June 7, 2012

Ginsberg's Tweet: Howl Revision via Twitter

On June 3rd I performed Ginsberg's Tweet, a retweeted revision of Howl, on Twitter @GinsbergsTweet. Using the Howl text as a foundation, I went through the original work, line by line and comma by comma, and searched specific keywords in recent tweets, Twitter-wide. Utilizing the most angry, upset, overwhelmed, and hopeful of the search, I retweeted these results in succession as they were presented in Howl.

Ginsberg's Tweet remains viewable on Twitter @GinsbergsTweet. You will need to scroll through the retweets to find the beginning, which is clearly marked.

Straight reading from beginning to end (especially when one is familiar with Howl) reveals an honest, crowdsourced (oh boy...) retelling of current fear and hope in much the same vein as Ginsberg himself did. Sometimes the succession of retweets is more relevant to the next/last than others, and sometimes it's as though the authors of these tweets are speaking to each other. Reading Ginsberg's Tweet aloud is something I would like to try alongside a concurrent reading of Howl.

However, I chose the Twitter platform more for its hypertextuality and its relevance to our digital culture. In Allen Ginsberg's time, words you might see scribbled on walls are now presented and archived (limitedly on Twitter itself, at least) as tweets for anyone with internet access to view. Instead of inscribing shocking headlines into concrete, a tweeter may simply display a link to a troubling article. Instead of wondering who wrote such words upon the wall, all one must do now is click on the tweeter's profile, straight to a bio and a comprehensive list of every tweet they've been making. This is the beautiful part.

The pathways that clickable words create within Twitter are so dendritic that I have yet to get through Ginsberg's Tweet fully by following the hypertext. Now, if I'm wondering just who wrote a particular tweet, I can view their bio, their tweets, the conversation that the tweet may have been part of, (their Twitter wallpaper!), who they're following, their bios and tweets, as well as read online articles (discovering their author, raging at the comment section, finding related articles), view pictures embedded within the retweets, and on and on so that to engage Ginsberg's Tweet fully is to peruse what seems like the entire internet. So I wonder: What would a full, critical reading of Ginsberg's Tweet look like?

I'm not asking anyone to do this, just merely trying to wrap my head around the expansiveness of hypertextuality.

What I will ask, however, is that you take a look at Ginsberg's Tweet, and explore it as fully as you are able.

Overall, I am very pleased with the result of this experiment. When I began this project, I never realized the expansive narrative it would create. I was mostly hoping that it would be relevant to Howl, as well as appreciated by the man whose birthday it was to commemorate.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Allen Ginsberg.

Also, to the Twitterers who unwittingly wrote this entire thing: Thank you.