Paper space becomes a shifting capture, a so-called window (or variable series of windows) into ever-morphing model space. This may be reappropriation rather than hack, depending on how we define the program and the hack. The program has not been reprogrammed, only misused (or detourned). In another context, outside of (or beside) programming, this may be referred to as a hack (see Wark, A Hacker Manifesto), or perhaps (and again) as détournement.

By any name, THE ARCHIVERSE becomes the game that is not a game.


THE ARCHIVERSE treats text as screen-based architectural artifact. Here, we must distinguish artifact from object—or, rather, digital object from material object—or, perhaps, digital materiality from real-world materiality. All of these terms are fraught with ontological (and poststructural) concerns, which we cannot bracket with scare quotes or reconcile with conflationary rhetoric (or logic). A semiotics that suggests there is a referent beyond THE ARCHIVERSE’s digital field reads LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE as a map,[5] rather than a territory.

If, then, THE ARCHIVERSE posits a relation between text and object that is necessarily digital and conceptual, and in itself material, we must recognize that THE ARCHIVERSE cannot be 3-dimensional, or can only approximate 3-dimensionality. Here we consider particular limits: those of the desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone console, along with screen projection. We leave out the possibility of hologramatic projection for reasons that will become evident.

As developed, THE ARCHIVERSE exists onscreen, or in printed facsimile. Its essential constraints are planar, and related to page/screen dynamics of linguistic and spacial representation. Text is traditionally considered to be a flat representation, whether language itself is represented, or object relations are described. In conversation with traditional textualities, THE ARCHIVERSE presents three conceptual frameworks (as described elsewhere: model space, paper space and the snapshot). As an investigation and elaboration of traditional composition and publishing practices, these frameworks are essential constraints.

Just as there is a fantasy of 3-dimensionality in digitally rendered architectural drafting, there is a fantasy of 3-dimensionality in digital poetics. THE ARCHIVERSE, as constructed, refutes true, screen-based 3-dimensionality, or posits it as illusory. LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE nonetheless approximates 3-dimensionality, but without surrendering the planar field (or planar fields, as will be explored). To give text a Z axis is to participate in this fantasy of 3-dimensionality. To approximate 3-dimensionality through kinetic and user-reliant zoom technology and color relations is to re-assert (or re-enact) traditional textual dynamics while also treating text as digital object. This tension between page-based logic and digital materiality is crucial to the foundational gesture of THE ARCHIVERSE. That is to say, the structural and conceptual logic of THE ARCHIVERSE may change, but at the current stage(s) of the project, the Z axis has been intentionally excluded.

Here there is a practical consideration of usability—or let us say reader performance, in a writerly sense. THE ARCHIVERSE is constructed in such a way that the reader may explore but also co-compose LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE. The three frameworks, for the time being, are the three dimensions of THE ARCHIVERSE. It is not yet desirable to ask the reader to perform in quasi-3-dimensional, Z-axial space.

Another foundational consideration involves technical constraint. The base text LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is composed in AutoCAD. The reader may explore THE ARCHIVERSE in AutoCAD’s tablet application,[6] which allows for touch-screen panning and zooming. The series of commands used to navigate and compose in laptop/desktop AutoCAD are unknown to the average reader. The tablet app does allow the reader to manipulate and create text objects via onscreen menus, but the interface is cumbersome and counterintuitive. In any case AutoCAD is not designed to treat text as architectural data, but as annotation. THE ARCHIVERSE is initially explored via software hack. An ARCHIVERSE app based on gestural textual maneuvering might address, accentuate and modify these limitations.

Furthermore, lap/desktop AutoCAD has viewing and composing (drafting) capabilities not available even to the advanced AutoCAD app user. One of these is the ability to adjust the viewing perspective on the architectural objects. In effect, the user may rotate the objects in model space, in order to look at them from multiple angles onscreen. This furthers the illusion of 3-dimensionality. Compare this display feature to a box drawn in so-called 3-dimensional perspective on a page, by rendering the box from a corner view. Just so, any single, static view of an on-screen digital object is a flat, 2-dimensional representation, even if it provides the illusion of 3-dimensionality—or for that matter, even if it has a Z axis. It is only the rotation of the object that gives us the impression of 3-dimensionality, rather than 2-dimensional perspective that approximates 3-dimensionality. In the case of a digital object that does not have a Z axis, rotating one’s viewpoint (that is, rotating the object) gives the impression of a tilted, flat object. If we were to spin the object, rather than meticulously rotate it, perhaps we could approximate 3-dimensionality without adding a Z axis.

This concept of spinning is referenced in one of the distinct and recognizable planar structures of THE ARCHIVERSE, the spun or centrifugal/centripetal/axial phrase-sculpture. A more interesting encroachment on digital multi-dimensionality, in terms of ARCHIVERSE textuality, would be to compose on multiple intersecting planes. Just as the spun phrase might undergo or incorporate polylinguistic, morphological or punning forms, multiple intersecting planes of linguistic objects might both copy and differentiate signs and sign systems. This would truly add another dimension to THE ARCHIVERSE, one that would be more paradigmatically radical than the introduction of a Z axis.

ARCHIVERSE as Time/Space Travel

In its networked realization, THE ARCHIVERSE connects writers and explorers, but also essentially connects versions of its own digital objectification. Here, version and realization are linked, as any given form or presentation of THE ARCHIVERSE (e.g., LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE) is incidental and cumulative in relation to our understanding and conception of ARCHIVERSE space and relations. THE ARCHIVERSE is also a total archive of every language/object gesture and provisional construction that appears in any iteration over the course of exploration.[7]

Prior to development and implementation of THE ARCHIVERSE networked app, THE ARCHIVERSE describes a particular accumulation of letterforms, but only suggests prior states and forms.[8] However, the networked app will allow explorers to access and manipulate earlier versions (with fully articulated and adjustable granularity).[9] One might wish to recall THE ARCHIVERSE as it appeared at a particular time on a particular day—not as a snapshot, but as a fully navigable, functional, malleable ARCHIVERSE space. This is what it means, in archiversal terms, to act in and on the archive.

This pliability and transport also introduces problems of time travel and orientation to the present. How does one visit a moving point? And how do changes based on previous moments in THE ARCHIVERSE affect the so-called current state of THE ARCHIVERSE? Of course, in this realization, there will no longer be a verifiable current state. THE ARCHIVERSE will become a total and totalizing space, not merely multivalent but encompassing. We will have to think beyond linear time in order to navigate this total ARCHIVERSE. If we seek a particular iteration, we would do better to browse through these constantly morphing archiversal flows, rather than try to recall a moment as we might visit a data backup.[10] We will move freely in THE ARCHIVERSE, and see it become itself. The manner of our witness may affect these structures, but we are free as well to grasp and move them as we are to merely watch them form.

The Compiler

By writing into, moving or erasing letterforms, one maps THE ARCHIVERSE. We might make bots to write for us, and bots to write over them and reverse what they have written. We might write bots to gather language object materials and start a new path. We might devise a Compiler, oh Great Compiler, to show us the Total ARCHIVERSE of all forks and paths at once. The Compiler might record the bot and human moves equally, which compile a void. Or a flicker. Signal and nothing, noise.


The networked ARCHIVERSE app will provide opportunities for selective collaboration, and for solitary letterform exploration and development. As forms proliferate, so will strategies for creating discrete or hidden language/object activity. Extreme micro-scaling and embedding is one strategy. One might scale objects down and place them in open space within the known extents of THE ARCHIVERSE.[11] However, a sweep-selection of an open area would reveal even the tiniest structures as part of the selection. A craftier[12] way to hide micro-objects is to embed them within or under other letterforms just outside the so-called center.

If a satisfactory hidden location is found, and an archinaut wants to meet others at this site, coordinates may be given. Of course, if the objects in which the hidden structures are sweep-selected and moved, copied or deleted, the embedded structures would be folded into the process. Here, archiversal flows might recover prior locations, but coordinates alone would not help archinauts arrive together. One might unintentionally hide even further away, or arrive at a vacant or dis-synchronous location. This might in turn be explored as a nil-site, a location before and/or after letterforming.

THE ARCHIVERSE in Relation[13]

THE ARCHIVERSE does not obviate or transcend meaning in relation, nor does it contain relation. It does, however, slip from the world of signifieds.[14] Beyond the event horizon: relations between non-transparent language objects.[15] Our nostalgia for narrative trails us, but objects in THE ARCHIVERSE relate foremost to one another, as recognized and explored by the archinaut[16]. For these objects, there is always a way in, but no way out. THE ARCHIVERSE grows and reassembles itself, but not as simulacrum of a world exterior to itself. It does not rebuild the world of signifieds that offers its signs, which become objects coded in spacial and semantic visual relation. Narrative time is replaced by spacial dynamics and exploratory movement through THE ARCHIVERSE. Meaning is a set of relations projected and observed, rather than a semiotics of reference. Still, THE ARCHIVERSE needs to be observed, needs to be plugged in and plugged into, in order to be realized. If it merely is, without meaning, it must not be plugged in(to).

Two propositions, then, which require further exploration:

  1. We don’t need THE ARCHIVERSE to help us describe the world.
  2. THE ARCHIVERSE knows we are there.

By there, we mean in the world and in THE ARCHIVERSE, which are not the same but may provisionally be coextensive—unless we find ourselves beyond the event horizon, which is unlikely because objects in THE ARCHIVERSE, including our own projections and projected selves,[17] are not tied back to the world of signifieds. In order to be in THE ARCHIVERSE, we must project ourselves there. But we remain there, as well.[18] We become, perhaps, signs slipping from our own signified consciousness, and lose ourselves in and out of relation. Unlike language objects, which are untethered from the world of signifieds, archinaut consciousness requires being in the world of signifieds in order to be projected (and thereby explore THE ARCHIVERSE beyond the world of signifieds)—we may slip away, but so far, we slip back. The archinaut provides a connection to the world of signifieds, but this connection is not inherent in the language objects themselves. This connection does, of course, inform the archinaut’s readings of ARCHIVERSE objects, and will inflect his or her reports. If, for example, the archinaut were to encode those reports into THE ARCHIVERSE, the connection would be lost in the objects themselves, but might still be apparent to the archinaut.

In short,[19] THE ARCHIVERSE evinces meaning in relation that extends between language objects as well as between the archinaut and language objects represented in archiversal space.[20] This relation does not extend from archiversal space to the world of signifieds beyond the event horizon—not without the variable conduit between archinaut and ARCHIVERSE.

[1] See postscript for notes on usage.

[2] Of course, this piece could itself be manipulated to diverge from its origin and differentiate from its surrounding meta-form.

[3] or it was a rudimentary one tied to page-based precedents like orthographically anchored non-overlapping typewriter sculptures (which is to say, less adventurous than the typographical experiments of Steve McCaffery or Susan Howe, and perhaps more along the lines of minimalist compositions by Aram Saroyan and bpNichol).

[4] Most of us respond to our names, (even) after all (that).

[5] or that what is mapped is outside THE ARCHIVERSE

[6] which is not designed to recognize the uses to which we attempt to put it

[7] Nor is THE ARCHIVERSE necessarily located or locatable in AutoCAD, as is apparent in the development of the networked ARCHIVERSE app.

[8] For example, in the embedded copies of itself that are not updated to reflect changes to the larger structure, but which serve as emblematic punctuated archives (or sub-archives).

[9] For example, it will be possible to track the actual movement and construction of objects, or review each change. The difference is on the one hand viewing the movement of a copied artifact from its point of origin to its destination, as if one were seeing it take place in real time, and on the other hand seeing the space before and after the move. This granularity would naturally apply to other types of moves and constructions, like the creation of new objects, and the manipulation of objects via scaling, rotation, mirroring, etc.

[10] Here we move beyond the Time Machine model of browsing backups to operating within a fluid ARCHIVERSE.

[11] Hiding objects in the furthest reaches of mapped archiversal space would potentially reveal them along the borders of zoom extents. Of course, those extents might hyperarticulate to the point that this would not reveal a hidden structure.

[12] Or consider the case of the nuke-bot, which hyper-expands given letterform constellations so that they reach the extents of the extents so extensively that one cannot zoom out fast enough to capture the expanding extents. Just so, a condensor bot might tend toward an overdense core.

[13] Thanks to Chris Nealon for his “Infinity for Marxists,” which helped with the articulation of these concerns.

[14] if not from the world of signifiers, which undergo a digital material translation into language objects—the most notable typographic and graphological difference being the introduction of color-coded layer states (to borrow the language of AutoCAD, in which THE ARCHIVERSE was originally constructed)

[15] as distinguished from a sense that language points elsewhere, beyond or through itself, and is therefore transparent (see Charles Bernstein’s “Artifice of Absorption” for an approach to thinking past the transparency divide)

[16] who is both observer and agent in THE ARCHIVERSE; these relations are not objective or absolute, and the archinaut may adjust them as desired

[17] We do not have avatars in THE ARCHIVERSE (and in the tablet version, we don’t even have a cursor or crosshair), so these are figurative selves—we might also say projected consciousness or projected attention.

[18] We are simultaneously there in THE ARCHIVERSE and there in the world of signifieds as we explore THE ARCHIVERSE. This is not the case with language objects, which exist only in THE ARCHIVERSE.

[19] and therefore necessarily incomplete

[20] Why does LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE originate in AutoCAD drafting software? Because it has to be sited somewhere. It might represent abstractions, but LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is not itself an abstraction. It is the presentation of objects in relation as molded and observed by an audience of makers. There is no ARCHIVERSE without archinauts to explore it, even if they are not responsible for everything that appears there. The networked ARCHIVERSE, in which multiple archinauts may interact with language objects, will provide further evidence of agency and meaning relation. (As stated elsewhere: THE ARCHIVERSE is a conceptual project, a framework; LETTERS FROM THE ARCHIVERSE is a composition in and of THE ARCHIVERSE—a particular, if sole current, iteration.)


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